Bulgarian split squats are an excellent addition to any lower body or leg workout. This unilateral move has many benefits and will absolutely leave you with wobbly legs. It’s a great alternative to traditional squats and will work your lower body with emphasis on your quads for bigger, thicker, stronger thighs. All you need is a bench or sturdy chair, plus your chosen weights – which don’t have to be as heavy as you use in your bilateral exercises. Then you’ll be ready to feel the burn!
Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
As a single-leg, compound move, the Bulgarian split squat offers many benefits. It’s an excellent exercise for fixing imbalances in the lower body, as it works each side individually. It’s also a great way to boost your core strength, as it engages all of your core and stabilizing muscles, resulting in better balance and form. Next, it’s great for people with lower back issues or injury, as you can overload the resistance easier without using as heavyweights as you’d need for a regular back squat. As such, it takes much of that pressure off the lower back. That also means it’s better for home workouts, as you don’t need such large weights. Finally, it’s an incredibly effective exercise that works all of your lower body muscles, focussing on the quadriceps while improving hip and ankle flexibility.
Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked
The Bulgarian split squat is a powerhouse move that will give you a massive bang for your buck while working the lower body. The change in position from a regular squat shifts the emphasis onto the quads for a burn you’ll undoubtedly feel. However, this move also works the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, and you should feel it all in your front leg. Plus, as a unilateral move, it also forces your core, spinal erectors, and other stabilizing muscles through the hips and lower back to engage, thus building strength in this area. Lastly, being a triple joint compound move, it also helps improve mobility and flexibility through the ankle and hip.
Bulgarian Split Squat Form
Getting your form correct when performing a Bulgarian Split Squat is essential. It’s all about the correct foot placement for your body and keeping your knee where it should be. You’ll also want to focus on maintaining a tall, straight back and moving up and down on a set vertical plane rather than pushing back and forth, which is a regular mistake. Dumbbells are a common choice when it comes to weights as they’re easy and accessible. However, you can also use kettlebells or challenge yourself more with a barbell sitting across the back of your shoulders as an alternative.
- Stand with your back facing your bench, about two feet away, with your chosen weight ready to go.
- Place one foot back on the bench, with the top of your foot flat on the surface. Don’t place your back foot directly behind your front foot; instead, aim for hip, or just wider than hip distance apart.
- Keep your back straight, chest up, and core engaged.
- Drop into the squat, moving straight down to ensure that your knee stays aligned over your front toes and you don’t shift your upper body forward.
- At the bottom of the move, your knee should be an inch or two off the ground. You can use a weight plate or folded towel placed under your knee as a guide if required.
- Push straight up through the front foot, using your quads and glutes to power the movement.
- As you ascend, be conscious that you don’t push backward instead of up. At the top of the move, you want to reach full hip extension.
- Perform your chosen number of reps, then repeat the same action on the other leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat Variations
If you’re looking to mix up your Bulgarian split squat, there are some variations you can try. Essentially, there are three versions of the split squat – standard, Bulgarian or rear foot elevated, and front foot elevated. Each provides all the benefits of being a great lower body workout that helps correct imbalances and improves your core strength and balance. Within these, you can also switch up the kinds of weights you use, from double or single dumbbells or kettlebells to barbells held either front or back.
Standard Split Squat
In a standard split squat, both your feet are on the ground. It’s the basic variation of this move and is a great place to start for beginners. You can load it up with kettlebells, dumbbells, and front or back-loaded barrels.
Rear Foot Elevated or Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat, which is also called the rear foot elevated split squat, is one of the most popular variations. It adds load to the front leg and gives the hip flexors and extensors a greater range of movement. It’s easy to feel the burn with this move and is simple to scale, no matter your equipment.
Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
With a front foot elevated split squat, your front foot is placed on a higher surface, such as a weight plate or low step platform. Doing so decreases the load on the front leg and takes the pressure off the knee slightly. Plus, it allows greater space for movement of the back leg, which can be required if you have longer legs. This is also a good option for beginners and anyone who struggles with hip flexibility.
Bulgarian Split Squats vs Lunges
Split squats and lunges look very similar. The key difference between the two exercises is the foot placement and involvement. A split squat (and its variations) is a static move that keeps your feet in one position. You’ll place 80 to 90 percent of your weight on the front leg, thereby emphasizing the quads and glutes in that leg. It’s an excellent exercise for beginners who are still getting used to unilateral training, as there is less movement overall. Meanwhile, the lunge is a more dynamic move that uses both legs, working the quads, hams, and glutes more evenly between the legs. You can perform a lunge frontwards, backward, or sideways, repeating with just one side or alternating the leading leg. Try them all to find out what works best for you and works the muscles you want.
