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10 Top Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives

Bulgarian split squats can offer many benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to Bulgarian split squats with similar benefits?

Bulgarian split squats, both body weight and with extra weights, are a popular leg strength training exercise where you put one foot on an elevated platform and then squat through your front leg.

Among other benefits, Bulgarian split squats can strengthen your leg muscles, they are an exercise you can do at home, low-impact, they improve balance, etc.

Whether you don’t enjoy Bulgarian split squats, you want an alternative for bad knees, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to Bulgarian split squats can offer you some or all of the same benefits.

If you are looking for a Bulgarian split squat alternative because you seemingly don’t have a step or bench available, keep in mind that instead of these objects, you can use things like a sturdy chair or even just regular stairs for the Bulgarian split squat exercise.

Keep in mind that implementing these alternatives can offer benefits but like any exercise, there is always some risk of injury. Implement a good technique to keep your injury risk low. When in doubt talk to an expert.

1. Lunges

Walking lunges are a great no-equipment alternative to Bulgarian split squats, especially if you make the effort of putting your weight mainly on your front leg. To do two walking lunges take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Take a big step forward so that you get into a position where both of your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Your front foot should be flat on the ground, your back foot should only touch the ground with the ball of the foot (front).
  3. Move your back foot forward and get into the same position as step 2 but with your other foot in the front.

To build the most leg muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 lunges depending on how advanced you are. Similar to Bulgarian split squats it is relatively easy to add external weights to lunges.

If you want to make lunges even more challenging for your balance you can consider doing this exercise on a Bosu Ball. There are also a variety of lunge variations to focus on slightly different aspects of your physical health.

How to do walking lunges

2. Leg extensions

For this next Bulgarian split squat alternative you need suited resistance bands and an anchor object. Once you have these to do a resistance band leg extension take the following steps:

  1. Anchor the resistance band somewhere close to the ground. If you are using a chair you can anchor it at the back chair legs.
  2. Sit on the object you chose with your back to the anchor. Anchor the other end of the resistance band behind your feet. Make sure your folded leg already feels a pull from the resistance band.
  3. Slowly stretch your legs with the resistance band until they are fully stretched.
  4. Move your feet back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.

You can also do leg extensions on the specific gym machine made for this exercise or with ankle weights.

Leg extensions are an exercise to isolate your quadriceps muscles. So if you don’t like the compound aspect of Bulgarian split squats this could be a suited alternative to work out one specific muscle group.

Besides that leg extensions are also a more knee-friendly way to train your quadriceps compared to Bulgarian split squats.

How to do a resistance band leg extension

3. Squats

Squats are one of the, if not the most, popular leg exercises, and for a good reason. They are great for building leg muscle and make a great alternative to Bulgarian split squats in many areas. To do a squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
  3. Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.

One potential downside of squats is that more experienced exercisers need external weights like dumbbells, a weighted vest, a barbell, etc. to make this exercise more challenging. With an exercise like Bulgarian split squats where your body weight rests on a single leg, this is less necessary.

Another difference is that squats generally require less balancing. Squats also engage both legs at the same time. These can be both an advantage or disadvantage depending on your training goals and personal situation.

How to do a bodyweight squat

4. VMO dips

For this next exercise, you want a platform that is slightly elevated, even 6 inches (15 cm) works, above the floor. An example of a suited object is a low stepper. Once you have that to do VMO dips take the following steps:

  1. Stand straight up on the edge of the platform, feet full on it, with your toes facing the lower surface.
  2. Move one foot forward so that it hovers over the edge.
  3. Fold the knee of your support leg in a controlled motion until your heel of the other foot touches the lower surface.
  4. Slowly stretch your support leg again.
  5. Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other leg as the support leg.

The vastus medialis oblique (VMO) is one of your four quadriceps (upper leg) muscles. If your knee hurts when doing exercises like Bulgarian split squats it is possible this particular muscle is not yet strong enough.

This is where VMO dips can help you strengthen the VMO muscle so that over time you can go to regular Bulgarian split squats and other effective leg exercises that require knee folding.

