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Bulgarian Split Squat Guide | Setup, Form, Benefits, and Mistakes

How To Bulgarian Split Squat

Establish a strong setup

I always stress establishing a good setup when it comes to getting the most out of your Bulgarian split squats. Traditionally, you’ll perform them with your back foot on a bench.

I’d suggest taking a stride length that allows you to sink to your full range of motion while keeping your front foot planted. If you’re coming up on your toes then you may need to make your stride length longer.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat Step 1 Setup

If you’re new to Bulgarian split squats and you find that a bench feels too high for your mobility needs, then I’d suggest modifying your setup slightly. Far too often, lifters try to force mobility and range of motion with this exercise.

One of my favorite ways to modify how one sets up in the Bulgarian split squat is to bring down the height of the back implement slightly. Generally, I’ll place a plate on a low box or surface to accomplish this for clients.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat Step 1 Regressed Setup

This modified setup is great because you can still get the benefits of Bulgarian split squats without trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Plus, doing this variation with your full range of motion will help improve mobility.

Control your descent

Once you’ve nailed your setup, start to descend into your Bulgarian split squat. A cue that I love to use is to think, “Elevator, not escalator,” with the hips. This means that you’ll try to move relatively vertically throughout your reps.

As you descend, think about keeping a majority of your weight on the front leg while putting some pressure on the back foot to create a nice stretch on the quad. This helps you hit both legs from a shortened and lengthened context.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat Step 2 Descent

Drive through the floor and stand

Once you’ve hit your end range of motion, drive the front foot into the floor and keep a little pressure on the back foot to allow the right and left leg’s quads to work.

Stand fully up with the weight and squeeze the quad and glutes. I like to use this physical cue because it allows lifters to know when they’ve completed a rep and when to start the next rep.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat Step 3 Ascent

The Bulgarian split squat is arguably the most loved and hated exercise in the gym. For example, the gains that come with this exercise are awesome, but at the moment they can feel seriously brutal and make us question our existence.

I’m a huge fan of programming Bulgarian split squats for both myself and my clients. Few exercises in the gym can blow up the quads and glutes in a more efficient way than a perfectly executed Bulgarian split squat.

The Bulgarian split squat is an awesome exercise for strengthening and putting mass on the quads and glutes. This exercise entails performing a split squat with the back foot elevated which places even more stress on the front leg.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat for Quads and Glutes

Once you’ve mastered the traditional Bulgarian split squat, you can start to bias this exercise to increase the focus on your quads and glutes. To do this, you’ll need to make a few changes to your Bulgarian split squat’s execution.

Bulgarian Split Squat for Quads

If you’re feeling super spicey and want to hammer your quads even more with the Bulgarian split squat then there are two tweaks to your form to get even more quad involvement.

To get more quad with this exercise, we want to focus on optimizing the stretch that we’re placing on the front leg’s quad muscles. To do this, we’ll want the knee to track further over the toes and there are two ways to accomplish this.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat for quads

  • Option 1: Bring your stance in slightly. By shortening your stance, you can sink more into the front leg and keep your weight over it to get the knee to track further over the toes. You’ll need a good level of ankle mobility to accomplish this.
  • Option 2: Wear weightlifting shoes or stand on a wedge/plate. By elevating the heel, we’ll place the knee into an environment that can feed more into forward knee translation. This can be a great way to get a quad bias without needing a lot of ankle mobility.

Some useful cues that I like to use involve, “Sink into the front leg and find your big toe.” These cues can help ensure you’re hammering the quads on the front leg to your fullest extent.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat for quad bias

If you’re going to use option 2, I typically recommend using a heel wedge or weightlifting shoes over a plate. You’ll get more surface area with these options which will increase stability and that can translate to better work output.

Note, I’m using a plate in this article because I forgot my weightlifting shoes at home and didn’t have a wedge when I was filming clips for this tutorial and guide. I typically opt for those over a plate in most cases.

Bulgarian Split Squat for Glutes

To bias the glutes with Bulgarian split squats, you’ll want to be a little more “hingey” and hip-focused with your reps. This is a Bulgarian split squat variation that I’ve been playing with a lot and I’ve really enjoyed the glute stimulus I get with them.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat for glutes

In order for us to hit the glutes even more with the Bulgarian split squat, we’ll want deeper hip flexion to place a greater stretch on the glute muscles. To do this, you’ll bring your stance out slightly and then flex the torso forward slightly and think “hips” at the top.

It’s important to not fold at the torso but instead maintain a neutral spine with a forward lean, as this will give you a great glute stretch compared to rounding the torso.

How To Bulgarian Split Squat for glute bias

The knee shouldn’t track super far over the toes if you’re doing this variation correctly. When you stand up with the weight, think about keeping the pressure on your front foot in the lateral part of your heel. Good luck, glutes.

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

Bulgarian split squats come with countless benefits and the benefits will ebb and flow based on your goals and how you’re using them in your workouts. Below are three of my favorite benefits of Bulgarian split squats.

