Barbell Lunge vs Bulgarian Split Squat

Barbell Lunge vs Bulgarian Split Squat (Is One Better?)

Barbell Lunges and Bulgarian Split Squats are two popular lower-body exercises that target the muscles in the legs and hips, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Both exercises can be effective for building strength and improving muscle imbalances, but they have some differences that may make one more suitable for certain individuals or goals.

In this article, I will discuss the benefits and differences between the Barbell Lunge and the Bulgarian Split Squat, as well as provide some tips on how to perform each exercise correctly and safely.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, I hope this guide will help you decide which exercise is best for you and your training goals. So, let’s get started!


Barbell Lunge


Barbell Lunge

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates
  • Squat Rack (Not completely necessary as you can clean and press a bar onto shoulders if needed, but a rack is going to make this a whole lot easier especially if lifting heavier weight)

Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core (stabilizers)

Instructions

  • Unrack the barbell similar to how you would unrack a bar for a back squat.
  • Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable shelf to sit the bar on
  • Place the bar across the traps, brace the core and remove the bar from the rack by standing tall and then walking back out of the rack.
  • Once you’ve created enough room for yourself from the rack you can begin the movement.
  • Step forward with one leg, giving yourself enough room to drop into a lunge comfortably without feeling overextended.
  • Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
  • Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
  • Repeat on the opposite leg and alternate back and forth until all reps have been completed.

Coaching Points

When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your lunge there is a good chance that you are stepping the lead foot directly in front of the back foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).

Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot. One of the reasons for this is often the next most common mistake that I see with Barbell Lunges

Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes take way too small of a step. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues.

Benefits

Single Leg Movements like Barbell Lunges are an extremely important addition to any athlete’s workout regimen, regardless of sport.

Many (if not most) athletic movements are often done on one leg. This includes sprinting, jumping and cutting.

Single Leg Exercises help improve leg strength, balance, stability and also show any strength imbalances the lifter may have from one side to the other. Single Leg Exercises can also be part of the solution if and when an asymmetry is found.

For more single-leg exercises, check out these 9 Barbell Lunge alternatives.


Bulgarian Split Squat


Bulgarian Split Squats

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells or Barbell
  • Bench, Box or Stack of Bumper Plates (essentially anything stable enough and tall enough to place your foot on)

Instructions

  • Grab two dumbbells*, one in each hand
  • Get set up in front of your bench, reach one foot back and place it on the bench. Make sure you feel comfortable and balanced before proceeding.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable back to help with bracing the upper body and to keep the dumbbells from swinging unnecessarily.
  • Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
  • Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed on that leg and then switch sides.

Coaching Points (Fixes to Common Mistakes)

*Bulgarian Split Squats can also be done with a barbell.

When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your lunge there is a good chance that you are placing the lead foot directly in front of the back foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).

Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot. One of the reasons for this is often the next most common mistake that I see with Bulgarian Split Squats…

Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes give themselves way too little distance from the bench. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues (like coming up on the ball of the foot as mentioned above).

Benefits

Single Leg Movements like Bulgarian Split Squats are an extremely important addition to any athlete’s workout regimen, regardless of sport.

Many (if not most) athletic movements are often done on one leg. This includes sprinting, jumping and cutting.

Single Leg Exercises help improve leg strength, balance, stability and also show any strength imbalances the lifter may have from one side to the other. Single Leg Exercises can also be part of the solution if and when an asymmetry is found.

Barbell Lunges vs Bulgarian Split Squats: Is One Better?

Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at both exercises to see if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.

Better For Developing Size and Strength: Toss Up

Saying that one of these exercises is better than the other for developing muscle mass and strength is really splitting hairs. Both can be with relatively heavy weight and the movement patterns for both are very similar.

Barbell Lunges generally allow for a little more overall weight to be used, but Bulgarian Split Squats do a better job of isolating the working leg.

Bottom line: both exercises are extremely effective for building size and strength.

Better For Beginners: Bulgarian Split Squat

This is assuming Bulgarian Split Squats are being done with dumbbells.

One of the biggest mistakes I see with Barbell Lunges is leaning forward too much and not keeping the torso upright. This is often due to either lack of mobility or just simply using improper form.

Doing Bulgarian Split Squats with dumbbells won’t magically fix this problem, but using a light pair of dumbbells versus a barbell on the shoulders will lessen the consequences of improper form.

Ultimately, if you are a beginner who is just starting to exercise, it is best to start with bodyweight exercises or lighter-weight exercises to learn technique and build a foundation of strength. Once you have a good foundation, you can gradually progress to more challenging exercises like the Barbell Lunge or Bulgarian Split Squat.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Lunges vs Bulgarian Split Squats. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.

Both are excellent single-leg exercises for developing lower body strength and muscle mass. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Lunges and Bulgarian Split Squats in your training plan.

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