Bulgarian split squats are a popular option when it comes to leg exercises but not everyone likes them. Discover a few alternatives to this exercise.
Some of the main benefits of Bulgarian split squats are that they help you train important leg muscles, offer a lot of resistance without equipment, are low-impact, can improve balance, etc.
On the flip side, some people find Bulgarian split squats uncomfortable on their knees, don’t like the balance aspect, or want alternatives for other reasons.
In these cases, one or more of the exercises below could be better choices.
Something to note first is that many people won’t necessarily need a plyo box or bench to do Bulgarian split squats. If you don’t use that much extra weight, something like a sturdy chair or even just stair steps could be good enough.
When it comes to exercises with similar benefits, lunges will be a great no-equipment alternative to Bulgarian split squats. Take the following steps to do two walking lunges:
- Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Take a big step forward and slowly lower your hips so that you get in a position where both of your knees are at more or less 90-degree angles. Your front foot should be flat on the ground and most of your weight should rest on it. Your back foot is mostly there for balance and only touches the ground with the front of the foot.
- Stretch your front leg in a controlled motion and move the back foot next to the other foot.
- Repeat step 2 but with your other foot first.
Lunges are similar to Bulgarian split squats but they require less equipment and are just a bit less challenging to do in terms of balance.
At the same time, you still work your quadriceps, inner thighs, and outer thighs to large extents.
How many lunges you should do depends on your training goals. For muscle growth, you want to do about 3 to set sets of 6 to 15 (weighted) repetitions on each side.
Similar to Bulgarian split squats it is relatively easy to add external weights to lunges if this is needed to see results.
2. Leg extensions
To do this next Bulgarian split squat alternative, most people will prefer using resistance bands and something sturdy to sit on like a chair.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a resistance band leg extension:
- Anchor the resistance band to something sturdy that is located close to the ground. If you are using a chair or weight bench, you can anchor it at the back chair legs or at the weight bench legs.
- Sit on the sturdy object of choice with your back to the anchor. Loop the free end of the resistance band around your ankles. In this position, you already want to feel a pull from the resistance band on your leg muscles. Put your hands or a soft object below your upper legs.
- Slowly stretch your leg(s) with the resistance bands.
- Lower your foot back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Resistance bands are great but you can also consider other ways to do leg extensions at home or in the gym like ankle weights or a specific weight bench.
That aside, leg extensions can be a good alternative to Bulgarian split squats for people who really want to isolate their quadricep muscles.
This movement requires no balancing or engagement from other muscles. A good amount of people will also find leg extensions more comfortable on their knees than Bulgarian split squats.
One thing to note is that you likely don’t want to forget training your hamstring and glute muscles. This would lead to muscle imbalances.
Squats are another very popular option when it comes to leg exercises and for good reasons. Take the following steps to do the bodyweight version of this exercise:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Lower your body by folding your knees in a controlled motion. Ideally, until your hips are below knee height but less deep if needed due to discomfort. You will need to tilt your upper body forward for balance but keep your spine straight throughout the movement.
- After a second or two of rest, slowly push yourself up again by stretching your legs.
Squats are a great Bulgarian split alternative in that they also work your quadriceps a lot and your glutes, hamstrings, and calves to a certain extent.
That being said, one important difference is that you use two legs in squats. This makes the exercise easier which can be helpful for people who find Bulgarian split squats too challenging.
On the flip side, that also means many people will need external weights like dumbbells, a weighted vest, a barbell, etc. to make squats challenging enough to see significant muscle growth results.
Another difference is that squats engage your balance less. Again, this can be good or bad depending on your training goals and personal situation.
4. VMO dips
For this next exercise, you want a platform that is slightly elevated. Even something like 6 inches (15 cm) works. Once you have that, take the following steps to do VMO dips:
- Stand up straight right next to one of the edges of the platform with your face toward the edge.
- Move one foot forward so that it hovers over the edge.
- Fold the knee of your support leg as far as comfortable in a controlled motion.
- Slowly stretch your support leg again.
- Complete your sets and repeat the same number of repetitions with your other leg.
The vastus medialis oblique (VMO) is one of your four quadriceps (upper leg) muscles. Some people find Bulgarian split squats uncomfortable on their knees because this muscle is not strong enough yet.
