What is a Bulgarian split squat? It’s not known how Bulgarian split squats got their name. They don’t come from Bulgaria, are not especially popular with Bulgarian weightlifters or athletes, and aren’t even named after anyone called Bulgaria. It’s a mystery!
Because of this, a lot of people call this exercise rear foot elevated split squats instead, or RFESS for short.
Irrespective of their name, this single-leg exercise is a lot like a stationary lunge. However, instead of having both feet on the floor like a front squat or back squat, your rear foot is elevated on a bench behind you. That’s why the name “rear foot elevated split squat” makes much more sense – it accurately describes what this exercise is all about.
Bulgarian split squat muscles worked
Performing the Bulgarian split squat works all of your major leg muscles. There are too many to list, but the main ones are:
- Quadriceps – the muscles of your thighs, known as quads for short
- Hamstrings – the muscles on the back of your thigh
- Gluteus maximus – glutes for short, and better known as your butt
- Adductors – the muscles on the inside of your thighs
- Abductors – the muscles on the outside of your hips and thighs
- Core – the muscles that make up your midsection
You can perform this exercise with your bodyweight only. But, for a more demanding workout, hold a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell on your back. You could also do Bulgarian split squats wearing a weighted vest.
It is suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers, although it can be tricky to learn initially. However, with practice, most exercisers should be able to master the Bulgarian split squat.
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The Value of Bulgarian Split Squat Training
If you examine a lot of the most popular exercises, you’ll quickly notice they have something in common; they work two limbs at once. Fitness experts call these bilateral movements, and push-ups, squats, and lat pulldowns are all examples of bilateral exercises.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with bilateral exercises, many of the physically demanding tasks we face every day involve just one limb at a time. These are called unilateral movements. Examples include running, climbing stairs, pushing doors open, throwing a ball, and lifting a heavy bag of groceries.
Because of this, it makes sense to include some unilateral exercises in your strength training workouts. Unilateral exercises often carry over better to everyday activities. Because of this, they are considered more “functional.”
Of all the single-leg exercises you can do, Bulgarian split squats are one of the best. They are easy to learn, require minimal equipment, and offer a wide range of benefits.
The 15 Most Crucial Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits
Balance and power
1. Identify and fix left-to-right strength imbalances
Most people have one side stronger than the other, which is very typical. However, if that strength imbalance is too significant, it can cause injuries and even back pain. Bulgarian split squats will identify and fix your left-to-right strength imbalances.
2. Improve your balance
Balance is your ability to keep your center of mass over your base of support. In other words, your ability to avoid falling over! Balance often declines with age, and bilateral exercises won’t do much to improve it. Bulgarian split squats will both challenge and improve your balance.
3. Increase hip flexors mobility
The Bulgarian split squat involves an extensive range of motion at the hips and knees. Improving your range of motion can help reduce muscle tightness, increasing joint mobility, and flexibility. Split squats are like doing stretches on the move.
4. Less strain on your lower back
Using one leg at a time means you don’t need to use as much weight as you do for squats and leg presses. Less weight makes rear foot elevated split squats much easier on your lower back. In fact, for many exercisers, bodyweight is more than enough weight to deliver a good workout.
5. Great for your glutes
If you adopt a long stance, Bulgarian split squats are great for strengthening, toning, and lifting your butt. If you want a better booty, this is the exercise for you. Make it even more butt-centric by placing your front foot on a 3-6″ platform. This slight elevation will allow you to descend lower into a split squat, increasing the work your butt has to do.
6. Boost your running performance
Bulgarian split squats use the same muscle as running. If you want to run faster or further, this exercise should be part of your training.
7. Build muscle and strength
Split squats will strengthen your legs and increase muscle size if they are part of an appropriate workout. The harder you work, the more muscle and leg strength you will build. Doing this exercise with weights will make it even more difficult and productive.
