Bulgarian split squats are gaining popularity as an exercise for building lower body size and strength, but what muscle does bulgarian split squat work? And how can you get the most out of the exercise? In this article we’ll be covering:

Let’s jump straight in.

What Muscles Do Bulgarian Split Squats Work?

Bulgarian split squasts are a unilateral (single leg) pushing movement that works your leg muscles, specifically the muscles that bulgarian split squats work are:

  • Your quads
  • Your glutes
  • Your adductors
  • Your hamstrings (to a lesser extent)
  • Your spinal erectors (to a lesser extent)
  • Your calves (to a lesser extent)

Does bulgarian split squat work hamstrings?

Yes, technically the bulgarian split squat works you hamstrings to some small degree, however, since there is no significant hip extension or knee flexion occuring, bulgarian split squats are a POOR choice of exercise for hamstring development. Instead, I recommend you add in some RDL’s or hamstring curls.

Bulgarian Split Squats Muscles Worked Diagram

bulgarian split squat muscles worked

Bulgarian Split Squat Variations

There are plenty of bulgarian split squat variations that you can use, here are three of my favourites, plus when and why you might use them.

Split Squats (No Foot Elevation)

Split Squats muscles worked

Regular split squats are a fantastic bulgarian split squat variation that works your quads, glutes, hamstrings, erectors and calves in a similar way to bulgarian split squats. The main difference is that you’ll be working through less range of motion at your knee joint, meaning less of a stretch in your quad muscle and less overall quadricep focus.

Personally, I prefer bulgarian split squats for bodybuilding, but I prefer classic split squats for strength development as they offer a more stable and secure base from which to produce force.

Walking Lunges

What muscles do walking lunges work?

Walking lunges work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, erectors and calves in a similar way to bulgarian split squats. The only major difference is that lunges are a more dynamic exercise that involves more total movement. You can also manipulate the focus muscle in lunges by changing your stance length. Both are great options for hypertrophy training.

Personally, I recommend using the two exercises interchangeably for variation. So you might use bulgarian split squats for 4-6 weeks, and then use walking lunges for the next 4-6 weeks.

Pistol Squats

What muscles do pistol squats work?

Pistol squats (or assisted pistol squats) work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, erectors and calves in a similar way to bulgarian split squats. The major difference is that pistol squats require more ankle mobility and more balance and coordination. To work around this balance issue and focus more on hypertrophy, you can use one hand to support yourself and increase your stability.

Quick Training Recommendations for Bulgarian Split Squats

I recommend using bulgarian split squats in your training anything from 1 to 2 times per week.

  • For hypertrophy, anything from 8 to 30 reps is acceptable
  • For strength, I would stick in the 6-12 rep range

From experience, anything less than about 8 reps per set tends to just feel awkward and too heavy, and not really allow you to get a good mind muscle connection, so slightly higher reps are definitely a better option for bulgarian split squats.

How many sets of bulgarian split squats should I do?

I recommend you should anything from 2 to 4 sets of bulgarian split squats (each side) within a single workout. This will vary a lot person to person, but you should do enough to get a decent pump, as well as some soreness the next day.

Should you go heavy on bulgarian split squat?

No, you should not go especially heavy on bulgarian split squats. I highly recommend sticking to a lower weight and using slightly higher reps so that you can focus on achieving a good mind muscle connection with your target muscles.

“A common bulgarian split squat mistake is to go too heavy, rush your reps and lose your connection to your quads”

I recommend picking a weight that allows you to control the eccentric (downwards/outwards) portion of the movement for at least 3 seconds, and get a deep stretch under load on every single rep.

Bulgarian Split Squat Alternatives

Bored of bulgarian split squats but want to hit the same muscles? Here are some of my favourite bulgarian split squat alternatives:

  • Leg extensions
  • Barbell back squats
  • Cyclist squats
  • Walking lunges
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Both feet elevated split squat
  • Classic split squat (no feet elevated)

What Muscle Does Bulgarian Split Squat Work? – Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bulgarian split squats build big legs?

Absolutely, bulgarian split squats will build big legs, especially your quads and glutes, so long as you follow hypertrophy guidelines. I also recommend that you do some additional hamstring focused training such as RDL’s or hamstring curls.

What are the benefits of bulgarian split squats?

The main benefits of bulgarian split squats are bigger and stronger quads and glutes, as well as the opportunity to address side to side strength and size imbalances. You’ll likely also find that you improve your balance, stability and hip range of motion.

What part of glutes do Bulgarian split squats work?

Bulgarian split squats mainly work your glute max. For complete glute development you might also want to add in some banded walks, side lying leg raises or clamshells.

Is Bulgarian split squat better than squat?

The bulgarian split squat and squat are both solid choices for building big, strong legs. For maximal strength, the squat is arguably better as it allows you to produce more force from a more stable base (two feet). For hypertrophy, both are good options, however the bulgarian split squat might provide some much needed variation and novel stimulus.

Are Bulgarian split squats quad or glute dominant?

Bulgarian split squats are quad dominant, but they still work the glutes to a large extent as well.

How do you target glutes more on Bulgarian split squat?

You can target you glutes more in the bulgarian split squat by changing the leg that is elevated and creating a front foot elevated split squat. Yes, technically it’s a different exercise, but it’s far more effective at targeting your glutes for a deep stretch under load.

Next Steps

Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…

1) Get in the gym and start using some split squat variations to build strength and size in your quads and glutes. Or if you need a bit of help with your training, consider having a look at my custom programme options

2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.

3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.

‘Til Next Time


Alex Parry, MSc, BA

Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.

His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.