Bulgarian squats or split squats

The split squat is a squat using a staggered stance. It is also called a Bulgarian split squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS). Although it is called a single-leg exercise, it still uses both legs. The split squat can be performed with the rear foot on the ground, or with the rear foot on a bench.

It might simply look like a “wimpy” alternative to a traditional barbell squat at first glance, but make no mistake: Bulgarian split squats are the real deal.

You won’t see these being performed very often at most gyms, but they’re a highly effective (and surprisingly challenging) way to train your lower body while minimizing lower back stress and without the need for any fancy equipment.

In this post I’ll be going over the main benefits of the Bulgarian split squat (also known as the “rear foot elevated split squat”) and outlining how to perform them correctly, as well as providing some additional form tips you can employ to ensure that you get the very most out of the exercise.

Execution

Squat down by flexing knee and hip of front leg until knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Return to original standing position by extending hip and knee of forward leg and repeat. Continue with opposite leg.

Comments

Keep torso upright during squat; flexible hip flexors are important. Forward knee should point same direction as foot throughout movement. May also be referred to as Bodyweight Bulgarian Squat.

Weighted versions of this exercise would normally be considered auxiliary in context of other basic exercises (i.e.: Barbell Squat, Sled Leg Press). However, in the context of ‘body weight’ only program, this exercise can be considered basics

Easier

Placing hand on stationary object can assist with balance. Other squatting, split squat, or lunging movements may be easier to perform.

Principles of training Bulgarian squats

The split squat is often used to train the lower body for sport, usually as a replacement for the back squat. It has been suggested that the unilateral stance is more sport-specific, but long-term research does not support this idea. With the split stance, lower loads can be used compared to the back squat. On this basis, some coaches have proposed that the exercise could provide a similar leg training effect for reduced spinal loadi1ng. But this is also contradicted by research, as erector spinae muscle activation is similar in both exercises, probably because of greater hip extension moments in the split squat. This makes the split squat more hip-dominant than the back squat, and it involves the hamstrings more, but the quadriceps less. When replacing the back squat with the split squat, adding another quadriceps exercise may be helpful.

It might simply look like a “wimpy” alternative to a traditional barbell squat at first glance, but make no mistake: Bulgarian split squats are the real deal.

You won’t see these being performed very often at most gyms, but they’re a highly effective (and surprisingly challenging) way to train your lower body while minimizing lower back stress and without the need for any fancy equipment.

In this post I’ll be going over the main benefits of the Bulgarian split squat (also known as the “rear foot elevated split squat”) and outlining how to perform them correctly, as well as providing some additional form tips you can employ to ensure that you get the very most out of the exercise.

Why would you want to include a Bulgarian split squat in your workouts?

There are 3 main reasons to consider…

Reason #1: You have a lower back injury and need a safer alternative to traditional back squats.

The Bulgarian split squat places significantly less stress on the lower back area since you’ll be performing the movement one leg at a time and using a lot less total weight.

In addition, if you perform them using kettle bells or dumbbells like I recommend, you’ll be holding the weights at your sides as opposed to carrying a heavy loaded bar directly on your back.

As a result of these two differences, you’ll be able to directly load your quads, hamstrings and glutes with a large amount of resistance but with minimal compression on your spine.

Reason #2: You have equipment limitations that don’t allow for regular “heavy” leg training.

Perhaps you train from home and don’t have access to a squat rack or heavy dumbbells, or maybe you’re travelling and are limited to the basic equipment in your hotel gym.

With the Bulgarian split squat, all you need is a modest pair of dumbbells and a place to elevate your foot and you’ll be able to get a good leg workout in without the need for a squat rack or any machines.

If you go with a slower cadence and higher reps, this exercise can even be performed effectively without using any additional weights at all.

Reason #3: It’s simply an awesome lower body exercise, period.

The Bulgarian split squat is great for adding muscle size to your quads, hamstrings and glutes…

It builds significant single-leg strength and stability…

It’s a great functional movement with a variety of mobility, flexibility and proprioceptive benefits…

So even if you are using a traditional barbell squat as your primary lower body lift, you can still include the Bulgarian split squat as another exercise in your overall plan.

I understand that many lifters with the “hardcore” mentality may naturally steer clear of this exercise because it doesn’t allow you to handle very heavy weights and doesn’t appear as “tough” as a standard back squat does…

However, the goal of any exercise in the gym is to place the targeted muscles under tension through a proper range of motion and to progressively overload that lift over time, and the Bulgarian split squat absolutely allows you to do that very effectively.

Go ahead and test them out for yourself and you’ll quickly realize that this is far from a “wussy” exercise. When done properly, they’re actually a very demanding lift that require a good deal of focus and pain tolerance to perform.

In fact, new research has even shown that split squats may be just as effective as regular bi-lateral squats when it comes to increasing lower body strength and athletic performance…

It is a difficult exercise to master from a technical standpoint though, so it’s very important that you understand the proper form first…

Charles Buyinza Fitness and Life style coach

 

This article has 3 Comments

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