5. Hip thrusts

Hip thrusts are similar to glute bridges but instead of doing them on the ground, you will need a bench or any other stable object of the right height. To do a hip thrust take the following steps:

  1. Sit right in front of the bench or other object you will use with your back slightly over the edge. Make sure the object is stable. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width in a position where your knees will be at a 90-degree angle in the next step.
  2. Move up your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower your body again.

One of the most common ways to add extra resistance to hip thrusts is with the help of a barbell.

Hip thrusts mainly engage your glute, also known as your butt, and hamstring muscles. This makes the hip thrust a good Bulgarian split squat alternative if you are mostly interested in strengthening your glutes.

6. Box jumps

For this next exercise, you need an elevated platform that is strong and stable enough to jump on. An example of a suited object is a good plyo box. To do a box jump take the following steps:

  1. Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at shoulder-width.
  2. Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
  3. Swing your arms to the front again and at the same time jump forward on top of the box. When landing you want to have your knees more or less at the quarter squat again. If you are squatted lower, this may be a sign the box is too high for your current jump level.

Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries. For box jumps it is also smart to start with a low height and build up from there. Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing when doing box jumps.

The way you train your muscles influences what fitness component you improve. Bulgarian split squats at a slower pace will train either muscle endurance or muscle strength. Box jumps can be a good alternative if you want to work on your muscle power fitness component.

If you want to stay in the unilateral (training one leg at a time) category you can also do jump lunges to train leg muscle power.

7. Step-ups

For step-ups you will need a stable object strong enough to stand on. A plyo box, a stepper, and even some weight benches are examples of suited objects for step-ups. If you have one, to do step-up take the following steps:

  1. Stand upright in front of the object facing toward it with your feet at shoulder-width.
  2. Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface.
  3. Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object.
  4. Put your second foot next to the other one.
  5. Step down with the first foot.
  6. Step down with the second foot.
  7. Do a repetition with the other foot first.

Step-ups are an alternative to Bulgarian split squats with a very similar movement and similar benefits. That being said, step-ups can be slightly easier on your knees and you will not have to pay attention to balance as much.

Like with most of these exercises, you can use external weights like a weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. to make step-ups a more challenging leg workout.

How to do a step-up

8. Single leg balance board

Balance boards are a piece of fitness equipment that can be described as an unbalanced surface. You can use it in a wide variety of exercises if you are interested in a Bulgarian split squat alternative that is mostly focused on improving balance.

If you are interested in building a lot of muscle, balance boards are generally not the best piece of fitness tool.

A simple exercise you can do is standing on one leg on the balance board. The goal is to stand on the balance board without having the edges touch the ground. By focusing your eyes on a static object and using your arms, balancing can become easier.

Make sure you can stand on one leg on the regular ground before trying out this exercise.

Balance board 1 leg balance exercise gif

9. Deadlifts

For the next exercise you likely need external weights, preferably a barbell. You can also use other free weights and even resistance bands. To do a deadlift with a barbell take the following steps:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
  2. Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground.
  3. Stretch your knees and tilt back your upper body at the same time until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
  4. Slowly move back into the position of step 2.

Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all.

Deadlifts are similar to Bulgarian split squats in that they are an effective way train your leg muscles. On top of that, this exercise also engages your back muscles.

10. Sled pushes

There is a piece of gym equipment that is a sled on which you can put weights. For this next Bulgarian split squat alternative, you will need this piece of equipment and a suited surface to push the sled on. If you have these to do sled pushes take the following steps:

  1. Load the sled with whatever weight you want to use.
  2. Hold the sled with your two hands and slightly less than stretched arms. Lower your upper body until it is in about a straight line with your arms. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
  3. Push the sled by taking step after step.

The sled can also be used as a cardio tool but the goal here is to make the sled push a resistance training exercise. If you can gain a lot of speed you may want to increase the amount of weight on the sled.

Another thing you want to do to make the sled push as close to a Bulgarian split squat alternative as possible is gripping it somewhere low. This makes it easier for your legs to do the full extension.