If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed by now that the Bulgarian Split Squat is my go-to single-leg exercise.
Split squats are great for hypertrophy as you can easily modify them to emphasize either the posterior or anterior muscle groups of the thigh.
They’re great for building single-leg strength, which assists in decreasing the bilateral strength deficit without loading the spine.
They also indirectly work your core, specially the front-loaded and unilateral loading variations. As someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy doing direct core work, I’ve found they’ve contributed greatly to increasing my core strength and balance.
With that in mind, I wanted to write this article to highlight some of the adjustments I make to BSS in my own training and that of my clients’ – some simple tweaks that can give you slightly different benefits depending on how you choose to apply them.
Let’s get to it.
1. Use a step
Regardless of which BSS variation I choose to do – front-loaded, with dumbbells, paused, etc – I always stand on a 2” block with my leading leg. The reasons for that are two-fold:
First, by adding an elevation you effectively decrease the height difference between your front leg and the bench. For most people, this will result in diminished hip flexor stretch on the supporting leg, which will make the movement more comfortable and pain-free.
Additionally, this is a great way to increase the range of motion (assuming you’ll be lowering your back knee past the step towards the floor). As you probably already know, a full ROM is typically safer than a partial ROM, and it also increases muscle fiber recruitment, which translates into more gains.
To that end, I find that the glutes and hamstrings are best targeted at the very bottom of the movement, therefore if your goal is to add some mass to that ass (sorry, I couldn’t resist), your best bet is to go low.
2. Unilateral load with hand support
The beauty of an exercise like the Bulgarian Split Squat is that it can be easily modified to suit a variety of goals.
This specific technique aims to enhance hypertrophy, and it works as follows: in one hand, you hold a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell. With the free hand, you hold onto a rack for support on the concentric part of the movement.
The reasoning behind this is pretty simple: by including support during the hardest part of the movement, you have the opportunity to use slightly heavier weights than you would otherwise.
By doing so, you allow your primary movers and stabilizing muscles to be eccentrically overloaded, as long as you implement a slow and controlled descent.
This method works best for high rep sets, as the load you can hold in one hand will be the limiting factor to how heavy you can go.
3. Quad vs. Hip dominant stances
The last modification is the most subtle but can make the biggest difference in which muscles you target through this exercise.
If your goal is to emphasize hypertrophy of the quadriceps, using a slightly narrower stance from front to back will do the job. In this case, you’ll be allowing your knee to travel forward slightly, thus decreasing the angle of dorsiflexion (the angle between the top of your foot and your shin) and placing the focus on your knee extensors.
In contrast, a more hip-dominant split squat involves a relatively vertical shin, which is achieved by using a wider stance and pushing the hips back as you descend. This can be seen in the video below.
You should notice the difference in muscle stretch between the two stances, the latter which will shift the emphasis to the hamstrings and glutes, thus providing a greater stretch to those muscles in the eccentric part of the lift.
Got any questions? I’d love to hear them.
Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me here.
About The Author
Strength & Nutrition Coach
Barbara works with females of all fitness levels, both online and in person at Apex Training Centre.
Her primary focus is to help clients increase general strength and improve body composition through training and nutrition coaching that is individualized, effective and adequate to each person.
With 5 years of coaching experience, her passion for strength training has helped her develop a writing voice that she uses to communicate scientific training knowledge to the average lifter and fitness enthusiast.
Click here to find out how Barbara can help you achieve your fitness goals.