The Best Leg Exercise You Should Be Doing
We all want to build a bigger squat. Even if you don’t know it yet. Why? Because the squat makes us bigger and stronger more than any other exercise. But the BEST way to build your squat is with Bulgarian split squats.
The story behind the Bulgarian split squat is very fascinating. It all starts back to the Cold War and Soviet Training Programs.
You see the Soviet countries, like Russia, Romania and Bulgaria were dominating the scene in Olympic weightlifting.
One country in particular, Bulgaria, had a very good team. But the Bulgarians had a very unorthodox method of training.
Nobody knows whether or not this is actually true, but one thing is for certain. Split squats are a powerhouse of an exercise.
The United States didn’t begin to take them that seriously until a Bulgarian coach by the name of Angel Spassov visited some lifters in the U.S. and talked about Bulgarian split squats.
Why You Can Leg Press More Than You Can Squat! — The Secret Behind Leg Training Revealed In the Massachusetts Experiment
A while back in the state of Massachusetts, a strength coach named Mike Boyle performed a controlled experiment with a group of athletes.
The idea behind the experiment was to determine the effectiveness of single leg training versus double leg training.
He had his athletes perform Bulgarian split squats over a period of time to see if it would increase the lower body strength better.
Over time all of the athletes were doing some pretty impressive weight in this experiment.
But something unbelievable happened next.
The athletes were able to handle more weight and poundage on one leg than they could on two legs.
The secret was the lower back.
You see during a regular squat, you place big loads on the bar (405lbs, 495lbs, etc.). Your lower back has to hold and handle all of that weight when you squat.
Therefore, your spinal erectors and abdominal muscles have to be very strong to support all of that weight. If they are weak, then you will be limited in the amount of weight you can squat.
Mike Boyle’s experiment revealed that your legs have plenty of strength to lift huge poundages. It is your lower back that holds you back from squatting heavy weights.
**Note** This is great news for those of you with lower back issues or spinal compression problems. Bulgarian split squats will allow to build seriously good leg strength with minimal stress on the lower back.
How To Do Bulgarian Split Squats
So how do you perform Bulgarian split squats? Well it’s simple, right? All I do is just find a bench or box laying around the gym and I place my foot on it and start squatting.
This is the way most people approach this exercise and it is completely wrong. The truth is for most people who are trying to build their squat (probably you), the box behind you should be no higher than 6 inches.
Yes, I said 6 inches!
Why? Because…. this is the best way to perform this exercise if you want to gain the most strength from your squat.
If your foot is placed too high behind you, then you will have to compensate by leaning forward too much. As you descent, your thighs will eventually make contact with the stomach.
At this point your body has only two options. It can either lean forward or your lower back will go into hyper lordosis to compensate.
The Right Way To Do Bulgarian Split Squats
What is the right way to perform Bulgarian split squats?
Besides the box height, you also want to make sure you are pushing through your back foot. So you want to press the ball of your rear foot into the box.
This will ensure that you are using your back leg correctly.
Also this has the added benefit of giving your hip flexors a deep stretch. Never mind stretching at the end of your workouts, you can stretch DURING your workouts.
You also want to make sure that you are keeping your back completely straight. Since the rear foot isn’t elevated quite so much you don’t have to worry about hyper lordosis.
Since you have to keep the back completely straight, you should only be moving up and down in a straight line. This will ensure that the working muscles, the quads (mainly the vastus medialis) and the glutes, are getting the most work.
The earlier description of leaning forward does have its benefits for hamstring training, but what about the quads.
I can honestly say that most of the problems that I see from squatting are from having weak quads. Specifically the vastus medialis (tear drop muscle).
Why Do So Many People Have A Weak Vastus Medialis?
The teardrop muscle is very weak in a lot of people and it is not by accident. The tear drop has a direct correlation with the glutes and the feet.
If the feet have a collapsed arch, then the neural pathway that activates the glutes and tear drop muscles are inhibited. So fixing your arches will help to reactivate the neural pathways that will turn on the tear drop.
Internal rotation of the hips naturally happens from sitting down for too long, this is because the glutes become inhibited from long periods of sitting down.
The glutes are responsible for external rotation. If they become weak or inactivated, then the hips are unbalanced and the internal rotators take over.
This forces the vastus lateralis (outer quads) and hip flexors to handle most of the weight instead of the glutes and vastus medialis.
Benefits Of Training The Bulgarian Split Squat
By far the best thing about the Bulgarian split squat is balance. I’m not talking about balancing on one foot type of balance either, although it does help with that too.
No I’m talking about symmetry between both sides of the body.
I see too many lifter with mechanical imbalances that are leading them to injury. Unfortunately most lifters do not take the time to correct these imbalances.
I totally get why! Single leg work is usually not very fun. In fact it is kinda boring. But the Bulgarian split squat is not boring or difficult to perform. It is actually very easy to perform and understand.
I will warn you though, it is BRUTAL on your legs!
Your quads will get blasted like never before and your glutes will be torched. Plus, you are going to find out very quickly which one of your legs are weak.
When you are starting out with Bulgarian split squats, go easy. I myself can do well over 185 lbs with a barbell on the old school split squats with a bench. But with Bulgarian split squats, I can only hold two 30 lb dumbbells.
I advise all of you to do the same thing. Start out with very light weight at first, 20lbs, heck even 10 lbs.
Just get a feel for the exercise and then you can start adding weight. It is going to work your muscles from a different angle than you are used to so be prepared to feel it the next day.
Start with 3 sets of 10-15 reps to get the form down and then go from there.
You can add Bulgarian split squats into your regular leg workouts or you can perform them on a separate day entirely. It’s up to you.
If dumbbells become too easy for you then try doing them with a barbell on your back to make the balance more difficult.
And if that still isn’t tough enough for you, try doing these with the barbell on your shoulders in the front rack position. Just like olympic weightlifters perform full front squats.
Sure none of this may be easy, but that’s the whole point. If it was easy everybody would be doing it.
The difficult things are what make you get better. If you keep doing what makes you comfortable, you will keep staying where you are.
If your reading this article, then you are already on your way to becoming great. So now’s the time to get out there and take action.
Go get it!