Bulgarian Split Squat Tips
The Bulgarian split squat is a more advanced exercise, so it can be challenging to master. Correct form is essential to both avoid injury and get the most out of your efforts. After all, you want all the sweat and hard work to count for something. Consequently, there are some tips and tricks to help you nail this move and get killer results each time you perform it.
Don’t Allow Your Front Knee to Travel Past Your Toes
The first tip is to make sure your knee doesn’t travel forward past your toe. If your knee does extend past your toes, this can cause knee issues and put unnecessary strain on the joint. To avoid this, focus on hinging at the hip on the descent, moving straight down, so your knee remains aligned with the toes. You might also need to play with your foot placement to find the sweet spot.
Push Yourself Up Through the Heel
Another way to minimize knee stress or pain is to push up through your heels. Doing so ensures you’re not leaning forward too much and putting your weight on your toes. This can happen if your foot placement isn’t correct, or you’re bending your upper body too far forward and need your toes to counterbalance.
Start Out Very Light and Gradually Increase
As the Bulgarian split squat is a more advanced move, it’s important to focus on nailing the correct form before loading up with weights when you’re first getting started. This will help you work on your balance, avoid injury and ensure you get the best results. As such, start with either just bodyweight or light dumbbells when you first add this to your routine.
Place A Marker on The Ground as A Reference Point
It can take some trial and error and a lot of hopping around to find the right front foot placement. However, once you find the correct spot, make subsequent sets easier for yourself by marking your foot position with something, such as a weight plate or water bottle. That way, you can use that as an easy guide for positioning each time.
Don’t Allow Front Knee to Cave Inward
Another common form error is a wayward knee. Depending on your strength and mechanical imbalances, it might start to fall inwards or outwards. If this happens, you’ll need to focus on keeping it aligned with your toes. This could mean actively needing to pull in inwards or outwards to counteract any unconscious movement.
Use Wrist Straps for Better Grip
As you perfect your form and start loading up your Bulgarian split squats with more weight, you might find your grip gets tired. If this happens, use wrists straps to help eliminate that fatigue, so the risk of dropping your dumbbells doesn’t distract you or shift your focus from correct execution.
Experiment With Your Distance from The Bench
The position in which you place your front foot in a Bulgarian split squat will depend on your body’s structure and your goals. The further away from the bench, the more emphasis it will place on the glutes and hamstrings. However, it can also put more pressure on the lower back. Conversely, if you want to fire up your quads, keep your front foot closer to the bench. This will put more pressure on your knees instead, so keep that in mind when choosing your foot placement. Opt for whatever is most comfortable – it’s not worth causing or aggravating an injury.
Bulgarian Split Squat Safety
Staying safe while you perform your Bulgarian split squat is very important. The easiest way to do this is with the correct form. To start, if you struggle to keep your balance in a standard split squat, you might need to hold off tackling the Bulgarian variation. You’ll also need to take it slow, starting with low weight and ensuring your set-up is correct. Make sure to have your back foot offset a little from your front foot, not directly behind. It’s there to help you balance, but it shouldn’t do any of the work. Once you get your front foot in the right place, remember to drop straight down without leaning forward; otherwise, you’ll shift your center of gravity and put extra pressure on your knee. Finally, remember to keep your knee aligned and avoid rising on your toes or pushing forward instead of up as you ascend.
Bulgarian Split Squats FAQs
What are Bulgarian split squats good for?
Bulgarian split squats are great for training the lower body, emphasizing the quads and glutes. They’ll also help you build core strength and balance because your abs and stabilizing muscles are also engaged. Finally, they’re also excellent for correcting imbalances between the two sides of your body.
How often should I do Bulgarian split squats?
How often you include Bulgarian split squats in your fitness routine will depend on how you structure your workouts. Aim for two to three times per week, which should work with an upper/lower split workout or sessions targeting specific areas such as the legs.
Why is the Bulgarian split squat so hard?
The Bulgarian split squat is challenging because it requires more balance and hip flexibility than a standard squat. It will work your stabilizing muscles more as a unilateral movement, and it’ll highlight imbalances that may have developed. They also work your joints a bit harder because you’re only using one leg at a time.
Should I do Bulgarian split squats with one or two dumbbells?
You can do either, depending on your needs. If you’re having trouble balancing with two dumbbells, try just one in a goblet hold. Of course, this means you won’t be able to overload as much, but as you gain balance and strength, you’ll be able to move back to two. If you choose to use just one, make sure you keep your torso upright and don’t let the weight pull you forward, corrupting your form.
Do Bulgarian split squats need weights?
If growing muscle mass and strength is your goal, then you will need weights for Bulgarian split squats. However, if you’re just starting, you can perform them without weights, especially while perfecting your form. You can also do a higher number of reps to feel the burn without weights; however, the results won’t be as effective or fast.
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