How to Do Bulgarian Split Squats
- Stand with your back turned against a bench, which should be at about knee height. Stand about one long step in front of the bench.
- Place one foot on the bench behind you.
- Inhale, look forward, and squat down with control until right before the knee of the back leg touches the floor.
- Reverse the movement and extend your front leg again, while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top and repeat for reps.
Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a great unilateral (one-sided) exercise for strengthening your leg muscles and improving your coordination and balance.
You can perform this exercise without any external load, with weights in your hands (i.e., dumbbells or kettlebells), against your chest, or with a barbell on your shoulders.
By holding the weights in your hand, you can unload your spine somewhat while you still work your legs and glutes effectively, which can be useful for maintaining your exercise routine during times of injury.
Which Muscles Do the Bulgarian Split Squat Work?
By performing the exercise with bodyweight only or holding a dumbbell in each hand instead of a barbell across your shoulders, you take some load off your lower back. However, it doesn’t change the muscles worked in the exercise.
Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
- Build muscle and strength. The Bulgarian split squat works your quads, glutes, and adductors through a long range of motion and in a stable position. That is a great recipe for muscle growth!
- Prevent muscle imbalance. Since you work with one leg at a time, the Bulgarian split squat can be used to find and fix muscle imbalances. Work to bring your weak side up until it matches the other side.
- Build strength in a staggered position. Having strong legs not only makes you a better athlete, but it is also useful in the day-to-day of an active lifestyle. How do we often use our legs in athletics or other activities? That’s right: one leg at a time. The Bulgarian split squat offers a great addition to your regular squat training by having you train in a single-leg position that resembles taking a stride, making a leap, or climbing up a hill.
- Improve coordination and balance. We often take balance for granted – until we lose it. By training the Bulgarian split squat, you can improve your coordination and balance tremendously.
- Better knee control. Lack of knee control in sports is an injury waiting to happen. The Bulgarian split squat is one of the most effective exercises for training your positional awareness and control of your knee.
- Unload your spine. Want to work your leg muscles without loading your back? With the Bulgarian split squat, you can work your leg and glute muscles without having to put a heavy barbell over your shoulders by using dumbbells instead.
Bulgarian Split Squat: Proper Form & Technique
The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise for your legs, knee control and stability.
It is also one of the least-liked exercises known to mankind.
Ask any gymgoer; they’ll most likely have very strong feelings about this exercise.
The exercise might be a little bit complex, but it’s far from impossible to learn. Our guess is that it’s because it is a very effective exercise and that once you’ve learned it, it’s easy to work your legs really hard. Which … is hard.
Make sure that the bench behind you is about knee height. Your rear foot should rest on the bench, with the top of your foot facing down.
Placing the front foot too close or too far from the rear foot can cause instability and decrease your range of motion. How big of a step you need to take might vary, so try a couple of times with a light weight before finding your optimal stance.
Make sure to stand with the feet about hip wide apart to maintain your balance.
Try to keep your body upright the entire time, and try to go as far down as possible without the rear knee touching the ground. Reverse the movement with control.
Keep your core tight throughout the movement.
As shown in the pictures earlier, the Bulgarian split squat is often performed with a barbell. However, it might be a good idea to introduce the exercise without any weight at all first.
Once you feel like you can perform the movement controlled and securely, you can add some external load. Sometimes, it might be better to work with dumbbells instead of a barbell, for balance or to take some load off your back.
Common Mistakes in the Bulgarian Split Squat
- Poor knee control. Allowing your knee to collapse inwards will make the movement less efficient and can lead to knee pain. Focus on keeping your knee in line with your toes throughout the movement.
- Leaning too far forward. Leaning too far forward will add excessive stress to the lower back and reduce focus on the target muscles. Try to keep your torso as upright as possible during the entire movement.
- Pushing yourself up with your rear leg. Your front leg is supposed to work in the Bulgarian split squat, not your rear leg. Use your rear leg for balance, but not (excessively) for pushing yourself up. You’ll work that leg when you switch sides.
Bulgarian Split Squats: Alternatives & Variations
1. Barbell Lunge
The Bulgarian split squat and the barbell lunge have a lot in common, but the main difference between them is in the range of motion. While you keep both feet on the floor in barbell lunges, the elevated rear foot in Bulgarian split squat allows a longer movement.
The lunge can feel a bit easier to perform, many lifters feel like it’s a bit easier to keep your balance.
2. Dumbbell Lunge
Like the barbell lunge, the dumbbell lunge can feel a bit easier to perform than the Bulgarian split squat.
By holding dumbbells in your hands instead of having a barbell on your shoulders, the exercise can feel a bit less intimidating as well.
How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do in the Bulgarian Split Squats?
How many reps you should do of an exercise depends on your goal: do you mainly want to increase your strength or build muscle?
If you are new to Bulgarian split squats, we recommend starting with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps per leg. Focus on form and technique to build strength and stability, not increase the weights as fast as possible.
Read more: How Many Sets per Muscle Group per Week?
When you’ve learned to master the exercise, you can add 1–2 sets and move up to a more challenging weight. If your goal is hypertrophy, stay in the rep range of 8–12 reps. Make sure to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
If your goal is to increase strength, perform 3–5 sets of 5–8 reps per leg with a heavier weight. However, most lifters tend to stay in the higher rep range and use the Bulgarian split squat as an accessory exercise since it’s difficult to fail in a safe way.
Workouts and Training Programs that Include the Bulgarian Split Squat
All of the workouts and programs above (and many more!) are available in our workout log app StrengthLog.
By tracking your workouts in our app, you can easily see how many reps you did the last time you worked out, and try to improve in your next workout.
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