Sports Training

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives – My Favorite Substitute Exercises

 The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best leg exercises for building strong legs - and arguably a fitness trainer’s favorite. Of the many great leg squats and exercises, the Bulgarian split stands out due to its advancements in its routines, including mobility and stability. 

If you're unable to perform Bulgarian split squats, either because you have a physical limitation preventing the exercise, or simply don't want to because they're tough; there are plenty of alternatives. Before we learn about other alternative leg exercises that can replace your Bulgarian split squat routine let’s have a quick recap on the Bulgarian split.


Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative

The Bulgarian split is a unilateral lift that involves elevating your back leg on a platform such as a bench or a sturdy chair; thus the other name, rear-foot-elevated split squat. It targets building the lower body by focusing on one side of your body at a time. 

The Bulgarian split is the perfect form of exercise I would recommend to improve your muscle strength, balance, and hip mobility. Apart from building strength, it also gives the bonus of preventing aches, pains, and injuries.

The Bulgarian split squats work or target the front of thighs(quads), back of thighs(hamstrings), glutes, and the core. Other exercises that target the same areas include regular squats, hack squats, and leg presses.

It’s one helluva exercise that I personally love but I do need alternatives because my body can’t handle these all the time. 

Here are my favorite substitute movements to the Bulgarian squat


Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative Exercises

Whether due to movement restriction or injury, your legs will need exercise for progress. Here are the best alternative exercises that closely mimic the squat and are a great substitute:


1. Banded Single Leg Deadlift

A banded single Leg Deadlift involves movement of the hips and targets the back, core and leg muscles.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Have a resistance/workout band looped on the middle of your foot, any foot. 
  • Take the other end in both hands and pull it up to your face while keeping one hand behind your back. 
  • Compose your weight on your right leg, leaning forward and stretching out your left leg behind you until parallel to the floor. 
  • Make sure that you are bending from the hips.
  • Step the left foot forward from a standing position, then place it as you shift your weight onto your left heel.
  •  Lift your leg to or close to 90 degrees; that counts as a rep.
  •  Return to a standing position through an arc with your feet together and then return and attempt the rep again. 
  • Complete reps on one side, completing as many as you comfortably can before switching sides.

Pro Tip:

The single-leg deadlift strengthens and stretches the hamstring applying lesser pressure on the knees.


2. Reverse Lunge

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives - My Favorite Substitute Exercises

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Stand with your feet a few inches apart.
  • Stand up straight, and maintain an upright posture.
  • Take a large step backwards on your left leg as you bend the knee of your right.
  • Keep the body in alignment by keeping both hips down and lower back flat on the floor.
  • Begin by kneeling with your left knee at a 90-degree angle and your right leg outstretched. 
  • Push off the floor with the right leg.
  • Squeeze your glutes to stand up while simultaneously returning the left foot under you for balance.

Pro Tip:

The reverse lunge is an excellent exercise for strengthening and stabilizing the knee joint and emphasizing hamstring strength more than other alternatives to split squats—the routine aims at increasing your agility.


3. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift boosts the strength of your hamstrings and glute with little pressure on knees.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Get on your feet uprightly, slightly wider, with the knees slightly bent. 
  • Place a weight or a kettlebell in each hand or take one weight and place it between your thighs.
  • Keep your back straight as you bend at the waist and bring the weights to the floor without bending over too far.
  • Push up from a stand until you are upright again. 
  • That's one rep.
  •  Repeat the procedure. 

Pro Tip:

With the Romanian deadlift, having your legs in an upright posture lessens the pressure on the knee joints while helping you stretch.


4. Pistol Squat

Pistol Squat

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Be in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise one leg. 
  • Push the hips backward as you flex the standing leg to perform a squat.
  • Bring back up from this position, this time outstretching your arms for balance.
  • Then lower yourself through the hips until you're at the lowest point.
  • Liftback again.

Pro Tip:

The pistol squat is a challenging but beneficial exercise that strengthens the quadriceps and improves overall flexibility and functional mobility.


