In this article, we will learn and analyze the Bulgarian split squat, its correct execution, which are the most common mistakes, and the muscles involved.
In the gym, both in fitness and in bodybuilding, this exercise is generally included as an exercise “for the legs”, but not infrequently it is also defined “for the buttocks”; which of these statements is true? Let’s find out.
What Is The Bulgarian Split Squat?
The Bulgarian squat falls into the category of exercises defined as “split squats” in which we have one leg in front of us that goes to perform the movement and one behind us that serves to provide us with balance and stability. It is a multiarticular variant in which we have the involvement of 3 joints:
The movements that mainly occur during this exercise are 2:
- Knee flexion-extension: bends when you go down, and extends when you go up;
- Hip flexion-extension: when you go down the thigh and torso come closer (flexion), while when you go up they move away (it is a compass movement).
This exercise is used as a basis to train the lower limbs including the buttocks but based on some precautions we can vary the emphasis on the various muscles, on which and how to do it we will see shortly.
Bulgarian Squat: Correct Execution, Technique And Tutorial
The correct execution of the exercise involves the use of a bench, a medium-sized box, or a rise in general that does not exceed the level of the knees but is at approximately the same height.
- Stand with the bench (placed horizontally) behind you with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
- Bring the instep of one leg resting on the bench (the shin or shin does not touch the bench), leaving the other foot resting on the ground with the leg extended.
- Adjust the distance from the bench and the width of the foot on the ground looking for a comfortable position where you feel stable. About 80-90% of the load falls on the foot on the ground.
- Flex the knee (bend the leg) and start to go down, trying to get with the pelvis below the parallel, indicatively “lower” than the knee of the working leg, a possible reference is to touch the ground with the knee of the leg rear.
- Work your way up by extending your knee.
The torso during the movement can be more or less inclined forward (variable hip flexion), in the same way, the foot on the ground can be more or less close to the bench, as well as the load on it can be more or less towards. toe or heel. We will see what changes in terms of muscle work in the next paragraphs.
Common Mistakes In Bulgarian Split Squats
- Losing the physiological curves of the spine, ” hunched ” executions and with compensation are to be avoided;
- Placing the foot on the ground in line with the foot on the bench creates insecurity. To avoid this, position yourself following the sequence seen above.
- Place your foot on the ground too close or too far away.
- “ Falling ” inward with the knee of the working leg (dynamic knee valgus);
- To go down too little in the eccentric phase, thus decreasing the muscular work;
- Anticipating the ascent from below with the pelvis, and shoulders rise simultaneously;
- Tilt the pelvis towards the supporting leg, the pelvis remains straight, frontally the hips are at the same level;
- Help yourself with the leg resting behind by pressing the foot on the bench, taking away work from the other one who performs the exercise.
Muscles Involved In The Bulgarian Split Squat
The muscles most involved are:
- Gluteus maximus
- Small buttock, middle buttock
- Hamstrings (hamstring, semimembranous, semitendinosus)
- Abdominal core muscles (as a stabilizer).
We can more or less emphasize the work on the quadriceps or the buttocks, let’s see what tricks we can use in the classic variant with one foot on the ground and the other on the bench.
Glute emphasis, ” hip dominant ” movement (hip dominant):
- Position yourself with your foot on the ground so that when you begin the descent you feel the load on the foot on the ground towards the heel, the extended leg seen in profile is perpendicular to the ground.
- As you go down, flex your torso forward while maintaining the physiological curves of your back, at the bottom you should feel a slight stretch in the buttock of the working leg.
- Descend as low as you can, to the point where you can maintain the lumbar curve (lumbar lordosis).
- Step up thinking that your heel will sink into the floor.
Quadriceps Emphasis, Knee Dominant Movement:
- Place your foot on the ground closer to the bench, the load on it you need to feel central / slightly more front.
- During the movement, keep your torso straight, without leaning forward.
- Go as low as you can, at least to parallel, but also as low as you can if you can keep the physiological curves.
Benefits Of The Bulgarian Split Squat
The squat Bulgarian muscle from the point of view does not differ much from traditional lunges in walking or rear lunges, surely allowing to work more on the component balance without coming less work with overload.
It adapts well to situations in which we do not have the possibility to use a lot of loads, allowing you to work for a longer time under muscle tension, making the work “harder” with the same load.
In fact, this variant, compared to traditional lunges, obliges us to always remain with the load almost entirely distributed on the supporting foot during execution.
Bulgarian Split Squat With The Barbell
The use of the barbell allows two advantages over dumbbells:
- Higher load.
