Training

Are Bulgarian Split Squats Better With Dumbbells Or Barbells

February 17th 2020

Should beginners do their bulgarian split squats with dumbbells or barbells for better progress?

Perhaps you should first see what the bulgarian split squat is in the first place.

The Bulgarian split squat is an exercise commonly performed in the gym as a substitution for the squat or deadlift.

Some people do it because it really kills their legs and makes it so that they can’t walk for the next few days.

They might have had this experience and think that the Bulgarian split squat is better than the squat because it makes them more sore.

However, soreness does not correlate with how well an exercise session is.

The fact is, you can have a great exercise which results in muscle growth and not be sore at the same time.

So, if soreness is not an accurate indicator of how effective an exercise is, then what are the benefits of performing the Bulgarian split squat and why would anyone do it?

In this article, we will explain all the details of the Bulgarian split squat and whether or not it is suitable for beginners.

Bulgarian split squat, dumbbell vs barbell

A beginner can opt for barbell Bulgarian split squats since they can be loaded heavier and can progressively overload for a longer period of time.

However, the dumbbells are not a bad choice and are more accessible for the general population.

Benefits of the Bulgarian split squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise for those who are training for size, or for better athletic ability.

In most sports, we often spend a lot of time on one foot, whether it’s during sprinting, kicking, jumping, etc.

Because of this, the ability to balance and generate a lot of force with each individual leg is an important skill to develop.

Most leg exercises involve both feet such as the squat, leg press, deadlift, leg extension, etc.

These exercises are great for strength and overall development.

However, they don’t mimic the same movement patterns of athletes.

This is called the principle of specificity.

The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired effect.

For example, let’s say you were to train a volleyball player. 

Do you think it would be more beneficial to them to train using the leg press or box jumps?

Both exercises are great for developing leg strength, but the box jump is much more specific and similar to the movement pattern of volleyball players so training the box jump would most likely result in better performance for the volleyball player.

In the case of the Bulgarian split squat, as I explained earlier, it is great for athletes who do a sport that necessitates a decent amount of time on one leg.

But what if you aren’t an athlete that spends any significant time on one leg.

What if your training goal was to get stronger/bigger? Would Bulgarian split squats be useful then?

Here are the pros and cons of the Bulgarian split squat:

Pros:

  • Great for athletes who spend time in single leg stance
  • Can help build explosiveness, and size
  • Can be performed with minimal equipment unlike the squat

Cons:

  • Unable to load with high weights like the squat
  • Extremely fatiguing causing form breakdown
  • Puts a lot of pressure on a single knee and ankle

As you can see, the Bulgarian split squat is a very specific exercise geared for those who play sports.

It can be used to build size because of how much it overloads one leg and how fatiguing it is.

However, it isn’t as an effective exercise as the traditional barbell squat which can allow greater load and greater force generation.

Whether the Bulgarian split squat is fit for you or not ultimately depends on your training goals.

With that being said, if your main goal is to get stronger, your time is better spent focusing on the main compound exercises such as the squat, and deadlift.

How to perform the Bulgarian split squat

Equipment needed:

The Bulgarian split squat requires a standard bench and dumbbells or a barbell for load. Most lifters use dumbbells because it is difficult to get in the right position with a heavy barbell.

Set up:

To perform the Bulgarian split squat, place one leg on the bench and place the other leg forward almost like you are in a lunge position.

Your leading foot should be around 2 ft away from the bench.

Execution:

To perform a rep, simply bend the lead leg, and lower your body weight down.

You want to control the weight so that you aren’t descending too fast.

You want to lower down until your front knee is almost vertical, and your rear knee almost touches the floor.

At the same time, keep your knee in line with your foot throughout the entire motion.

Once you have finished this movement, push into the ground with your lead foot in order to propel your body upward.

That is one rep.

Frequency:

Bulgarian split squats are an accessory exercise so perform these with high reps (8-15) within at least a set of 3.

Should beginners do squats or Bulgarian split squats?

As I mentioned earlier, whether the Bulgarian split squat is right for you depends on your lifting goals.

Here is an interesting study and its abstract about whether or not squats are more effective than Bulgarian split squats or vice versa.

In short, the short study found that there is no definite evidence that squats are better than Bulgarian split squats.

However, the article does mention that 5 weeks of training may not be the best representation of long term strength gain.

This is a major point to bring up since one major goal of strength training longevity is by progressively overloading heavy movements for as long as you can.

For unilateral exercises, you can only do so much versus a squat that you can load much heavier.

If you want to become a better athlete, and your sport requires you to spend a lot of time on one leg, the Bulgarian split squat might be good for you.

But if your goal is to build strength, and to develop a better physique, your time will be better spent performing the barbell back squat as it is much more effective in building muscle and strength.

The barbell back squat is easy to overload on so you can progress in weight each session.

It is also a very stable exercise which eliminates the possibility of other factors that can affect the quality of your reps such as a loss of balance.

In addition, the barbell back squat is also a compound exercise which works both legs at the same time, as well as a handful of other muscle groups that aren’t worked during the Bulgarian split squat.

All in all, if your goal as a beginner is to build strength or to build more muscle, the squat is a must-have in your exercise routine.

If you can’t decide between choosing between one or the other, why not do both? Do the squats first and then add 1-2 sets of the Bulgarian split squat at the end of your workout.

You might be more tired at the end of your workout, but you will gain the benefits of both exercises.

Why are Bulgarian split squats so popular?

Bulgarian split squats are a popular exercise because it is one of the best exercises for training single-leg strength.

The only other exercise that comes second is the lunge, but Bulgarian split squats blow it out of the water.

The Bulgarian split squat puts constant tension on your lower body because even when you reach the top of the movement, you are still supporting the weight of your entire body and the dumbbells in one leg.

In addition, with each rep of the Bulgarian split squat, you are overloading and putting all the weight on the same leg throughout the set, rather than switching legs each time like in the lunge.

This KILLS your legs and you will start feeling the fatigue and lactic acid build-up much faster.

In addition, they are popular because of the misconception lifters have that soreness equates to a good workout.

Bulgarian split squats are likely to make you more sore than a barbell back squat because it requires so much demand from a single leg.

In our daily lives, we use both legs equally, which makes us used to the movement of the squat.

However, the Bulgarian split squat is a movement that not a lot of people perform on a daily basis.

Because of this, we get more sore from the Bulgarian split squat, but it doesn’t mean that we are getting a better workout.

These are the reasons why the Bulgarian split squats are so popular among lifters.

The Bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to develop single leg strength and balance.

But if your goal is strength and not athletic performance, squat will benefit you much more in the long run.

Conclusion

Overall, whether you chose to use dumbbells or barbells for the bulgarian split squat, just know that you are making a good choice in the right direction.

You want to strength train.

However, sooner or later, you will want to progress more and to get even stronger.

You want to learn about the principles of strength training that work for life.

Which is exactly the program I am doing right now, 5/3/1 Forever.

You will not regret investing in yourself and learning more about strength training.

Now, what are you waiting for?

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