Want bigger, stronger legs than can perform?
Then look no further than the Bulgarian split squat.
Named because it was popularised by a Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting coach, it’s often shunned in favour the traditional back squat, this exercise trains one leg at a time and works all the same muscle as the squat with a greater emphasis on the quads.
As a single-leg exercise, you’re forced to train your core as you maintain your balance, which also gives you the chance to overcome any imbalances between your legs.
In this article, we break down what the Bulgarian split squat is, what muscles it works, how to do it and much more.
It is a lower-body exercise that trains all the legs and because it’s a unilateral exercise, meaning it trains one leg at a time, it can help prevent and/or fix muscle imbalances.
Although it requires a greater degree of balance than the squat, it’s still a fantastic alternative for anyone who lacks the mobility or inclination to including squatting in their workouts but still wants to build lower body muscle, strength and power.
It can be done using a variety of equipment and places less stress on the lower back than the barbell squat which can be a consideration for some people.
Due to the elevated position of your back foot, it allows you to reach a greater depth compared to standard lunging movements.
The Bulgarian split squat is also particularly good for athletic performance as it trains single-leg drive which is common in a multitude of sports including running, boxing, football and more.
The Bulgarian split squat works the entirety of the lower body from your calves all the way up to your glutes. In addition, it trains your core as you brace to stabilise yourself and maintain your balance.
Being a compound exercise, it trains a large number of muscles:
As you can see the whole of the lower body is getting trained, with additional stabilising work from the core, lats and shoulders.
The Bulgarian split squat is a great muscle building leg exercise. However, like with all compound exercises you need to do it with good form to avoid injury and get the maximum benefits.
Here’s how you do it:
If you prefer written instructions with photos, here you go.
Using a standard weight bench placing your back foot on top and finding the front position that’s most comfortable for you. You should feel most of the weight on your front foot, with the back leg working to stabilise.
Once you’ve found the position mark it using a water bottle, phone or towel i.e. whatever you have to hand. Pick up your dumbbells, position your front foot then place your back foot on the bench.
Note than you can rest your back foot flat on the bench or on the ball of your foot, both are fine.
Keeping your arms by your side and the dumbbells in line with or just in front of your hips, lower your hips towards the ground. When you do this, you should feel most of the weight on your front foot, with your back foot helping to balance you.
Keep going until your knee gently touches the ground or your back starts to round, whichever happens first.
From this bottom position push off the ground with your front foot reversing the path you just took until you reach the starting position.
Aim to keep your core braced and your chest up. Remember the front leg should be the one working with the back leg providing stability and support but not contributing to the movement.
The position of your front foot influences where you put the emphasis. The closer your front foot is to the bench you put more emphasis on your quads and the further your front foot is out in front of you the more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings
However, keep in mind these distances are not huge. Standing too close can cause knee pain and make it hard to stay upright, whilst standing too far can cause pain in the hip and groin and lead to excessive arching of the back.
When starting out it will require a little trial and error to get it right and it’s advisable, to begin with just your body weight and build up from there.
Every exercise is only as good as your ability to perform it. To help you get the most out of your split squats, here are the top 3 mistakes you need to avoid.
If you want to build big, strong legs that look great but also perform great, then you’ll want to include the Bulgarian split squat in your training program.
Sure, it might not replace the barbell squat for you but it’s a worthy addition.
For the best results, practice proper technique using your bodyweight before using dumbbells and avoid the 3 most common mistakes; using a narrow stance, leaning forward and using the back leg too much.