5. Staggered Stance Deadlift

The staggered stance aims at improving and maintaining stability.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercises Step by Step: 

  • Tighten your grip on a kettlebell handle with both hands in front of your thighs.
  • Then stagger your legs by stepping back your right foot and stepping forward with your left.
  • Hinge over at the hips as you lower the kettlebell to about knee height.
  • From this angle, push them back until they're almost parallel to the ground.
  • This should bring you close enough that if your hips are about 90 degrees.
  • It counts as one rep.

Pro Tip:

A staggered stance deadlift aims to protect the knees as it doesn’t require much bending while stimulating the hamstrings.


6. Leg Extension

The leg extension exercise aims at strengthening the quadriceps, in front of your upper legs.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Sit with your legs bent at the knee and raised to about hip height.
  • Hold onto the handles of the leg extension machine on either side of you.
  • Then slowly raise your leg as far out in front of you as possible.
  • Lower it back down just shy of having a full contraction.
  • At the top and bottom of the movement, pause and stay 10% short of a complete lockout.
  • This will avoid any undue stress on your knees while maintaining tension throughout.
  • Shoulder blades are pulled together and down to zip back all arm movements in a slow, controlled motion.

Pro Tip:

The leg extension is a way to target quad muscles without the stress of compressive loads on your back. You can load heavier weights than other leg exercises, and because of this, it's excellent for building muscle mass in the quads.


7. Regular Split Squat

Regular split squat targets the lower body strengthening the muscles of the legs, including the quads, and hamstrings.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • It requires you to be on your feet, maintaining a firm posture, feet hip-width apart.
  • Take a large step backward and put the heel of your back foot firmly on the ground (with toes raised).
  • After gaining composure and feeling steady, lower your upper body with one knee until it’s almost touching the ground.
  • Care should be observed as banging your knee on the ground will lead to injuries.
  • The thigh should be parallel to the ground with the knee in line with your toes.
  • Repeat the routine, remembering to switch legs.

Pro Tip:

If stability is your issue, do away with the Bulgarian split and opt for the regular split instead. The exercise has a similar routine as the Bulgarian split but is easier to follow. 


8. Step-up

Step aerobics is a high-intensity cardio and does not exert much pressure on joints.

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Have a  sturdy bench box or step on a flat surface.
  • Stand about six inches away, and with one foot firmly planted on top of the box, make sure to fully plant your entire foot onto the bench with no part hanging. 
  • Move your weight to your extended leg on the box until hips are extended fully.
  • Stand up and continue until both legs are straight.
  • Try not to use the other leg for support as much.
  • Get to lower yourself until your other leg gets to tap the ground; that counts as a rep.
  • Repeat the set and alternate legs.

Pro Tip:

Step-up routines are the leg stimulators. They will fire up your quads, including hamstrings and glutes. 


9. Good Morning

Good morning is perfect to fire up your lower body with less knee bendin

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • While standing, place a resistance band behind your neck with it wrapped around the back of your feet.
  • Next, slowly bend from your hips while keeping your knees slightly bent and head up until you are almost or parallel to the floor.
  • Stay in the position for close to 5 seconds before returning to the start of the routine again.
  • That one rep equals one complete set (5 reps total).

Pro Tip:

A good morning routine doesn't need much knee bending or joint movements. The hip hinging incorporated in the routine, however, comes through with squats. 


10. Jefferson squat

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives - My Favorite Substitute Exercises

How to Perform This Alternative Exercise Step by Step: 

  • Place a bar on the ground and straddle it.
  • Lower yourself down until you are squatting.
  • Your legs should be straight and hands in front of the torso and behind you, respectively.
  • Then lift and squat the weight up, locking arms and legs.
  • Ensure your chest is high and your back straightened.
  • Start by returning to the initial position by bending knees or lowering weight as necessary.

Pro Tip:

The routine aims to strengthen the lower part of the squat while relieving pressure off your spine. The hamstrings and quadriceps muscles are also fired up in the process.


Quick Recap on Performing the Bulgarian Split Squat Correctly

Quick Recap on Performing the Bulgarian Split Squat Correctly
  • Get into a forward lunge position by resting your foot on an elevated surface.
  • The bench or step should be preferably 30 cm or knee-high. 
  • Maintain the proper torso and hip positioning while lifting the back leg to place it on the bench next to you.
  • Your leading leg should be about arm stretch away from the bench.
  • Gently, you lower your body down until your thigh is close to being horizontal, your knee is in line with the toes.
  • Drive up through the heel of your front leg to return to the start position.
  • Moving slowly and controlling the momentum are essential for this exercise without going fast.

