Bulgarian Split Squats – Why & How to do Them
Written by Nichole Kribs
Any type of unilateral work is wildly beneficial for shoring up imbalances and isolating areas that may be prone to injury. The Bulgarian split squat (BSS) is one of our favorite exercises to do just that while developing lower body strength. This exercise can be done in lieu of squats if an injury prevents you from squatting, if you are looking to keep leg strength up while avoiding high percentage work or if you are adding this as accessory work to balance all your bilateral work. Whatever the reason, we love to see athletes doing some variation of BSS.
Over the course of our time coaching athletes, we have seen a variety of ways people set up for this movement so below we will go over (1) an easy ‘how to’ for set up and (2) how to execute this exercise.
How to Set Up for Bulgarian Split Squats
We know this movement can be a bit uncomfortable when getting set up. It may feel awkward and unbalanced when getting into position so below are two foolproof ways to get set up comfortably:
Set Up 1 – Start with your calves against the bench. Now take three steps forward by bringing your heel to toe. This counts as one step. Do this for a total of three steps and you’ll be in a relatively good starting position.
Set Up 2 – If the bench you are using feels a little too high (pinching or groin pain may result if the bench is too high) or you find that your toe cramps when using the bench then try this variation! You’ll need a barbell, bands and either a foam roller that can slide onto the barbell or a barbell pad. Place the barbell on a rack at about knee height. Slide the foam roller onto the barbell or place the barbell pad in the center of the barbell. Secure the barbell on the rack by using a band to wrap around the barbell and j-peg, locking it in place.
You’ll set up the exact same way as you would when using a bench but instead your back foot will be on a foam roller or barbell pad. Note that the top of the foot is what rests on the foam roller, not the toe, so if your big toe mobility is lacking then this is a great alternative set up.
How to do a Bulgarian Split Squat
Now that you are in a good start position, let’s execute. The BSS can be done unloaded, with weight in a farmer’s carry hold, with weight in a goblet hold, weight vest or with a barbell (front or back loaded). Whatever implement you choose to use, focus on maintaining engagement throughout the midline and keeping the shoulders pinned back. Lower your back knee towards the floor (adhere to the prescribed tempo) and either lightly touch the back knee to an abmat/pad or stop slightly before reaching the floor. Try and keep the torso upright when doing this so the body is going relatively straight down. Push through the front foot as you drive back up, keeping the chest tall. You are basically doing a souped-up version of a standing split squat.
Now go and fill your future with bulgarian split squats so you can get stronger, more balanced and stay injury free!