What Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squats Work?

Although the origins of the Bulgarian split squat remains unknown, the Bulgarian split squat was popularized by the Bulgarian Olympic weightlifting coach, Angel Spassov in the 1980s and has been a staple in Olympic weightlifters and gym goers routines ever since. 

The Bulgarian split squat is a variation of a regular squat that is completed with one leg. The one rear foot is elevated on a bench while completing the squat.

What this squat does is build lower body muscles, which is a regular occurrence in traditional squats. This strengthens the glute and upper leg muscles and will provide additional support for the back.

They are easy to do and incorporate in your gym routine and don't require a spotter.

Which Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squats Work

How To Do Bulgarian Split Squats?

There are two main variations of a Bulgarian split squat. There is one that focuses on working the glutes and one that is focused on the quads. What determines this, is the position of your foot.

If your foot is further from the elevated surface or bench, more emphasis will be placed on your glutes and hamstrings. If your foot  is closer to the elevated surface, your quads will be the muscle groups worked on.

  1. You do a Bulgarian split squat by starting with about 2 feet in front of a knee-level bench or step.  
  2. Next, you lift your right leg behind you and place the top of your foot on the bench. It is important to note the distance between your feet: which should be about shoulder-width apart. The right should be far enough in front of the bench so that you can comfortably lunge.
  3. Then, while engaging your core, roll your shoulders back and lean slightly forward at the waist.
  4. You should then begin to lower down your left leg and bend the knee.
  5. If you are completing a quad focused Bulgarian split squat, stop before your knee falls over your toes. 
  6. If you are completing a Bulgarian split squat that focuses on your glutes, then you stop when your left knee is parallel to the ground.
  7. Lastly, you should push up through your left foot, using the power from your quads and hamstrings to return to standing.
  8. Repeat on each side with the desired amount of reps.

If you have just added Bulgarian split squats, then you could try starting off with 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps on each leg until you get accustomed to doing the movement and gain strength.

When you can complete a few sets of up to 12 reps on each leg with ease, you could consider adding a dumbbell in each hand for some additional resistance.

What Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squats Work?

When focusing on quads, this exercise works the Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, Rectus Femoris, Vastus intermedius and the Tibialis Anterior muscles.

Like all well-rounded exercise techniques, the Bulgarian split squat works a wide range of muscles in the hamstrings, glutes and even the lats, abs, and shoulders.

The muscles worked in the hamstrings group include Biceps femoris, Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus muscles and the muscles worked in the glutes groups include the Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius.

Other muscles that are worked by performing the Bulgarian split squat include the muscles of the calves, forearms, and Erector spinae muscles.

The Bulgarian split squat is a wonderful addition to your gym routine as it can help strengthen all the major muscle groups in your body.  It is a highly effective deadlift alternative and is a great exercise to include when you do a lower body day to bolster leg strength, or a full body workout.

When paired with 3 to 5 additional strength exercises, your core and legs will be stronger in no time. As with most exercise, it is important to do a proper warm up beforehand.

Benefits of Bulgarian Split Squats

The great thing about the Bulgarian split squats is that while some people do include equipment like dumbbells and barbells while performing the squats, no equipment is actually needed to perform the Bulgarian split squat.

It is a great exercise to perform anywhere, and it is great to do when travelling or when you have limited access to equipment.

Another benefit of doing Bulgarian split squats is that it is a great squat alternative as it trains multiple muscle groups, and it provides comparable muscle activation to the back squat exercise.

Additionally, everyone can benefit from including the Bulgarian split squat into your lower body workout routine. It is a great way to add volume to your quads and glutes without grinding out more back squads.

Bulgarian Split Squat Variations

The Goblet Bulgarian Split Squat

This squat is similar to the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat, except you hold one dumbbell in front of your chest, instead of at your side.

This exercise works well if you have trouble balancing two dumbbells at your sides, and is perfect for when you have limited access to exercise equipment.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

This variation is the same as using pair dumbbells but instead, you use a barbell over your shoulders. This is advantageous as you can use more weight and you aren't limited by grip strength and the weight ratio gives you more control.

Unfortunately, this must be done at a gym and should be done with a spotter so that no accidents happen. It also is an exercise that places stress on the back, so should be avoided if you have lower back pain.

Ways To Improve Your Technique And Mistakes To Avoid

It is important to try to improve your technique even when you have mastered this exercise. There are a few strategies that you can use to improve your technique when performing Bulgarian split squats.

  1. Use Heavy Weights to increase your strength. The strength spectrum of rep ranges start between 80 and 85% of doing one rep or the 4 to 6 rep range. If you are currently using lighter weights while doing 12-15 reps of squats, then you can decrease the rep number when you increase the weights.
  2. Increase grip strength by doing forearm workouts such as doing hand exercises with hand exercise equipment or by doing barbell holds. Additionally, you can use wrist straps to safely hold your weight and improve grip strength.
  3. Wear the correct shoes. Using the best shoes for squats will provide you with a stable surface and allow you to balance heavy loads. They will need to be tight on your feet and have good traction on the outsole.

Additionally, to improve, there are some common mistakes that can be avoided to improve your technique overall. The first is to make sure that your strides are not too long. If they are too long, then this can actually limit quad activation and range of motion.

Another important mistake to avoid is having a leaned back torso. Leaning back too much can limit the effectiveness of the exercise.

Lastly, you should avoid forcing your range of motion. If you find yourself in any discomfort, you should start out with a  lower, elevated surface to place the rear leg on.

Conclusion

The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best exercises you can include into your gym routine for developing your lower body. It is versatile, and it can be performed with or without any equipment and when performed correctly is really safe.

To wrap this informative article, we detailed what muscles the Bulgarian split squat works. It does cover a  variety of muscle groups and is a wonderful exercise for beginners and experts in squatting, alike. As with most exercises, it is critical to start slow and small and to not overdo anything if you are just starting out.

Pace yourself and listen to your body. Happy squatting!

Kevin Harris
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