Updated November 8, 2023
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the most effective exercises for building stronger, more powerful legs.
The benefits of Bulgarian split squats are immense, yet the exercise is often performed incorrectly or avoided altogether due to difficulty balancing or lack of knowledge about proper form.
Why You Should Do Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats are a unilateral exercise, meaning they target one leg at a time. This challenges your core and balance, requiring your body to stabilize itself as you lower into a lunge.
The Bulgarian split squat also works your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings through a full range of motion. With just your body weight or a pair of dumbbells, you can get an intense leg workout anywhere.
The benefits of Bulgarian split squats include:
- Improved balance and coordination. The single-leg stance requires control and stability through your core and glutes.
- Stronger glutes, quads, and hamstrings. The Bulgarian split squat targets all major muscles of the legs.
- Better athletic performance. Strong, powerful legs are essential for sports and activities. Bulgarian split squats help build strength and power.
- Increased flexibility. The deep lunge opens up your hips and hamstrings, improving your range of motion.
- Minimal equipment is needed. All you need is your body weight to get started. You can hold dumbbells or a barbell across your shoulders for added challenge.
- Convenient and efficient. Bulgarian split squats can be done anywhere and provide an intense workout in just a few sets.
If you want to build stronger, more muscular legs, the Bulgarian split squat is a must-have in your routine. This exercise provides massive benefits that improve your performance, balance, and power. Focus on using proper form and progressive overload to maximize your gains.
The Bulgarian split squat can be done in different variations and levels of difficulty, including the following:
The simplest variation is the bodyweight Bulgarian split squat. Standing about 1-3 feet in front of a bench or chair, place the top of one foot on the bench/chair behind you. Lower into a lunge until your back knee nearly touches the ground, then push back to the starting position. This challenges your balance without added weight.
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
For an added challenge, hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) at shoulder level. Like the bodyweight version, step one leg forward into a lunge and lower your body until your back knee nearly touches the ground. Push back to the starting position. The dumbbell increases the demand on your core and legs. Start with a lighter weight and build up as your balance and strength improve.
Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat
Once you’ve mastered the dumbbell variation, you can move on to a barbell. Place a barbell across your shoulders and step one leg forward into a lunge. Keep your core engaged as you lower into the lunge and push back to standing. The barbell allows you to use heavier weights to continue progressing. Be very careful when performing barbell Bulgarian split squats, as the weight can be difficult to balance. Start light and focus on form.
For the best results, incorporate different variations of the Bulgarian split squat into your routine. Increase weight and volume over time as your strength and balance improve.
The bodyweight version is a great warm-up, while dumbbells and a barbell provide opportunities for progressive overload. Mix up your variations to maximize gains and avoid plateaus.
While Bulgarian split squats are a highly effective exercise, they do present some challenges. The following sticking points are common and can prevent you from performing the move properly or achieving the best results.
The single-leg stance required for Bulgarian split squats can be challenging to balance, especially when holding weights. If you struggle with balance, start with the bodyweight version. You can also hold onto a wall, chair, or pole for support.
Focus on keeping your core engaged, and don’t let your front knee move past your ankle as you lunge. Your balance will improve with regular practice.
If you experience knee pain during Bulgarian split squats, your form is likely off. Make sure your front shin remains vertical as you lunge, and don’t let your front knee move forward past your ankle. Your knee should track over the middle of your foot. If pain persists, perform the exercise without added weight until your form improves. You may also need to reduce your range of motion by not lowering into as deep of a lunge.
Lack of Glute Activation
For maximum benefit, you need to feel the Bulgarian split squat working your glutes through the full range of motion. Squeeze your glutes at the top and bottom of each rep.
If you don’t feel much glute activation, your quadriceps are likely compensating. Focus on pushing through your heels and keeping your torso upright as you lunge. Your glutes and hamstrings should power you back to the starting position.
With practice and focus on proper form, you can overcome these common sticking points. Start with the bodyweight version, and wait to move on to added weight until you’ve mastered technique and balance. Pay attention to how each muscle group engages and make adjustments as needed. Be patient and consistent, and your strength, balance, and flexibility will improve.
How to Implement Them in Your Program
To achieve the best results from Bulgarian split squats, implement them into your workout routine 2-3 times a week, with rest days in between for maximum recovery. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps on each leg. Start with the bodyweight version and progressively add weight as your balance and strength improve.
Be sure to warm up, use a spotter when performing barbell Bulgarian split squats, and start with a lighter weight than you think you need. Focus on form for maximum effectiveness and safety.
For the best results, combine Bulgarian split squats with other unilateral exercises like:
- Step ups: Hold dumbbells and step up onto a bench or chair. Step back down one leg at a time.
- Walking lunges: Hold dumbbells at your sides and step one leg forward into a lunge. Push off the front leg and bring your back leg forward into a lunge. Continue alternating for 10-20 reps on each leg.
- Single-leg Romanian deadlifts: Balance on one leg with a dumbbell in the opposite hand. Bend at the hips to lower the weight toward the floor and lift back to standing. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings at the top.
Perform Bulgarian split squats 2-3 times a week, with rest days in between for the best results. Start light and build up volume and weight over time as your balance, flexibility, and strength improve.
How do I properly perform Bulgarian split squats?
To perform Bulgarian split squats:
- Stand 1 to 3 feet in front of a bench or chair.
- Place the top of one foot on the bench behind you.
- Hold dumbbells at shoulder level or a barbell across your shoulders. Start with body weight only if needed.
- Step one leg forward into a lunge until your back knee nearly touches the ground. Your front thigh should remain parallel to the floor.
- Push off the front leg to return to standing. Squeeze your glutes and quadriceps at the top.
- Complete 8-12 reps and switch leg positions with the other foot on the bench.
- Perform 2-3 sets on each leg.
What muscles do Bulgarian split squats target?
Bulgarian split squats target the following major muscles of the legs:
- Glutes: Bulgarian split squats work your glutes through a full range of motion. Squeeze your glutes at the top and bottom of each rep.
- Quadriceps: Your quadriceps work to bend and extend your front leg.
- Hamstrings: Your hamstrings activate to help power you back to standing.
- Calves: Your calves provide balance and stability.
- Core: Your core engages to keep your torso upright and stabilize your body.
Are Bulgarian split squats good for beginners?
Yes, Bulgarian split squats can be suitable for beginners when appropriately performed. Some tips for beginners include:
- Start with body weight only. Hold onto a wall or chair for balance if needed.
- Focus on form. Move slowly through the range of motion and keep your front shin vertical.
- Only go as far into the lunge as you’re able to while maintaining proper form. Your range of motion will improve over time.
Start light, focus on form and balance, and be patient with your progress. Bulgarian split squats provide an excellent foundation for building strength and improving flexibility.
Bulgarian split squats are one of the most effective exercises for building stronger, more powerful legs. They challenge your core, balance, and flexibility while targeting your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings through a full range of motion.
The benefits of Bulgarian split squats include:
- Improved balance, coordination, and athletic performance.
- Stronger glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
- Increased hip and hamstring flexibility.
- Minimal equipment is needed.
- Convenient and efficient.
To maximize your results, focus on the following tips:
- Start with the bodyweight version and progressively add weight as your balance and strength improve.
- Focus on form. Keep your front shin vertical; don’t let your knee move forward of your ankle, and push through your heels.
- Squeeze your glutes and quadriceps at the top and bottom of each rep.
- Be consistent and patient. Perform Bulgarian split squats 2-3 times a week with rest days in between.
- Combine with other unilateral exercises like step-ups, walking lunges, and single-leg Romanian deadlifts.
- Increase weight and volume over time through progressive overload.