The 10 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Variations for Muscular, Athletic Legs – Fitness Volt – Fitness Volt

Written by Patrick Dale, PT, ex-Marine
Last Updated onJuly 5, 2022
Bulgarian Split Squat Variations
Leg exercises don’t come much better than the Bulgarian or rear foot elevated split squat. Whether you want to build muscle, get stronger, improve athleticism, fix left-to-right strength imbalances, or improve your balance and mobility, this exercise will help.
However, even the mighty Bulgarian split squat may lose some of its potency if you do it too often. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a few variations to call upon so you can keep your workouts productive and interesting.
In this article, we reveal the 10 best Bulgarian split squat variations. Use these exercises to take your Bulgarian split squat workouts to a whole new level!
Before attempting any of the variations outlined below, you must first master the basic Bulgarian split squat. Learn to walk before you try to run, bro! To that end, here’s how to do a perfect Bulgarian split squat.
Note: Make this exercise more quad-dominant by using a short stance. Alternatively, adopting a longer stance will hit your glutes and hamstrings more.

If you find it hard to maintain your balance, do this exercise next to a wall and place your hand against it for stability. As your balance improves, move away from the wall and do your reps unaided.

Bulgarian split squats are a very balanced leg exercise. That is to say, they train most of your leg muscles equally. From front to back and side to side, Bulgarian split squats get the job done!
These are the main muscles you’ll be working during a set of Bulgarian split squats:
Bulgarian Split Squat ExerciseBulgarian Split Squat Exercise
Known as the quads for short, these are the muscles on the front of your thigh and are responsible for knee extension. The four quadriceps are vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris.
Located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion. The three muscles that make up the hamstrings are the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
Called the glutes for short, and also known as your butt, this is the largest muscle in the human body. It works with your hamstrings to extend your hip.
Made up of adductor longus, brevis, and magnus, this group of muscles works together to draw your thigh in toward the midline of your body. In Bulgarian split squats, their main job is to keep your hips stable.
These muscles are located on the outside of your hip and thigh. They are responsible for taking your thigh out and away from the midline of your body. Gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and tensor fasciae latae (TFL) are all hip abductor muscles.
Like the adductors, the hip abductors’ main job during Bulgarian split squats is keeping your hip stable. Stronger, more stable hips can help reduce the risk of developing knee pain (1).
Having mastered the basic Bulgarian split squat, you should now be ready to take your leg workouts to the next level with some awesome variations. Here are 10 of the best!
Adding some extra weight is the most straightforward way to make Bulgarian split squats more challenging.
There are several ways you can do this, including:
Take care not to use too much weight too soon. After all, you are already lifting most of your body weight with your front leg.
Also, understand that the higher you hold the weight, the harder it will be to maintain your balance. Hence, front rack Bulgarian split squats are more challenging than doing them with dumbbells by your sides. Make sure your balance is rock-solid before attempting variations that immobilize your arms.
No weights? No problem! This variation will kick your butt without a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Descending slowly keeps your muscles under tension for longer, causing more metabolic fatigue in the target muscles. In other words, this one is going to BURN!
How to do it:
Mid-rep pauses increase time under tension and also break the eccentric-concentric stretch cycle, which makes every rep considerably more challenging. This is an excellent way to make Bulgarian split squats harder while being kind to your joints. You can do this variation with or without weights.
How to do it:
Bulgarian split squats are a great exercise for improving your hip mobility. But, if you’ve already got mobile hips, you’ll probably appreciate a larger range of motion.
This variation allows you to go a lot deeper, which is not just good for hip mobility, but good for hypertrophy and strength, too. However, if you have tight hips, you should stick to regular Bulgarian split squats until your mobility improves.
How to do it:
Doing Bulgarian split squats with a short stance emphasizes your quads. However, you can achieve a similar effect by raising your heel. This is similar to doing the cyclist squat, which is a bilateral quad-dominant exercise. Heel elevated Bulgarian split squats can be a little hard on your knees, but if you can tolerate them, you’ll love how hard they works your thighs.
How to do it:
Plyo is short for plyometric, which is a type of training that involves jumping. Plyos are good for developing explosive muscle power. Muscle power is your ability to generate force quickly, such as when kicking, sprinting, or jumping. This exercise is especially useful for athletes and can be done with or without weights.
How to do it:
This Bulgarian split squat variation increases time under tension. That means each rep takes longer than usual. Doing 1 ½ reps will make your workout much more intense without having to use a lot of extra weight.
How to do it:
If you’ve already got a good sense of balance but want to make it even better, this is the exercise for you. Simply replace the bench with an inflatable stability ball. The ball will move, and you’ll have to work extra hard to maintain your balance and keep your rear foot in place.
This is quite an advanced exercise, so only try it if you have mastered the more basic versions of Bulgarian split squats.
How to do it:
No bench? No problem! You can do Bulgarian split squats using a suspension trainer, such as a TRX. Using a suspension trainer means you’ll need to work harder to maintain your balance, but the range of motion and movement tend to feel more natural and fluid. This is a great option for home exercisers and athletes. It can be done with or without weights.
How to do it:
When you do bodyweight or weighted Bulgarian split squats, there is very little tension on your muscles as you reach the top of each rep. Using a band alters the strength curve of the exercise and loads your muscles more as you approach knee extension. This is a very effective way to overload your quadriceps.
How to do it.
While it may be a controversial point of view, Bulgarian split squats could rival the barbell back squat for building muscle and improving athletic performance.
Because they’re a unilateral exercise, Bulgarian split squats one leg at a time, which increases muscle activation and also mirrors many everyday and sporting activities. It’s also an effective way to improve balance and mobility, which is something most exercisers need more of.
Whether you do regular Bulgarian split squats or break out the big guns and try these ten awesome variations, this excellent exercise deserves a permanent place in your lower body workouts.
1. PubMed: The relationship between hip muscle strength and dynamic knee valgus in asymptomatic females: A systematic review
Published: 5 July, 2022 | 12:14 AM EDT
Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine, gym owner, and fitness qualifications tutor and assessor. In addition, Patrick is a freelance writer who has authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. He’s not just an armchair fitness expert; Patrick practices what he preaches! He has competed at a high level in numerous sports, including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and, most recently, stand up paddleboarding. When not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick is busy enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years.
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