Advanced BSS Variations
Most serious lifters do the Bulgarian split squat. Here are 6 ways to take that challenging lift to the next level.
The Bulgarian split squat (BSS) is a muscle-growth accelerator requiring stability, strength, and control. The result? Big legs and strong glutes.
Technically, the BSS is a rear-foot elevated split squat. Master the standard version first, then increase the challenge and the gains with these six demanding variations:
1. Front Foot Elevated
Elevate your front foot to get more range of motion. This places more stress on the working muscles in the concentric/lifting action and increases time under tension. The whole point of elevating your front foot is to tap into an extra range of motion, so make sure you’re lowering your knee below the level that you’d normally hit.
- Holding dumbbells at your sides, elevate your rear foot the way you normally would for a Bulgarian split squat. Then place your front foot on an elevated surface like a secure plate.
- Drop your back knee lower than the front-foot plate. This gives you an extra few inches of range of motion.
Your glutes will light up with this variation. The rotational component will teach you to more effectively stabilize through the trunk and learn to coordinate hip-to-ankle connection. You’ll also notice more glute medius activation as you deepen into rotation.
- Rotate toward your working lead leg as you lower your back knee to the ground.
- Avoid lowering and then rotating. Instead, simultaneously perform both actions.
Changing your loading position (on any lift) is an easy way to shift the emphasis slightly and make the same old exercise feel like something completely different while still getting the gains you loved from the traditional version.
Loading weight in front of the body during a split squat places greater demand on the core, pelvis, and upper to mid-back region to stabilize your posture and keep the weight from shifting away from your body.
You’ll also notice that it makes you squat more vertically, placing higher demand on knee flexion at the bottom. This makes it a quad destroyer.
- Keep it slow and controlled.
- Go deep into the split squat.
Pausing at the bottom of a rep removes the stretch reflex of a muscle. This version emphasizes a powerful concentric. It’ll reduce loading capacity but places new demands on the muscles required to perform the lift.
There are two ways to go about this. The first is to pause at the bottom without the back knee resting on anything. This will increase time under tension and provide an isometric component to the weakest part of the movement.
The second variation is to literally pause and rest your knee on a block of some sort and then use raw strength to power out of the hole. Think of this as a dead stop, like what you do during a pin press or Anderson squat.
Applying the first technique helps increase strength at a common sticking point (the bottom). The second version allows you to accentuate the eccentric/negative because you don’t have to control the weight at the bottom.
- When pausing on a block, go lighter, use a slow negative, and then breathe into a forceful concentric.
These aren’t for the faint of heart. Continuous Bulgarian split squats leave you with a burn that’s tough to match. They create an insane pump and growth stimulus due to the time under tension. This is a great variation to use during a hypertrophy or muscular endurance training phase.
- Don’t lock out the knee. Think “knee over ankle” to keep your shin vertical throughout the movement.
- Add to the metabolic stress and lactate accumulation by taking shorter 45-second rest periods.
- Do all sets on one leg first, rest for two minutes, and repeat for the second leg.
- Go lighter and use this as a pumping exercise.
The suspension trainer (like a TRX) adds more instability to this already balance-heavy exercise. Your back leg has to work harder to coordinate movement with the front leg. It also emphasizes hip stability and stretching of the rear hip flexor, making it a beneficial variation for those who lack hip flexor flexibility.
- Take your time getting set up. Start light to get a feel for it. This version challenges your balance and stability even more than the others.
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