8. Excellent for fat burning and weight loss
Because Bulgarian split squats involve so many large muscles, they burn a lot of calories. They will also increase your heart and breathing rate, which makes them useful not only for improving fitness but for burning fat and weight loss too.
9. Do them anywhere, anytime
Bulgarian split squats require no specialist equipment; you can do them almost anywhere, and at any time. All you need is some space and a suitable platform for your rear foot. You don’t even need to use an exercise bench, a sturdy chair, or a low bed will do.
10. A one exercise solution for lower body training
Because rear foot elevated split leg squats involve so many muscles, they may be the only leg exercise you ever need to do. The Bulgarian split squat is a great all-in-one lower body workout option if you are pressed for time.
Progressive resistance training
11. Easy to progress and make harder
Have you mastered bodyweight-only Bulgarian split squats? Do you need a more challenging opportunity to build muscle?
You can do this exercise with:
- while wearing a heavy backpack,
- with your rear foot in a TRX sling, or
- on an exercise ball
The Bulgarian split squat is a straightforward exercise that you can make more challenging by adding weight in any of the ways mentioned above.
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12. Pain-free knees
A Bulgarian split squat is easier on your knees than heavy squats and leg presses. Many people report that they are even more comfortable than lunges. The reason is that you don’t need to use as much weight. Also, the static stance means your knees are less likely to roll in or out while you exercise.
13. Provides an indirect workout engaging your core
Keeping your torso upright, especially if you are holding weights, requires full-body core strength. You’ll get an indirect core workout every time you Bulgarian split squat because you need to keep your abs braced throughout the movement.
14. Increased knee and hip stability
To do a Bulgarian split squat correctly, you’ll need to keep your knees and hips in proper alignment. You will have to work hard to keep your hips level and stop your knees from falling in or rolling out. This effort will increase joint stability, which could prevent future knee and hip pain.
15. A great way to add variety to your workouts
Your body quickly gets used to the exercises in your workout. Doing nothing but squats, leg presses, and lunges can soon get old. Once that happens, your workout routine won’t be as productive as it once was. Adding the Bulgarian split squat to your leg program could be just what you need to keep your workouts fresh and productive.
How to do Bulgarian split squat
There are two ways to do any exercise – with proper form and the wrong way. The right way is the safest and most effective. Improper form can hurt you and won’t produce such good results. Make sure you do Bulgarian split squats the right way, with proper form, so they deliver all the results and benefits you deserve.
1. For example, stand with your back to a knee-high bench or step
2. Bend your rear leg and place the top of your left foot on the bench or platform behind you
3. Hop forward with your right front leg into a split stance. A short position emphasizes your quadriceps while a longer stance emphasizes your glutes and hamstrings.
How to perform the exercise
4. Bend your legs and lower your rearmost left knee down toward the floor. Keep your torso upright and look straight ahead. Bend your legs as far as your flexibility allows. Do not overstretch
5. Straighten your legs and stand back up again
6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Rest a moment and then do the same amount of reps on the opposite leg alternating between your left foot and right foot.
If you find it hard to maintain your balance, practice your single-leg squat next to a wall and use it for support. As your balance improves, move away from the wall and do split squats unaided.
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Bulgarian Split Squat – Final thoughts
To sum up, the Bulgarian split squat is one of the best lower body exercises to work your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. More functional than leg presses and with even more benefits than squats, this exercise deserves its place in your workouts.
Learning the Bulgarian split squat can take a little time, and you may need to work on your balance at first. But, once mastered, it’s one of the best leg work exercises you can do.
They may not have anything to do with Bulgaria, and rear foot elevated split squat might be a better name, but this exercise is hard to beat.
You have learned about the great benefits of single-leg split squat variation. The next step is to understand why the following two exercises are considered the Kings of full-body strength training:
- Squats – 20 Greatest Benefits of Squats: The King of Free Weight Strength Training
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- 7 Most Important Deadlift Muscles Worked To Change Your Life
- 12 Week Deadlift Program for Beginners in Fitness or Powerlifting