The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg squat variation where the rear foot is elevated on a bench or box. This exercise effectively increases leg strength, muscle mass, and balance.
Since the Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral exercise, it’s great for correcting and preventing muscular imbalances. Most people have one leg that’s stronger than the other, so doing this exercise regularly helps balance both sides. The Bulgarian split squat has an excellent carry-over to other movements, such as the barbell squat and deadlift.
This exercise may be more challenging than others, but it offers several benefits and works multiple muscles simultaneously. This article covers Bulgarian split squat’s top five benefits, the targeted primary muscle groups, and more!
Table of Contents
- 1 Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
- 2 Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
- 4 Other Exercise Posts
- 4.1 The 8 Main Muscle Groups Worked by Squats
- 4.2 Lat Pulldown Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.3 The 8 Best Deadlift Benefits
- 4.4 Farmer’s Carry Benefits & Muscles Worked
- 4.5 T-Bar Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.6 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 4.7 How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- 4.8 Arnold Split Workout + Free Example Spreadsheet
- 4.9 Barbell Row Benefits, Muscles Worked, and Form
- 4.10 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 4.11 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 4.12 How to Bench Press with Perfect Form
- 4.13 Front Squat Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.14 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.15 Decline Bench Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.16 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.17 Arnold Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 4.18 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
- Builds lower body strength and muscle
- Corrects muscle imbalances
- Improves balance
- Minimal spinal loading
- No special equipment is needed
Here are the primary benefits of the Bulgarian split squat:
Builds lower body strength and muscle
The Bulgarian split squat works the quads, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings through a full range of motion, which is excellent for building muscle mass and strength. A closer stance targets the quads more, whereas a more expansive stance targets the glutes and hamstrings more.
To get the most out of this exercise, focus on controlling the eccentric (lowering) portion and being explosive during the concentric (lifting) portion. Since the Bulgarian split squat uses free weights, it can be easily modified to work for anyone.
Corrects muscle imbalances
Most people have one leg that’s stronger and/or bigger than the other, which can increase injury risk and isn’t ideal for aesthetics. Most lower body exercises, such as the leg press, squat, and deadlift, are bilateral, which means both legs work simultaneously.
Although these exercises are beneficial, they are ineffective in correcting muscular or strength imbalances and can worsen them.
The Bulgarian split squat, on the other hand, is a single-leg exercise. Since each leg works individually, it’s effective for correcting and preventing muscular imbalances. Starting with the weaker or smaller leg is essential when performing this exercise. For example, do as many repetitions as possible with the right leg using proper form. Then, perform the same movement with the left leg and match the number of repetitions. Over time, the weaker/smaller portion should catch up to the other side.
The Bulgarian split squat is performed in a split or staggered stance, meaning that one leg is in front and the other is behind. The split stance position is one of the reasons why Bulgarian split squats are so challenging because they require good balance and coordination.
This exercise resembles the stance used for various movements, such as walking, running, and jumping off one leg. Doing Bulgarian split squats improves balance and coordination in this position, which will carry over to many other lower-body exercises.
Minimal spinal loading
The Bulgarian split squat doesn’t load the spine like other lower body exercises, such as the barbell, hack or smith machine squat. As long as it’s performed with dumbbells, this exercise places virtually no loading on the spine.
The Bulgarian split squat is a great option for those with a lower back injury or who want to limit lower back fatigue because it trains the entire lower body through a full range of motion.
No special equipment is required
Another benefit of performing this exercise is that it requires little equipment. The only equipment required is a dumbbell and a box or bench to elevate the back leg. For beginners, their body weight is typically enough resistance, so they may not need any equipment.
Since the Bulgarian split squat isn’t a machine-based exercise, it can be done virtually anywhere, which makes it ideal for tracking progress over time. Lastly, this exercise can be scaled to suit anyone’s experience level.
Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked
The Bulgarian split squat works the following muscle groups:
The primary muscle group the Bulgarian split squat works is the quadriceps, or quads for short. The quadriceps consists of four muscles on the front of the upper thigh, including the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis. This muscle group is responsible for extending the knee and flexing the hip.
