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Bulgarian Split Squats for Glutes?

I’ve been doing the Bulgarian, or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) for a while now. I do them with 1.5 reps so I go down, come halfway up, go back down, then come all the way up for one rep. I also use as long a stride as I can, and elevate my front foot as well so that I can hit better depth (below parallel). My knee never goes past my toe (in fact it is behind my toe at all times), and I push off the heel.

Despite this taking all these measures to try to make sure I feel the RFESS in my glutes instead of my quads, I end up feeling it almost all in the quads instead of the glutes.

I have good glute activation in general and also squeeze my glutes throughout the movement. But when I squeeze them in the RFESS, I feel like they’re just being squeezed because I’m squeezing them - I feel like they’re not actually working in the exercise. I could squeeze my glutes throughout a set of biceps curls - but that doesn’t make the biceps curl a glute movement!

I’ve also tried pre-exhausting my glutes by holding a glute bridge for 10 minutes solid before jumping straight in and doing the RFESS - but I still felt it all in the quads and not in the glutes.

The RFESS is very good for quads, I’m finding, and I get a big quad-pump from doing them, but I wanted to use them for glutes, so how can I feel the RFESS in my glutes instead of making it so quad-dominant?

If you want glute work, why not do sumo squats, or walking lunges, or even static lunges? Or you could try doing them in a smith machine; I feel the work more in the glutes when doing them there instead of free weight.

Shorten the stride and experiment.

Elevate the front foot a little as well to increase the ROM (use an aerobic step). Then from the bottom position, squeeze the glute, going up only as far as squeezing the glute will take you (don’t start using your quads to extend the knee). Relax back to the bottom and repeat until you feel your glutes tiring.

BTW, why did you change your name from alternate to lunk and then ask the same questions as before?

[quote]jp_dubya wrote:
Shorten the stride and experiment. [/quote]
Wouldn’t this place MORE emphasis on the quad/VMO?

Something that I’ve found really helps with the glute is to make sure you are dropping the rear leg down, instead of leaning forward into the working leg. Hopefully that makes sense.

[quote]Jscoope wrote:
Something that I’ve found really helps with the glute is to make sure you are dropping the rear leg down, instead of leaning forward into the working leg. Hopefully that makes sense. [/quote]

Thanks, can you clarify what you mean by that?

Try double contractions on the Bulgarian split squats: Go all the way down, slowly go up halfway, go back down, do up completely… this is one rep.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
Try double contractions on the Bulgarian split squats: Go all the way down, slowly go up halfway, go back down, do up completely… this is one rep.[/quote]

Thanks CT, isn’t that 1.5 reps though? Also, there is conflicting info regarding leaning forward. Bret Contreras has said leaning forward on Bulgarian split squats increases glute recruitment, others say that leaning forward makes the quads take over the movement and decreases glute recruitment… Which do you think is true?

For those who can’t bilateral squat/deadlift (due to injury issues, not mobility issues), would you consider the Bulgarian split squats as the best option for building glutes? Or are there better alternatives (asides from hip thrusts)?

try hip thrusts

I find that placing the leading foot very close to the midline of your body will let the knee bow out slightly to its respective side in the bottom position and encourages glute activation of alot of unilateral moves. Try it walking up stairs to get a feel for what I mean. I usually do my split squats with a BB in a power rack starting at the bottom position anyways, but never really had a problem using buns wherever I do them.

[quote]lunk wrote:

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
Try double contractions on the Bulgarian split squats: Go all the way down, slowly go up halfway, go back down, do up completely… this is one rep.[/quote]

Thanks CT, isn’t that 1.5 reps though? Also, there is conflicting info regarding leaning forward. Bret Contreras has said leaning forward on Bulgarian split squats increases glute recruitment, others say that leaning forward makes the quads take over the movement and decreases glute recruitment… Which do you think is true?

For those who can’t bilateral squat/deadlift (due to injury issues, not mobility issues), would you consider the Bulgarian split squats as the best option for building glutes? Or are there better alternatives (asides from hip thrusts)?[/quote]

The beauty of free weight and body weight movements is how you can make subtle adjustments to make the exercise work for you.

Try different combinations of lean/no lean in conjunction with foot placement to see what works. There is no way to discern your leverages and your history to give you a clean black/white answer.

I can perform bilateral deads and squats…however, I will tell you hip thrusts (generally speaking) create less shearing stress at the knee. So it may be worth your while to consider adding it to your toolbox. (disclaimer: I personally do not perform the hip thrust as I get plenty of glute activation from other lifts that I find transfer better to my goals)

Pre-exhausting the glutes prior to RFESS may just fatigue them and make you even more quad-dominant in that exercise.

