The Bulgarian split squat is definitely one of the most underrated exercises. Not only is this a personal favorite of mine but it is also an exercise I think everybody should incorporate in their routine for several key reasons.
The Top 5 Reasons Bulgarian Split Squats Should be a Staple in your Routine
Improves Mobility: While performing this movement this exercise does a great job at stretching your hip flexors specifically on your rear leg and as you get lower toward the ground. Lowering your body during this movement not only strengthens your front leg but your rear leg has the added benefit of being stretched and lengthens as you get lower, which in turn helps relieve tightness and tension in your hips. Not only does this improve flexibility but it will also help relieve lower back pain due to tight hips.
Prevents Muscle Imbalances: This is a unilateral exercise which helps address and prevent asymmetries and muscle imbalances that are caused by only performing bilateral exercises like leg presses and squats.
Less Stress on Back and Hips: Compared to the barbell back squat the Bulgarian split squat puts less stress on the lower back and hips. This movement helps keep your torso much more upright which reduces less of a forward lean. Additionally, this movement also offers more room for internal rotation.
Improves Balance: This movement does a great job at testing your balance, which in turn will help test and improve the strength in your core as well.
Better Hamstring and Glute Activation: According to this study, Bulgarian split squats do a better job at activating the hamstrings and gluteus medius compared to bilateral squats. To back this up according to Bret Contreras aka “The Glute Guy” through his own EMG studies he has found very high hip flexor muscle activation.
Requires minimal Equipment: This movement can pretty much be done anywhere all you need is a stable platform where your rear foot can rest on like a chair or a bench. Obviously, not all platforms are created equally so you want to choose one that fits your comfort level.
For example, here I am just using a chair.
Generates an Insane Pump: Before performing these I want to warn you, THESE ARE HARD. These are no walk in the park, especially when performing drop sets. If you are doing these right not only will you feel the burn but you will get an insane leg pump.
How to Perform the Bulgarian Split Squat
- Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced, hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench(needs to be knee height). Your front leg should be about 1.5 feet or so in front of the bench (varies on height).
- Lower yourself until your front thigh is almost horizontal, make sure your knee is in line with your foot. Don’t let your front knee travel beyond your toes.
- Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position, again keeping your movements measured.
How to Incorporate Bulgarian Split Squats in your Routine
The Bulgarian split squat is a great movement to can be used as a corrective movement through a warm-up session to help you prepare for your big compound lifts like barbell back squats, hip thrusts, or deadlifts. This movement can help aid you by providing you with an adequate amount of mental and physical energy to perform nicely controlled reps. These are a staple in my glute activation routine as these tend to help me start with a strong muscle-to-mind connection.
Glute Activation Routine (warm-up)
- Banded hip thrust: 2 x 30-40
- Body weight Bulgarian Split Squats: 2 x 20 each leg (slow and controlled)
- Banded side-walk: 2 x 20 each leg
Because this is a unilateral movement it goes well with bilateral exercises like squats and deadlifts. Unilateral movements help increase muscle activation and encourage muscle growth.Try these after your main compound lifts or you can even superset these with your squats if you are up for the challenge ;). Keep the tempo of this movement nice and controlled.
- Barbell Squats: 4 x 8-10
- Hip thrust: 1 x 25, 2 x 12, 1 x 6-8 2a.)Banded seated hip abduction: 4 x 20
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 4 x 10-12
- Dumbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3 x 12 – 15
- Miniband quadruped hip extension: 2 x 25
One of my favorite ways to end my leg workouts is by performing a quick burnout session to help build-up metabolic stress. Bulgarian split squats are one of my favorite exercises to perform this with. I will usually perform 2 sets of 50 or more reps per leg using only my bodyweight, these are extremely challenging especially after a heavy workout. You will definitely feel the burn with this one.
Depending on your foot placement this exercise tends to be more hip-dominant which more heavily involves the glutes and hamstrings. To make this a more quad dominant exercise implement a shorter step length.
As you can see, the Bulgarian split squats are one of the few exercises that can produce great lower-body strength and size, increases flexibility, corrects muscle imbalances, and improves mobility. The Bulgarian split squat provides many benefits and should definitely be an exercise you should try to implement in your next workout regimen.