Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative (12 Effective Substitutes)

The Bulgarian Split Squat is a fantastic unilateral lower body exercise that works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip adductors. They’re generally performed using a single or pair of dumbbells and a bench or step. 

However, what happens if you can’t perform the Bulgarian Split Squat in your home gym? 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 

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.

How to do it: 

  • While standing up, place your feet shoulder-width apart.  
  • Step back with one leg (always step back with your strongest leg first). 
  • 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. 
  • Repeat this movement until you’ve finished your set.  
  • Switch legs and repeat. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: 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.

Related Article - Lunge Vs Split Squat

regular split squat

2. Russian Leg Curl 

The Russian 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.  

How to do it: 

  • Kneel on the floor (I recommend using a padded mat to protect your knees) and place your hands behind your back. 
  • Get your partner to hold down your heels with their body weight.  
  • Position yourself so your legs are at 90 degrees. 
  • Lower yourself toward the floor, placing emphasis on your hamstrings.  
  • 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). 
  • Repeat the movement until the set is complete. 

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. 

russian leg curl

3. 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.

How to do it:

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

4. Bodyweight Walking Lunge 

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.

How to do it: 

  • Stand up tall with your feet placed shoulder-width apart and your arms placed at your side.  
  • 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.  
  • Using explosive power, drive your rear leg forward and perform the same movement mentioned in the step above.  
  • Continue this movement alternating between legs until your set is complete.  

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

Learn More - How Do Lunges Change Your Body?

bodyweight walking lunge

5. Elevated Single-Leg Hip Thrust 

As mentioned before, the single-leg hip thrust is a unilateral version of the glute bridge.

However, the elevated single-leg hip thrust is slightly different yet again. 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.

How to do it: 

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

6. Side-Lying Clam 

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.

How to do it:

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

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

Suggested Gear - Best Gym Mats For Home Use

side lying clam

7. Reverse Lunge 

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.  

How to do it: 

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

8. Cable Squat 

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. 

How to do it: 

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

Related Article - Leg Press Vs Squat

cable squat

9. Curtsy Lunge 

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.  

How to do it: 

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

10. Step-Up 

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 hamstring.

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

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.  

How to do it: 

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

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Try not to use your non-weight-bearing leg to push yourself upwards. Let your leg that’s on the step do the work.  

Learn More - 10 Best Alternatives To Step Ups

step up

11. Single-Leg Press 

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 press 

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.

How to do it:

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

12. Staggered-Stance Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The staggered-stance Romanian deadlift, also known as the “B-stance” deadlift, involves placing one leg slightly behind the other to turn the deadlift into a unilateral movement that’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 

How to do it: 

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

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.  

Quadriceps

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. 

Hamstrings

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. 

More Exercises - Best Seated Calf Raise Alternatives


How To Get Better At Bulgarian Split Squats (Tips & Techniques)

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.  

If you don’t ensure your grip strength is up to the mark, you won’t be able to use the weight you need to stimulate your legs and grow more muscle. The best way to increase your grip is to train your forearms.

Read More - Best Dumbbell Forearm Exercises For Better Grip

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.  

See Also - How To Use Lifting Straps

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


Bulgarian Split Squat FAQs

Why is it called a Bulgarian split squat? 

It’s an alternative name for the rear-foot elevated split squat. It 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.  

He held the split squat in high regard, and hence the Bulgarian split squat developed.  

Are lunges and Bulgarian split squats the same? 

No, while they look similar, they’re entirely different exercises and should be treated as such.  

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? 

This is down to personal preference. 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, if you perform Bulgarian split squats with enough load and volume, they’re excellent mass builders. But always remember to use good form to work your leg muscles effectively 

Combine the Bulgarian split squat with other leg exercises such as the lunge, squat, and hip thrust to give your lower body all the stimulation it needs to grow more muscle mass.  


Conclusion

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.