Leg exercises generally receive a lot of hate in the fitness world. Nobody really wants to commit to a leg day, but it is entirely necessary to avoid chicken leg ridicule. And, while there may be a number of barbell squat variations and lunges you can perform, no leg exercise causes quite as much gruelling pain as the Bulgarian split squat.
But, get through the pain and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most effective leg exercises around. First things first, however, is mastering the technique.
How To Perform A Bulgarian Split Squat
There are actually two variations of the Bulgarian split squat you can perform. One targets your glutes and the other targets your quads. The set-up changes depending on which muscle group you want to hit, albeit only slightly.
Both variations require your rear foot to be elevated, inducing the ‘split’ in the split squat. To elevate your rear foot, you will need to secure yourself a muscle bench. From here, as British personal trainer, Tom Bailey PT says, you can opt to have your rear foot flat on the bench, with your laces touching the bench. Or, if this causes cramps in your foot, you can simply press your toes into the bench.
He adds that if you need to go with the toes down approach, then you can do away with the muscle bench and simply use an elevated platform that is lower than the bench, but that will still elevate your rear foot above your front.
Tom says this “allows full depth without limiting the hip flexors.”
One of the most common pitfalls of people not being able to perform the Bulgarian split squat properly is that they lose their balance during the movement. To help alleviate this happening – and if you’re new to the movement entirely – then it’s recommended that you perform it using just bodyweight, before adding some dumbbells into the mix.
Tom touches on this subject, explaining that if you find it hard to balance, then “start with your feet shoulder-width apart and take the leg back in a straight line onto the bench, instead of having the rear foot lined up behind the front.”
He adds that having this wider diagonal stance will provide greater balance during the movement.
If you want to use the Bulgarian split squat to target your glutes, then once you have your rear foot on the bench, you’ll want to step forward with your leading foot. From here, hinge your hips back so that your upper body is at an angle.
Then, drop your rear knee to the floor and push back up through the heel of your leading foot.
If you want to target your quad muscles (this is the version that can make even the toughest men cry) then you’ll want to have your leading foot brought back closer to the bench and your upper body remain upright.
To perform the squat movement, push your leading knee forward and your rear knee comes down the ground. Again, push back up through the heel of your leading foot.
Tom adds that if you really want to cause yourself some pain but place even more emphasis on building your quads, then you can use a heel wedge placed under your leading foot. If you’re new to the Bulgarian split squat, then we’d recommended not doing this until you have the movement nailed down to perfection.
After completing the Bulgarian split squat for a few weeks using just bodyweight, you can start thinking about introducing dumbbells, by holding one in each hand. Start off using a lightweight, because it’s going to burn. But those muscles aren’t going to grow themselves…