Welcome back to Body Mechanics. Last week I received a request for a specific exercise, and due to this we will be covering the Bulgarian split squat today. I Just wanted to reiterate that if there is an exercise you wish discussed, please do not hesitate to email your request in to [email protected] and I will be happy to follow-up with your suggestions in my column here every Friday.

The Bulgarian split squat is often referred to as weight loss exercise, because the people who generally do this type of exercise are trying to lean out. There is negative connotation behind lowering the amount of weight used in any exercise when it comes to gaining strength and mass. However, if we are able to apply a power principle to the equation, then we know that we must lower the percentage of the weight to increase the velocity of the movement. Typically between 30 to 70 percent of our one rep maximum.

The decrease in weight will then translate into greater power output, and recruits more of our fast twitch fibers. These fibers are generally thicker, and will result in greater muscle density when developed. Furthermore, because we are working on one leg this will improve our stability, balance, and flexibility in our hip. Again, this will lead to improved strength and power when we transition to a bilateral movement.

The Bulgarian split squat is a compound exercise, because it targets more than one group of muscles. It is also a closed kinetic chain exercise because both feet remain in contact with a surface, and it is a multi-joint and weight-bearing exercise. The muscles involved include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis, hamstrings, gastrocnemius and erector spinae.

Let’s get into the technique of the exercise,

  • Start with one foot elevated with toe to mid-foot laying top side down on a bench, with the bottom of the foot facing up
  • You should be in a staggered stance approximately hip width apart
  • Ensure that you are far enough from the bench that when you come down in the forward movement that the knee stays in line with the toes(Do not track over)
  • Maintain a rigid torso
  • Chest up, shoulders back, neutral neck, toes pointing forward,
  • Forward movement involves bringing the rear knee down until you are approximately 1 inch from the ground
  • That is one repetition, complete the required number of sets and then alternate legs

Let’s be honest, some people cannot squat very well, and some can. Flexibility issues within the hip flexors can decrease the range of motion, and minimize the progression in a squat. A Bulgarian split squat offers an increased range of motion, and when completed correctly will minimize the risk of injury.

There are a few considerations to take into account when performing this exercise to ensure that no future injury occurs, or that a previous injury is re-aggravated. To avoid knee pain, stand a little further away from the bench, this will negate the knee tracking over the toes. Another point to make is that if you are a short individual like myself, then you may need to lower the height of the bench to suit your body type, and reduce the strain on your lower back. When all these pre-cautions are met the exercise will be pain-free, and will promote muscle mass and strength. Remember the idea is to get better with every set, rep and breathe!

Happy Lifting!

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