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The Bulgarian Split Squat Is the Ultimate Leg Builder

Everyone can benefit with performing this exercise.

The rear foot elevated split squat, also referred to as the Bulgarian split squat, is a fantastic exercise for targeting and building the lower body. This exercise is fantastic for targeting the quads, glutes, and even hamstrings to some degree.

One of the best characteristics of the Bulgarian split squat is that it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of this exercise. In fact, just performing them with one’s own bodyweight is more than enough to improve leg strength, size, and power.

In this Bulgarian split squat guide, we’re going to cover multiple topics including:

How to Bulgarian Split Squat

If you know how to split squat, then you’re 80% of the way with understanding the Bulgarian split squat. Check out the full guide below on how to perform Bulgarian split squats.

1.
Set Your Base

Find a stable implement and place the front foot far enough way so the hips can sit into a single-leg squat position without the front foot coming off the ground.

Grip the floor with the front foot.

2.
Control the Eccentric

Slightly brace and sit into the hole thinking about bringing the hips straight up and down as if they’re on a string.

Keep the torso neutral or slightly leaned forward and allow the knee to track without allowing the heel to lift off the ground.

3.
Stand and Repeat

Drive through the front leg and press directly down into the ground contracting the quad.

Keep the hips inline and travel directly upwards while maintaining tension throughout the quad.

Muscles Worked

The split squat is a fantastic exercise that targets multiple lower body muscles due to its ability to activate both the quads and hamstrings along with the glutes. 

In a study published in 2019 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, authors suggested that the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat induced higher hamstring:quad activation compared to the traditional split squat and single-leg squat. (1)

Quads

  • Vastus Medialis
  • Vastus Lateralis
  • Rectus Femoris
  • Tibialis Anterior

Hamstrings

  • Semitendenosis
  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semimembranosus

Glutes

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Gluteus Medius

Benefits

The rear foot elevated split squat has a ton of benefits that come along with it. All fitness levels can benefit with the implementation of this exercise in a program.

1. No Equipment Needed

Whether you’re on the road or in a fully stocked gym, one of the biggest benefits of the rear foot elevated split squat is that it doesn’t take a lot to feel a burn with this movement. This make it a great option to perform when traveling or in a spot with limited equipment availability.

2. Trains Multiple Muscles

As pointed out above, the rear foot elevated split squat is an awesome option for hitting multiple muscles at once. The extension required during the concentric will improve quad and glute strength, and the eccentric loading will increase unilateral control and can help activate the hamstrings.

3. Decent Squat Alternative

Lacking a barbell? The rear foot elevated split squat has been suggested to provide comparable muscle activation to the back squat.

In a 2014 study, authors explored muscle activation and their differences in single-leg and double leg squat variations. They suggested that the rear foot elevated split squat was comparable to the back squat with muscle activation and was an effective exercise for targeting the quads, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, and gluteus maximus. (2)

Variations

The rear foot elevated split squat is a variation itself from the traditional split squat. When it comes to utilizing variations for this exercise, the change of implement is what creates variety.

Some great implements and variations to use with the rear foot elevated split squat can be seen below.

  1. Double Dumbbell or Kettlebell
  2. Single Dumbbell/Kettlebell Offset Grip
  3. Single Dumbbell/Kettlebell Same Side Grip
  4. Back Barbell
  5. Zercher
  6. Front Barbell
  7. Sandbag

Mistakes to Avoid

1. Strides That Are Too Long

A stance that is too long can be limiting for quad activation due to the external load not being fully over the front leg. Also, if mobility is an issue, then a stance that is too long can limit quality range of motion.

2. Leaned back torso.

The torso should have a slight forward lean to it. Leaning back can limit effectiveness of this exercise. 

3. Forcing range of motion

New to this variation and can’t perform with proper depth without discomfort? Start with a lower elevated surface to place the back leg on.

FAQs

Can beginners do Bulgarian Split Squats?

Yes, however, there needs to an emphasis on form. The rear foot elevated (Bulgarian) split squat requires a base level of balance and strength, so those need to be dialed in before beginners tackle this movement. A great place to start is with the traditional split squat.

What muscles does the Bulgarian Split Squat work?

Bulgarian split squats primarily work the quads and glutes. In addition, they work the hamstrings, calves, adductors, and require some core work depending on the variation being performed.

How high should my back leg be?

Back leg placement will vary slightly, however, a good rule of thumb is keeping the back leg between 1-2 feet of elevation. This will change based on what you’re placing the leg on, but this is usually the norm. If mobility is a concern, then start lower.

References

1. Mausehund L, e. (2020). Muscle Activation in Unilateral Barbell Exercises: Implications for Strength Training and Rehabilitation. – PubMed – NCBI.

2. BRADLEY A. DeFOREST, B. (2014). Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats. International Journal Of Exercise Science, 7(4), 302.

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