How to perform the Bulgarian Split Squat (RFESS)

The article will list and demonstrate how to perform the Bulgarian Split Squat, also known as the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS).

This exercise is a great alternative to those who can’t perform traditional squats due to low back issues, but want to build strong legs.

It is also very friendly on the knees, making it a great option for those who suffer from knee pain when doing squats.

Essentially, the Bulgarian Split Squat is a lunge variation in which the rear foot is elevated on a bench, and the front foot is extended far enough so that your knee does not extend past your toes when squatting down.

As with any exercise, however, the technique will make or break the benefits of incorporating this into your routine.

The most important consideration when performing this exercise is the height of the rear leg.

Personally speaking, I find that most standard benches are too high for me to perform this exercise comfortably and I instead use a single leg squat stand (this is the one I use, but there are a few available from other manufacturers).

The second consideration is how far out you should place your front foot.

Your knee should not extend past your toes, but there is conflicting information about how vertical your shin should be during the exercise.  While this may come down to personal preference, ultimately your shin and torso should be at similar angles when at the bottom position of the exercise.

After you are properly set up, you are ready to initiate the movement.

Before you squat down, you are going to want to lean your torso slightly forward so you can get proper depth.  This video does a great job of showing and explaining this further.

The third consideration is how you are going to load the exercise.

There are a few different ways to load the exercise (barbell across back or front, Safety Squat bar, Goblet squat, trap bar), but personally I feel that dumbbells in each hand are the way to go, as they will allow you to bail safely out of the exercise if necessary.

In my opinion, the more dangerous alternative is putting a bar across your back.  Unless you have spotters it is more difficult to bail out of, and can put strain on your lower back.  Lifters who use this variation typically do so because the dumbbells available to them don’t provide enough resistance.

Finally, you want to have some padding on the ground for the knee on the rear leg.  The lower the rear leg on the set up, the more likely the knee will touch the ground.

The key to making this exercise useful is proper set up, and not relying on the back leg too much.  The idea is that the back leg is there for support, not to aid in the amount of weight lifted.

As a result, it’s important to check your ego at the door when selecting weights for this exercise on focus on the technique.

Check out these Bulgarian Split Squat videos which demonstrate and give additional information on how to properly perform this great exercise: