The Bulgarian Split Squat (also called a Rear Foot Elevated Lunge) is an excellent single-leg movement to incorporate into your strength and conditioning program.
By elevating the rear foot off the ground, the lifter can focus more of the effort (isolating basically) on the lead leg.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to properly do Bulgarian Split Squats, what the benefits are along with a few alternatives in case you need them.
How To Do a Bulgarian Split Squat
- Bench, Box or Stack of Bumper Plates (essentially anything stable enough and tall enough to place your foot on)
- 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)
When you step out, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart.
If you’re feeling very off-balance in your set up 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 Dumbbell RFE Lunges…
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 of Bulgarian Split Squats
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.
Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives
If you can’t do Bulgarian Split Squats, for whatever reason, here are a few alternatives that you may be able to try out.
Barbell RFE Lunges
Don’t have dumbbells? Or maybe you’re not able to grip a dumbbell due to a finger/hand injury. In either case, you may be able to try Barbell RFE Lunges instead.
Barbell Rear Foot Elevated Lunges is the exact same movement but involves placing a barbell on the back similar to a back squat. You’ll get virtually all of the same benefits of the Dumbbell version with a Barbell.
Be aware though, that the Barbell version is much less forgiving than its dumbbell counterpart.
In a worst-case scenario, if you lose your balance with dumbbells it’s rather easy to drop the dumbbells and regain your footing. Having a bar on your back with your rear foot elevated on a bench makes it much harder to bail out of a poor position.
I would only recommend Barbell RFE Lunges for more experienced lifters.
If the whole idea of lifting your back foot up onto an object to do lunges makes you a little uncomfortable – ditch the bench.
Keep things simple and do regular Dumbbell Lunges instead. The differences between the two movements are slight and either one will provide you with great single-leg work.
Another good single-leg alternative for Dumbbell RFE Lunges – that doesn’t require any equipment at all – is the Pistol Squat.
If you’re really good at them you literally need no equipment at all, but at most you’ll only need a box or chair to sit down to.
Exercises to Superset with Bulgarian Split Squat
Looking to turn your Bulgarian Split Squat sets into a superset?
Here are a couple of great options that you can pair them up with:
Why: Push-ups engage the upper body, providing a well-deserved rest for your legs while still maintaining the intensity of the workout.
It helps in creating a balanced full-body workout routine.
Why: Incorporating Bent-Over Rows targets the back muscles, promoting a strong upper body while allowing the leg muscles to recover momentarily before the next set of Bulgarian Split Squats.
Want more ideas? Here are 10 of my favorite movements to superset with Bulgarian Split Squats.
Bulgarian Split Squat FAQ
What’s the difference between a Dumbbell RFE Lunge and a Bulgarian Split Squat?
In my experience, this is one of those ‘po-ta-to’ vs ‘pah-tah-to’ situations. Some coaches call them lunges, some refer to them as split squats, but both are referring to the same exercise. I’ve even been known to call them split squats myself at times.
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If you don’t have dumbbells yet, but they are on your radar – be sure to check out this price comparison I did of 16 of the most popular styles and brands of dumbbell.
Finally, if you’re looking for more lower body strength exercise ideas, head over to my Lower Body Exercise Library which has a ton of my favorite movements I use in my programming.