Move over squats, there’s a new king in town. Bulgarian split squats are the king of legs exercises.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Standard barbell squats are king. Bulgarian split squats are an assistance exercise.” Before you click off of this page in disgust, I want to ask, “Have you ever tried flipping standard squats and Bulgarian split squats around?”—Bulgarian split squats as your main legs exercise, and standard squats as an assistance exercise.
It seems like bodybuilding blasphemy, but I think we’ve developed this mantra because squats have always been considered the best legs exercise of all time. No one has challenged this mantra…until now.
Bulgarian split squats build VERY strong legs
I feel that people dismiss Bulgarian split squats because they’re hard to do. You try them and have to use light weights due to balance issues. This is the equivalent of drinking one beer and saying you hate beer and will never drink it again. It’s an acquired taste.
In fact, I’ve found that it only takes 2-4 weeks to develop your balance in Bulgarian split squats. Once you have this, you can load these suckers up like crazy. I’ve seen people use 200lbs external load on Bulgarian split squats (that’s 200lbs on ONE leg), but not able to squat 400lbs. Sure, the back leg helps handle a bit of the load, but you’re still squatting down on the front leg, giving it 80-95% of the load.
Now, you may be thinking, “200lbs?! That’s way too heavy! I’ll never be able to do that!”
Knowing what I know about Bulgarian split squats, this is easily accomplishable with a bit of hard work. It’s like any exercise. You practice it, rep after rep, adding weight over time, and you’ll get there easily. If fact, you’ll probably be able to build a 200-lb Bulgarian split squat faster than building a 315-lb standard barbell squat.
Don’t think it’s possible? Here’s a video of strength coach Ben Bruno knocking out 305-lb Bulgarian split squats with ease.
Another strange benefit I’ve noticed is that increasing strength seems to carry over to your squats. Meaning that increasing your 1RM for Bulgarian split squats will maintain or increase your squatting strength, even when you’re not squatting. This doesn’t seem to work the other way around.
Bulgarian split squats build very big legs
Now, we know that Bulgarian split squats will build your legs stronger, this allows you to put more tension on the leg muscles. More tension means more muscle growth.
Also, due to the demands of balancing on one leg, Bulgarian split squats hit your quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, and calves.
I can’t think of another legs exercise that hits every single one of these muscles. Because of this, your thighs grow large, quickly. You can close the thigh gap in record time. On top of this, your thighs are bigger higher up on your thighs and sweep down to your knees for the “Frank Zane” legs look.
A case for squats
Now, I’m not saying to stop doing squats. All I’m saying is that you should scrap squats in favor of Bulgarian split squats for your main legs exercise, and then use squats as your accessory leg movement. Basically, do the opposite of what you’re probably currently doing. Here’s how that might look:
Main lift: Bulgarian split squats – 5 sets of 5 reps each leg
Accessory: Squats – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Finisher: Bulgarian split squats – 1 set of 20 reps on each leg using half the weight you used in your main lift.
Work your way up with the Bulgarian split squats. With patience, your balance will come and you’ll be able to load them up like crazy. Keep going and give them a fair chance and you’ll build bigger and stronger legs in record time.