1. Great for Packing On Leg Mass

If your goal is building your quads, glutes, and legs in general, then the Bulgarian split squat should be your best friend. This exercise is awesome for hitting the glutes and quads due to the stress it places on them.

Since the back foot is elevated, you’ll get a good degree of work for the quads on the front leg and for the glutes as you sink into your reps with a full range of motion.

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

If your goal is hypertrophy, don’t be afraid to also play around with “sock lockouts” with Bulgarian split squats. This entails stopping your lockout just short of a fully locked-out front leg and descending into your next rep right away.

This can be a great way to keep hypertrophy intent high and to increase the time under tension that you’re placing on the quads and glutes while doing reps. Your adductors, hamstrings, and calves will also receive an excellent stimulus from Bulgarian split squats.

2. Fantastic for Building Leg Strength

Outside of being a great mass builder, Bulgarian split squats can be awesome for building single-leg strength. Whether you’re a strength athlete, recreational lifter, or sports athlete, you can never have enough single-leg strength (depending on your goals).

Bulgarian Split Squat Strength Benefits

Since the Bulgarian split squat places most of the emphasis on the front leg performing the single squat, they can be awesome for building your leg’s capacity for tolerating stress and different loads.

If you’re consistently using Bulgarian split squats then I’d be shocked if you didn’t notice a fairly noticeable strength improvement for your quads, glutes, and adductors.

3. Sports and Real World Carryover

Outside of building strength and mass, Bulgarian split squats can also be great tools for helping you improve your balance, coordination, and mobility. These can all be byproducts of practicing and improving your Bulgarian split squats.

Bulgarian Split Squat Athletic Benefits

With the back foot elevated, you’ll get a nice passive mobility benefit for the hips when working through your Bulgarian split squat reps. You also have to work on balancing yourself on one leg while managing weight is where the coordination and balance benefits come in.

Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked

The Bulgarian split squat will work a lot of the same muscles as the traditional split squat. However, this exercise when performed in a traditional context can give you a little more bang for your buck regarding quad involvement.

What Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squats Train?

Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked

Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

As noted above, you can bias different muscle groups when performing Bulgarian split squats by altering your mechanics slightly.

Bulgarian Split Squat Mistake

I think the biggest Bulgarian split squat mistake that I see lifters make with forcing a range of motion that may not be there. Generally speaking, the main mistake I see lifters make is setting up sub-optimally.

Mistake 1: Setting Up Bulgarian Split Squats Poorly

If you’re brand new to training or in the process of improving your hip mobility so you can do exercises like Bulgarian split squats seamlessly then you’ll want to really mindful of how you’re setting up this exercise.

A lot of times I’ll see lifters use a bench but then only work through 50-70% of the range of the motion that they could be working through. I’ll also see lifters shift their form to compensate because they don’t have the hip mobility for the bench.

Bulgarian Split Squat Modifications

If this sounds like you, try adjusting the height at which you’re placing the back leg. This can be useful because it won’t require as much hip extension on the back leg and it can help you to start improving your hip mobility for normal Bulgarian split squats.

Typically, there are three ways that I’d suggest setting up for modified Bulgarian split squat in the context of using a lower elevation.

  1. Use a Bulgarian split squat attachment on a rack at a lower height.
  2. Grab a low box and angle a plate on it.
  3. Place your foot on a decline bench.

If you try out any of these Bulgarian split squat modifications, drop a comment down below and let me know how you like them and if they worked for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
What is Bulgarian split squat good for?

A:
The Bulgarian split squat can be a great exercise for adding mass to the quads and glutes and building single-leg strength. This exercise can also have a positive carryover for hip mobility and balance.

Q:
What is the difference between a split squat and a Bulgarian split squat?

A:
A traditional split squat is performed with both feet place on the ground. The Bulgarian split squat entails elevated the back leg so a majority of your weight and focus is biased toward the front leg.

Q:
Which is better lunges or Bulgarian split squat?

A:
The lunge and Bulgarian split squat are both great for different reasons. One is not necessarily outright better than the other, however, your goals and training needs can make each exercise better for you depending on the context.

Q:
What does Bulgarian split squat work?

A:
The Bulgarian split squat will primarily train the quads and glutes. The hamstrings, calves, and adductors will also be worked and your range of motion and setup can play a role in how much these muscles are working.

Q:
How do you set up for a Bulgarian split squat?

A:
Traditionally, you'll set up for Bulgarian split squats by placing the back leg on a bench or a Bulgarian split squat squat rack attachment. If you're newer to Bulgarian split squats then placing your back foot on a lower surface can be beneficial.

Takeaway Thoughts

We all love to hate them, but there’s no denying how awesome Bulgarian split squats can be for building the legs. This exercise is phenomenal for building quads and glutes.

If you’re new to Bulgarian split squats remember to ease into them and to use a setup that makes sense for your current training level and needs.

If you have additional questions about the Bulgarian split squat, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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