If you have knee pain when you do Bulgarian split squats, hopefully, this will be the last article you will be reading.
Everyone wants to train pain-free.
(And let us not get started with neck pain and upper back pain from overhead presses.)
After all, this is the only way to make progress— training hard and recovering.
However, this plan gets derailed when you get knee pain, something very common to a lot of strength athletes.
Ask any lifter who has been lifting for years and they can recall all the times they had knee pain from squats.
And it can be from a lot of different reasons:
- Too much squatting volume
- Incorrect technique
- Outside of the gym accident
- Awkward landing
The list can go on and on.
So, in this article, we will discuss several reasons why you might be experiencing knee pain during Bulgarian split squats.
Then, we will go over some remedies you can implement today to make a positive change in your life.
Bulgarian Split Squat Knee Pain
Here are several solutions to correct your knee pain from the Bulgarian split squats,
- You need to try a different exercise
- You need to try a different variation
- Fix your bad technique
- Relax and stretch tight muscles
- Lower your squat volume
You need to try a different variation
Poor hamstring to quad ratio
You are having knee pain because you are a quad dominant squatter, creating an imbalance between your quads and hamstrings.
- Your hamstrings are weak and/or underdeveloped
- Your glutes are not firing properly
- Your lower back is not strong enough
You need to switch to more posterior chain dominant exercises to bring up your posterior chain weakness.
So, here are just a few exercises that you can do to replace Bulgarian split squats to still work out your lower body without the knee pain—
- Sumo deadlifts
- Good mornings
- Box squats
- Cambered squats
If the Bulgarian split squat is still causing you pain, this is a good opportunity for you to try to modify the Bulgarian split squat.
Here are several things that would make this exercise easier:
- Use less weight
- Do the Bulgarian split squats on an elevated surface
- Do not lunge as low as before
- Doing mini jump reps
There are a ton of ways to create less stress in this movement.
So, do not be afraid to try something new so that you still keep your body moving while not causing your knee any pain.
Sharp pains are a big no-no.
Even dull, achy, and gradual pain should be noted as well.
These are very functional exercises and no pain should be felt when doing them.
You need to try a different exercise
If the Bulgarian split squat, even after trying to modify the exercise, is still causing you pain, you may need to try a different exercise altogether.
Here is an excellent list to choose from:
- Full squats
- Belt squats
- Box squats
- Front squats
- Goblet squats
- Good mornings
You get the idea.
You need to find a compound movement that still targets your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes without causing you any pain.
Here is something recent that I have been implementing to fix my quad hamstring ratio imbalance— Wenning warmups.
Performing 3 exercises before your main lift for 4 sets of 25 each in a circuit style with no rest.
Here are a few rules:
- Two exercises need to target your weaknesses
- One exercise needs to be a primer movement, related to your main lift
Here is a sample lower body circuit warmup I did:
If you are in pain, you might need to resort to isolation movements like knee extensions on a machine or resistance band.
Do not be discouraged if you cannot find something you want to do.
Remember that pain is a signal from your body to fix something and to try something new.
View it as a challenge to overcome and in the end, you will end up much wiser.
Fix your bad technique
This will show you, in general, how to perform a Bulgarian split squat properly.
And here are two things that you should look out for:
- 1. Your front knee should not pass the toes
This can create excessive knee pressure.
And depending on your training history, you may or may not be able to tolerate this load.
You see a lot of squatters who squat way below parallel and their knees travel past their toes.
Do not focus on them right now.
Focus on yourself and fixing your squats.
In general, your knees will travel beyond your toes when you do a full squat.
This is a normal range of motion and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.
But I believe what is not commonly talked about is how your muscles are firing.
For all functional movements, your tendons and muscles will work together in order to complete a movement.
However, if your tendons and/or muscles are inflamed, this will cause you pain.
One reason why the Bulgarian split squat is used is that it allows many lifters to get some quad activation without needing to stress the patellar tendon.
Doing this exercise with perfect form means that you will not allow your knee top drift past your toes.
- 2. Do not push with back leg
You should not be pushing much, or at all, with your hind leg.
Do not slam your knee into the ground.
And do not push hard with your back leg.
The Bulgarian split squat is an exercise that works on the lunging leg.
Add these modifications and see if they make a difference.
Relax and stretch tight muscles
Another reason why you may be experiencing knee pain during the Bulgarian split squats is that your quads are too tight.
They are pulling your knee cap and tendons and it is causing irritation and inflammation in your knees.
In order to fix this issue, you need to make sure you are stretching your quads.
Also, make sure your quads have a chance to relax.
One common method to relax your quads is to lay down on a Foam roller and just relax.
Stay on your tight quads for at least a minute or two.
There is no hard and fast rule on how long you should foam roll.
Just enough so that your muscles can relax.
And if stretching, massaging, and relaxing your quads does not seem to help, you should also focus on your hips and hamstrings.
Your knee pain is only a symptom of what is wrong with your body.
It could be directly related to your knees or it could be your feet, ankle, or even hip that is dysfunctional.
So, do your due diligence and make sure that you are taking care of your body.
(Unlikely) You are squatting too much, so lower your squat volume
Unless you have never lifted weights before, it is moderately difficult to do so many Bulgarian split squats that it will cause you knee pain, given that you have good form.
The weight is not heavy enough for you.
And especially as a beginner, you will be intimidated about using barbells for the Bulgarian split squat so it is not likely that you are squatting so much that it caused your knee pain.
Nevertheless, we will address this as a reason just in case you were the ambitious fellow/gal that loaded up 225lbs on a barbell to do Bulgarian split squats with.
You need to ease up on the volume and just do something that does not cause you pain.
A lot of concepts in strength training are straightforward but newer lifters tend to either forget the basics or were never taught them.
If you caused yourself pain, you should stop the activity and reflect.
(Or you need to check yourself if you are only sleeping 5 hours a day).
But chances are if the Bulgarian split squat was a main movement in your program, you were not following the traditional strength training protocols.
In this manual, also in my current program, you get to understand and learn strength training principles that work.
And what works is that you make the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press your main movements.
Knee pain is not normal so do not try to normalize it in your everyday life.
Prehab and rehab your existing injury so that this will be one of the last times you will ever have to experience knee pain from the Bulgarian split squats.
Or any squatting or lower body compound movement.
Be smart with your programming and recovery and you should be fine.
For instance, avoiding dizziness during squats, or shoulder popping during lateral raises is already a good start; this puts you ahead of the curve for staying in this game long term.