The Bulgarian split squat is a core training staple that can help to build strength and size in your legs, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this unilateral hamstring and glute-building move, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a simple, essential movement that should serve as one of the centerpieces of your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you throw your foot up on the bench and start lunging, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. The starting position is extremely important so that you’re able to keep your balance throughout—and you don’t want to leave possible glute, hamstring, and quad gains on the bench.
Start At The Bottom
Eb says: The biggest mistake I see with the Bulgarian split squat is the setup, and if you setup wrong, you’ll never get the Bulgarian split squat right. If your leg is too close to the bench, you wind up with a bad front knee position that’s going to contribute to knee pain. If it’s too far, you won’t get the proper stretch on your back leg and you’ll miss half the beauty of the Bulgarian. So find your position on the ground first, then stand up.
Back Knee Never Touches
Eb says: The Bulgarian split squat is best used as an exercise that demonstrates controlled movement, not explosion, so think about owning the eccentric (lowering phase)—and work to own the bottom of each rep, too. To own that bottom position, don’t let your back knee hit the ground. Once that back knee touches the ground, this basically becomes a loaded couch stretch.
We want it to be something more than that so you can build leg and glute strength. So force yourself to stop an inch before your back knee hits the ground, and pause in this position for a split second. This will also force you to demonstrate control in that bottom position instead of relying on a bounce out of the hole.
Eb says: You have to pay attention to plenty of factors in the Bulgarian split squat, and the movement pattern itself will take some getting used to, but don’t let any of that be an excuse to not keep your glutes active, as they should be on any squat or deadlift motion.
Letting your glutes relax during a Bulgarian leaves you open to letting your front knee track inward, a potentially damaging position. Keeping your glutes on will prevent this from happening, and also help you derive optimal benefit from the Bulgarian split squat. When you power out of the hole in a Bulgarian, it’s very often almost all glute that drives that charge.
Want to master even more exercises? Check out all of our Form Check guides here.