The humble squat has been a fitness favourite ever since someone decided to beef up their glutes, and as a result of longevity, there are innumerable types of different squats you can add to your workout routine.
You can half squat, deep squat, sumo squat, goblet squat… Basically anything that involves some kind of hunkering down on your haunches is going to strengthen your legs. No squat repertoire, however, is complete, without some kind of split squat. So, to round out leg day, try the elevated split squat.
The only difference from a split squat is that the rear foot is elevated. This small change ramps up the difficulty of the movement considerably by testing your balance, which engages the core all the more, and placing a greater load on the front leg. The extra load is great for increasing leg strength but if you’re adding a barbell to the move, make sure you take off some weight when switching from the standard split squat to an elevated version so you don’t overburden your front leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
As well as testing your balance to the max – which will improve core strength – the elevated split squat is a powerhouse of a leg workout, with your quads, calves and hamstrings all set to benefit. The glutes are also heavily involved in the exercise, so it works for anyone keen on perfecting their posterior.
Here’s the best thing about it, though – almost every sport in the world (running very much included) requires that you drive off one leg at a time, so if you haven’t got some unilateral (one-legged) work in your training plan, then you’re missing a trick. The Bulgarian split squat is the answer: not only is it slightly easier to learn and master than the full-on back squat, but it’s also more universally-doable for people with oddly-shaped femurs and arguably more injury proof. In the back squat, for instance, the lower back comes heavily into play, limiting the weight you’re able to lift. In the Bulgarian squat, it’s all about your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Here’s how to do it better.
Bulgarian Split Squat Instructions
- Find yourself a step, bench or any other contraption that you can rest a foot on, it needs to be about knee height.
- Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench. Your leading leg should be half a metre or so in front of bench.
- Lower until your front thigh is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Don't let your front knee travel beyond your toes.
- Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position, again keeping your movements measured.
Repeat five to 10 times then swap to the other leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat Form Tips
Get Your Distance Right
The closer you stand to the bench, the more the Bulgarian split squat will emphasise your quads – though if you’re too close, it might give you some knee pain. Standing further away will tax your hip flexors more heavily, though it could also strain your groin. Experiment to find a distance that works for you.
Experiment with Weight
There are lots of ways to hold the weight in a Bulgarian split squat. The simplest is the goblet – holding a dumbbell upright in front of you, like it’s a goblet you’re about to drink out of. Once you’ve maxed out on your gym’s dumbbells, switch to holding a dumbbell in each hand, using straps if necessary. You can add weight with a barbell, but be careful – if you hit failure, it’ll be tricky to dump.
Bulgarian Split Squat Variations
Gym ball Bulgarian split squat
One of the key challenges of the elevated split squat is maintaining your balance, so why not make this part of it even harder by resting your back foot on a gym ball? The unstable surface will demand even more from your core and front leg as you try to complete the movement smoothly.
Dumbbell Bulgarian split squat
When adding weight to this exercise, dumbbells are an easier option than a barbell, making them a good first step up from the unweighted version. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let them hang by your sides as you perform the movement.
Gym ball Bulgarian split squat with twist
Ditch the weights for this variation, which adds another plane of movement to test your balance and co-ordination in new and exciting ways. Hold your arms out in front of you with your hands together, then twist your torso to one side as you lower into the squat. Alternate sides with each squat.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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