How To Master The Bulgarian Split Squats

While our focus is on prehab, such as finding the weak links in your movement system and addressing them through specifically targeted exercises, we are big advocates of barbell training and we do so regularly. That being said, not everyone is a fan of (or comfortable with) getting under a barbell – especially in the rehabilitation setting. So if you are unable to get your clients or patients under the barbell and are looking for exercises that elicit similar electromyography (EMG) activity to the traditional back squat, look no further than the rear foot elevated split squat aka the Bulgarian split squat! In this article, we are covering everything you need to know about Bulgarian Split Squats including the why, alignment, set-up, and variations!


Try Bulgarian Split Squats If You Can’t Back Squat!

A recent study by DeForest et al 2014 compared the EMG activity of the Back squat (85%RM), the Bulgarian split squat (50%RM), and the split squat (50% RM). Their big finding was that almost all the muscles (gluteus maximus and rectus femoris included) they looked at elicited similar muscle activity. The only significant difference between the Bulgarian split squat and the back squat was that the back squat displayed higher biceps femoris muscle activity. This means that for those clients who are uncomfortable under the barbell, but still want good glute and quad results, you can have them perform Bulgarian split squats and elicit similar muscle activity and gains!


In one of our recent [P]Rehab Audio Experience Podcast episodes, our host Dillon Caswell answers ‘How Do We Begin Strength Training?” Identifying a starting point becomes difficult, likely due to the varying methods that are available to the consumer. Fitness can be confusing! We hope to make it less confusing and give you some key takeaways. In this discussion, we will focus not on the methods but the fundamental principles of starting a strength program and how to utilize training age! We will also discuss questions you should ask your coach/trainer, red flags that you may be in the wrong program, and lastly, tips to enjoy the process!!!

LISTEN: HOW TO BEGIN STRENGTH TRAININGhow to begin strength training the prehab guys


How To Master Bulgarian Split Squats – Learn Optimal Alignment

Alignment is really important when it comes to Bulgarian split squats. Let’s face it, this is not a beginner exercise for most people, especially when you add load to the mix! Be sure to watch this video to get cues for what does optimal alignment looks like, and more importantly, what are the common compensations people will perform!


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prehab fitness program bulgarian split squats the prehab guysHaving trouble with exercises like the Bulgarian split squats or lunges? Look no further! Our fitness program has been designed to teach you how to take control of your body and mind, putting you in the best shape of your life! Get started today! 


Master Bulgarian Split Squats By Performing Variations Of The Exercise!

Another study by McCrudy et al 2010 found that the Bulgarian split squat elicited greater gluteus medius muscle and biceps femoris activity than the back squat (although they found lower rectus femoris activity). Which makes logical sense considering the unilateral design of the exercise to stabilize the knee (biceps femoris) and the increased demand on the gluteus medius in the frontal and transverse planes. In conclusion, the Bulgarian split squat is an effective alternative to the back squat. If you aren’t convinced yet, give Bulgarian split squats a try, you won’t be disappointed!

As previously discussed, when first beginning to exercise, it can be difficult to know where to start. Questions from which exercises are best, to how much should I do, the answers are not always easy! It is definitely important to establish your baseline prior to exercise, meaning where you should start appropriately. In addition, it also is imperative to progress exercise accordingly in order to maximize your body’s functional potential! In one of our blog posts, we take you through how to progress lower body exercises! You will have the opportunity to learn either from a follow-along video we have created, by reading the information provided in the article, or both!


How To Progress Lower Body Exercises bulgarian split squats The Prehab Guys


Ankle Position During The Bulgarian Split Squats

We got a good question from one of our followers about ankle pain during the exercise. This is a common complaint many have with this exercise, and it all boils down to how the ankle is position on the bench. We want to avoid hyper plantarflexion (foot pointing down) with the back leg. Instead, try this easy setup using a half foam roller. It’s the perfect size that fits within the contours of the anterior ankle. Now, if you don’t have the luxury of even this simple setup, make sure you point your TOES straight down into the bench. This will ensure your ankle stays in a relatively neutral position while performing the exercise. We can use the available range of motion at the metatarsal-phalangeal joint instead of relying solely on the talocrural joint for all the motion.

“No Pain No Gain” doesn’t apply to this exercise, nor to any others! If you’re going to exercise, do it RIGHT and do it SAFE. As a Physical Therapist, I’d much rather see you preventatively when you’re HEALTHY, ACTIVE, and FIT than when you’re injured!!


Trouble Gaining Depth With Your Squats? Learn How To Improve Your Range!



  1. McCurdy K, O’Kelley E, Kutz M, Langford G, Ernest J, Torres M. Comparison of Lower Extremity EMG Between the 2-Leg Squat and Modified Single-Leg Squat in Female Athletes
    J Sport Rehabil. 2010 Feb; 19(1):57-70
  2. DeFOREST BA, CANTRELL GS, SCHILLING BK. Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats. International Journal of Exercise Science. 2014;7(4):302-310.


Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

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    Posted at 07:20h, 01 July Reply

    You can also get a yoga mat and roll it up, holding it in place with some resistance bands. I use this to rest my ankle on for BSS

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