What would be the one exercise I include in nearly all of my glutes workouts?
Meet the Bulgarian Split Squat!
While the main target of this exercise may be the lower body, it is actually a compound movement, just as squats and deadlifts. This means that to perform the movement, all muscles in your body need to work hard. This burns a lot of calories, elevates your heart rate as if you were doing high intensity interval training (HIIT), burns fat and builds strength and muscle.
If you haven’t been using this exercise, I hope you will try it out in your next workout!
Power and Shape with Bulgarian Split Squats
If performed correctly, this exercise should burn out your glutes, hamstrings and core. It will also activate your quadriceps (front of the thighs), obliques (side of your abs), lower back, entire upper body (to keep you upright) and even your calves.
However, there are certain cues to increase gluteal activation for this exercise and ensure that you are not putting any force on your knees.
Split Squats for Beginners
This is the beginners variation for split squats. You could also call this a static lunge.
You will neither step forward, nor back but remain in the same place the whole time.
The wider your stance, the more you will activate your glutes, but balance gets harder too.
Choose whatever option fits your fitness level. You can always progress later.
The key to this exercise is to keep the majority of your weight in your front leg and use the back leg as assistance for balance. You will not push yourself up with your back leg.
Also, keep your weight in your front heel to activate your glutes even more. You could even elevate your toes slightly insight your shoes, or put a small book under your toes to elevate them.
Make sure to squat down deep and feel a stretch in the front leg’s glute and hamstring. Only go down as deep as you can feel the motion in your back leg. You should not feel it primarily work your quadriceps (front of the thighs.)
Keep your core tight the whole time and breathe in while squatting down and out while pushing yourself up again.
If you have trouble activating your posterior chain, you could superset this exercise with a glute/ hamstring isolation move. For instance, you could perform one set of Donkey Kicks or weighted Glute Bridges and then immediately do one set of this exercise. Repeat this for 3-4 rounds and you should feel all the right muscles activate.
Make sure to do my Glute activation routine before starting your workout!
Elevate to target the glutes
From the beginners position, you can either elevate your front foot or your back leg. If you elevate the front foot, the exercise is called a Deficit Lunge. I will explain that exercise another time.
Today, we will elevate the back leg and thus increase range of motion. This way, you will be able to squat down even more and feel a big stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Working the muscles through the full range of motion is not only important if you would like to build muscle – it will also stabilize your joints and prevent future injuries and arthritis.
There are different ways to elevate your back leg. You can start out by placing your back leg on a very small elevated surface, such as a pile of books or the step of a stair. As you progress, you can try out a chair, or a bench, you can even use the corner of your bed if you work out at home. The variations are endless.
Another important factor is the stance. Typically, the wider the stance, the more your glutes will be activated.
Using a wider stance, it is important to keep your upper body upright the whole time. Your back leg is just there for assistance and your front foot should be doing the work. Push through your heels and as you reach the top, tilt your hips posteriorly to squeeze your glutes hard. If you skip this step, you will not get the full benefits of this exercise.
If you choose a closer stance, it is important that you shift your upper body’s position to feel the exercise mainly in your glutes. You could turn this exercise into an assisted one-legged squat, if you performed it right. To increase gluteal activation, slightly lean forward at the hips. You should never lean forward with your knees! Your knees should always stay behind your front foot’s toes.
Now, as you squat down, you should again lean slightly forward and feel a deep stretch in your glutes. As you raise your body, you should be able to reach a fully upright standing position. Now, squeeze your glutes and contract your core. You can also put a hand on your core and glutes to make sure they activate.
If you feel this exercise in your lower back, it means you are not leaning enough from your hips. Think of a deadlift, where you go down by using your hips, not your lower back.
How to use this exercise
I recommend to perform this exercise at the beginning of your workout – that is, after a gluteal warm up routine. This exercise requires a lot of balance and you might be too tired at the end of your workout.
On the other hand, you could add this exercise as a burnout but then use less weight or perform it bodyweight.
If you are a beginner, you might be able to feel better activation if you performed this exercise on the end of your workout, bodyweight only. As your glutes will already be exhausted, it will be easier to activate them. To stabilize your body, hold onto a chair and just practice the movement.
This video with world-class bikini competitor Amanda Latona (probably the best glutes in existence) demonstrates the Bulgarian Split Squat and she gives extra tips to feel the glutes during this exercise:
I hope today’s article helped you learn about the proper form and how to use this exercise in your routines. Even if you don’t have a huge selection of weights at home or on vacation, you can perform this exercise and build beautiful shape in your legs.
If you liked this post, share it and leave me a comment below!