- It removes grip as a limiting factor, with dumbbells without the aid of bands or hooks it becomes limiting.
The disadvantage of using the barbell in the Bulgarian variant lies in the fact that it is impractical as we have to detach the barbell, get into position with the load on the shoulders.
Using the dumbbells the problem of supporting the barbell does not exist and they are generally more practical. If you want to use the barbell, I recommend performing the exercise at the multipower.
The execution and the technical peculiarities to emphasize the glutes or quadriceps more are the same seen in the paragraph on the muscles involved.
Bulgarian Split Squat With Dumbbell
A practical variant, fast and that does not require loading or unloading discs (with fixed load dumbbells, vice versa you will have to do it). The limiting factor as seen is the grip, but we can solve this “limit” by using detachment clamps or hooks.
The load used is less than the barbell variant, but it is not a problem, you can perform the heavier work with squat exercises and insert this variant at medium-high repetitions (10-15 reps).
We can perform the exercise in two ways:
- With bilateral handlebars: both hands have a handlebar, which allows you to use more load.
- With the handlebar on one side only: ipsilateral (load from the side of the foot in support), contralateral (load from the opposite side of the foot in support, with greater activation of the contralateral muscles to maintain stability).
These variants are useful from the coordinative point of view, they can provide a different stimulus, but they add a factor that can be limiting in the expression of strength and effort: “balance”.
Which one to choose? The advice is to opt for the variety with bilateral dumbbells if the goal is to improve strength and increase muscle mass.
If you have only 1 dumbbell available and the objectives are those just mentioned, use support on which to rest the other hand, such as a stick or a column, to eliminate the ” balance ” component and focus only on generating strength and intensity.
If you want to work on stability and balance, then opt for the single-sided option without support.
Variants Of Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian Kettlebell Squat
The same considerations made regarding the variant with dumbbells apply.
Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squat
The execution is the same as that with dumbbells, if possible the advice is to use an overload, it can be a backpack with books or heavy objects or other objects held in hand.
If the load we have is low, the advice is to increase the working series and insert stops at the bottom during the execution and/or the controlled eccentrics.
For example descent 3 ″ stops at the bottom 1-2 ″ ascent 1 ″.
On the rear foot, if we do not have a step or a bench, we can place it on a chair or a bed.
Bulgarian Split Squat with Resistance Bands
If we have resistance bands we can use them in 2 ways and situations:
- You do not have loads: in this case, you position the elastic band by passing it under the foot on the ground, grab the two ends with your hands, and in this way, you will have a progressive resistance that will overload you both the ascent and descent phase.
- You have load and want to emphasize the work on the buttocks also in the closing phase (at the top): put the elastic band around your hips and the bench behind you, so that when you are at the top it will pull downwards (obliquely) the pelvis, this will ensure that you will have a little more work on the buttocks also in the final part of the movement.
Bulgarian Split Squat On Fitball
We can place the rear foot on a fit ball, but this puts emphasis on the ” balance ” component, if the focus is the increase in muscle mass it can be a limiting factor: in the usable load and in concentrating not only on activating the muscles correctly target, but also in keeping the balance and the ball still. The advice is to use a stable surface (bench, chair, step, steps…).
Bulgarian Split Squat Jumped
For the purposes of muscle mass development, it is a variant that does not respect three fundamental factors :
- Work with adequate overload (it depends, see 3rd point).
- Work safely and with stability.
- Low possibility of generating maximum force: the movement occurs too fast to allow the muscles to generate maximum force, if we use a large load the speed of the movement will decrease and we will express more strength, but the ” safety ” factor will remain, it is safe to jump with heavy dumbbells? Doing the movement for so many reps and sets? No, so we exclude the jumps.
Bulgarian Split Squat On Step
We can emphasize the range of motion by putting a lift under the foot on the ground: one step is fine, two is too many. This variant allows in particular to increase the work on the buttocks by emphasizing their elongation.
Bulgarian Split Squat With The TRX
If we do not have a lift on which to place the foot or if we want to work more on balance (to the detriment of the load), we can put the foot of the leg that does not work inside a TRX, placed at the knee of the leg. who works.
Bulgarian Split Squat for Bodybuilding
As described in the relevant paragraph we can insert different variants of Bulgarian squats according to the work we want to emphasize.
They are an exercise little challenging to the level of the nervous system, thus impacting on the little recovery systemic; we can safely use high perceived intensities (near or to concentric failure) without this excessively compromising subsequent sessions. The advice is not to abuse the failure so as not to compromise the ability to generate an adequate volume of work.
