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Bulgarian Split Squats: How To Do, Risks,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing Bulgarian split squats, what will the effects be?

Bulgarian split squats, also known as rear foot elevated split squats, are an exercise where you put one foot on an elevated platform behind you and then squat through your front leg.

Bulgarian split squats are good for building leg muscle strength and endurance. In turn, this makes Bulgarian split squats also good for fitness goals like losing weight, longevity, and athletic performance.

Keep in mind that Bulgarian split squats can be hard on your knees, especially if you do them with suboptimal technique.

Whether you should add Bulgarian split squats or alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a Bulgarian split squat

For Bulgarian split squats you want a step, bench, chair, or any other stable object at about knee height. Once you have that, to do a Bulgarian split squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand in front of the stable object with your back towards it. Keep about half a leg distance between you and the object.
  2. Move one leg back and put the foot of this side on the object. The top of your foot should lean on the surface of the object. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  3. Slowly lower your hips by bending the knee of your stretched leg until your hip is at about the height of your knee of the previously stretched leg. Use your arms for balance if needed.
  4. Push yourself up again into the position of step 2.
  5. Repeat the same number of repetitions on the leg of the other side to keep your muscle distribution balanced.

Make sure you do the same number of repetitions with each leg first to avoid any muscle imbalances.

There are a lot of attention points to get Bulgarian split squats exactly right. Initially, you may have to start at the bottom of the movement to get your foot position right.

At the bottom of the movement, you want your front lower leg slightly tilted forward but at the same time, you want your knee to stay behind the toes of your foot. Also keep your feet at about shoulder width apart when it comes to width.

Something else to pay attention to is keeping your front foot flat on the ground. Most of your weight will rest on your front leg and ideally you want to go up and down about vertically, not sideways.

Lastly, keep your back straight throughout the movement and your front knee above your front foot.

How to do a Bulgarian split squat

Bulgarian split squat variations and build-up exercises

The Bulgarian split squat done with just your body weight and standing still is the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few Bulgarian split squat variations and build-up exercises that can make the exercise easier or harder or help you work toward a full Bulgarian split squat.

Easier varations and build-up exercises

Some people are not ready yet for a full Bulgarian split squat. You can also do other build-up exercises. The first example is a VMO dip. This is where you stand on the edge of an elevated platform with one foot in the air. You then bend the knee of the support leg just a small amount and raise yourself back up.

The vastus medialis oblique is a muscle that plays a role in knee health. If you can’t do Bulgarian split squats because your knees hurt, strengthening this muscle with VMO dips may help you resolve this issue.

Another reason why individuals can not do full Bulgarian split squats (yet) is that their quadriceps, glutes, and other muscles are not yet strong enough to lift their full body weight.

If this is the case you can start with bodyweight squats. In this exercise, each of your legs only carries half the amount of weight compared to a Bulgarian split squat. Once your muscles are strong enough you can then switch to Bulgarian split squats.

Another option is to lower your body only a small amount instead of going for the full 90-degree angle in your front knee. All of these will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.

Harder variations

If you are more experienced with leg resistance training, bodyweight Bulgarian split squats may be too easy to build a lot of extra muscle mass fast. At this point, you need to turn to other leg exercises or make Bulgarian split squats harder to keep growing your leg muscles a lot.

Making Bulgarian split squats harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up muscle growth compared to doing the bodyweight variation over and over.

The main way to do this is to do weighted Bulgarian split squats. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights or resistance to make it harder.

The best way to do this is with free weights, preferably no-handed or one-handed weights. Some examples of these are a weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, grocery bags, etc.

The reason for this is that Bulgarian split squats do require some balance to do successfully. With these types of weights, you can still use your arms for balance if needed. You can also implement a variety of holds with each a slightly different focus.

That being said, you can definitely also use two-handed weights like a barbell for Bulgarian split squats. This will likely be challenging for your balance so make sure you can do the bodyweight version without a problem first.

Muscles worked with Bulgarian split squats

Some of the primary muscles worked with Bulgarian split squats include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Calves

Some of the secondary muscles worked with Bulgarian split squats include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Core
  • Erector spinae
  • Hip abductors
  • Hip adductors

Although these other muscles play a role as well, Bulgarian split squats will mainly focus on your quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles.

For both bodyweight Bulgarian split squats and weighted variations, to build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 Bulgarian split squats depending on how advanced you are.

Benefits of Bulgarian split squats

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding Bulgarian split squats to your routine can offer you some amazing benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Bulgarian split squats are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your leg muscles.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing Bulgarian split squats likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss.
  3. Improves mood: Exercise like Bulgarian split squats promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries: By putting your whole weight on one leg at a time you reduce the risk of using one leg more than the other like in certain other exercises. This can help you avoid muscle asymmetries.
  5. Improves sleep: Exercise like Bulgarian split squats can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Bulgarian split squats won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
  7. Balance and coordination: Balance and coordination are fitness skills that can be improved by challenging them. Bulgarian split squats will definitely challenge these skills.
  8. Flexibility and mobility: Bulgarian split squats can push your boundaries when it comes to range of motion of certain body parts. By doing this you can gain some flexibility and mobility.

While inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than Bulgarian split squats, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that Bulgarian split squats can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any knee pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before implementing Bulgarian split squats into your workout routine.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that Bulgarian split squats are not (yet) for you.

Bulgarian split squat alternatives

While Bulgarian split squats can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your leg muscles. Some of these Bulgarian split squat alternatives include:

  • Step-ups
  • Squats
  • Jump lunges
  • Leg extensions
  • Balance board exercises
  • Hip thrusts

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.

Conclusion

Most people will benefit a lot from adding Bulgarian split squats with the right technique to their routine. They can be a great exercise option to strengthen and grow a variety of important leg muscles.

The main thing to keep in mind is that Bulgarian split squats can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any knee pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before doing more Bulgarian split squats.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing Bulgarian split squats is a workout you love, great. If not other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more Bulgarian split squats make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.