Bulgarian Split Squat

Personal Trainer’s Guide to Foot Placement for Glutes & Quads

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 28, 2024

The Bulgarian split squat is an interesting exercise both in name and appearance. But it can also be intimidating to attempt for the first time, and you might not know precisely what it’s working.

So in this article, I show you how to do a Bulgarian split squat. As well as how to use it to target glutes or quads.

Bulgarian Split Squat

What Is A Bulgarian Split Squat?

The Bulgarian split squat is a lower-body exercise that’s sort of a hybrid between the squat and lunge movements. More specifically, your feet stay in one spot like a squat, but you work each leg independently like a lunge.

Bulgarian Split Squat vs. Lunge

A Bulgarian split squat is very similar in execution to a traditional lunge. Both are essentially squat exercises with one leg in front of the other.

However, the main difference is that your back leg is elevated for a Bulgarian split squat. This transfers more of the weight to the front leg.

As a result, the leg muscles and stabilizers work a little harder.

Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral lower-body exercise primarily targeting the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Here are the specific muscles worked during this exercise:

  1. Quadriceps: The BSS places a lot of stress on the quadriceps, particularly the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis muscles on the front of the thigh. These muscles are responsible for extending the knee joint and straightening the leg.
  2. Glutes: The glutes are also heavily engaged during the BSS. Particularly the gluteus maximus, which is the largest muscle in the buttocks. This muscle is responsible for hip extension and external rotation.
  3. Hamstrings: The hamstrings on the back of the thigh are also worked during the BSS. These muscles are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.
  4. Adductors: The adductor muscles, located on the inside of the thigh, are engaged to a lesser degree during the BSS. These muscles are responsible for bringing the legs toward the body’s midline.
  5. Core muscles: The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae, are also activated during the BSS to help stabilize the torso and maintain proper posture.

Overall, the Bulgarian split squat is a highly effective exercise for building lower body strength and improving balance and stability. However, which muscles get worked the most also depends on how you set up the Bulgarian split squat.

So I’ll talk more about how to target the quads and glutes with this exercise in the sections below.

Bulgarian Split Squat Muscles Worked

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits & Limitations

The Bulgarian split squat has many advantages and reasons why you might want to include it in your lower body workouts. For example, it doesn’t require machines or special equipment other than something to use for elevating your foot.

In addition, there are many variations from beginner to advanced, including multiple ways to add resistance and make the exercise more challenging. Also, you can modify the exercise to target specific parts of your lower body.

Finally, unilateral leg movements help improve balance and coordination more than other leg exercises. So really, the only downside is that it’s not as good for building super strength or power.

Pros

  • No special equipment needed
  • Many variations to fit your gym and experience level
  • It can be adjusted to target more quads or more glutes
  • It also builds balance and coordination skills

Cons

  • Not the best exercise for overall power and strength

How To Do A Bulgarian Split Squat

Start by standing with both feet facing away from a bench or step. Now extend one leg back so that your toes rest on the bench. Your front leg should be about 24-30″ away from the bench.

Next, bend your front leg so your hips drop straight down. Lower your hips slowly until your back knee touches the floor. Then extend your front leg back to the starting position.

As you perform the exercise, keep your back straight and your chest up. Continue until the working leg fatigues, then switch legs.

Here’s how to do a Bulgarian split squat step-by-step:

  1. Stand with one foot on the floor and the other resting on the bench.
  2. Squat down until your rear knee almost touches the floor while keeping your back relatively straight.
  3. Extend your front leg to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch legs.

Tips:

  • Try this exercise with your body weight first. And hang on to something for assistance until you can keep your balance.
  • Once you master balance and form, you can add weights to make it more challenging.

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Bulgarian Split Squat Form

The description and video above should give you a good idea of how to perform this exercise. But you can alter your stance and body position to target more quads or glutes.

So here are some additional tips to help you hit the right muscles with perfect form!

For Targeting Quads

To target more of the quadriceps on the front of the leg, start by taking a shorter stance. That means keeping your front foot closer to the bench.

When you squat, your knee should pass in front of your toe. This increases knee flexion and activates more quads as you push back up to the starting position.

In addition, try keeping your torso in a more upright position to reduce hip and glute involvement even more.

Bulgarian Split Squat For Quads

For Targeting Glutes

On the other hand, to target more glutes, start by taking a slightly longer stride. That means your front foot will be further away from the bench.

When you perform the squat, your knee should stay behind your toe. This increases hip flexion and activates more glutes and hamstrings as you lift your body out of the bottom of the movement.

Also, it can help to lean forward more to increase hip flexion and glute activation.

