Advanced Exercises with Eastern European Names: Part 2

By Tony Boutagy


Bulgarian Squats

It was rumored in weightlifting circles that when the Bulgarian’s began to match the Russian’s dominance in the strength sports that they had a secret training weapon. That secret weapon, as it turned out, was not a secret at all, just hard work and excellent programming under super coach, Ivan Abadjiev. Interestingly though, many ascribed the powerful legs of the Bulgarians, in part, to the athlete’s performing single-leg squats with their back foot on a bench to supplement their other squatting movements. This enabled the Bulgarian weightlifter’s to normalize any strength imbalances between limbs and not to excessively load the back in the same way heavy back squats do. You’ll sometimes see these named Sprinter’s or Borzov Squats, after the famous Russian sprinter, Valeriy Borzov.

Primary muscles used:
Quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and adductors.

Set up:
*Stand in front of a bench and place one foot flat on the bench so that the ankle is just off the end;
*Position the foot on the floor far enough forward that it will be comfortable to squat without the heel lifting up or the hip flexors of the non-working leg being strained;
*Use either dumbbells in both hands or a barbell on the trapezius.

*Squat down, which will allow the hips to push back and down, the knee to come forward of the toes and the torso to learn forward from the hips;
*Squat as deep as you can, the lowest range being when the lumbar spine begins to lose its neutral curvature or the hip flexors of the non-working leg become uncomfortably stretched or the knee touches the ground.

*Drive straight back up to the starting position, making sure that the ankle, knee, hips and torso all move with the same speed and timing.

Key Points
*Keep the front foot flat on the floor throughout the movement;
*Although the knee will come forward of the toes, it’s imperative to keep the patella tracking with the middle toes.

Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarian version of a split squat (also called a back foot elevated static lunge) is exactly the same Bulgarian squat with the exception of the bench being replaced with a step (or low box). This lower back foot position allows for a greater stretch in the hip flexors and a larger range of motion on the working knee.

Key points:
*Keep the front foot flat on the floor throughout the entire range of motion;
*Maintain correct knee tracking;
*Aim to touch the hamstring on the calves in the lowest position;
*Keep the truck completely upright from start to finish, as the tendency will be to lean forward;
*Bulgarian split squats are a diagonal movement pattern and not an ‘up/down’ vertical exercise (like most people perform lunges). Therefore, the descent involves the knee and hips moving forward and down and the ascent is up and back as one smooth movement.

Tony Boutagy is a strength coach based in Sydney, Australia. He is the director of the Sydney Sports & Athletic Performance Centre and a doctoral student at ACU. Visit his website at

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