December 16, 2021 7 min read

If you've done a Bulgarian split squat, you may tremble just hearing the name. This is a great exercise to incorporate into your leg day, but prepare for your legs and butt to burn. Not for the faint of heart, the Bulgarian split squat is a more advanced movement because of the required strength, balance, stability, and range of motion.

Doing this exercise bodyweight will have you feeling the benefits but add dumbbells or a barbell, and your lower body will really be shaking.

Muscles Worked

The Bulgarian split squat is a killer lower body exercise that recruits different muscle groups, making it a compound exercise. This squat variation is notorious for building muscle, so let's break down exactly where you'll be feeling it.

Glutes

The desire to build bigger glutes has always been around, but it has become increasingly more popular due to the aesthetic but also the benefits strong glutes can produce. You probably haven't seen many athletes with flat behinds, and that's because the glutes are responsible for stabilizing and moving the hips. Weak hips can affect how you run or even walk.

The Bulgarian split squat is a surefire way to activate the glutes, but it's important to understand how to get the most out of it. While performing the split squat, if you lean your upper body slightly forward, that can help target your glutes even more.

Quadriceps

The quads are important for keeping you standing and protecting your knees, so it's no wonder why we should strengthen them. Located in the front of the leg, these muscles are activated in exercises like the squat and leg press. If you want a stronger squat, the quads are some of the big muscles you want to build upon.

To activate your quads, focus on standing straight up as you lower your body up and down. This will help put more emphasis on your legs, while also recruiting your glutes.

Hamstrings

Your hamstrings are used whenever you bend your knee or bend at the hips and are some of the bigger muscles recruited during a deadlift. Although the main muscles worked in the Bulgarian split squat are the quads and glutes, the hamstrings are activated especially during the eccentric motion. These muscles also work as stabilizers to help with balance and support the knees.

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

Although the Bulgarian split squat can be difficult, the benefits it can produce are worth it. Incorporate this exercise into your workout routine and build a stronger lower body.

Man With Strong Legs

Stronger Lower Body

You use your quads and your glutes anytime you get up from a chair, walk around, or climb stairs, so we want to keep them strong. Weak quadriceps can put your knees at risk of injury and can increase your risk of falling. This is especially dangerous as we age because then we can become more susceptible to serious or fatal injuries.

Bulgarian split squats focus primarily on these muscles to help build glute and leg strength . By doing so, you can help improve your quality of life and your other lifts in the gym.

Improve Imbalances

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral exercise, meaning it works one side of the body at a time. Unilateral exercises produce several benefits, one of which being they can help improve muscle or strength imbalances that may be hidden when performing bilateral exercises. Studies suggest that performing unilateral exercises can help improve bilateral performance by indicating weak points and strengthening them.

By this theory, if you want to improve your squat form and/or get a new PR, performing split squats can help increase strength equally in your right and left leg.

Back Squat Alternative

Imagine you don't have access to the gym or all the squat racks are taken, and it's supposed to be your big leg day. Back squats are a superior exercise due to the ability to push a heavier weight than it's cousin, the front squat.

Although it's hard to replace the back squat, studies suggest that the elevated split squat causes similar muscle activation in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings to that of the back squat.

Improve Core Stability

Since the Bulgarian split squat requires balance and stabilization to keep your torso upright and stop the wobbling, it recruits the core. Core stability is crucial for helping to protect your spine, which can assist in other lifts and help prevent potential injuries. Activities you perform everyday are made easier with a strong core such as sitting up straight and even breathing.

Performing exercises like this one can help improve core strength and stability, transferring to your movements in and outside the gym.

How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat

If we've convinced you to try out this squat variation, then it's important to the proper Bulgarian split squat form. Common mistakes can lead to a less effective and even dangerous workout so follow the step-by-step guide below to do it right.

Note: Before you start your workout, consider trying a Pre-Workout like AMPED-AF for maximum energy, enhanced focus, and explosive workouts without a crash. 

1. Find yourself a bench or an elevated surface that reaches just about knee height. If needed, choose a lower surface to lessen the range of motion and help avoid knee pain.

