The Bulgarian Split Squat

This article follows on from some coaching tips and lessons from Strength & Conditioning Coaches Todd Carlon and Martyn Girvan of Elite Sports Performance.

The Bulgarian Split Squat or Split Squat involves the individual placing their back foot up on a raise platform (it could be a box, bench, bar, swiss ball or anything else.  It somewhat resembles a static lunge, with the key difference being the back foot position.  This exercise can be performed with body weight alone or with the addition of dumbbells, barbell, kettlebells or other weights.

Why perform the Bulgarian split squat?

The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to train unilateral leg strength.  It forces the individual to work all of the major muscles of the lower limb (gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, calfs etc) whilst maintaining a good upright posture and balance.   For the individual performing the Bulgarian split squat with a barbell or dumbbells, further balance, core strength and upper body control is required through the movement.

YouTube Video Clips Of The Bulgarian Split Squat

Below are a number of YouTube videos demonstrating the Bulgarian Split Squat.  These have all been sourced from YouTube.

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

Elitefts BB Split Squat

Common Errors With The Bulgarian Split Squat

Variations on the split squat

There are many variations with regards to the Bulgarian Split Squat.  These are based mostly on the type of weight used and where the back foot is placed (be it on a box or other piece of equipment and the height with this).  After some discussion with both Strength and Conditioning coaches and myself, we also played around with how we perform the movement and how this changes where the load is placed and which muscles are worked.

Body movement is directly up and down
This movement seemed to focus more load on the front leg quadriceps.  It must also be noted, the degree of knee flexion on the front leg will also vary the muscular activity and load through the front leg.

Body movement shifts backwards as you move down
This type of movement seemed to place more load on the gluteals and hamstrings.

The description of both these variations above are purely based on our interpretation of the exercise and how it felt throughout the movement.  What would be interesting is to know whether or not there is more quadricep or gluteal/hamstring activity in these variations of the Bulgarian Split Squat.

Common Movement Limitations

As with all exercises, a lack of mobility, strength or poor movement patterns can drastically change how an exercise is performed.  Some of the more common mobility  limitations that may effect ones ability to perform the split squat are listed below.

  • Closed chain ankle dorsiflexion (frong foot)
  • Tight hip flexors (back leg)
  • Poor core control
  • Increased thoracic kyphosis
  • Forward head positioning
  • Poor bar positioning
  • Lack of overall range of motion

Next time you try out the Bulgarian split squat, make sure you have someone observe you.  This will help to identify whether there are any specific mobility issues, lack of strength or perhaps there has not been enough practice to engrain the exercise movement pattern.  A consult with a registered Osteopath should be able to help identify any specific mobility issues.  A consult with a strength and conditioning coach will also help with this and the teaching of the exercise.

I have attached a couple of videos and articles that focus on how one can go about improving mobility through the hips.  Kelly Starrett of Mobility Wod and author of the book “How to become a supple leopard” is shown below.  Check out the link from Ironedge to buy the book by clicking here.

Hip Mobility Article – http://www.lift.net/2012/11/28/squat-mobility-by-kelly-starrett/

Hip Flexor Stretch Video – http://fundamentalmovements.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/hip-flexor-stretch-from-mobility-wod/

More great articles on the Bulgarian Split Squat by T-Nation and Charles Poliquin.

T Nation https://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/bulgarian_split_squats&cr=

Charles Poliquin – http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/834/The_Value_of_Unilateral_Split_Squat_Training.aspx

This blog was written by Osteopath Heath Williams. Heath is the director of Principle Four Osteopathy and Corporate Work Health Australia. Principle Four Osteopathy is one of Melbourne City CBD 3000 leading Osteopathic clinics. The clinic is located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD at 29 Somerset Place (near the corner of Little Bourke & Elizabeth St). Appointments can be made by calling 03 9670 9290 or booking online @ www.principlefourosteopathy.com.

Corporate Work Health Australia is a nationwide Occupational Health & Safety Company that provides ergonomic and manual handling consulting, risk assessments and training. All of our trainers and assessors are registered osteopaths and physiotherapists. To find out more about our services, please go to www.corporateworkhealth.com.

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