The split squat and Bulgarian split squat sound like the same exercise. But they have different names for a reason. What is the main difference between them?
The split squat is performed in a staggered stance with both feet on the floor. The Bulgarian split squat is performed in the same staggered position but with the rear foot elevated on a bench or box. This places more emphasis on the front leg.
This is one of many differences to be aware of, and how do you know which is better for you?
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Split Squat vs. Bulgarian Split Squat
The split squat and Bulgarian split squat are performed in a staggered stance, but the rear foot is elevated with the Bulgarian variation. It is also known as the rear foot elevated split squat. This forces the front leg to work harder than the split squat, where both feet are on the floor.
Both exercises work the same muscles: the quads, glutes, and the upper hamstrings to some extent. The back leg also works during each exercise, with the rectus femoris undergoing massive stretch in the split position.
It’s why you often feel muscle soreness the next day in the middle of your quads.
The Bulgarian split squat is harder than the split squat as your front leg must work harder since the back leg contributes less. Further, it is harder to balance than the split squat, increasing the stability demands.
Regarding exercise progression, beginners will typically learn the split squat as the first single-leg exercise because of these factors. You can support yourself by holding onto a stable surface to scale it down further.
Once comfortable with the split squat, beginners will learn the lunge variations followed by the Bulgarian split squat.
The beauty of the split squat is you don’t need any equipment since both feet are on the floor. However, it doesn’t take much equipment to make the Bulgarian split squat viable. The couch is the perfect height for your back leg if you’re at home.
At the gym, a bench is your best option. I recommend avoiding using hard boxes as it digs into your foot and ankle.
The split squat has a greater capacity for loading because it is more stable. But a safety squat bar and handles attached to a power rack are required to load it effectively. This way, the load balances on your back without your hands, and you support yourself by holding the handles.
This is a common exercise with professional sporting athletes to overload the single leg exercise. You can also do this with the Bulgarian split squat, but it is a more challenging setup.
For the lifter focusing on strength and size, loading will be similar for each exercise. The barbell will reduce stability, while holding dumbbells will make balancing easier.
How To Split Squat
While the split squat seems relatively simple to execute, small nuances make this exercise easier to perform. Here’s how to do it:
- Take a large step forward with your weight distributed evenly between both feet.
- Lower your hips vertically by lowering your back knee to the floor. Once your knee is slightly above the floor or your front thigh is parallel to the floor, drive the front leg into the floor to push into the starting position.
Step forward and slightly out to the side when setting up the split position. This will widen your base for more stability. You will feel an intense stretch in your back quadricep if you have tight hip flexors. Only descend as far as you can tolerate. It will loosen over time.
How To Bulgarian Split Squat
Many lifters make minor mistakes reducing the effectiveness of the Bulgarian split squat. Here’s how to do it properly:
- Stand one step length in front of a padded bench. Place one-foot laces down on the bench.
- Slowly descend the hips vertically. Your front shin will be near vertical, with your bodyweight distributed through your entire foot.
- Once your knee is close to the floor, drive up with the front leg until your leg is straight.
Like the split squat, balance can be improved by widening your base. Instead of placing your foot straight back on the bench, move it to the side to widen your base and improve your balance.
Is The Split Squat Or Bulgarian Split Squat Better?
The split squat and Bulgarian split squat are excellent exercises. The Bulgarian split squat is more challenging and, therefore, slightly better at face value, using traditional loading, such as holding dumbbells. However, there are many split squat variations to level up the exercise to be as good, if not better, than the Bulgarian split squat.
For example, the hand-supported split squat with the safety squat bar for maximum overload. Or elevating the front foot for a greater range of motion. But it depends on your resistance training experience, which is better for you.
If you’re a ranked beginner, the split squat is a better option to learn the movement. The Bulgarian split squat or more challenging split squat variations are better for more advanced lifters.