2. Place the top of your back foot on the elevated surface behind you and plant your front foot on the floor. Your front leg should be far enough away from your back leg that both knees could bend to at least 90 degrees.

3. Keep your torso upright, your chest tall, and core tight. Hold this position as you drop your body down, bending both knees at the same time. The movement will be similar to a stationary lunge, so both your front and back knee will bend to 90 degrees. Make sure your front foot is not going over your front knee and your heel stays planted on the ground to help avoid injury.

4. Press through your planted heel as you stand all the way back up to the starting position and get ready for another rep.

Common Mistakes

If you're new to this exercise or performing it feeling fatigued, it can be easy to do it with improper form. Poor form can be detrimental to your workout and can lead to injury. With the Bulgarian split squat being more of a complex movement, it's important you know what to avoid.

Stance is Too Wide

A common mistake found in this exercise and other squat and lunge variations is setting your stance too wide, meaning your front foot is too far out from your rear foot. This can result in less quad activation and a lessened range of motion. Range of motion is important for getting the most out of your workout and can help engage more muscle fibers.

Forced Range

If the flexibility is not there yet, you might find yourself trying to force your range of motion to where it can't go yet. This can be a recipe for a pulled muscle, especially in the hip flexor where the flexibility needs to be. Instead, focus on lowering the elevated surface or sticking with a progression exercise first.

Arched Back

An arched back might be good for bench presses, but it doesn't belong with Bulgarian split squats. If your core needs some strength work, you might find yourself trying to compensate by arching your back to stay upright. It's important to avoid flexing of the spine to help prevent a lower back injury. Instead, lean your torso slightly forward or work on progression exercises.

Bulgarian Split Squat Variations

This exercise may not be for everyone, but there's no reason to not reap the same benefits with different variations. The Bulgarian split squat requires the strength and flexibility that some beginners may lack, so while it's good to incorporate it eventually, it's also important to use progressions if necessary.

On the other side, there are more advanced lifters who may not find this exercise easy but could use more of a challenge. The obvious challenge would be to incorporate strength training with weights or resistance bands, but there are also more creative alternatives that can target the same muscle groups.

Single-Leg Squat

This variation is a great way to challenge the split squat. The single-leg squat is exactly what it sounds like--a squat done on one leg, also known as a pistol squat. Challenging balance and strength, this exercise can be difficult even for experienced lifters. Just like the split squat, it targets the quads and glutes and produces the benefits that other unilateral exercises would.

With one leg out in front if you, keep your chest up and core tight. Lower yourself to the ground, just like you would in a squat, but balance yourself on your planted foot. Keep in mind, the same form cues for a bilateral squat apply to this variation, such as weight should go through your heel and your knee should not go over your toe.

Step-ups

Keep the bench out for this variation that targets the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Step-ups are great for building strength and are easily modifiable. Since it is also a unilateral exercise, you can equally work both sides of the body. This exercise isn't easy, but it is more of a beginner friendly movement since it mimics an everyday movement of climbing stairs.

Find an elevated surface appropriate for your fitness level. As you step up, look where you're stepping to avoid tripping. Plant your right foot up on the bench and press your weight through it until your left foot lifts from the ground. Stand all the way up and place both feet on the bench. Step back down and repeat.

Stationary Lunge

Single-Leg Squat

The lunge is a great way to target the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. The Bulgarian split squat uses a similar movement to the stationary lunge since both feet stay in the same position until you're ready to switch legs.

This variation is a simple transition, and all you need to do is get rid of the bench. Stagger your stance, keep your torso upright, and lunge down to the ground, bending both knees to 90 degrees.

Final Thoughts

The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to implement into your gym routine if you're looking to build a stronger lower body. Remember, unilateral exercises like this one could be the missing piece you're needing for that squat PR.

What you do outside the gym is just as important as what you do inside the gym—if not even more important. If you're really looking to build strength and muscle, this exercise will help, but it's your diet and recovery that will really help get those gains.

Enough chatting, let's get out there and build that lower body you're striving for.

Note: To get the most out of your workout, consider trying RIPPED STACK, which is an Advanced T-Boosted Muscle & Strength Builder stack.