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Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats: How To,…

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

Bulgarian split squats are a popular leg strength training exercise where you put one foot on an elevated platform behind you and then squat through your front leg.

One potential downside of the Bulgarian split squats is that for people more experienced with resistance training the bodyweight version of the exercise is not challenging enough to build a lot of muscle.

One way to solve this is to carry one or two dumbbells while doing Bulgarian split squats. There are different ways to hold the dumbbells with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

How to do a dumbbell Bulgarian split squat

For Bulgarian split squats you want a step, bench, or any other stable object at about knee height. Make sure the object can handle the extra weight from the dumbbells.

This article will consider a Bulgarian split squat with two dumbbells in your hands with your arms hanging beside you the standard version of a dumbbell Bulgarian split squat. To do this type of dumbbell Bulgarian split squat take the following steps:

  1. Stand in front of the stable object with your back towards it and one dumbbell in each hand. Keep about a leg distance between you and the object. Let your arms hang beside you throughout the exercise but use them for balance if needed.
  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. If needed take a few small jumps forward to get into position.
  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.

Especially when doing Bulgarian split squats with the extra weight from a dumbbell or two you want to pay attention to keeping your back straight during the exercise.

It is likely that more of your attention will have to go to balance yourself. Even so, don’t forget the main attention points of Bulgarian split squats like keeping your front knee behind the toes of that side’s foot.

How to do a dumbbell Bulgarian split squat

Dumbbell Bulgarian split squat hold variations

The dumbbell is a versatile piece of equipment that can be held in a variety of ways. Depending on your personal situation, preference, and training goals some may be better choices than others.

The standard type of hold is holding two dumbbells, one in each hand. One downside of this option is that it is hard on your grip muscles.

Your grip muscles are a lot weaker than your leg muscles, even if you train them with grip strength equipment. This means your forearms may fatigue faster than your leg muscles during dumbbell Bulgarian split squats.

If you want to do a Bulgarian split squat with only one dumbbell, you can hold it similar to a goblet squat. This means holding one weight of the dumbbell with two hands but folding your arms at the elbows and holding the weight against your chest.

A downside of this type of hold is that at very heavy weights your bicep muscles may fatigue faster than your legs. This is not helpful for an exercise like the Bulgarian split squat that is mainly done to strengthen leg muscles.

Another option is to hold the dumbbells on your shoulders. This allows you to use heavier dumbbells but the downside is that it is less comfortable and slightly harder to balance. This type of old engages your core muscles more and your grip muscles less.

Lastly, you can hold the dumbbells with slightly less than stretched arms above your head. This will be less of a challenge for your grip muscles, more of a challenge for your shoulder muscles, and a lot harder when it comes to balance.

Muscles worked with dumbbell Bulgarian split squats

Similar to regular Bulgarian split squats, the dumbbell version mainly focuses on your quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles. Other muscles that will have to work include hamstrings, core, and erector spinae.

How you hold the dumbbell influences what muscles have to work more. For example letting your arms beside you with a dumbbell in each hand engages grip muscles, trapezius, shoulder, and back muscles. Holding dumbbells on your shoulders will mainly put more pressure on your core and erector spinae.

Potential risks

Even though dumbbell Bulgarian split squats can offer valuable benefits, there are also potential downsides. Adding weight to regular Bulgarian split squats increases your injury risk. Make sure you can do regular Bulgarian split squats without a problem before adding dumbbells to the exercise.

If you have lower back, knee, ankle, or hip issues, dumbbell Bulgarian split squats may not be the best choice since most of the variations make it harder for these body parts in one way or another. When in doubt talk to a professional to see if you should do leg exercises and which ones would be a good choice in your situation.

How heavy your dumbbells should be for Bulgarian split squats varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much resistance would be right for you, you can start with a light or no dumbbells and slowly build up from there.

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 with dumbbells are not (yet) for you.

Benefits of dumbbell Bulgarian split squats

While there are potential downsides there are also benefits to adding dumbbells to your Bulgarian split squats. Some of the main examples include:

  1. Can help you build more muscle: By adding dumbbells to Bulgarian split squats you mainly work your quadriceps, glutes and calf muscles more. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients and rest, this can in turn lead to more and faster muscle gain.
  2. Can help you lose more weight: Doing Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells requires more energy than the bodyweight version and can build more muscle. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss.
  3. Slightly more time-efficient: Most people can do fewer Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells compared to regular ones. This time difference is tiny for one workout but adds up over time.
  4. Bulgarian split squat benefits to a larger extent: As long as you don’t overdo it, adding weight to a resistance training exercise generally offers the same benefits to a larger extent. There are of course exceptions to this.

All in all it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one type of equipment to your routine.

Dumbbell Bulgarian split squat alternatives

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

  • Bulgarian split squats with dumbbell alternatives (barbell, kettlebell, weighted vest, resistance bands,…)
  • Other types of weighted squats
  • Leg presses
  • Leg extensions
  • Weighted lunges
  • Smith machine

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


All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many benefits from dumbbells in your Bulgarian split squat routine. Do keep the added injury risk in mind. At very heavy weights Bulgarian split squats with a barbell may be more convenient and effective.

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 doing Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells is not (yet) for you.

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

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