Searching for the best Bulgarian split squat alternatives? No need to panic, I've got you covered.

Whether you can't perform the Bulgarian split squat, don't like it, or want to freshen up your workout, you'll be pleased to know there are plenty of alternatives available. 

In this guide, I’ll cover all of the best Bulgarian split squat alternative exercises and show you how to do them.

As brilliant as the Bulgarian split squat is, what happens if you can’t perform the movement?

Perhaps you’re injured or recovering from an injury, or maybe you don’t have the equipment available in your home gym. Or, if you’re like me, you want to add some variation to your training every now and then.  

Below are 12 of the best Bulgarian split squat alternatives: 

1. Regular Split Squat (Bulgarian Split Squat Without A Bench)

Man Doing Regular Split Squat Exercise

This alternative to Bulgarian split squat is a simple exercise that doesn’t require weights. However, you can use dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or any other form of resistance to increase the difficulty of the movement.

The regular split squat works your legs unilaterally, targeting your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while improving your balance and coordination in the process.

It’s a great movement to add variation to anyones workout routine, even beginners. However, you'll find the exercise is easier than the Bulgarian split squat as it has less range of motion.

I've performed this Bulgarian split squat modification many times while I've been travelling. You can do it in your office, hotel, park, local gym, home gym, living room... pretty much anywhere.


  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • Improves balance and coordination.
  • Doesn't require a lot of space.

How to do it: 

  1. While standing up, place your feet shoulder-width apart.  
  2. Step back with one leg (always step back with your strongest leg first). 
  3. Squat down until your legs are bent to 90 degrees and push back upwards. Note, you’re not removing your feet from this position; it’s not a lunge. 
  4. Repeat this movement until you’ve finished your set.  
  5. Switch legs and repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • While the regular split squat looks similar to a lunge, it’s a totally different movement. Don’t fall into the trap of lunging by mistake. Stay in a static position, only moving your feet once you've finished your set. 

Related Article - Lunge Vs Split Squat

2. Nordic Leg Curl 

Man Doing Noric Leg Curl Exercise In The Gym

The Nordic leg curl is an outstanding hamstring developer that requires no additional resistance, just your body weight. 

The move also helps you develop functional strength throughout your legs and requires a large amount of core strength to keep your body in line.  

There is one caveat to this exercise; it requires a partner to secure your feet.  

I wouldn't recommend this movement to beginners as it's incredibly hard, even for advanced lifters. It requires super strong hamstrings and a lot of core strength.

However, beginners can try an alternative to leg curls that are more suitable for their fitness level.


  • Develops super strong hamstrings.
  • Isolates your hamstrings.
  • Uses your body weight.

How to do it: 

  1. Kneel on the floor (I recommend using a padded mat to protect your knees) and place your hands behind your back. 
  2. Get your partner to hold down your heels with their body weight.  
  3. Position yourself so your legs are at 90 degrees. 
  4. Lower yourself toward the floor, placing emphasis on your hamstrings.  
  5. When you reach your maximum stretch, pull yourself back up to the starting position. (If you can’t control your body, you can use your hands to push yourself back up the start). 
  6. Repeat the movement until the set is complete. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • As this exercise doesn’t work your glutes and quadriceps like the Bulgarian split squat, you should combine it with another exercise from this list, such as the walking lunge.  

3. Single-Leg Hip Thrust 

Woman Doing Single Leg Hip Thrust

The single-leg hip thrust is the unilateral variant of the glute bridge and predominantly targets your glutes and has some hamstring activation. 

It’s a brilliant exercise for anyone looking to strengthen their glute muscles without placing too much stress on the lower back.

This is ideal if you’re recovering from a lower back injury. Working your glutes is an excellent way of protecting your lower back. Always remember, a strong posterior chain is never a bad thing.

This movement was a staple in my lower back rehab after I suffered a spasm (due to my glutes not firing correctly). So I can vouch for the effectiveness of this substitute for Bulgarian split squats.


  • Enhanced glute activation.
  • Improved hip stability. 
  • Helps reduce muscle imbalances. 

