Split Squats are a lower body exercise that works on a single leg at a time. Your front leg will be in front of you, and your rear leg will be behind you and on an elevated surface. This is a unilateral exercise that puts more emphasis on your quadriceps, and requires more balance, which makes this a little more challenging. This exercise is great for those who are at an intermediate level.
The primary muscles worked by the Bulgarian Split Squats are quadriceps, glutes and adductors (inner thighs muscles). The secondary muscles worked are abdominals, hamstrings and calves.
This exercise is best suited for those who are at intermediate level as it requires more balance and coordination, which increases core and upper body activation to maintain correct form, and to support your body from toppling over. However, it is beginner-friendly, so you should try it out!
Find yourself an elevated surface such as a chair, bench or any other object where you can rest your rear foot on. Your front leg will be the working leg during this exercise and your back leg will be used as a stabiliser for balance. You can choose to have your rear foot flat, or on its toes.
Bend your front knee to find that sweet spot where your torso is straight and your knee is behind your toes, this is your starting position.
Engage your core at all times, keeping your hips squared and forward. This will ensure you maintain proper form throughout this movement.
Inhale, and gradually lower yourself down into a deep lunge until your front thighs are parallel to the ground. Your chest should be up and your back should be straight. Make sure your knees do not go past your toes. You can keep your arms by your sides or out in front of you to find balance.
Your torso should be as close to being upright as possible, it should not be too far forward, too far back, or being rounded. To ensure correct torso position, your core should be engaged at all times and your hips should be squared and facing forward.
Your rear foot should not be too far from the torso as this will make your lower back arched, this will pull your hips into an anterior tilted position which puts lots of stress on your lower back. To fix this, you should adjust your foot distance to find that sweet spot between your feet being too close and too wide from each other. This will keep your body in a good form where your torso is upright, front foot planted firmly, and your front knee always be behind your toes and will remain stable throughout this movement.
This is a powerhouse of a leg workout that targets your quads and glutes. Unilateral exercise increases muscle activation which increases muscle growth in the lower body area, giving you tight and rounded glutes.
This exercise has flexibility and mobility benefits as it creates extensive range of motion at hips and knees. It will strengthen your unilateral leg performance, reduce tightness, and upgrade your ability to move. Moreover, it has a positive carry over to your everyday life making it easier for you to run, jump or cycle, as one leg is exerting more force than the other at a moment.
Bulgarian Split Squats puts less load on your spine because you're doing the exercise one leg at a time, which puts more weight on your front leg, whilst taking load off your spine, giving it a chance for rest and recovery. This rest is called spinal deloading. Exercises such as barbell squats often compress your spine (which is not a bad thing!), but sometimes it’s great to give your spine a chance to relax and recover with some deloading.
If you are training at home, or you are travelling and you have no access to gym equipment, this exercise is great because all you'll need is a little space with an elevated surface such as a chair and you’ll be able to perform Bulgarian Split Squats.
If you are new to this exercise, you should perform 5-8 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Once you get stronger you want to aim for 12-16 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
Eventually, after 3-4 weeks, you will be accustomed to bodyweight and should progress to doing weighted Bulgarian Split Squats. You will see real results in the definition of your legs once you do this. Perform weighted variation for 10-12 reps on each leg, for 4 sets, 3 times a week.
This is a progression to the bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squat, and is an intermediate level exercise. To perform this, simply hold a pair of dumbbells in between your hands to increase the difficulty of this exercise as there will be more load on your front leg muscles. Including weights to your workouts will build muscle mass and increase the power and strength of your legs, especially your quads and glutes.
Deficit Bulgarian Split Squat
Deficit Bulgarian Split Squat is a great way to further target your quads and glutes. It has additional benefits of increasing unilateral leg stability, and mobility through a larger range of movement. You will need an elevated surface such as a small bench or a stool where you will place your front foot on.
This variation will enable your rear knee to go down deeper, giving more activation in your leg muscles. More depth means more effective stimulus for your glutes. Moreover, it will reduce over extension in your lower back in comparison to no-elevation Bulgarian Split Squats.
Jumping Bulgarian Split Squat is rated as an advanced level exercise, however, it is still beginners friendly. This variation works on your single leg explosion whilst forcing you to maintain balance, stability and coordination. Before performing this variation, you should be comfortable with performing standard Bulgarian Split Squats.
To perform this exercise, you will get into the starting position of the traditional variation, then, you will forcefully push from your heels to drive your body up, creating enough momentum to perform a small jump, and land on your toes safely first, then bending the knee into the bottom position.
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.