Movement of the Day: Bulgarian Split Squat

Calisthenics enthusiasts often note that it is tough to train legs for them. While not impossible, the leg musculature is often too strong to get a real stimulus from bodyweight movements unless some modifications are implemented. One change is to change the direction of the exercise, focusing on an uncommon motion, such as the reverse nordic curl or sissy squats. Another modification is to increase reps significantly. Of course, another option, and the one that will be the topic of this piece, is using unilateral movements instead. Unilateral movements are exercises that focus on one side, such as doing a single-arm press or one-legged squat. These lifts have an increased stimulus since the load on a single limb.

There are many options for unilateral movements. Walking lunges, reverse lunges, split squats, b-stance squats and b-stance RDLs, b-stance hip thrusts, single-leg hip thrusts, pistol squats, and many more. All of which can be done with bodyweight or added with, such as adding dumbbells or a barbell. However, this piece will be looking at the Bulgarian split squat. The Bulgarian split squat, also known as the rear leg, elevated split squat, is a unilateral movement where one leg is on an elevated platform — such as a bench — and the other leg performs the squatting movement. The exercise can be performed assisted; the performer holds on to something sturdy, balance is not a factor, or unassisted where balance is a component to perform the movement.

The Bulgarian split squat can be used as the main lift or an accessory movement. Due to its nature as a unilateral movement, adding light loads can complement body weight. High reps on the Bulgarian split squat can be brutal on the body; however, the low load allows the body to recover faster than a set of heavy back squats.

Bulgarian split squats develop single-leg strength, which is especially important for athletes. Athletes spend a significant portion of time changing direction, linear speed, or linear drive. Developing single-leg strength is vital for athletes and highly desired for ordinary people. The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best single-leg movements to improve single-leg strength that would benefit any able body individually. Another benefit of Bulgarian split squat is the low axial loading. While back squats can be difficult for individuals who have spinal problems, the Bulgarian split squat has a lessened axial load (unless you use the barbell version, which is still less because of the leg position).

It is vital to note some of the downsides of Bulgarian split squats. One of the downsides to all unilateral movements is that they are not time-efficient. For busy individuals, this is not the best exercise. Another possible issue is fatigue. Since both legs need to be worked, fatigue can affect the performance of the second leg, especially when done to near failure. The high localized fatigue could be employed as a test of mental fortitude to equate reps despite a high degree of fatigue.

The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to complement other leg movements. Since heavy squats are a staple of many programs, Bulgarian split squats are a perfect accessory exercise because Bulgarian split squats have a low stimulus to fatigue ratio. This lift will add minimal systemic fatigue. Of course, Bulgarian split squats can replace squats. The obvious benefit of this is to increase weekly work capacity. This back squat replacement is useful to bodybuilders who wish to avoid a poor stimulus to fatigue ratio.

The Bulgarian split squat is a powerful movement to include in any program. It has the versatility to fill different roles in training programs. It can be the main movement or an accessory movement. It has benefits for athletes and gym-goers. While every exercise has its downsides, the Bulgarian split squat is a movement that benefits far outweigh its downsides. They are worth looking into to add to any program.

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Quentin Washington

Quentin Washington

I am an exercise physiologist and online fitness/nutrition coach. If you like what I write here, check out my website: https://greathammerfitness.webflow.io/