Benefits of The Bulgarian Split

benefits of the Bulgarian squat

I know doing Bulgarian split squats is extremely tough, but at the end of it all comes the following benefits: 

a) Superb Recipe for Weight Loss

Indulging in Bulgarian split squats results in burning many calories, which is a healthier way of losing weight.

b) User-Friendly

Bulgarian split squats do not require any special equipment or a specific environment where they can be done. All that is needed is enough free space and a low platform such as a bench or chair for your foot. 

Not to mention, you can do them anywhere. You can do them any time. Isn’t that wonderful? 

c) Promotes Strength and Stability of Muscles

Since the Bulgarian split squats involve single-leg movements, it will help you build up strength and stability for your muscles, one leg at a time. 

This exercise works to bring your weak leg up until it matches your strong leg. As a result, it reduces the risks of injury by minimizing strength and muscular differences between both the right and left leg.

d) Improves Your Balance

Since the single-leg exercise focuses on your quadriceps and core, the Bulgarian split squats force the core to work in excessive activity to maintain your balance. This exercise eventually helps you maintain a good body posture, whether when standing or sitting down.


What to Avoid When Doing the Bulgarian Split

Push with the grounded foot as your knee is vulnerable when performing the Bulgarian Split

You may wonder why your Bulgarian split squats barely yield impressive results or make you feel pain while doing them. Well, worry no more. Here are a few tips on what to avoid to make sure that your splits are effective and worth your effort:

Wrong Foot Position

Make sure that your front leg is in a comfortable position to avoid falling over. Position the leg so that it is neither too close nor too far from the bench.

Keeping an Upright Torso

As much as staying in an upright position during most exercises is advised, it is entirely different for the Bulgarian split squats. Keeping an upright torso makes you miss out on some Bulgarian splits’ benefits, such as improved hip mobility and stability. For effective Bulgarian splits, keep your torso at an angle of at least 30 degrees.

Side to Side Movement

People’s most common mistake with the Bulgarian split squats is swaying side to side instead of moving forward/backward or up/ down during the exercise. This swaying makes the splits harder and challenging than they need to be.


Why Would You Seek an Alternative for Bulgarian Squats?

Here is why you would want to seek out alternatives to the Bulgarian squats.


Movement Restriction

Movement Restriction is one of the reasons to Seek an Alternative for Bulgarian Squats

Squats are tough for anyone who has restrictions at any joint. So if you have a restriction in one of those three joints, the hip, the knee, or ankle, it isn't recommended that you do Bulgarian squats with weight to increase your strength. The priority should be strengthening your movement without adding weight at first. 


Injury

Getting injured is another reason to seek an alternative for bulgarian squats

If your back, knee, ankle, or hip is injured, the Bulgarian squat may not be appropriate. The injury often results in pain during a squat which is not recommended during the workout. In this case, your options are either to push through the pain, which I don't recommend-or find alternate exercises to do instead. Go for the latter instead. You can also do exercises like hack squats or leg presses since they use machines and will reduce any pain you have due to an injury or you can try easier exercises like the standing leg curl.


Conclusion

final thoughts on the Bulgarian split squat

If you are a newbie to lower body training that requires grit and strength, the Bulgarian Squat should not be your ideal workout routine. This is because, with the Bulgarian squats, you exert the entire body weight on one leg; hence, it requires a stable hip and strong leg muscles to execute it safely. 

It is preferred by most as it boosts up the quads, hamstrings, and calves. 

However, if the routine seems so demanding, there are alternatives with almost similar benefits you may choose to try. Happy workout!

Related Readings:

References:

  1. https://www.coachmag.co.uk/leg-exercises/7016/how-to-do-the-split-squat
  2. https://www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/leg-exercises/3720/romanian-deadlifts-unlock-your-leg-muscles
  3. https://classpass.com/movements/pistol-squat
  4. https://www.self.com/story/difference-between-forward-and-reverse-lunges

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