The Bulgarian Split Squat is technically a standard squat, performed unilaterally with one leg placed on a raised bench and one firmly on the floor.
The split squat builds a lot of muscle in the lower body and doesn’t stress the lower back that traditional squats do. If you are limited in weight or equipment, this exercise is a perfect substitute for a bodyweight squat to increase resistance and gradually overload for progress.
The main muscles targeted throughout the Bulgarian split squat are in the upper quadriceps and glutes, making this an interesting polyarticular exercise (many joints and muscles worked in one practice).
Throughout the exercise, the hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and glutes are the muscles that help stabilize. Compared to the standard barbell back squat, the Bulgarian split squat will place a lot more emphasis on the hamstrings, glutes, and external obliques, however, there will not be as much stress on the quadriceps as the back squat…
So, now that the anatomy of the split squat has been established, what benefits can we expect from the exercise?
Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is called a one-sided lower body movement. A unilateral movement is one where the exercise is performed by a single limb such as an arm or a leg. In contrast, a bilateral exercise is a movement where both limbs work together simultaneously. Common examples of one-sided practices include a one-arm cable pull-up, barbell curls, and in this case, the Bulgarian squat.
One-sided exercises such as the split squat can bring many benefits to your workout, not only aesthetic but also athletic. The benefits include; balance muscle imbalances or weaknesses, strengthening stabilizer muscles, and reducing the likelihood of injury.
A triple extension movement is an exercise in which three joints are extended in the body; hips, knees, and ankles. The practise involves moving from a low, bent position where all the joints are ready to move to an extended position where the joints are locked. The primary examples of this triple extension movement involve; Bulgarian deadlifts, squats, lunges, and split squats.
These exercises mimic many different sports movements such as driving upwards (squats), jumping (box jumping), gripping something (deadlifts). Doing a triple extension-oriented workout every week will provide various benefits. However, the primary use would be to successfully condition the ligaments and muscles of the body to run faster, push harder, and jump more explosively. While the hip extension in the split squat is greater than the back squat, the back squat has a more excellent knee extension.
Growth hormone and testosterone are naturally occurring muscle-building hormones released in the body. The higher the amount available for production in the body, the higher the likelihood of building and developing muscle. Training your legs with compound exercises such as squats, Bulgarian squats, lunges, and deadlifts is a highly effective way to release these hormones during exercise.
Leg training releases a large amount of growth hormone and testosterone because the legs are made up of the largest muscles in the body. The body needs to release more growth hormone to perform and recover, thereby helping other parts of the body develop as well.
In addition to unilaterally balancing your legs, training the lower body through exercises such as the Bulgarian squat will help develop overall body symmetry. This can be useful when recovering from an injury or when trying to improve muscle imbalance.
Because the split squat involves much balance and stability, people associate it with dangerous exercise and do not recommend it for beginners. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
The split squat is a highly safe exercise and can counter low levels of balance and stability. However, if the idea of using one leg to balance a bar on the back is quite daunting, you can also perform it with a lighter weight or use the Smith machine. The fact that the consequences on the Smith machine are impossible to drop during the exercise ensures that you will feel safe and perform the exercise with more confidence.
How to do the Bulgarian Split Squat
1) For the starting position of this exercise, stand lightly in front of a bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. At this point, your body should be facing forward away from the bench.
2) With a bar in front of you, lift it over your chest with an overhand grip (palms facing the floor). Explosively raise the bar above your head, then rest it on your shoulders. You can also use dumbbells as shown in the picture – taken overhead, arms close to the body.
3) At this point, one foot should be moved back to rest on the flat bench while the other foot is positioned directly in front of you.
4) While this preparation phase runs, your back should remain straight and firm while your head is turned forward.
5) While inhaling, gradually lower your leg until it is low enough to feel a contraction. Make sure your knee is off the floor and the other knee is above your toes. Always keep your chest out and back straight while facing forward at all times.
6) As you exhale and contract your quadriceps, bring your leg back to the starting position.
7) Once the number of reps has been completed, return to the starting position and do with the other leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat | Variations
The Bulgarian split squat has many variations that can benefit those with little experience, help those with little balance, or just those who want to change their training! Variations for this exercise include; kettlebell split squats, overhead split squats, cable split squats, bodyweight split squats, plyometric split squats
1. Bulgarian Band Split Squats
Targeted muscles: quadriceps, glutes.
- Place one foot on a solid surface behind you and take a big step. A bench or chair is perfect for this.
- You are keeping your body straight; slowly lower yourself until your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement, then push back to the starting position
“Your positioning is really important. If you are too close to the bench you will feel knee pain, but if you are too far you will put extra pressure on your groin. Make sure that your front knee is not over your toes and don’t forget to keep the core covered and the torso straight ”.
2. Walking lunges
Targeted muscles: quadriceps, glutes.
- Stand up straight with feet together and lunge forward with your right leg, lowering your hips to the floor.
- Bend both knees at 90-degree angles. The back knee should point towards the ground without touching it, and your front knee should be directly above the ankle.
- Contract in this position and continue until the opposite leg now launches forward.
- Keep the core covered and the upper body stable and straight.
- Put your hands on the hips or above your head for more difficulty.
How to do | Recap of the Bulgarian split squat
1) Stand 30cm in front of a bench with your feet shoulder-width apart. The body should be back to the bench.
2) Lift the bar to your chest with an overhand grip. Lift the bar above your head, then rest it on your shoulders.
3) One foot should be moved back to rest on the bench while the other is positioned in front.
4) Gradually lower the leg until it is low enough to feel a contraction. Make sure the back knee is off the ground and the front knee should be above your toes.
5) As you exhale, bring your leg back to the starting position.
6) Once done, return to the starting position and perform with the opposite leg.