You can insert Bulgarian squats as a ” secondary ” exercise after exercises in which you can load more (press, squat, hack squat), in a rep range that goes from 8 to 15 repetitions.
Bret Contreras, for example, recommends incorporating no more than one single leg movement pattern per workout, advising avoiding Bulgarian squats and step-ups in a single workout. The recommendation makes sense as it leaves room for heavier bilateral work.
Based on the workout and the purpose with which we insert this exercise, we will adapt its execution.
Bulgarian Split Squat Training
What loads and intensities to use?
The intensity of the load understood as the range in which to work, assuming a classic execution time: ascent 1 ″ descent 2-3 ″, is equivalent to loads with which we can perform from 8 to 12-15 repetitions.
Clearly by using possible variations in execution, for example, stops at the bottom and/or very controlled descents, the number of repetitions possible with a given load varies.
How many reps to do?
Obviously, the series number is highly individual, indicatively if this exercise is included we can give a general guideline in terms of training series :
- Series Bulgarian squats in ‘ training in which it operates: from minimum 2 to set up 5 have a good range in which we can move.
- Weekly Bulgarian Squat Series: This depends on how much emphasis we put on the exercise and how we distribute the total volume.
Bulgarian Split Squat And Back
It may happen that the subject accuses back discomfort when performing the exercise, in particular in the ” hip dominant ” variant, we can contextualize the discomfort in two “type subjects” trying to understand what factors to act on:
- Beginner-novice subject: he accuses lumbar fatigue generally because he is simply de-trained, in this subject it is more sensible to insert variants of lunge while walking, this will allow him to develop greater balance, stability, and also strengthen the back (in itself weak for the sedentary lifestyle).
It will then pass, if deemed appropriate, to the Bulgarian split squats: the advice is to approach the knee dominant variant first, then to the hip dominant one.
- Intermediate-advanced subject: lumbar fatigue may be due to a poor dosage of training volumes or to an order of exercises in the session or in the non-optimal week.
For example, if there are movements in the session that are taxing at the lumbar level (SLDL deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, etc..), it may make sense to insert the Bulgarian squats earlier in the session, move them to another day, avoid them in that session.
It is beyond the scope of this article to talk about subjects with back pain due to causes other than those mentioned.
Alternative To The Bulgarian Squat
Bulgarian split squats or lunges?
Lunges and the Bulgarian split squat are exercises that look similar but actually differ a lot in terms of complexity. The Bulgarian split squat requires more control and balance than classic walking lunges, as well as a familiarity with the initial setup (where to place the foot on the ground, how far away, etc.).
The practical advice of a possible approach is to go by step:
- 1st step: first learn the classic walking lunges.
- 2nd step: move on to back lunges in place (which require more balance and precision with each repetition than walking lunges).
- 3rd step: approach the Bulgarian squat.
Bulgarian split squats or squat?
We must not see things in black and white, there is no better or worse exercise, but more or less sensible and suitable for the working context.
The squat is a movement pattern called ” squat ” that takes precedence in terms of learning compared to a lunge in the context of a beginner person approaching the weight room. This exercise teaches a complex motor gesture that, in addition to the muscular development of the lower limbs, has many transfers in the other exercises for the lower body in terms of perception, balance, overcoming the fear of loading, strengthening the back, core.
The squat is more suited to work with high loads and the subject generally feels safer lifting them in this exercise than a variant such as the Bulgarian squat.
Better or worse does not exist, if we want to work with heavy loads better squats or variants such as press, hack squat, etc … vice versa for medium rep range work (12-15), if we have to choose over the squat, better opt for a Bulgarian squat.
The Bulgarian squat remains in most cases a ” side ” work compared to movements that allow you to work with greater loads and in which balance is not a limiting factor (for example the squat).
The Bulgarian squat has fairly recent origins, it was born as an accessory exercise of weightlifting used by Bulgarian weightlifters in Eastern Europe between 1970-1980 (perhaps even earlier), popularized by the Bulgarian weightlifting coach Angel Spassov in recent years thanks to his experiences working in the West, particularly in the United States between the 1980s and 1990s.
The advice is not to look at this exercise as an ” irreplaceable/obligatory movement “, but in the context of training aimed at aesthetics and well-being, to insert it by evaluating several factors, including:
- Subject level.
- Selection of the exercises in the program.
- The goal for which this exercise fits.
- Range of repetitions that you intend to use.
- Perception of the subject regarding the exercise: in training aimed at muscle hypertrophy the beauty is that there are no compulsory movements, adherence to the program is important, so if this exercise is not well tolerated by the subject, it is advisable to look at other variants