Nov18 3672

Bulgarian Split Squats – Why we Should do More of Them

Nov+18 3654

One of my favourite, and at the same time, least favourite exercises in the world – the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, aka the South Eastern-European Split Squat, aka the Bulgarian Split Squat. 


The more I use the Bulgarian split squats, the more I love the benefits that they elicit. Personally, I don’t back squat (and haven’t done so for a very long time), I love front squats and goblet squats, but back squats just don’t agree with me. Before you go and slam the old ‘if you don’t squat you’re not a strength coach’ or the ‘keep your squats low and your standards high’ comments, hear me out.


In theory, I should be a great squatter. I’m short and stocky, my femurs aren’t long and my bum is already low to the ground. For others, this may not be the case. Those with long femurs and longer torsos will often turn their back squats into good mornings which transfers force from the legs to the lower back which is far from ideal. I’m not a strength sport athlete (powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting) so there is no specific requirement for me to back squat.


Bulgarian split squats are a great alternative to traditional back squatting as they give you the range of motion you need, the lower body push benefits that transfer to key movement patterns and joint angles involved in sport and it’s great for building a robust trunk.


How to Perform:

The key to a good Bulgarian Split Squat is the set-up. Accurately working out how far away you need to set up away from the bench/chair is the most important things to determine as it is highly individual and can take some trial and error to perfect.


1.     Place something soft (e.g. an Airex pad) on the ground in front of the bench/chair that you’re using.

2.     Place a foot up on the bench/chair 

* Some people find putting the flat of the foot up on the bench the best, others find tucking the toes under the best. I personally like the flat of the foot and recommend it but find what works best for you!

3.     Drop the knee down onto the Airex pad

4.     Ideally, the front leg is at a 90 degree angle (also known as a couch stretch). 

5.     Either make a mental note of where the back of the front heel is or grab some chalk and make a small mark to give you a guide of how far away from the bench/chair you should be.


Once you have your set up down, time to get split squatting. When first learning the Bulgarian split squat it is easier to learn from the bottom up. 

1.     Back foot up on the bench/chair, chest and eyes forward. 

2.     Drop your back knee down to the floor, maintain an upright torso and eyes forward.

3.     Push back through the front foot to return to the top and repeat.


Common Early Mistakes When Learning the Movement:

There are three common early mistakes I see when learning Bulgarian split squat:


1.     Standing too Close to the Bench

If you stand too close to the bench, you’ll cram yourself up, place an emphasis on the quads and find it hard to maintain an upright torso, comprising your lift.


2.     Standing too Far Away from the Bench

If you stand too far away from the bench, there is a good chance you’ll feel discomfort in the hip flexor and/or groin of the back leg and potentially overarch your lower spine.


3.     Too Heavy, Too Soon

Often people load up too heavy with a barbell well before they’ve truly mastered the pattern. Earn your stripes on the dumbbells, kettlebells and bands before hitting the barbell.



1.     They’re Easy to Learn and Accessible to Everyone

We spoke about the common early mistakes above and as you can see they are easy to fix. Bulgarian’s are suited to everyone, from those who are new to strength training to experienced lifters no matter what their goals are.

Bulgarian’s are also accessible as they don’t require a lot of weight to load effectively. This makes it a viable option for those who don’t have access to heavy weights – in hotels, apartments, on holiday, while travelling or in commercial gyms during the 6pm rush.


2.     Training Single Leg Strength is Always a Good Idea

Single leg strength has huge carry overs to key movement patterns involved in sport. It has also been found that single leg strength transfers to bilateral lower body strength, so those who hit plateaus with their bilateral lower body pushing lifts (e.g. back squat, front squat, box squat) should include single leg lower body push lifts (e.g. Bulgarian split squats) to their training program.

3.     Bulgarian Split Squats Enhance Stability

Due to the single leg nature of the Bulgarian split squats, creating the ability to control rotation and maintain a good posture is key to enhancing stability that can transfer to key movements in sport. Not only do Bulgarian split squats allow for single leg stability gains, in comparison to pistol squats and single leg deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats are easier to load at heavier weights due to the back leg being able to support and assist the movement. 


Evidence-Based Findings:

The Bulgarian split squat has been shown through research studies to be a valuable tool for building lower-body strength, acceleration, agility and change of direction speed. 


Research into rugby players suggested that unilateral squatting may be considered an effective alternative to bilateral methods during the initial stages of training as both unilateral and bilateral training improved lower-body strength, sprint and change of direction speed equally (1). 


Another study looked at unilateral maximal strength and how it correlates with acceleration and agility, which found that maximal strength in one leg correlated significantly with both acceleration capacity and agility (2).


It has also been suggested that including plyometric training with Bulgarian split squats can improve change of direction performance beyond that of just bilateral training alone (3). 

The common trend through the research on Bulgarian split squats and their use is the additional benefits such as injury prevention and risk mitigation for team sport athletes due to the frequency of unilateral movements in sport, but also the specific joint angles achieved (1-3). 




As with most exercises, the number of variations is endless. As always, it is important to ask yourself ‘why am I choosing this variation?’ and ‘what is my goal?’.

My favourite variations include:

·       DB/KB Goblet

·       Double KB Front Rack

·       Barbell Front Rack

·       Contralateral SA KB Front Rack

·       Band RNT – Around the front knee or

·       Landmine

·       Band Resisted – Under the front foot and on the shoulder

·       Slow Eccentrics – 5-10 second eccentric

·       Isometrics – Long Pause at the middle or the bottom (3-10 seconds per rep)

·       Barbell Back Rack

·       Zercher

·       Accommodating Resistance – Bands or Chains


In many ways, the Bulgarian split squat bridges the gap between bilateral and unilateral lower body strength training. You get the benefits from unliteral strength training while the back leg provides enough assistance with stability to train with heavier loads. So, whether you called it a rear-foot elevated split squat, a South Eastern-European Split Squat or a Bulgarian Split Squat, it doesn’t really matter. It is a great exercise and should be including in a multitude of training programs whether your goals are improved athletic performance, hypertrophy or general health and fitness.




1.     Speirs D, Bennett M, Finn C, Turner A. Unilateral vs. Bilateral Squat Training for Strength, Sprints, and Agility in Academy Rugby Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016;30(2):386-392.

2.     Brorsson S, Olsson C, Bengtsson O, Peterson J. Maximal strength in one leg squat correlates with acceleration capacity and agility. 2010.

3.     Fisher J, Wallin M. Unilateral versus Bilateral Lower-body Resistance and Plyometric Training for Change of Direction Speed. Journal of Athletic Enhancement. 2014;03(06).