If you’ve ever attempted high volume Bulgarian split squats, you know how heart-poundingly nasty they can be. The combination of hip hinging and stabilization under load is a brutal use of your legs, glutes, and central nervous system.
Master the best single-leg squat variations
The Bulgarian split squat has a lot of carryover into healthy squat patterns. Splitting your stance allows you to work on mobility in the hip flexors and at the bottom position of a single-leg squat. You can drill hip stability, focus on quad hypertrophy, or load one side at a time to work on imbalances and asymmetries. Another important use of the split squat is working on the full range of knee flexion during knee rehab.
There are different ways to perform the movement, and the variations can get confusing depending on the angles of your torso and planted shin. Check out our guide for everything awesome (and awful) about the Bulgarian split squat.
How to do the Bulgarian Split Squat (both ways)
There are two versions of the rear-elevated split squat. Both are valid for different purposes. Let’s talk about them.
OPTION 1: THE MOST COMMON
This is the kind of split squat you often see in everyday gyms. It’s easy to mess up but also easy to scale for nagging knee pain.
Grab a bench, box, or another stable platform that comes to about knee height. Be careful not to pick a bench that’s too high. Set the top of your back foot on the bench and place your front foot just far enough away, so you have a slight forward knee-bend in the bottom position.
An important cue for this version: your weight should be in your midfoot, not too far back in your heel and not too far forward into your toes. Your stance width should be about the same as your hip width (no tightrope walking here).
From the top, hinge slightly forward at the hips and descend into a squat, pressing your shoelaces into the bench. Drive straight up and down through the movement—don’t let yourself rock forward or backward. Focus on putting 90% of the pressure on the floor underneath your front foot.
Test your single-leg strength by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest. You can also hold a pair of weights by your side, suitcase-style, or load a barbell on your back. The options for pain are endless.
OPTION 2: THE OG
The OG is said to be the version taught initially by the Bulgarian weightlifting team. It uses a lower platform, a slightly different configuration for the feet, and different angles for the hips/knees. The video below is one of the best/safest options we choose to use.
Find a stable platform that’s only about six inches off the ground (a plate works for this). Place the ball of your back foot on the platform (toes bent) instead of setting your shoelaces on it. Step your front foot out far enough so you can move down into your squat without your heel coming up off the floor.
With your chest up and front foot planted flat, descend into a squat. Drive the front knee over the toes until your hamstring touches your calf. Aim for a deeper forward lunge position rather than straight up and down. Let your back knee hover over the floor, then come up out of the squat by pressing down into the front foot and straightening the knee.
Just like the first version, you can add dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Get creative by holding a sandbag, dog, or small child.