Why use a split stance?

Many exercises require out feet side by side and hip width apart. This position is called the parallel stance but there is a variation you may want to consider: the split stance. The split stance is where one foot is in front of the other with your feet hip width apart. An exaggerated version of this is used in lunges, however, the split stance that will be looked at today is a lesser, and more compact version (think of your stride length when you take one step forward as you walk).

So why would you want to change your stance? One of the most practical reasons is that it provides something new to your workout and provides fresh stimulus to your muscular system.

Single arm cable row parallel stance:

Single arm cable row with a split stance:

Two arm cable row with a parallel stance:

Changing stances can impact the way an exercise affects the targeted muscles. Let’s compare a two arm cable row to a single arm cable row to highlight these changes. The two arm cable row with a parallel stance allows for the greatest amount of bilateral back activation and a higher amount of weight to be used but has the least leg and core activation.

This is supported by research that looked at the differences between a seated two arm machine row and a standing single arm cable row and the effects on the core and back (Saeterbakken et al 2015). The study found that the single arm cable rows activated the external oblique more than the seated machine row. In contrast, the seated machine row was able to elicit a greater response from the back muscles than the single arm rows.

The single arm cable row with a parallel stance allows for a nice middle ground between the two-arm row and the single arm row with split stance. The single arm cable row doesn’t demand much activation of the legs but engages the core more than the two arm row. The single arm row with a split stance activates muscles involved in anti-rotation (core and hip flexors) and weight bearing (front thigh) more than both the single arm and two arm cable row with a parallel stance. See the table below for a summary.

Two Arm Cable Row with a Parallel Stance Single Arm Cable Row with a Parallel Stance Single Arm Cable Row with a Split Stance
Bilateral Back Activity High Low Low
Single Leg Activity Low Low High
Core Anti-Rotation Low Medium High
Oblique Activation Low Medium High
Amount of weight able to be lifted High Medium Low

If you struggle with mobility and stability, the split stance might benefit you. It provides the opportunity to do single leg training while maintaining stability. The front leg will do majority of the work whilst the back leg will provide support and balance.

To summarise, using a split stance can help break up the monotony of routine, provide a new stimulus to the body and makes existing exercises more difficult and challenging. You can also use it to introduce single leg training. So try something new, you might be surprised at how a little change can impact your training.

By Chris Lee, 3rd year Sports and Exercise Science Student, Curtin University. Joe is currently completing his practicum with Laurence Houghton our High Performance Coach.