Combining the burning effectiveness of the squat with the instability of balancing on one leg takes the squat to next-level effectiveness.
Primarily targeting the quads, hams, glutes, and calves while engaging the abs and spinal erectors, this unilateral compound exercise carries the added benefit of being able to be executed almost anywhere. All you need is a bench, sturdy chair, or box.
The added balancing challenge presented by the single-leg stance means the Bulgarian Split Squat (BSS) requires an advanced level of core and upper body engagement to execute correctly.
History of the Bulgarian Split Squat
While the exact origins of the BSS are unknown, we can trace its first recorded documentation to Cold War era Olympic
In those days, Olympic weightlifting exercises like the clean, jerk, and snatch were performed in a split one-legged stance.
Weightlifting went through a period of experimentation during the Cold War, playing with different numbers of reps, sets, techniques, and tempo changes.
Bulgarians were looked to as the experts, as they had been the most successful in previous years. In fact, many serious weightlifters still use these training regimens today. They tended to focus on split squats, front squats, and high step-ups rather than heavy back squatting, as had been the tradition.
How to Perform the BSS
Step 1: Stand about two feet away from the sturdy bench or chair facing away from it with a hip-width stance, holding your shoulders back and engaging your core.
Step 2: Choose from placing your right foot and lay it on the seat, top-side down.
Step 3: Balancing on your left leg, inhale as you bend at the knee, making sure it is aligned above your toes and allowing your right leg to bend as needed until your quadricep is parallel to the ground.
Step 4: Exhale as you press up through the left foot to return to standing, using your quad and glute to power you in a controlled motion.
Step 5: Repeat the process until your desired number of reps has been achieved.
Step 6: Switch legs.
- Greater focus on quads than other squats
- Improves balance and coordination
- Increases flexibility and agility
- Strengthens ligaments, joints, and bones throughout the lower body
- Enhances lower-body aesthetic
- Strengthens entire posterior chain
- Improves athletic and lifting performance
- Builds lean muscle
- Increases functional fitness
The split squat differs slightly from the Bulgarian split squat in that, while it is a unilateral one-legged movement, the back leg is not elevated. This modification may feel more natural or comfortable for some people. Just make sure you do not engage the back leg as you squat.
For more of a challenge, you can add weights by holding a pair of dumbells or kettlebells, or even take things to the extreme by placing a weighted barbell across your shoulders.
Practice Makes Perfect
While the concept of the Bulgarian split squat seems simple enough, developing optimum foot placement, correct form, and proper execution can have a learning curve. When placing your off-foot behind you, you’ll likely experience a period of trial-and-error wherein you’ll need to hop around a but to help you find the sweet spot. This is normal.
Once you’ve gotten the specifics figured out, however, the rest will be smooth sailing.