The quadriceps are crucial in squatting, jumping and more. They are also heavily judged in physique sports because they are a large muscle group that makes up the bulk of the lower body. As mentioned earlier, a closer stance will target the quads even more.
Another large muscle group active during a Bulgarian split squat is the gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. The gluteus maximus is one of the largest and strongest muscles in the body. It’s located on the back of the pelvis and is responsible for hip extension. This muscle works synergistically with the hamstrings to maintain an upright position.
The gluteus medius is located on the side of the pelvis, and its main action is hip abduction. It is vital in maintaining pelvic stability, especially when standing on one leg. Lastly, the gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three glute muscles. It’s located on the side of the pelvis, just under the gluteus medius. Its primary action is hip abduction. A wider stance will target the glutes more than the quads while performing Bulgarian split squats.
The hamstrings consist of four muscles: biceps femoris long head, biceps femoris short head, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Like the quads, this muscle group is biarticular since it crosses two major joints, the hip and knee. Three of the four hamstring muscles assist with hip extension, and all contribute to knee flexion.
In addition to hip extension and knee flexion, the hamstrings play a crucial role in preventing excessive forward motion of the tibia. Therefore, weak hamstrings can increase the risk of knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Although the Bulgarian split squat trains the hamstrings, other movements, including Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, and hamstring curls, are more effective.
The adductors, including adductor magnus, brevis, longus, gracilis, and more, are located inside the thigh. As the name suggests, they perform hip adduction, bringing the leg closer to the body’s midline.
The adductors help maintain proper knee and hip positioning during a Bulgarian split squat. Weak adductors can increase the risk of injury and reduce performance in any lower body movement. Compared to the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, they are often neglected or forgotten, so here’s a friendly reminder to train the adductors.
The core consists of several muscles, including the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis. All these muscles surround the abdominal cavity, each performing a specific action. For example, the rectus abdominis is responsible for torso flexion. The external and internal obliques assist with rotation and lateral flexion. Whereas the transverse abdominis helps stabilize the spine and create intra-abdominal tension.
Since the Bulgarian split squat is performed with a split stance, the core muscle isometrically contracts to help maintain an upright torso position and protect the spine. A stronger core is crucial for nearly any exercise for preventing injury and maximizing performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some great Bulgarian split squat alternatives include the traditional split squat, front squat, single-leg squat, back squat, reverse lunge, single-leg leg press, single-leg deadlift, hack squat, and smith-machine split squat.
For more information on exercise alternatives, check out this article: The 10 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives
The best Bulgarian split squat variations include the dumbbell Bulgarian split squats, kettlebell Bulgarian split squats, barbell Bulgarian split squats, and Smith machine Bulgarian split squats.
Some common Bulgarian split squat mistakes include allowing the knee to cave in on the concentric portion of the lift, going too heavy, leaning too far forward, not controlling the eccentric, and pushing up with the rear leg. The Bulgarian split squat demands a lot of coordination, balance, and practice to master. So don’t get discouraged if it’s more challenging than other exercises.
Here’s how to perform the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat with the correct form:
Grab two dumbbells and hold them at your sides. Stand approximately two feet in front of bench or box with a shoulder-width stand. Pull the shoulders back, look straight ahead, and brace the core muscles.
Pick your right foot and place it on the bench or box behind you. The top of your foot should be resting on the bench so that the ankle joint is aligned with the edge of the bench. Position the front foot with the toes slightly pointed outward.
With the rear foot elevated, take a deep breath, lean forward, and bend the left leg until the left knee forms a 90-degree angle. Using a slight forward lean will help keep the weight on the front leg and reduce the involvement of the rear leg.
Hold the bottom position for 1-2 seconds, then stand up by pressing through the front foot. Avoid lifting with the rear leg.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Then, train the right leg by placing the right foot forward and elevating the left foot.
For more exercise tips check out this article: How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form