So consider incorporating unilateral or staggered-stance RDLs with a challenging load but NOT to the point of exhaustion. These may help with activation and mmc - and once this window is open during your session, you can take advantage with the RFESS.

Also consider experimenting with the height of the bench your “non-working” leg rests on (in quotes because, technically, it is doing some work).

And while performing the RFESS, a cue I like to give is the following: on the concentric portion of the rep, as you near the top, squeeze not just the “working glute” but also the glute of the supporting leg. This drives the pelvis into correct tilt to support the lumbar spine (important when progressing to heavier loads), adds volume (rather than just being passive), and may help to prime that glute to fire more readily when it is that side’s turn to be the lead leg.

Thanks 56x11, and c.m.i. - I tried it, and your idea of keeping the foot exactly in the midline of the body so the knee turns outward slightly does indeed lead to more glute activation, but I’m just wondering if coaches would actually recommend doing that, or if they’d think it produces too much shear stress on the knee or hip?

[quote]lunk wrote:
Thanks 56x11, and c.m.i. - I tried it, and your idea of keeping the foot exactly in the midline of the body so the knee turns outward slightly does indeed lead to more glute activation, but I’m just wondering if coaches would actually recommend doing that, or if they’d think it produces too much shear stress on the knee or hip?[/quote]

I get what c.m.i. is saying - however, the danger with this approach is less than optimal alignment from pelvis to femur to knee.

It might not be a bad method as activation work. I personally would not use nor recommend it under load as the stress on the mcl/lcl can be dangerous. This would apply even more to women (who have different Q angles).

56x11 - what is the approach you use to hit glutes in RFESS?

What is your torso angle (leaned forward or upright), is your stride long or short, and how high is the box your rear leg is on?

Are there any other cues you personally use to hit glutes with the RFESS?

And what other lunge variation (slide board reverse, forward…etc…) do you feel hits the glutes better than RFESS?

Thanks!

Well the last thing I want to hurt anybody so let me clarify. Imagine doing whats called a hip correction, that is, you lift up one leg and let all your weight distribute through the planted leg. Let the lifted side sink down a little while keeping it off the ground so that your pelvis tilts down on that side then tilt it back up and down a few times while keeping that other leg up. What you find is that when you let that side sink down is that you feel the force go through the lateral part of the butt cheek on planted leg and if you look down you will most likely see your foot somewhere toward the midline of your body, not because it moved, but because the hip on the lead leg will jut slightly to its side. Thats kind of the idea I was going for. Imagine doing a bilateral barbell squat to a decent depth. After you get to a certain point your knees come out and its then that the glutes and hips seem to come online. This doesnt happen so easy unilaterally. I suppose another thing you can try if the above doesnt appeal to you was already mentioned in that make sure you hit a good depth, once that leading quad lengthens and is at a less advantageous position it might trigger your glutes a bit more.

[quote]lunk wrote:
I’ve been doing the Bulgarian, or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) for a while now. I do them with 1.5 reps so I go down, come halfway up, go back down, then come all the way up for one rep. I also use as long a stride as I can, and elevate my front foot as well so that I can hit better depth (below parallel). My knee never goes past my toe (in fact it is behind my toe at all times), and I push off the heel.

Despite this taking all these measures to try to make sure I feel the RFESS in my glutes instead of my quads, I end up feeling it almost all in the quads instead of the glutes.

I have good glute activation in general and also squeeze my glutes throughout the movement. But when I squeeze them in the RFESS, I feel like they’re just being squeezed because I’m squeezing them - I feel like they’re not actually working in the exercise. I could squeeze my glutes throughout a set of biceps curls - but that doesn’t make the biceps curl a glute movement!

I’ve also tried pre-exhausting my glutes by holding a glute bridge for 10 minutes solid before jumping straight in and doing the RFESS - but I still felt it all in the quads and not in the glutes.

The RFESS is very good for quads, I’m finding, and I get a big quad-pump from doing them, but I wanted to use them for glutes, so how can I feel the RFESS in my glutes instead of making it so quad-dominant?[/quote]

Barbell hip thrusts then new Jeans

[quote]lunk wrote:
56x11 - what is the approach you use to hit glutes in RFESS?

What is your torso angle (leaned forward or upright), is your stride long or short, and how high is the box your rear leg is on?

Are there any other cues you personally use to hit glutes with the RFESS?

And what other lunge variation (slide board reverse, forward…etc…) do you feel hits the glutes better than RFESS?

