The Bulgarian split squat is one of our favorite leg exercises for torching your lower body on leg day. If you want a plan of attack when working your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, this is one exercise to master now.
Bulgarian split squats can be done using just your bodyweight and a bench, or sturdy chair. It's another name for a rear-foot elevated split squat and originated from a Bulgarian weightlifting national team back in the 80's. It's a tricky exercise to master and requires a degree of balance and coordination.
Find out what happened when I did 50 Bulgarian split squats every for a week, or read on for advice from Sweat trainer Kayla Itsines on how to master your form during the Bulgarian split squat, as well as the benefits of the exercise, and the different variations to try.
What is a Bulgarian split squat?
The Bulgarian split squat is a variation of a single-leg squat, where you elevate your back leg off the ground. This is a great exercise for targeting the quads, and it also requires a lot of balance, which requires you to engage your core.
How to do a Bulgarian split squat
To do a Bulgarian split squat, stand in front of a chair or step. You’ll be roughly two feet from the chair, and your feet should be hip-width apart. Lift your right leg, and put it on the chair behind you. You can either lie the top of your foot on the chair, so your ankle joint is on the edge of the chair, or flex your ankle, and balance on the ball of your foot. Try each version and work out which feels best for you and your body.
Make sure your feet are still roughly hip-distance apart, with your hips facing forward. Stacking your front foot in line with your back foot can make it even more difficult to balance. Engage your core, and bend your left knee, as you would in a lunge. Pause at the bottom, then drive back up to your starting position. Make sure you perform the same number of repetitions on each side to keep things even.
The hardest part of the Bulgarian split squat is getting your legs into the right position. Remember, you’re working the front leg — your back leg is just offering some stability in this exercise.
If you’re struggling to get your legs into the right position, Sweat app co-founder and trainer Kayla Itsines has shared one simple hack that has been viewed 43K times on her TikTok channel. Start by standing in front of a chair or step, and place one leg on the chair. Sit back on your foot, and step your front leg forward into position, grounding the foot into the floor. Then stand up and perform the squat.
@kayla_itsines ♬ original sound - Kayla Itsines
Another common mistake is leaning too far forward during the exercise — keep your core engaged, your torso upright and your gaze forward. A slight lean is fine, but leaning too far will put additional strain on your front knee.
What are the benefits of Bulgarian split squats?
The Bulgarian split squat is a compound exercise, meaning you’re working multiple muscle groups at the same time, making it a brilliant one to add to your lower body routine. If done with the correct form, you should target the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, and spinal erector muscles. As mentioned above, you’re likely to work your quads and core harder than you would do during bodyweight squats or lunges, as you’re forcing your body to balance in this single-leg move.
Bulgarian split squats are also a unilateral movement, as you’re actively training one side of the body at a time. This can help you fix imbalances in your body, which is especially important for runners, or lifters, who might have a stronger side. Strengthening the weaker side can help make the body more balanced, and avoid injuries in the long run.
What are the Bulgarian split squat variations to try?
Once you’ve mastered the form, you can make this exercise harder by adding weights to the move by holding a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells in your hands. We’ve found the best adjustable dumbbells for weightlifting at home here.
Remember, this is an intermediate exercise, so if you’re finding them too difficult, go back to performing lunges and weighted lunges to work on your leg strength first.
You can read about how I did 50 Bulgarian split squats every day for a week — the results surprised me.
Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve found the best arm exercise to build your guns without weights, the common squat mistake you’re probably making, and the best exercises to try to strengthen your lower back.