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Bulgarian Split Squat Variations

There are several different ways you can do the split squat movement. While the form remains the same, each offers a different way to add resistance or make the exercise harder as you progress.

Assisted Bulgarian Split Squat

For the bodyweight variation, you don’t hold any weights. Your body provides all the resistance. Perfect for beginners or warm-up sets.

In this case, you can hold on to something for balance. When you’re comfortable balancing, keep your arms at your sides or crossed in front of you.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

The DB Bulgarian split squat can be performed with a weight in each hand, as demonstrated earlier. Or you can hold a dumbbell in one hand and brace yourself with the other.

Another advantage of the single dumbbell variation is that it helps target the glutes even more. The reason is that holding the dumbbell between your legs puts a rotational force on your hips that the gluteus medius must counteract.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

Another way to add resistance is with a barbell on your back like a traditional squat. However, this variation is a little more challenging to get started and balance.

Once the bar is on your shoulders, the exercise is performed as normal. But the drawback is that it’s not easy to drop the bar if you lose your balance. So don’t attempt this variation unless you’re experienced.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

TRX Bulgarian Split Squat

TRX bands, also known as suspension trainers, are a type of exercise equipment consisting of a set of adjustable straps with handles and foot cradles. You then attach them to an anchor point, such as a door frame or a sturdy pole.

With the foot cradle, you can perform unilateral leg exercises such as the Bulgarian split squat. One advantage of this variation is that the band can move as you squat down, allowing for a more natural movement path.

TRX Bulgarian Split Squat 1

Bulgarian Split Squat Jumps

Another way to make the exercise more challenging is by adding a jump to the end of each rep. Although it’s best to try this one with your bodyweight first.

In order to do a jump squat, you have to accelerate faster out of the bottom of the movement. This helps you develop more explosive power.

Deficit Bulgarian Split Squat

Over time, your flexibility will increase. So when this happens you can increase the range of motion by creating a deficit. This simply means elevating your front foot so your knee travels down further.

Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat

A Smith machine is basically a barbell on guide rails. Doing Bulgarian split squats on a Smith machine allows you to add weight while also getting some assistance on balance.

The only downside is that the guide rails can somewhat restrict your natural movement path.

Banded Bulgarian Split Squat

Lastly, you can use bands to add resistance if you don’t have any free weights. To do a banded split squat, place the center of the band under your lead foot.

Then grab the ends and pull them up to your shoulders. From this starting position, perform the movement as you normally would.

17 Best Resistance Band Exercises For Legs

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives

There are many other excellent exercises that you can use instead of Bulgarian split squats to target your quads and glutes. So let’s look at some of the top alternatives.

Conventional Split Squat

The conventional split squat doesn’t require you to elevate your back foot. So it can be easier for beginners to balance. Or for more advanced lifters who want stability to use heavier weights.

Either way, the regular split squat involves keeping both feet planted on the floor with a fixed stance. Then you squat down until your rear knee hits the floor and repeat for a set number of reps before switching legs.

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative 2

Front Foot Elevated Split Squat

Instead of elevating your rear foot, you can also perform split squats with your front foot elevated. Like the Bulgarian split squat, this increases the range of motion before your rear knee hits the floor.

In addition, the front foot elevated variation makes it a little easier to target the glutes and hamstrings during a split squat.

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative 1

Lunges

As we discussed previously, lunges are like a split squat where your feet don’t remain planted throughout the exercise. In other words, you start with your feet together, step forward (or backward) as you squat down, then return to the starting position.

In this way, it’s easier to alternate legs with each rep during lunges. And you can even perform a walking lunge variation where you continually step forward with each rep.

As with split squats, there are several ways to add resistance to lunges, including dumbbell, barbell, and landmine variations. Here’s a video showing alternating landmine lunges.

Step-Ups

A step-up is another unilateral lower body exercise that primarily targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It involves stepping up onto a raised platform, such as a box, bench, or step, and then stepping back down again.

As with split squats, you can change your foot placement and body position to target specific muscle groups.

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative 3

More Leg Exercises & Workouts

Bulgarian split squats are a good addition to your leg day workout, whether you use them to target quads or glutes. But if you really want to reach your fitness goals, you need to hit your lower body with several types of leg exercises.

So here are some additional leg exercises and workouts you can use to build your lower body.

Top 10 Landmine Leg Exercises

Hip Thrust Alternatives for Building Glutes

Leg Press for Glutes vs Quads

Squats vs Leg Press for Lower Body

7 Best Barbell Hamstring Exercises

Heel Elevated Squats for Quads

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Comparison

7 Unique Smith Machine Squat Variations

With this information, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals. And if you found this exercise tutorial helpful, click on the articles below for more fitness information and tips!

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