3 reasons you should be doing Bulgarian Split Squats
In this article, Phil covers the key benefits of the Bulgarian Split Squat as an essential inclusion in any program to develop a balanced, strong and stable lower body.
1. It is a safe and effective way to increase leg size and strength
The Bulgarian split squat (or rear elevated split squat) is a very effective way to develop leg size and strength, much like a squat. With this exercise however, there is a much lower risk of lower back and knee pain, due to the lighter loads used. Much like a squat, this exercise mainly targets quads and glute muscles, but foot position and torso angle can be easily altered to target different muscle groups. For example, placing the lead foot closer to bench and leaning forward will increase the work that the quadriceps do, and give a fantastic “pump” equal or even greater to the leg extension machine, and with much less force on the knee joint. Alternatively, if done with the lead foot placed further out from the bench, it puts a greater emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings. This is ramped up even further if done with a barbell because there is a greater need to maintain an upright torso, which effectively turns it into a full body exercise. I definitely favour this exercise over the squat to develop leg size, and after you do a set of 8-12 and feel the burning in your quads, you might be inclined to agree!
2. It automatically clears up muscle imbalances and tightness
Considering this exercise is done one leg at a time, both legs have to do the same amount of work, and therefore any difference in leg strength will be naturally resolved. Unlike a squat, where the stronger leg might contribute more than 50% of the effort, and the weaker leg less, in this exercise there is no place for the weaker leg to hide! This exercise can also be used to correct muscular imbalances in the same leg. For example, if someone has stronger quads and weaker hamstrings in one leg compared to the other, assuming both legs are in the same position each time this exercise is performed, this imbalance will, over time, naturally correct itself. The Bulgarian split squat doesn’t just benefit the leg that’s pushing up and down. Most people will feel a stretch in the hip flexor of the leg resting on the bench. The hip flexors are commonly tight muscles, especially in people who sit for long periods of time, and so by doing this exercise you’re getting stronger and more flexible hips at the same time.
3. Versatile, low risk, and can be used as a great prehab and rehab exercise
The great thing about the Bulgarian split squat is how versatile is. I personally prescribe to most of my clients, whether they are recovering from an ACL reconstruction, or are perfectly healthy and just wanting to build leg size and strength. Having said that I’m extra careful when doing it with the rehab clients! Due to the fact it’s a single leg exercise, your balance is automatically challenged. Therefore it is great at improving hip and knee stability, which is important for all clients, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious being to correct hip and/or knee instability, crucial in people who have undergone hip, knee, or back surgery. It’s also a great “prehab” exercise to help prevent injuries in these areas, especially in runners and triathletes. Hip and knee stability is also important for performance, making this a good exercise for athletes or anyone involved in sport. There limitless ways to alter and modify this exercise. Aside from altering foot position, you can hold a weight on only one side for extra core stability, or attach a band around the forward knee to create extra instability.
A final point that must be made is that the Bulgarian split squat is not an easy exercise to get right straight away. It takes a few times to get the correct technique and ideal position. If you have not performed this exercise before, ask your trainer or someone with experience to help you out. It’s also one of the physically hardest exercises to do, but the benefits are definitely worth it.