bulgarian split squat alternative
Exercise Alternative

8 Effective Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives

The Bulgarian Split Squat is a variation of the standard squat that offers some unique benefits. It allows you to work your legs unilaterally while also improving your balance and coordination.

There are, however, a number of excellent alternative exercises you can do to work the same muscles the same way as the split squat.

In this article, I’ll lay out eight of the best Bulgarian split squat alternatives that you can do, both at home and in the gym.

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

The Bulgarian split squat allows you to work each leg separately. This unilateral exercise training has been shown to be more effective in terms of absolute strength, functional strength, and muscle building than bilateral squat training. It also allows you to correct muscular imbalances between the two limbs that you cannot do with bilateral squatting.

This version of the squat also requires greater balance and coordination. As a result, it develops the stabilizer muscles around your hips more than other squat variations. This version of the squat also allows for a greater range of motion on each limb than doing the regular barbell squat. 

1. Russian Leg Curl

Why it’s a great alternative

The Russian leg curl is an awesome hamstring developer that you can do with no resistance apart from your bodyweight and the assistance of a partner to secure your feet. This move will also help develop functional strength through your lower body.

Muscles worked

Hamstrings

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Kneel on the floor with your hands behind your back.
  2. Have your partner hold down your heels as your come up to a 90 degree knee bend.
  3. From this start position, lower your torso down to the floor.
  4. Pull through the hamstrings to return to the start position.
  5. Do 3 sets of 10 reps. 
  6. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Move slowly and deliberately. Keep your lower back in a neutral position throughout the exercise.

2. Bodyweight Walking Lunge

Why it’s a great alternative

The walking lunge works your quads, hamstrings, and glutes through a functional movement to improve dynamic and explosive power. This is a good auxiliary movement to perform after a lower-body resistance move like cable curls.

Related Post:  7 Great Dumbbell Front Raise Alternatives

Muscles worked

Hamstrings

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and arms by your sides.
  2. Take a large step forward and drop your rear knee until it almost touches the floor.
  3. Follow through with your rear leg to bring it through to step forward.
  4. Continue to take 5 steps on each foot.
  5. Do 3 sets of 5 steps. 
  6. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Take a large step on every stride and bring the knee down to just short of touching the floor. Maintain an upright torso throughout the movement. 

3. Side Lying Clam

Why it’s a great alternative

The side lying clam exercise puts the emphasis on the adductors and inner thigh muscles to strengthen your lower body power base for dynamic movement. 

Muscles worked

Hamstrings

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Lie on the floor on your side with your knees bent and your legs stacked on top of each other.
  2. Open up your hips to lift your top thigh to full extension.
  3. Lower and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Keep your legs stacked on top of each other. Hold the open clam position for 2 seconds before coming back down. 

4. Single Leg Hip Thrust

Why it’s a great alternative

The single leg hip thrust is a unilateral version of the glute bridge. This butt exercise variation can also be done at home without any equipment. It is a great exercise for developing glute strength. 

Muscles worked

Glutes

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent. Place your hands on the floor at your sides.
  2. From this starting position, straighten out your right leg.
  3. Drive your right leg in to the air, lifting from the right hip.
  4. Squeeze the right glute forcefully. Hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Lower and repeat.
  6. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Do not bend your lifted knee. Keep your core tight throughout the movement and maintain constant tension on the glutes. 

5. Curtsy Lunge

Why it’s a great alternative

This lunge variation allows you to work your glutes and hamstrings with no resistance as you also work on your coordination and balance. This is also a single leg exercise that works each limb by itself to develop unilateral strength. In addition, it will help develop core stability and improve athletic performance. This exercise provides the benefits of barbell lunges without putting compressive pressure on the spine.

Related Post:  22 Bicep-Blasting Spider Curl Alternatives

Muscles worked

Glutes, hamstrings, quads

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Stand width feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Step your right leg back and across so that the rear foot is to the left of your left foot. 
  3. Lunge down to bring the rear knee toward the floor, stopping just short.
  4. Push through the front thigh to come out of the lunge.
  5. Go directly into your next lunge.
  6. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

None

Tips

Push through the front heel as you come out of the lunge position. This is quite an advanced exercise designed to be a regular split squat variation, with a movement pattern that requires quite a lot of balance and coordination. 

6. Cable Squats

Why it’s a great alternative

The cable squat is another fantastic exercise that allows you to load the quads without putting any compressive load on your spine as you would with barbell back squats. This allows you to lose heavier loads without risking injury. You are also able to lean back as you squat to more fully activate the quads. This is a great exercise for developing absolute strength through the lower body. 

Muscles worked

Quadriceps

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set the pulley on a cable machine to its lowest setting. 
  2. Stand abut three feet away from the machine facing it and grab the cable handles.
  3. Set your feet about shoulder width apart. Lean back and then descend down into a parallel squat position. 
  4. Return to the start position.
  5. Do 4 sets of 20-8 reps, increasing the weight on each set.

Equipment used 

Cable pulley machine

Tips

Push through the heels as your push out of the bottom position. Lean back on the cables as much as possible to maximally activate the quads. 

7. One-Leg Press

Why it’s a great alternative

The one-legged press allows you to work each of your quadricep muscles unilaterally, which has been shown to provide greater benefit in terms of strength and gains of muscle fibers than bilateral strength training.

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps, hamstrings

Step by step how to

  1. Position yourself on a 45 degree leg press machine and place your left foot centrally on the foot plate. Your right foot should remain on the floor. Use about half the weight than you normally would when using both legs.
  2. Unrack the side handles and bring your right knee bck to your chest.
  3. When your knee touches the chest, push back to full leg extension.
Related Post:  11 Russian Twist Alternatives For A Well-Defined Core

Equipment

45-degree leg press machine

Training Tips

Most people do not get a full enough range of motion on this exercise. Be sure to bring your knee all the way back to get max benefit. 

8. Ball Squat

Why it’s a great alternative

The Ball Squat adds the element of instability to the squat movement. This makes you work harder bringing your lower body stabilizer muscles into play. The ball squat is a very good functional exercise. 

Muscles worked

Quads

Step by step how to

  1. Stand with an exercise ball between you and a wall, resting aginst your back. Place your hands on your hip and your feet hip with apart about three feet from the floor.
  2. Push back against the ball as you descend down into a parallel squat.
  3. Push through the heels to return to the start position.

Equipment

Exercise Ball, wall

Training Tip

Lean back against the ball as you perform this exercise. 

Final Thoughts

The Bulgarian Split Squat is a very good unilateral quad, glute, and hamstring developer that will make a good addition to any lower body workout. But if for any reason you can’t do that squat variation, you now have sixteen alternative exercises that will allow you to work the same muscles just as effectively.

As you incorporate these exercises into your workout, be sure to select a range to cover the key muscles of your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bulgarian split squats build muscle?

They can, provided that you are using a decent amount of resistance and increasing the weight over time. To build muscle, concentrate on going deep into the squat and holding the time under tension. 

Are split squats better than lunges?

The split squat could be considered to be better than the lunge because it allows you to go deeper into the lunge for a greater range of motion. It allows you to better improve your balance and coordination.

Why are Bulgarian split squats so hard?

The split squat is so hard because it works each of your legs unilaterally. As a result, you have to work harder with each limb. At the same time, you have to balance and coordinate your body due to the instability of balancing with one leg elevated when you do the split squat. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

You may also like...