How to do it: 

  1. Lie on the floor on your back and place your feet at 90 degrees, spaced hip-width apart.  
  2. Place your hands at your sides on the floor.  
  3. Take a deep breath inward and brace your core muscles.  
  4. Drive your hips upwards and allow one leg to rise into the air.  
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.  
  6. Hold the position for several seconds and slowly return to the starting point.  
  7. Switch legs after you’ve finished your set and repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you'd like an additional challenge, elevate your feet slightly to increase the range of motion that your glutes work through.  

Related Article - Best Hip Thrust Alternatives

4. Bodyweight Walking Lunge 

Man Doing Bodyweight Walking Lunge Exercise

The walking lunge is an excellent functional movement that works your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. The exercise helps improve your dynamic and explosive power making it one of the best exercises for sports-specific training.

This is one of the easiest and versatile movements you can do at home. You can perform the walking lunge without any weight making it one of the most straightforward exercises to do in your home garage gym.

You can even take this Bulgarian split squat modification with you on the move. Whether you're traveling, working, or working out in the park, there will be room to do this exercise. 


  • Uses your body weight.
  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Develops explosive power.

Read Further - Benefits of Lunges

How to do it: 

  1. Stand up tall with your feet placed shoulder-width apart and your arms placed at your side.  
  2. Take a big step forward (roughly 2-3 feet) and lower yourself towards the ground bending both legs until they’re 90 degrees. Stop just before your knee touches the floor.  
  3. Using explosive power, drive your rear leg forward and perform the same movement mentioned in the step above.  
  4. Continue this movement alternating between legs until your set is complete.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • It’s worth noting for this exercise; you’ll need enough room to walk around as you move between each rep. 

5. Elevated Single-Leg Hip Thrust 

Woman Doing Elevated Single Leg Hip Thrust Exercise

The traditional single-leg hip thrust is a unilateral version of the glute bridge.

However, the elevated single-leg hip thrust is slightly different yet again. And is even more challenging.

For this version, you place your weight-bearing foot on a step or bench (elevated platform) and then perform the hip thrust movement. 

This exercise targets your glutes & hamstrings and can be performed in your home gym without needing additional equipment. 

It’s ideal for anyone suffering from lower back pain as it allows you to target the glutes without placing direct stress on the spine or back muscles.

Feel like working out in your hotel room? - With this substitute for Bulgarian split squat, you can. It's ideal if you're on the move.


  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Develops your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Low back strain.

How to do it: 

  1. Lie down on the floor in front of a bench, step, or elevated platform.  
  2. Place your legs at 90 degrees on the elevated platform, placed hip-width apart.  
  3. Drive your hips upward while lifting one leg in the air. 
  4. Squeeze your glutes and hold for a few seconds. 
  5. Slowly bring the hips down and repeat the movement until the set is completed. 
  6. Swap legs and repeat.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you find using one leg too difficult, try to perform the regular elevated hip thrust. Once you've mastered the regular version you can push on with the single leg. 

6. Side-Lying Clam 

Woman Doing Side Lying Clam Exercise

The side-lying clam is an odd-looking exercise that packs a punch.

It primarily targets your glutes and adductors (inner thigh muscles) and helps strengthen your lower body without needing any weight, which is great for at-home muscle building. This exercise can be performed anywhere.

If you find this movement too easy, try slowing the movement downfocusing on squeezing the glutes. Failing that, you can use a resistance band to increase the difficulty.


  • Uses your body weight.
  • Doesn't require much space.

How to do it: 

  1. Place a mat on the floor.  
  2. Lie down on the mat on your side with your knees bent at roughly 90 degrees placed on top of each other. 
  3. Open your legs, pivoting from the hip, and squeeze your glutes tightly together at the top of the movement.  
  4. Lower your leg slowly and repeat the movement until your set is completed. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • It’s an excellent alternative to the Bulgarian split squat but would need pairing with other exercises to develop your quads and hamstrings.  

7. Reverse Lunge (Alternative To Bulgarian Split Squats For Bad Knees)

Woman Doing Reverse Lunge Exercise

The reverse lunge is extremely similar to the regular lunge; however, instead of stepping forward, you place your foot backward. This might have been obvious, but I wanted to clarify the difference. 

This Bulgarian split squat substitute is brilliant as it places less stress on the knee joints than the regular lunge while working all of the same muscle groups. Your quads, glutes, and hamstrings will work hard to complete each rep.  