This is where VMO dips can help you strengthen the VMO muscle. Over time, this could allow you to get to a point where it becomes possible to do Bulgarian split squats and other compound quadricep exercises.
5. Hip thrusts
To do hip thrusts you need a bench or something similar at about knee height and resistance. For example a barbell.
Once you have the required gear, take the following steps to do a hip thrust:
- Sit right in front of the weight bench with your shoulders leaning against the edge. Keep the weight of choice on your hips and your feet flat on the ground at a distance slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You want your knees to be at 90 degrees after completing the next step.
- Raise your hips in a controlled motion until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your hips again.
Hip thrusts are a Bulgarian split squat alternative with a relatively different focus.
Knee-flexion-focused exercises like Bulgarian split squats do engage your glutes and hamstrings to some extent but they mostly work your quadriceps.
On the flip side, hip thrusts are an exercise that really isolates your glute and hamstring muscles. This can be an upside or downside depending on your training goals.
6. Box jumps
For this next Bulgarian split squat alternative, 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. Take the following steps to do a box jump:
- Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at shoulder width.
- Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
- Swing your arms forward and upward 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.
It is smart to start with a low height and build up from there in box jumps.
Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing in this exercise. Bumping your shins against the edge is not fun.
The way you train your muscles influences what fitness component you improve. Bulgarian split squats at a slower pace will focus on 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 and more specifically quadriceps muscle power.
To do step-ups you need a stable elevated surface that is strong enough to put your body weight and any extra weights on.
Examples of objects you can use include a plyo box, a sturdy stepper, and even some weight benches. Take the following steps to do a step-up:
- Stand upright in front of the object with your face toward it and your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface.
- Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object. The other leg should not really do anything besides move for balance.
- Complete your sets and repeat the same number of repetitions.
Step-ups are an alternative to Bulgarian split squats that is very similar in terms of movement and benefits.
One difference is that some people will find step-ups more comfortable on their knees. Additionally, you may find step-ups slightly easier than Bulgarian split squats in terms of balance.
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.
8. Single leg balance board
You can describe balance boards as flat surfaces with a bump. This makes them challenging to stand on in terms of balance.
This is definitely one of the more unusual Bulgarian split squat alternatives.
However, there are cases where people don’t like the balance aspect of Bulgarian split squats during their leg resistance training workouts but still want to train balance.
In a situation like that, standing on one leg on this piece of fitness equipment or doing one of the other balance board exercises can be helpful.
At the same time, it should be clear that balance boards are not good for growing and strengthening leg muscles.
In theory, you could do deadlifts with just your body weight. That being said, most people will need some type of free weights or something like thick resistance bands.
Take the following steps to do a deadlift with a barbell:
- Load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates and stand in front of it.
- Hold the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart but keep your spine straight and shoulder blades pulled somewhat back throughout the exercise.
- Slowly stretch your legs and tilt your upper body back at the same time until you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands.
- Tilt your upper body forward and fold your knees until the barbell is back on the ground.
Deadlifts are an exercise where you really want to pay attention to implementing the good technique. More specifically, keep your spine straight and shoulder blades back.
That aside, similar to hip thrusts, deadlifts are another alternative that focuses a relatively high amount on your glutes and hamstrings.
At the same time, while not as much as in Bulgarian split squats, your quadriceps still have to work a nice amount in the first part of the deadlift.
10. Sled pushes
There is a piece of gym equipment that is a sled that can be loaded with free weights.
As the name implies this next Bulgarian split squat alternative requires you to a workout sled and a suited surface to push the piece of fitness equipment on.
Once you have these things, take the following steps to do sled pushes:
- Load the sled with the desired amount of weight.
- Put your two hands on the sled and keep your arms slightly less than stretched. Tilt your upper body forward until it is in about a straight line with your arms. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Push the sled by taking step after step.
A workout sled can also be used as a cardio tool but the goal here is to make the sled push a resistance training exercise for your quadricep and to some extent glute and hamstring muscles.
If you can gain a lot of speed during sled pushes, you likely want to increase the weight you use in this Bulgarian split squat.
To focus just a bit more on your glutes and hamstrings you can hold the workout sled relatively low to the ground.