Not quite a squat and probably not from Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Split Squat is still kind of a secret. To this day, a lot of people focus on the traditional back squat, pros, cons and all without realizing that there are just as good alternatives. The Bulgarian Split Squat (BSS for short) is one of those alternatives. Its effects are enormous, it’s still builds strength and size and it’s safer. Oh and you can do it in less time too!
BSS is a shorter players dream as it can give you the strength needed to play at a high level. Want to increase your vertical? You’ll find that here too. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find an exercise as well rounded as Bulgarian Split Squats. But there are 3 particular reasons why it stands out above other leg exercises for me.
It Will Build Your Leg Strength.
Let’s just start with the obvious shall we? The purpose of doing a number of lower body exercises is to build solid leg strength. Having leg strength makes for an easier time playing basketball and just moving around in general. If you want a way to build great leg strength, in a reasonable amount of time, while protecting the back and knees, than you should be doing BSS.
Being a single leg exercise means you actually receive just as much of a challenge if not more when lifting. Your hamstrings and glutes are really tested when doing BSS. In addition you can actually load up pretty well (just not too extreme!). That means you can add dumbbells or kettlebells to really ramp up the difficulty.
Let’s not forget, there’s a fundamental difference between an athlete and bodybuilder. While I do consider bodybuilders athletes, they have to approach the fitness aspect in an entirely different way than a “ball sport” athlete. It’s why the biggest guy in the room most likely can’t hit the furthest home run or why guys with giant legs may not be able to touch the rim.
For shorter basketball players in pick-up, intermural or school team play, the strength matters way more than the size. That being said, you won’t have chicken legs with this exercise. The BSS will still build size too.
You’ll Gain Great Balance.
The Bulgarian split squat isn’t just great for developing strength but also balance. In addition, it’s a great way to build strength through full range of motion. Your core gets affected too as, when done properly, is fully engaged. Start adding weight and balance becomes critical. But the results are golden and include:
- Gaining great knee and ankle stabilization
- Better hip function and mobility
- Stronger overall leg stability
- The ability to handle more weight on either leg without falling
- The ability to recover on a possible trip and fall much easier
If you like to drive the lane or have a propensity to take off balance shots, do those pro’s not sound like something you’d want to have? Even more so having the ability to land properly after jumping in the air is a trait everyone should possess. If you can land easier on one leg, even better.
The Bulgarian split squat directly helps that.
It Saves Your Back and Knees.
Very few people would likely admit to doing the traditional squat wrong. It’s a primary exercise that we are told, along with the bench press and deadlift, is one of the kings of all exercises. Because of this, people get right into it, looking for all the benefits it can offer. But a lot of people sacrifice form and proper squatting knowledge as well. I know I was for years. Sometimes you can have a great squat form but one little thing can be off. And while it may seem small that 5% of 10% of being off can play a huge part later on.
Now please don’t take this as me bashing the traditional squat, I still very much believe in it. However it can be a rough undertaking and a lot of people can end up with back pain, hip pain, or even worse: both. The BSS is a fantastic alternative exercise because it doesn’t place a heavy load on your back. Your torso also remains upright instead of being forward with traditional squats. That’s much less stress that you have to deal with while still being able to build phenomenal strength.
With a lesser load on your spine you’re able to really activate and stretch the hip flexors. Why is this important? Because besides the fact that you need them to stand properly, you reduce your chance for injury. As shorter players, especially those who play with taller people, risk is everywhere. Why not take away as much of it as you can?
Another thing that is sometimes heavily overlooked is muscle imbalance. As humans we tend to favor a particular side. Despite being left handed, I favor my right for example. I can tell you, that before I started single leg (and arm) training, my right side was vastly stronger than my left. This has since evened out immensely giving me better equilibrium. The Bulgarian split squat directly attacks those imbalances forcing your weaker side to get stronger.
Why does that matter? The same reason why it helps to be able to dribble with both your left and right hands. Or to make a layup on either side. You become more effective. Better equilibrium also matters because, like having strong hip flexors, you reduce your chance of injury. You don’t want one side of your body doing all the work. Instead wouldn’t you want your whole body to act as one fully capable machine? I know I would.