I often give this exercise to my new clients as it's beginner friendly and has a low impact on their joints. It's a great way to develop a base strength for other lower body movements. 


  • Uses body weight. 
  • Doesn't require much room.
  • Great for beginners.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand up tall with your feet hip-width.  
  2. Hold your hands at your side (with or without added weight).  
  3. Step backwards with one leg and lunge toward the floor.  
  4. Stop before your knee touches the floor and push through your front leg while returning to the starting position.  
  5. Complete your set and repeat on the opposite leg.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Always keep your feet placed hip width apart for maximum balance. If you lunge too narrow, you'll be unstable and will struggle with this movement. 

8. Cable Squat 

Woman Doing Cable Squat Exercise In The Gym

The cable squat is a brilliant Bulgarian split squat alternative that targets all of the same muscles but mainly loads the quadriceps.

As the cable doesn’t place any load on the spine that a barbell would, it makes the cable squat ideal for anybody with an injury.

It also means you can focus the load on your legs without fatiguing your lower back muscles. Pairing this movement with the regular split squat or leg press will ensure your entire lower body is worked during this Bulgarian split squat substitute. 

Now, while it might be a good substitute for Bulgarian split squat, it's not my personal favorite. I've tried it a few times and fail to feel much in my legs. Whether it's not enough load, or the loading pattern doesn't suit me, I'm yet to put my finger on it. 

But, don't let that put you off... give it a try. 


  • Doesn't load the spine.
  • Ideal for beginners.

How to do it: 

  1. Set the pulley on the cable resistance machine to its lowest setting.  
  2. Stand a few feet away from the cable machine, so the cable has tension.  
  3. Set your feet hip-width in a squat-like position and squat down while leaning back slightly. 
  4. Hold at the bottom of the movement (as close to parallel as possible). 
  5. Return upwards, pushing through your quads.  
  6. Repeat until you’ve finished your set. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try using a variation of stances, mixing up narrow, wide, and neutral. You'll hit different areas of your legs.  

Related Article - Leg Press Vs Squat

9. Curtsy Lunge 

Woman Doing Curtsy Lunge Exercise

The curtsy lunge variation works your glutes and hamstrings with no need to add additional resistance.

As the movement involves a slight cross step, it helps to improve your coordination and balance. As with several movements on this list, it’s a unilateral exercise, so it works each leg individually.

This not only increases the need to stabilize your core muscles but it’ll help fix any muscular imbalances while improving your athletic performance.  


  • Improves balance and coordination.
  • Works each side individually.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand with your feet placed shoulder-width apart and place your hands on your hips. 
  2. Step backwards and across with your weakest leg, e.g., your left leg, placing it so your left foot is past your right leg. 
  3. Lower yourself into a lunge-like position, stopping your knee before it touches the floor.  
  4. Push through your front leg and return to the starting position.  
  5. Go directly into your next curtsy lunge (with the opposite leg). 
  6. Repeat until your set is completed. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If your knees feel discomfort during this exercise stop immediately. There's no reason to cause yourself an injury for the sake of an exercise. There are many other options available such as the regular or reverse lunge. 

10. Step-Up 

Person Performing Step Up Exercise

If you’re looking for a Bulgarian split squat alternative, the step-up is fantastic. It mainly targets your quadriceps and glutes and activates the calf muscles and hamstrings.

While your hamstrings aren’t overly activated, they do act as a dynamic stabilizer preventing you from falling over.

This Bulgarian split squat modification has long been one of the most popular exercises in my fitness classes. I'm guessing it's because of the deep burn it gives you in your legs. 

Additionally, the step-up is a brilliant exercise that doesn’t require any additional weight, do enough of these, and you’ll feel them in the morning.  

Oh and I should probably mention how versatile they are. You can do them anywhere, I've used park benches in the past.

If you can't perform this exercise, there are step up alternatives that you can try. For example, you can replace step ups with lunges or glute bridges. These exercises target similar muscle groups and provide effective lower body strength and stability training.


