How To Do a Bulgarian Split Squat?



What Is a Bulgarian Split Squat?

A Bulgarian split squat is a single leg squat that is guaranteed to deliver big benefits to the lower body. It is performed with one leg elevated off of the ground behind you. A Bulgarian split squat targets many of the same muscles as a traditional squat, but it also improves single leg stability and balance. It is also good for people with spine issues since there is much less pressure on the spine.

Which Muscles Are Used When Performing a Bulgarian Split Squat?

A Bulgarian split squat is a lower-body exercise that is going to target multiple muscles, mainly your quads, hamstrings, glutes (especially the gluteus maximus), calves, and adductors of the front leg that is performing the movement. Bulgarian split squats also require some core work depending on the variation being performed.

What Are the Benefits of The Bulgarian Split Squat?

There are several benefits to the Bulgarian split squat, which is why it is so popular. Some of the main Bulgarian split squat benefits include:

– Bulgarian Split Squat Improves Stabilization and Balance.

Using just one leg to perform a movement requires more stabilizing and balancing by the lower body and the core muscles. If you are starting out and having trouble balancing and stabilising your body, you can hold onto something. However, the ultimate goal should be to be able to perform the movement without help.

– Bulgarian Split Squat Can Improve Muscle Imbalances

Most people have leg strength differences, which are not necessarily a big deal, but they can add up over time and put you at risk for injury. Due to the unilateral nature of the movement, the Bulgarian split squat will quickly show which side is weaker. Imbalances will sort themselves out over time if you keep performing Bulgarian split squats.

– Bulgarian Split Squat Improves Mobility

Nowadays, most of us live a sedentary lifestyle, leading to lower back pain, tight hips, weak glutes, and shortened hip flexors. When performed regularly, Bulgarian split squat can address all of these issues, therefore improving hip mobility.

How To Do a Bulgarian Split Squat?

In order for the Bulgarian split squat to be effective and safe, it must be performed with proper form. All you need for the basic version of the Bulgarian split squat is a bench or a sturdy chair. Extra resistance, in the form of dumbbells or kettlebells, can be added later. 

Here is how to perform the Bulgarian split squat.

  1. Stand about two feet in front of a bench or a sturdy chair.
  2. Pick up your foot and place it on the bench behind you. The bottom of your rear foot should be facing the ceiling.
  3. Adjust your feet to be roughly hip-distance apart, even slightly wider. Your back leg and elevated rear foot should not be aligned directly behind your front foot because it will make balancing much more difficult.
  4. Engage your core, keep your torso upright, lean forward slightly while keeping a neutral spine. Keep your chest high and head straight ahead. This is the starting position.
  5. With your core braced, lower your body down until the quadriceps of your front leg are roughly parallel to the ground. Inhale as you are doing so.
  6. Return back to the standing position by pushing through your front foot and using your quad, hamstring and glute. Do not use your back leg for this part; your rear foot should just help with balance. Exhale as you are doing so.
  7. Make sure to perform the same movement on each side.

Variations Of a Bulgarian Split Squat

There are a lot of ways to perform a Bulgarian split squat to make it more difficult, easier, or more fun. Some of the most common variations for a Bulgarian split squat include:

Weighted Bulgarian Split Squat

A fantastic way to make this exercise more difficult is by adding extra weight into the mix. You can do so by adding the barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. Performing a dumbbell Bulgarian split squat or a kettlebell Bulgarian split squat with weight only on one side will be more challenging than a traditional Bulgarian split squat.

Bulgarian Split Squat with The Resistance Band

To perform this variation, place a resistance band underneath your front foot, holding the handles up at your shoulders with your elbows bent. Squat down while maintaining your position with the resistance band then lift back up.

Front Foot Elevated Bulgarian Split Squat

Front foot elevated Bulgarian split squat is a single leg squat variation that is performed with the front leg on an elevated surface. With the elevated split squat, the front leg should be elevated on a sturdy surface; other than that, the movement is pretty much the same. The elevated split squat is useful for those who want a bigger range of motion.  Just make sure your elevated surface is sturdy and not an unstable surface.

Mistakes/Safety Tips

Some mistakes are commonly observed when performing the Bulgarian split squat.

Make sure to avoid:

– Placing the Back Foot Directly Behind the Front Leg

It will be challenging to balance if your back foot is directly behind your front foot. Therefore, when you place your back foot on the bench behind you, make sure it is about hip-distance apart from your front foot. 

– Leaning Too Far Forward from the Hips

Losing focus on your core as you move through the downward phase of the Bulgarian split squat is very common, and it is observed in many people. Too much of forward lean will limit the benefits of the exercise, and it will make you more likely to place too much stress on your front knee. 

– Rising Onto the Toes

A terrible habit is to rise onto the ball and toes of your front foot as you squat down. This usually happens when alignment and form are poor. Make sure your whole foot is on the ground when performing the exercise. It is better to do fewer reps with the correct form.

-Having Too Much Weight on Rear Leg

Your elevated back leg should be only used to help you with balance. Using the rear leg to help you get up  when you make Bulgarian split squats especially on your weaker leg will undermine your efforts to get a well balanced body.

Related questions:

Why does Bulgarian split squat hurt so bad?

When the Bulgarian split squat is being performed, the quads and glutes are under more constant tension due to the mechanics of the exercise. Extended time under tension makes the movement a bit painful, especially for higher rep sets. 

But this slightly burning sensation in the muscles is ok, the pain in joints and serious pain in muscles should not be ignored. If you feel that type of pain first consult with your physician before continuing this exercise.

Do Bulgarian split squats build big legs?

Bulgarian split squats are going to build your legs. Bulgarian split squat is unique because it hits your quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, and calves simultaneously. Due to this, your thighs will tone quickly. This makes the Bulgarian split squat one of the best lower body exercises for your next leg day and strength training. Make sure to add Bulgarian split squats into your training plan, or talk to your personal trainer about doing so.

How many times a week should I do Bulgarian split squats?

It depends on the situation and your fitness level. Try doing 6-15 reps for 3-5 sets on each side 2 to 3 times per week. Always listen to your body and don’t push yourself too much.

Why is it called Bulgarian split squat?

The name of this movement originated when Angel Spassov, Assistant Coach of the Bulgarian Weightlifting National Team, toured the US in the late 80s to speak on the training methods of the Bulgarian Weightlifting System.

Are Bulgarian split squats bad for knees?

Your thighs and knees have to work harder to maintain the balance of your body and prevent the body from falling on one side, which takes a toll on the knees. If your knees are weak or already injured, performing Bulgarian split squat might not be a good idea.

If I perform Bulgarian split squats, can I replace squats?

Bulgarian split squats are not necessarily replacements for traditional squats, but they are just as valuable. Bulgarian split squats place a lot of emphasis on balance and single-leg strength, making them more beneficial for those looking to challenge single-leg strength and endurance or recovering from an injury.