Thanks![/quote]

I suppose I could give exact angles of my torso, forward leg, rear leg, etc. However, I believe that you need to take the information that I and others gave and experiment to see what works for you.

I don’t do the forward lunges because it creates unnecessary shearing stress on the patellar tendon. In fact, I’m of the opinion that forward walking lunges are actually an advanced movement (it kills me to see beginners do this). Reverse lunges are better IMO.

There is a finite amount of stress that my body, your body, anyone’s body can endure before something tears, ruptures, or breaks. Therefore, I manage my program and my peoples’ programs the way a savvy investor manages money. I will only allocate so much risk to one movement pattern, check my balance sheet, and know exactly how much I have to allocate to another movement so I am never at the risk of being physically bankrupt. And because I put so much effort into my RFESS, I see no need to add walking lunges on top of that. This is just me, though. Some people respond quite well to walking lunges; and as long as they manage that risk I mentioned, it’s really their choice.

As for the height of the bench my leg rests on, it’s lower than what most people typically use. I never took the time to measure it. I estimate 12-14 inches. Again - this is what works for me. You will need to experiment with different heights.

I do keep the tibia close to perpendicular. The first reason that I do this is, again, managing risks to my knees. It bears repeating that many do bring the tibia forward with little to no issues. If it works for them, fine. I know what keeps me injury-free, pain-free, and training consistently.

One thing you can try is doing the RFESS with shoes such as chuck taylors. The Oly style shoes, with the elevated heels, will actually promote quad recruitment.

I mentioned the unilateral RDLs as well as the split stance RDLs. One trick you can use is hold the weight ONLY in the contralateral hand. Those who think they know strength and conditioning will tell you the glutes extend the hip. This is primarily what the gluteus maximus does. What most people do not realize is that the gluteus medius and minimus also isometrically stabilizes the pelvis and eccentrically decelerates hip external rotation (there are several other functions I won’t go into right now).

When holding the dumbbell in the contralateral hand, the weight is trying to rotate you towards it. And by resisting this as you perform hip extension, you are engaging the medius, and minimus in ways that a hip thrust cannot. Even the glute max has to stabilize. And even if you choose to perform the hip thrust unilaterally, the mere fact that your torso is braced against a bench greatly eliminates much of what can be accomplished with what I described.

This is NOT an anti-hip thrust rant. I personally don’t do it because I don’t need to; however, I can easily how others can benefit from it.

Another variation on the unilateral RDL that I teach is to stand close enough to a stable object within arms reach. As the load becomes more challenging, use the free hand to touch that stable object the INSTANT you feel yourself losing balance. Just a touch here and there as needed. This is a great transitional variation from the split-stance to the standard unilateral version. And don’t forget to actively engage the glute of the “non-working” leg. Very similar to the advice I gave earlier when doing the RFESS.

Now, when doing the RFESS, try holding the db on the SAME side as the lead leg. This is the opposite of what I described when doing uni-RDLs. The weight should hang along the plumb line, close to the pelvis. I’ve noticed with myself and others that if the weight is held in both hands or across the back, the rear leg - especially the hip flexors - tend to engage more readily.

These are some variation and cues that I hope you find helpful. Quite honestly, I just scratched the surface but this should be enough to set you on your path.

So read my initial post again as well as the advice others gave you. Give your mind a chance to assimilate it all and be patient. If you don’t obtain a glute epiphany on your first, second, or third session, don’t turn your gym visits into a Greek tragedy.

We all have trouble body parts. The key is patience, training intelligently, and consistency.

Thanks a lot for the info and taking the time to write that 56x11, I am trying to find out what works best for me. Can you tell me your torso angle when doing the RFESS - just ‘upright’ or ‘leaning forward’ would suffice?

Bret Conteras has said a forward lean in RFESS maximizes glute contribution, whereas Mike Robertson has said that an upright torso in RFESS maximizes glute contribution. I am not sure who to believe, because we know that a forward torso lean increases glute activation in bilateral squats, but I’m not sure if it works the same way unilaterally.

c.m.i., so you mean that the hip moves over the planted foot so that the planted foot is now directly under the torso? Does the knee still bow outwards?

Well I dont like words like directly or exactly, its much more slight than standing as a flamingo. As for knee I mean only at the bottom of the move and only on the order of 15/20 degrees from vertical if that.

[/quote] What most people do not realize is that the gluteus medius and minimus also isometrically stabilizes the pelvis [/quote]

Essentially what you feel when doing all that is this, that lateral part of your glute clenches up to allow you intiate from the hip and not so much from the leg.