  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Great for all abilities.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand in front of a bench or step.  
  2. Place one foot on the step. 
  3. Shift your weight onto the leg that’s on the step.  
  4. Drive your body upwards, pushing through your foot on the step.  
  5. Stand up tall and slowly return to the starting position.  
  6. Swap legs and repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try not to use your non-weight-bearing leg to push yourself upwards. Let your leg that’s on the step do the work.   

11. Single-Leg Press (Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative With Leg Press)

Man Doing Single Leg Press Exercise in the Gym

This is one of my favorite Bulgarian split squat alternatives; it allows you to work each quad muscle unilaterally. 

Working the legs unilaterally helps develop greater strength than the bilateral version of the leg pressDoing so also irons out any muscular imbalance that you might have developed during training.

The main muscles targeted in this substitute for Bulgarian split squat are the quadriceps and hamstrings.

However, if you take the movement deep enough, there will be some glute activation, too, making this a fantastic lower body developer.


  • Works each leg separately.
  • Irons out muscular imbalances.

How to do it: 

  1. Sit on a 45-degree leg press machine and place one leg on the footplate in a central position. 
  2. Release the support handles and press the weight upward until your leg is almost straight (don’t lock your knee).  
  3. Slowly lower the plate bringing your knee towards your chest, and press to return to the starting point.  
  4. Repeat for several reps and then switch legs.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Always start on your weakest leg. If you can get 10 reps on your weakest leg, then it's highly likely you'll be able to do 10 reps on your stronger leg.  

Related Article - Best Leg Press Foot Stances

12. Staggered-Stance Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Man Doing Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlifts

Wondering what to do instead of Bulgarian split squats? 

The staggered-stance Romanian deadlift is a fantastic substitute. 

Also known as the “B-stance” deadlift, the staggered stance Romanian deadlift involves placing one leg slightly behind the other to turn the deadlift into a unilateral movement. It's somewhere between a regular deadlift and a single-leg deadlift. 

It’s an excellent alternative for Bulgarian split squat and works your hamstrings and glutes effectively. The unilateral nature of the movement allows you to train one leg at a time to cancel out any muscular imbalances.  

The staggered-stance Romanian deadlift is easier to perform than the single-leg variant and is suitable for all ability levels 


  • Irons out muscular imbalances.
  • Strengthens your posterior chain.

How to do it: 

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.  
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while drawing your shoulders back and down.  
  3. Place one foot slightly back behind the other. I usually say heels in line with your toes.  
  4. Bend the knee of your front leg slightly and shift your weight to the leading leg.  
  5. Hinge from the hips bringing your torso toward the ground.  
  6. Stop at the bottom when your hamstrings are at full stretch and your body is parallel to the floor.
  7. Return to the starting point and repeat until your set is completed.  
  8. Swap legs and repeat.  

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Make sure your rear leg doesn't have any body weight going through it. All of your weight should be on your lead leg.

Benefits Of Bulgarian Split Squats & Similar Exercises

If you’ve been looking for a fantastic way to improve leg strength and grow your muscle, the Bulgarian Split Squat is the perfect exercise.  

This squat is a unilateral exercise that works the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core muscles. You can change the emphasis of the exercise by adjusting your foot position.  

  • Glutes & Hamstrings
    Place your leading leg (the one planted on the floor) further away from the bench.
  • Quadriceps
    Place your leading leg closer to the bench. 

The exercise is ideal for anyone who’s looking to work each side individually. It’s brilliant at fixing muscular imbalances, which is pretty standard in resistance training newbies.

As a lower body exercise, the Bulgarian split squat is relatively common, and it’s often performed by gym-goers who are slightly more advanced due to the difficulty of the movement.

I’ve also found the exercise to be super easy to perform in a home gym as you don’t need much space or equipment and can be a brilliant alternative to the traditional squat.

One of the main advantages this exercise has over many other leg exercises is that it not only builds muscle but it improves your balance. In particular, the balance aspect makes the Bulgarian split squat perfect for sports-related training.

What Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squat Substitutes Work?

During the Bulgarian split squat, research has shown the muscles worked are the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, glutes, and calves.[1]   


The quadriceps are the muscle located on the upper front of the leg and are separated into four muscles. The Bulgarian split squat works all four areas and will help you develop excellent looking legs. 


