Bulgarian Split Squats

There’s a few exercises that will get you in the bad books with your clients almost instantly.  The long death stare, the rolling of the eyes, the swearing ……..oh the swearing!  Well the Bulgarian Split Squat is one such exercise.

The Rear Foot Elevated or Bulgarian Split Squat is so good, some coaches like Mike Boyle favour them over all other leg exercises.  Their benefits are including but not limited to :

– Helps let you know if you have a strength imbalance from leg to leg

– Helps improve athletic performance as there are few sports or even every day activities that you do primarily on one leg

– Single leg training targets what’s known as the lateral sub-system (glute medius & adductor complex on one leg, and the quadratus lumborum on the opposite leg).

-Improves single leg strength which translates to greater strength increases in the two legged lifts

– Takes the lower back out of the exercise as the weakest link (such as in the squat) so you can train the quad better.
– Great secondary exercise to continue to overload the quads after a primary quad dominant exercise like the front squat, back squat etc

– Great mobiliser of the hip

– Generally the hardest things to do in the gym are the best things for you!

The Set Up

– Place the rear foot on a platform just high enough to shift the weight or the effort towards the front leg.  Placing the rear foot too high can hyper extened the lumbar spine so don’t go too high.  The height depends on how tall you are.  Short – low, tall – high you get it

– Keep the front foot flat on the floor through out the entire movement.  Do not go up on the toes of the front foot.  If you do this mobilise your ankle or lengthen your soleus.

– Maintain knee tracking as you descend

– Aim to get the hamstrings touching the calf muscle in the lowest position

– Drive up fast keeping the trunk straight at all times.  Don’t lean forward

– Allow the knee to travel as far over the toes as is comfortable

Often you will hear in pump classes and in sub standard education courses not to let your knee go over your toes on certain exercises.  This is a seriously outdated recommendation but for those of you new to training who still believe this i’ll post a quote from Australian Strength Coach Tony Boutagy in relation to this matter :

“Just like a squat, if pain-free, clients must be advised to lower into a split squat as far as their flexibility allows. The terminal range allows the knee to come forward past the toes and full contact is made between the hamstrings and calves. This refreshes the joint with synovial fluid (synovial flushing), recruits the available musculature and aids flexibility development. Stopping the split squat (or squat, for that matter) prematurely – for example, higher than 90 degrees or restricting the knees from traveling forward, causes a change in motion half way through an eccentric loading cycle. This is highly dangerous and contributes to destabilized knees, poor VMO development, over-developed vastus intermedius, inadequately recruited hamstring and gluteaus maximus, and incorrect joint tracking over the long term. Joints are designed to load and de-load and that is precisely what happens when the hamstrings make contact with the calves in the lowest position. This creates longevity in the joints, despite what is commonly taught to personal trainers” 

Check the video again :

Note the depth, the hamstring on the calf and the knee comes over the toe.

You can do these with either bodyweight, dumbells, barbell on the back, goblet squat style or barbell in the front racked position.  You can unevenly load this exercise by holding a dumbell in one hand only to challenge the glute medius on the front leg and Quadratus Lumborum on the back leg but they tend to get challenged enough as is so i don’t do that too often.

Like i said you can do these instead of your primary quad exercises or as a supplementary quad exercise.  Here is how you may like to use them on a leg day as a supplementary exercise.

A1) Barbell Back Squat – 8 reps – 4010 tempo – 90 seconds rest
A2) Lying leg Curl Toes Platarflexed- 8 reps – 3011 temp0 – 90 secs rest
5 sets in total
B1) Db Bulgarian Split Squat – 10-12 reps – 3010 tempo – 75  seconds rest
B2) Single Leg 45 Degree Back Extension – 12-15 reps – 3010 tempo – 60 secs rest
3 sets total

Quadriceps tend to like higher reps as they are more of a mixed fibre type so usually 8 reps and up is good but, theres no reason you can’t do a barbell single ala Mike Boyle if programmed correctly

See you in the gym!


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