How to do Bulgarian Split Squat - Form, Muscles Worked and Alternatives
We all know how significant the lower body muscles are for strength, posture, and movements. If these muscles are weak, you'll face problems in performing regular movements as well as intense exercises. Moreover, you also become much more prone to injuries, which can add to the misery. If strong and agile legs are what you're after, the Bulgarian split squat should be on top of your list.
It targets many of the same muscles as the squat but pronounces the load on quads and strengthens them.
This article will discuss everything you should know about the Bulgarian split squat, from proper form to the muscle it works. Keep reading until the end to level up your leg game.
What is the Bulgarian Split Squat?
It’s a variation of the regular squat, focusing on a single leg at a time instead of both. It is performed by elevating one leg at a surface while squatting the other, putting all the load on the front leg. As the name suggests, it is a split position focusing on your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
It is usually recommended to athletes who have developed some control over their body and have enough strength in both legs to pull it off. Since all the load is transferred to one leg during the movement, control is necessary for the right form. Although tricky, beginners can also perform the Bulgarian squat without weights to learn the movement.
Proper Bulgarian Split Squat Form & Technique
How to Do a Bulgarian Split Squat
Step 1: Walk two to three steps away from the bench or any other raised surface you use. However, the distance might vary depending on your anatomy.
Step 2: Look forwards and keep your legs aligned with your hips. Your back will be slightly bent naturally.
Step 3: Lift one leg and place it on the bench. Depending on your ankle mobility and comfort, you can place your foot flat or keep it on your toes. The feet of the front leg should be placed slightly outwards for effective movement.
Step 4: Go down while keeping your weight on the front leg instead of arching back. Keep your knees facing forward and in line with your toes.
Note: Always ensure that the knee of the back leg is parallel to the thigh of the front leg when you go down for a complete range of motion.
Bulgarian Split Squat Common Mistakes
You can benefit from the Bulgarian squat only when you do it correctly. Here’re some of the most common pitfalls you must avoid.
One of the reasons behind the Bulgarian squat being so difficult is that it demands a lot of stability from your body. Since you need to transfer almost all your weight to one leg, you're prone to swaying from one side to another during the movement. It is usually the case with beginners who need more strength and mobility.
To fix this problem, ensure your hip, foot, ankle, hip, spine, and knee are streamlined and facing in the same direction. If you're a beginner, you do not need to hold weight; go without it for a while and learn the movement first.
Putting Too Much Load on the Back Leg
The purpose of doing a Bulgarian squat is to put stress on one leg at a time. Therefore, the back leg only works as a support for the front leg, which does most of the work. One of the most common mistakes is that people put more weight on the back leg.
If you do that, you'll relieve your front leg from necessary stress, killing the purpose of the exercise. Moreover, it can also be painful for the back knee because it isn't in an ideal position to bear that much weight.
Every exercise has a purpose: it targets a specific muscle or a group of muscles, and the Bulgarian squat is no different. Before doing it, you must know which muscles you want to target, such as the glutes, hamstrings, or quads. Just by modifying your front foot position, you can change the focus of the exercise.
If you want to exert hamstrings and glutes, keep the front foot as much away from the bench as possible. Lean slightly forward with each movement and press into the heel. On the other hand, staying up tall and close to the bench will work your quads.
Too Much Elevation of the Back Foot
Most people use a standard bench at the gym or at home for doing a Bulgarian squat without thinking much. If you're 5'5" and using and squatting on a bench suited for someone who is 6'5", it will result in problems. Use a bench that is equal to your knee height.
However, you can always start lower than that and move on to the bench when you have gained enough strength and stability. Using a bench that is too high for you overexert your knees and can also hyperextend your pelvic region.
Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked
The four muscles that make up the front of your thigh are called quadriceps, and they're the primary focus of a Bulgarian squat. These muscles include:
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus lateralis
- Vastus intermedius
- Vastus medialis
They stretch when you go down and contract to push you back on top. When you do a Bulgarian squat, you're working out both legs, as the elevated leg also feels a strong stretch and pushes you up from the bottom.
Glutes are made up of three muscles called:
- Gluteus Maximus
- Gluteus Medius
- Gluteus Minimus
The Gluteus maximus is most involved in the Bulgarian squat as it extends your hip at the top of the movement. The Gluteus Medius regulates your knee movement and prevents them from caving in.
The quadriceps and hamstrings are antagonistic to each other, meaning they work in opposition. So, any exercise that targets the quads uses the hamstrings as stabilizing muscles. When you lower yourself during a Bulgarian squat, the hamstrings contract at the back of your leg and help the gluteus medius and hip muscles to keep you balanced.
They also help keep your knee in the right position. When you're on top of the movement, the hamstrings pair up with the gluteus maximus for hip extension.
Although core muscles aren't the primary focus of the Bulgarian squat, they're still involved in important ways. The abdominis erector spinae combine with abdominals and obliques to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Similarly, core muscles contract during the movement, which is crucial for stability.
Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
The Bulgarian squat is excellent for bringing balance to your body. It is a great choice for improving mobility, as it engages the core muscles while you shift your weight from one leg to the other. While doing a Bulgarian squat, make sure you don't topple over and stay upright, which takes your stability and balance to the next level.
The Bulgarian squat works brilliantly for quads, hamstrings, glutes, and even calves simultaneously. It sends strong growth signals to all these muscles, and you do not have to isolate one or two and train them separately.
Enhances Strength & Athletic Performance
Besides hypertrophy, the Bulgarian squat is also excellent for boosting strength in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Muscle building and strength go hand in hand and provide multiple benefits to your body, both in a physical and aesthetic sense. Moreover, the Bulgarian squat has also been shown to boost sprint performance in athletes.
Less Spinal Stress
Although back and front squats are a staple in many workout routines because of their benefits, they can be impractical for those with lower back and mobility issues. Even if they don't have any problems beforehand, poor squat posture can lead to several issues. In contrast, the Bulgarian squat focuses almost entirely on the legs, removing any chance of spinal stress.
For performing front and back squats, you require a barbell, squat rack, and weights, which can be a hassle for many. On the other hand, a Bulgarian squat may only need a pair of dumbbells or nothing. You only need motivation and an elevated surface, and you're good to go.
Bulgarian Split Squat vs. Lunge
The Bulgarian squat and lunges are popular for working out legs, but what differentiates them?
The Stability Challenge
The Bulgarian squat challenges your stability by keeping you on one leg for a long time. On the other hand, lunges require you to lift one leg and land on it.
The Mobility Challenge
The Bulgarian squat requires you to keep one leg elevated with the foot placed on the elevated surface. It challenges your hip mobility to the maximum. On the other hand, there is no such requirement during lunges.
Bulgarian Split Squat Variations
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
Step 1: Stand 2-3 feet from the bench and hold dumbbells in both hands. Make sure both hips are forward and not tilted to any side.
Step 2: Put one foot on the bench. Descend slowly with control and keep most of your weight in the front leg.
Step 3: Drive up by pushing down with the front leg. The dumbbells should stay in line with the front leg.
Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
Step 1: Unload the barbell from the rack on your shoulder.
Step 2: Walk back and put one foot on the bench. Stay upright if you want to focus on your quads.
Step 3: Go down slowly and make your knees almost touch the floor to get a good range of motion.
Step 4: Slowly return to the original position to complete the rep.
Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat
Step 1: Get under the bar of the Smith Machine and put the bar on your shoulders.
2nd Step: Put one leg back on the bench or any other elevated surface for stabilization.
Step 3: Go as deep as possible. Hold the position for a second and come up by pushing with your glutes and quads.
Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives
Lunges are a popular exercise that can be an alternative to the Bulgarian squat. They're usually performed with weights, but beginners can perform them without weights to learn the right form. To perform a lunge, you must stand up straight and bend one knee backward, which exerts the quads on the front leg.
The major problem with lunges is that they place a lot of stress on your knees. Moreover, they can also overload your lumbar spine, making it risky for those with a history of injuries in these areas.
Bench Single Leg Hip Thrust
The bench single-leg hip thrust focuses on your glutes, hip flexors, and quadriceps. To do a bench single-leg hip thrust, place your back on a bench and put one foot flat on the ground. Raise the other leg by pushing through the foot on the ground.
However, the bench leg hip thrust is more of an auxiliary exercise than a direct replacement of the Bulgarian squat, as it misses some nuances.
Single Leg Machine Leg Press
Advanced lifters perform the single-leg machine press, focusing on mind-muscle connection throughout the movement. It can act as an intense exercise for those who need help finding the Bulgarian squat ineffective.
However, there is a high chance of hip or knee dislocation during this exercise. Even the two-legged machine press can be considered risky.
Bulgarian Split Squats FAQs
Q1: Who should do the Bulgarian split squat?
It is one of the best lower body exercises anyone can try. It is perfect for athletes & fitness enthusiasts, people with muscular imbalances, knee or lower back pain, and people looking to tone their legs and glutes.
Q2: How often should I do Bulgarian split squats?
Beginners should perform 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps twice a week. Try to go for 12-15 reps and four sets twice weekly when you get stronger. Once you are accustomed to handling your body weight, try a weighted Bulgarian squat.
Q3: How many Bulgarian split squats sets and reps should I perform?
For Strength: 4-6 sets of 6 reps with heavy weights.
Balance Improvement: 2-3 sets and 8-10 reps with a slow tempo.
For Hypertrophy/Growth: 8-12 reps and three sets with moderate weight.
It is one of the best exercises for your lower body muscles. When done with proper form, it can only improve the strength and flexibility in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Moreover, it also tones your muscles and makes them look attractive.
You can try different variations of it with a dumbbell, barbell, and smith machine, depending on your experience level and goals. Although there are some alternatives, nothing can replace the Bulgarian split squat due to its ability to isolate the leg muscles.
Whatever variation you try, ensure you perform the exercise correctly to maximize your muscle gains and strength.