Between deadlifts, glute bridges, lunge variations and squats, there are several different ways to effectively train the different muscles of the lower body. However, one exercise that is sometimes overlooked but is immensely effective is the Bulgarian Split Squat.
The Bulgarian Split Squat is effective for numerous reasons: it challenges the balance and the smaller muscles used for stabilization, it forces more muscles to work together at once by eliminating one leg for assistance or power, and it can help increase range of motion in the hip flexors. The Bulgarian Split Squat requires the lifter to balance on one leg while having the opposite leg back and elevated, mimicking a lunge position. This challenges the core muscles by forcing the lifter to balance as they sink down and back, ultimately powering back up to a standing position on that front leg only. It recruits the muscles in the glute, hamstring, calf and quad of the front leg, while stretching through the hip flexors of the back leg.
Here’s how to safely perform the Bulgarian Split Squat:
Step 1: The Set Up
Begin by finding a surface for the back foot to rest on during the split squat. This can be a small step, box, a lowered gymnastics ring, or a TRX handle. The box or step will give the lifter more stability during the movement, but may be uncomfortable for the top of the back foot to rest on.
The TRX or gymnastics ring will allow for deeper range of motion and more comfort of the back foot, but will challenge the lifter’s balance even further. Walk forward with the front leg so that the back foot can rest on the chosen surface comfortably. The lifter should have enough space to sink down and backward without the front knee tracking over the front foot or the back knee touching the ground on the way down.
Step 2: The down phase
During the downward phase of the Bulgarian Split Squat, the lifter should have the abs braced in order to help keep balance and the chest tall in order to promote a very tall posture. Any forward folding of the chest or upper body can send unwanted pressure to the lower back, so it is important to make sure that the upper body is tall and engaged.
While balancing on the front foot, the lifter sinks down and slightly backward toward the back foot. During this phase, the lifter should be inhaling as they load up the muscles for the forward propulsion.
Step 3: The up phase (power phase)
Once the lifter has sunk down and back as far as they can comfortably go with good form, the lifter will exhale and power up to a full standing position on that front leg. During the upward phase, it is important that the upper body doesn’t change; the back should still be very upright and the abs should be braced and hardened. While this movement should have a lot of power to it, it should also have a lot of control. The lifter should drive down with the heel in order to push upward through the leg to a full standing position with the knee locked out.
For more advanced lifters, the Bulgarian Split Squat can be weighted. Lifters looking to load this movement should hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in the hand opposite of the leg they are balancing on. During training, lifters can incorporate this movement for two to four sets of seven to ten repetitions.
This movement, when done properly, can add immense strength, power and stability to the lower body. Try it out during your training to create a more powerful lower body!
Lauren Weiss is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor based out of Long Beach, CA. She specializes in kettlebell training and unconventional workouts and has been working with both types of fitness for over a year. Lauren has her BOLT Kettlebell Sport Certification through the USA Kettlebell League and has expertise working with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and several unconventional fitness tools. Lauren received her BA in Journalism and uses her writing expertise to craft thought-provoking articles about trending fitness, health & wellness topics. Follow Lauren on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.