The hamstrings are the long muscles located at the back of your upper leg and form what is sometimes referred to as the "bicep of the leg." They act as an antagonist muscle group to the quads, and to have a strong lower body, you need to work both equally. During the Bulgarian split squat, they work incredibly hard.

Hip Adductors

The hip adductors are often one of the most overlooked muscles in the body, and they help with the strength and stability of the hip joint and play a massive role in your glutes development. 

While not all the Bulgarian split squat alternatives help develop the hip adductors, most of them will create some activation, even if it’s small.

Glutes (Gluteus Maximus, Medius, And Minimus) 

The glutes for the largest muscle group in the body and are responsible for a lot of the power you generate during most lower body movements, such as the deadlift.

Building a robust set of glutes helps prevent injuries to your lower back. The Bulgarian split squat and its alternatives are brilliant glute developers.

Calves (Gastrocnemius, Soleus)

The calf muscles form the back of your lower leg and are responsible for movements such as standing on your toes, jumping, and running.

They give you the spring in your step. The Bulgarian split squat doesn’t work this muscle group directly, but there is a small amount of activation. 

How To Get Better At Bulgarian Split Squats (Tips From A Pro)

Increase Your Grip Strength 

The quickest way to stall your progress is by having a weak grip. Not only does it make the dumbbells incredibly difficult to grip, but it makes the whole exercise seem harder.  

To improve your grip strength for effective leg training, focus on training your forearms. Incorporating forearm workouts with dumbbells, like wrist curls and reverse curls can stimulate muscle growth and increase forearm strength.

Use Straps 

Performing the Bulgarian split squat asks a lot from your hands, and sometimes improving your grip strength isn’t enough. With any exercise, you want to be training for progressive overload, and the chances are your grip strength will be lagging.

This is where lifting straps come in handy. They allow you to safely lift more weight than you usually would be able to hold.  You can check out our guide on how to use lifting straps to enhance your training experience and overcome grip limitations effectively.

Wear The Right Shoes 

I preach this to many of my clients; wearing the correct shoes for resistance training is vital. If you wear the wrong shoes for Bulgarian split squats, they become incredibly difficult... more so than usual.  

Find shoes that: 

  1. Have a flat sole to give you balance and support.  
  2. Aren’t overly cushioned – You don’t want them to compress unevenly.  
  3. Fit your feet comfortably with no movement inside the shoe. 
  4. Good grip – So your feet don’t slip.  

Improve Your Hip Mobility 

Tight hips and hamstrings will prevent you from using the correct form during a Bulgarian split squat. A tight muscle during Bulgarian split squats often leads to a rounding of the back or tipping too far forward. 

You can avoid this problem by regularly stretching before and after your workout.  

Lift Heavy Weight 

Rather than lifting a lighter load for higher reps, you could mix things up and lift heavy for low reps. Lifting heavy is a tried and tested method of not only increasing muscle mass but also inducing muscular hypertrophy.

meta-analysis of strength training studies showed lifting heavier weight leads to greater strength gains.[2]

Bulgarian Split Squat FAQs

Why is it called a Bulgarian split squat? 

The Bulgarian split squat got its name in the 1980s when Angel Spassov, the assistant coach of the Bulgarian National Weightlifting Team, toured around the US hosting talks on the success of the Bulgarian weightlifting system.  

Are lunges and Bulgarian split squats the same? 

No, lunges and Bulgarian split squats are not the same. The Bulgarian split squat requires elevating your rear foot onto a platform and performing a single-leg squatting movement. The elevated leg gives you greater range of motion than the lunge.  

Is it better to do Bulgarian split squats with one dumbbell or two? 

Neither is better. However, using one dumbbell will offset your body, causing your core to work extra hard to keep you upright.  Using two dumbbells allows you to lift extra weight, so your legs will benefit from the additional muscle activation.  

Will Bulgarian split squats build leg mass? 

Yes, Bulgarian split squats do build leg mass. But always remember to use good form to work your leg muscles effectively 


While the Bulgarian split squat is a fantastic exercise for lower body development, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t perform the movement for whatever reason.  

There are a vast amount of Bulgarian split squat alternatives you can perform to help you develop the quads, hamstrings, and glutes and add variation to your workout. 

Check out the list above and add some of the best Bulgarian split squat alternatives into your workout routine.




Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.