How to Master the Bulgarian Split Squat to Grow Your Leg Muscles

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TO BUILD BIG, strong legs, you can’t just depend on exercises that call for a balanced stance with your feet planted on the floor with perfect symmetry. Life happens outside the lines as much as it does within—so your workouts should adjust accordingly if you want to train for peak performance. That’s why movements like the Bulgarian split squat (also known as the rear foot elevated split squat) are so essential for your strength training routine. This isn’t the easiest exercise in your gym toolkit, but that’s one of the reasons it will be so effective, giving your glutes, hamstrings, and even your quads a challenge.

The Bulgarian split squat puts you in a unilateral position, meaning you’ll be working one side of your body at a time. This is key—not only are you addressing muscle imbalances that your standard squats might mask, you’ll also have the chance to hone your athleticism as you fight to maintain your position throughout each rep. And your working leg isn’t the only beneficiary; your rear leg will also be stretched, getting a nice mobility and flexibility boost for your hip flexors and quads.

While the Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise for all types of trainees, it is slightly more technical than the average squat. It’s not uncommon for the uninitiated to hop around until they find the right position, wasting time, energy, and potentially setting themselves up for failure. Here, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. walks us through the best way to do the Bulgarian split squat so you can get to your gains even more quickly.

Benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat

●Effective at building muscle and strength

●Hits the glutes, hamstrings, and quads

●Unilateral exercise helps to address muscle imbalances and hone athleticism

●Trains mobility and flexibility on the rear leg

●You can use multiple forms of load and don’t have to overtax your back

What You Need to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat

To pull off the Bulgarian split squat, you’ll need a stable raised platform (like a weight bench or if you’re at home, an ottoman or couch) to prop your elevated foot. You can do the exercise without weights and still get a solid workout, but you’ll reap the most strength and muscle gains by using weight. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells held in a variety of different grips, like the suitcase hold at your sides, racked, and more.

How to Do the Bulgarian Split Squat

Follow these form cues to learn how to do the Bulgarian split squat. Once you’ve read the step-by-step directions, follow along for some higher-level tips from Samuel to dive deeper into the exercise.

●Start on the floor in front of the bench (or whatever stable platform you have on hand).

●Place one foot up onto the bench, then get into a position where your front foot is planted on the floor with a vertical shin (in relation to the ground). Your thigh should be parallel to the ground, forming a 90 degree angle at the knee.

●Grab the weights off the floor.

●Tighten your core and drive your ribcage in. Keep your neck neutral, looking straight ahead. Squeeze your shoulder blades to create tension.

●Stand up, hinging forward slightly to avoid overextending your back.

●Lower yourself down, working to keep your shin in that vertical position. Don’t allow your back knee to hit the ground; stop an inch from the floor if you can.

●Squeeze your glutes hard to keep your knee in the proper position, then press your front foot off the floor to drive up.

Start At The Bottom

Eb says: The biggest mistake I see with the Bulgarian split squat is the setup, and if you setup wrong, you’ll never get the Bulgarian split squat right. If your leg is too close to the bench, you wind up with a bad front knee position that’s going to contribute to knee pain. If it’s too far, you won’t get the proper stretch on your back leg and you’ll miss half the beauty of the Bulgarian. So find your position on the ground first, then stand up.

Back Knee Never Touches

Eb says: The Bulgarian split squat is best used as an exercise that demonstrates controlled movement, not explosion, so think about owning the eccentric (lowering phase)—and work to own the bottom of each rep, too. To own that bottom position, don’t let your back knee hit the ground. Once that back knee touches the ground, this basically becomes a loaded couch stretch.

We want it to be something more than that so you can build leg and glute strength. So force yourself to stop an inch before your back knee hits the ground, and pause in this position for a split second. This will also force you to demonstrate control in that bottom position instead of relying on a bounce out of the hole.

Glutes On

Eb says: You have to pay attention to plenty of factors in the Bulgarian split squat, and the movement pattern itself will take some getting used to, but don’t let any of that be an excuse to not keep your glutes active, as they should be on any squat or deadlift motion.

Letting your glutes relax during a Bulgarian leaves you open to letting your front knee track inward, a potentially damaging position. Keeping your glutes on will prevent this from happening, and also help you derive optimal benefit from the Bulgarian split squat. When you power out of the hole in a Bulgarian, it’s very often almost all glute that drives that charge.

Bulgarian Split Squat Variations

Want to take your Bulgarian split squat to the next level? Check out these variations:

Pulse Pause Bulgarian Split Squat

preview for Eb & Swole: Pulse Pause Bulgarian Split Squat

Pass-Through Clean Bulgarian Split Squat

preview for Eb and Swole: Pass-Through Clean Bulgarian Split Squat

Dead Stop Bulgarian Split Squat

preview for Add These Dead Stop Bulgarian Split Squats To Your Next Leg Day | Men’s Health Muscle

Want to master even more exercises? Check out all of our Form Check guides here.

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