Bulgarian Split Squat: An Origin Story

How can you possibly get bigs legs without squat rack?

This is an age old question.

I have big legs, and I didn’t need to do heavy squatting to get them.

High-rep squatting, calisthenics, and old-school which literally everyone hates does the trick.

Today I present: the .

This menacing exercise is a cross between a one-leg squat and a lunge with the power to make your heart race at the speed of light while pumping up your legs with little to no weight commitment.

That’s right, it’s a beast of an exercise and a shame that so few people ignore it.

Cold Origins

The origin of the Bulgarian Squat begins in the cold war. It was well-known that olympic cleans and snatches involved a very “deep” split position. The communist state of Bulgaria was a powerlifting machine, producing some of the finest and strongest athletes. Innovations of the sport in terms lifting techniques, unique exercises, and workout programs were produced during the 1970s and 1980s.

Their training consisted of very little back squatting. Instead, they focused on front , high step ups, and split squats to improve numbers on cleans and snatches. It was the later two of these exercises which were introduced to Canadian weight lifter Kim Goss by Bulgarian weightlifting coach Angel Spassov.

The weightlifting community was quite small, and although still a very controversial idea, split squatting was included as a cornerstone of olympic lifting programs over the back squat. It was this chance encounter between a Bulgarian and Canadian weightlifting coach that led to the popularity of the Bulgarian Split Squat as an effective strength building exercise.

From Lazy to Crazy

The Bulgarian Split Squat is often just one part in our long list of exercises. Most routines start with squatting, followed by lunges. There may even be some step ups or some isolation hamstring work.

By the time we get to our split squats, your legs are too tired to execute them properly. Lets flip the switch to get the most out of this movement. It’s time to stop being lazy, and start being crazy obsessed about results.

The following Coach Spassov’s instructions for this movement:

  • Use an elevated platform that is 4 to 6 inches off the floor. No higher then 6 inches. A 12-inch platform should only be used by athletes who are dancers or skaters.
  • Keep the ball of your rear leg on the platform, and do not just balance on your toes. This will help with your balance and footing, giving you the best results.
  • Descend down straight, as you would in a lunge. Do not push your glutes back or hyperextend your back. Over time, your flexibility will improve and so will your balance and strength.

These are important considerations. In an article written by Kim Goss, he states that the Bulgarian Split Squat as promoted by most fitness professionals now, with the rear foot on a bench, is not what Bulgarian lifters performed. The performed the one with a lower platform. So the rear foot was “slightly” elevated (but still elevated).

The problem with  elevating the rear leg too high, according to Kim Goss, is that you hyperextend the spine, creating unnatural shearing forces on it. The farther down you go, the greater the stress.

Building Muscle

I know that most of my readers are not olympic weightlifters and are not interesting in hoisting a heavy barbell while split squatting anytime soon.

With that said, the front leg during the Bulgarian Split Squat bears approximately 85% of the load, compared to a traditional , where the load is distributed 50/50 over each leg. Even with lunges, the stress placed on each leg is close to even.

So, right off the bat if you have no way of increasing external resistance, and are unable to perform the one leg squat, the bulgarian split squat is the best step up from squats and lunges.

The following are some variations moving on from the basic bodyweight bulgarian split squat:

Bulgarian Split Squats with Dumbbells

  • Stand a foot or two away from a 4-6 inch surface with dumbbells by your sides. Place the balls of one foot behind you, on top of the surface.
  • Look straight ahead. While keeping your dumbbells by your sides, bend your front knee and lower your body as far as it will go.
  • Pause, then return to starting position. Make sure that your front knee does not go past your front toes. If it does, you may need to start a bit further away from the surface.

Bulgarian Split Squats Jumps

  • Stand a foot or two away from a 4-6 inch surface with by your sides. Place the balls of one foot behind you, on top of the surface.
  • Look straight ahead. While keeping your arms by your sides, bend your front knee and lower your body as far as it will go.
  • Pause, then jump straight up. This will only be a short jump. The pause at the bottom is important for building explosive strength.

Bulgarian Goblet Split Squats

  • Stand a foot or two away from a 4-6 inch surface with a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you as in a Goblet squat. Place the balls of one foot behind you, on top of the surface.
  • Look straight ahead. While keeping the weight in front of you, bend your front knee and lower your body as far as it will go.
  • Pause, then return to starting position.

Weighted Vest Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Stand a foot or two away from a 4-6 inch surface wearing a weighted vest and arms by your sides. Place the balls of one foot behind you, on top of the surface.
  • Look straight ahead. While keeping your arms by your sides, bend your front knee and lower your body as far as it will go.
  • Pause, then return to starting position.

Isometric Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Stand a foot or two away from a 4-6 inch surface with your arms by your sides. Place the balls of one foot behind you, on top of the surface.
  • Look straight ahead. While keeping your arms by your sides, bend your front knee and lower your body as far as it will go.
  • Pause for 15 seconds, then return to starting position. This is one set. Each week, seek to increase your pause time by 5 seconds.
  • For more isometric exercises, be sure to check out Isometric Strength by Todd Kuslikis (click here).

Now that you’ve learned the right way of performing a bulgarian split squat, implement it into your routine.

Sources:

Like this post? Take a moment to support Shah Training on Patreon!

About Parth

Parth Shah is the creator of ShahTraining.com which teaches people how to use mental mind tricks to conquer the world and become healthier and awesome in the process. Check out his Book Bodyweight Toughness Thanks, and enjoy the site!

View all posts by Parth →