Bodyweight TV Flexibility & Mobility Muscle Mass Strength

Bulgarian Split Squats and Smitty’s Sneaky “Deficit” Method

Written by shapeshifter

Our friend Smitty is back by popular demand with another great BodyweightCoach guest spot. This time he’s talking about Bulgarian Split Squats — a killa exercise for tightening that tush, carving those calves, and honing those hammies. How’s that for alliteration?

Okay, so you’re probably asking, “Why Bulgarian?”

We have no idea, actually. That’s just the name of the exercise.

You might have seen this movement in fitness magazines or at your local gym. It’s that weird cross between a squat and a lunge, where your rear leg is placed up on a bench. Though it looks a bit odd, it’s a great way to increase glute activation and to open the range of motion of your hip flexors.

So what about “deficit”? Isn’t that what countries are running these days as they drive the world economy into the ground?

Yes and no. I mean, yes they’re driving the world economy into the ground by spending more than they’ve got. But the deficit Smitty’s talking about won’t hit you in the bankbook. It’s actually a clever way to increase your range of motion incrementally.

You start with the basic version of the Bulgarian Split Squat, with arms crossed over your chest and your rear leg either pressed against or right up on a bench — but in Smitty’s variation you’re raising the front foot on a step or a block to get even deeper into the hip of the rear leg.

Once you’re comfortable with the basic version, the second level takes your arms overhead with a stretch band, allowing you to go a little deeper into the range of motion. Finally, in the third variation you add weight with a medicine ball held overhead.

Here’s a quick reminder of the performance cues of this exercise:

  • Pre-set the tension in your torso by engaging your lats
  • Sink into the foam at the bottom of the range of motion
  • Grip the ground with the toes of your front foot to anchor it
  • Center your bodyweight over the front foot

The Bulgarian Split Squat is a great exercise to add to to your toolbox. In addition to building a great set of legs and a nicely toned tush, you’ll build better balance on one leg, and you’ll increase the range of motion of your hip flexors — which is perfect for folks who spend too much time at a desk.

Thanks again to Smitty for stopping by and sharing this exercise with us. Please give him a little love in the comments!

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  • Unfortunately, whoever held the camera for this demonstration did not know how to ‘frame’ the teaching sequence. For those of us keenly interested in viewing the technical points of what you were teaching, in this case what’s happening at the toes/ankles on up to the arms extended overhead, the camera only framed the subject basically from the knee up. All your critical teaching points re what was happening at the foot and ankle, still didn’t cue the cameraman. This is good enough to re-shoot, however if you don’t, it’d be a good idea to ‘school’ your camera person on how to properly frame the shot. It was frustrating to watch and not be able to see what was germane to the demo.

  • When he says “shrug up” with the med ball, that seems at odds with what coach Sonnon teaches.
    i.e. shoulder pack, putting the shoulders in their most stable position. I would think “shrugging up” your shoulders with weight is potentially dangerous. Otherwise, great exercise. Good for golfers balance and stability.

    • Jay,
      It’s just a different way of targeting the same result. Shrugging will cause a co-contraction of the traps, lats and serratus for a very powerful packing effect on the shoulder. It wasn’t until I discovered this that I could get rid of all shoulder pain in pressing movements.

  • Great take on the split squat! Love it! I agree with Pete about the camera work however.
    Thanks for sharing this guys!

  • Did I miss something? Adam & Ryan’s e-mail said “hone your hammies”, which I always pay attention to, but I didn’t see or hear anything about that in the video. I also agree with Pete’s comment above – I wanted to see that front foot and rear knee hitting the foam much more closely. But, like Jay said, great exercise!

    • Don,
      The hamstrings are not merely knee flexors, but powerful hip extonsors. So that front leg will be getting some serious hammy action…

  • Great exercise, nice range of difficulty but I too found myself desperately trying to see what the heck was going on with the planted foot and ankle. It was a bit frustrating.

  • Hey Folks,
    I can kinda understand that some of you had a bit of trouble understanding some of the cues without a perfect visual “framing” of the video.
    But I think we should be thanking Smitty for taking the time to share this exercise with us. This guy has a TON of knowledge and we’re really lucky to have him as a guest coach here on the blog.

    • Sorry Adam, can’t agree with you here. Although I certainly thank him for sharing his insights, it’s incredibly easy to re-shoot a vid. Not like you’re paying for film or anything of the sort these days. All we are asking is for him to re-shoot and re-post! Is that asking too much?

      • Hey Keith,
        There’s no way I’m going to ask Smitty to re-shoot a video. It’s extremely generous that he took the time to do it in the first place. He’s giving out his knowledge for free here. And there are tons of insights to be gained from this video. But as always, you have the option of choosing not to watch this one… 🙂

        • Hey BWC! Thank Smitty for me please; VERY nice!! Adam, I appreciate it as always!! I personally am very grateful for the video; and thought it was fine. (I did not have a problem seeing the mat or foot placement (1:40-1:43). And to test the lack of visual I even closed my eyes and relistened to instructions, which were very clear and concise. Hmm…. Anyway, as always thank you so much! I gave it a test drive today. 🙂

  • Hi Adam,
    I can understand not asking for a re-post – certainly if I was paying for it I’d be asking but when it’s free we should just be saying thanks! Can I ask a question or 2? It looks like the planted foot is on a “step” is that just one or is it a few levels high? Also – the sponge – about how thick is it? I have a really bad habit of hurting myself and I’d love to try this but don’t want to dip too deep – or is it possible to dip too far – ie lose the proper form by not setting the equipment up right?

    • Hey Anne-Marie,
      The height of the step can vary. But as little as a few inches is enough to start creating that deficit. The foam Smitty uses is around 4-6″ thick by the looks of it.
      Your best bet is to pay strict attention to Smitty’s performance cues and not go any lower than the point where you feel you’re performance starts to break down.

  • Thanks to Smitty for this great detailed info on the Bulgarian and thanks to Adam and friends for posting it! As to the video issues, I’m sure he took the comments as constructive, I haven’t met him in person but he seems like a great coach from his materials and great coaches are always learning and welcoming feedback on things they can do better next time. That’s why they end up as great coaches.

    Great stuff, a much appreciated gift of knowledge.


  • Hi Adam, I totally agree with u, u should not ask Smitty to re-shot the video. Everyone should be grateful that Smitty took the time and then just follow Anne-Marie’s example and ask Adam to clarify.

    My question is, how much does the rear leg do? is it only for balance or does it also push up?

    Thanks for all the great videos


  • I agree with Adam. I think if you brought it to his attention he’d be glad and reshoot. It would make him look more professional and help the viewers. I’m sure he didn’t realize the poor camera work when he shot it. Thanks.

  • Kinda funny reading the previous posts, re: videographer… I didn’t even notice as I was watching the movement and listening to the cueing…. I thought it was a great little clip and something I’m gonna use. thanks guys! You ALL Rock!!!!!!!!!!

  • Adam, learn to take constructive criticism. Proper technique is extremely important to avoid injury and unfortunately, the camera work was poor. You could even do a video showing the whole excercise.

  • Just caught this post. I wasn’t aware that Adam had posted it yet. Sorry for the trouble on the camera. I appreciate all of the feedback. As you know, when you’re in the gym setting, it isn’t always perfect.

  • From my personal experience I have just 1 advice regarding bulgarian split squat – start with fairly light weights – the microtrauma induced by this exercise can feel like major surgical rearrangement of your muscle fibers the day after you try it for the first time.

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