The split squat is a compound leg movement that exercises muscle groups like the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Split squat variations take the basics of this exercise and add certain elements to help focus on a specific body part or increase the intensity of the exercise.
Split squat variations are necessary for workout exercises because they can help you hone in on specific muscles to work them at a higher degree than if you were doing regular split squats. All split squat variations focus on muscles in your legs and core as well as your hips.
The main split squat variations are the Classic, the Strongman, and the Bulgarian, but many sub-variations play off these versions.
If you want a split squat weight variation, many of these focus on using weights. For instance, the kettlebell split squat variation, and the trap bar split squat variation both use weights to help increase the split squat impact.
In this article, we will look at ten different split squat variations you can try for your workout routine.
- Front Racked Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Hand Supported Split Squat
- Front Racked Pin Stop Split Squat
- Smith Machine Split Squat
- Dumbbell Split Squat
- Split Squat with Gym Ball
- Split Squat with Resistance Band
- Eccentric Bulgarian Split Squat
- Isometric Bulgarian Split Squat
- Zercher Bulgarian Split Squat
- Front Racked Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat
1. Front Racked Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat
The front racked kettlebell Bulgarian is a Bulgarian split squat variation that focuses on your quadriceps femoris, or quads, the semimembranosus, or hamstrings, and the muscles in your upper back. Primary users of this variation are athletes, weightlifters, and strongmen.
Because it’s a great way to build strong legs and uses smaller weights, anyone can partake in the front racked kettlebell Bulgarian split squat. Men, women, and teenagers wanting to build muscle or exercise their backs and legs will probably find this exercise worthwhile.
Alternatives to this split squat variation are the Bulgarian split squat (squatting with your back leg elevated) or the kettlebell split squat (using kettlebells, without front racking them). These alternatives cut out the upper back workout so you can focus on your legs.
The front racked kettlebell Bulgarian split squat uses an elevated back leg to work your quads and hamstrings. With front racking kettlebells, you add weight to your upper body and engage your trapezius muscles, rear deltoids, and rhomboids. A smaller weight like a kettlebell will help you keep your balance.
If you want to build single-leg strength and balance for activities like gymnastics or soccer, this exercise is a great one to try.
One common mistake for this variation is using a too-heavy weight. Start lighter to avoid becoming unbalanced or hurting yourself. Lighter weights on this exercise will do more for you than heavier weights on a more moderate squat.
To improve your efficiency, focus on an object in the distance, like the gym wall, to help you keep your balance. You can also train your weaker leg first to help build it up quicker.
When doing this split squat properly, you might struggle more with your balance than the squat itself. Depending on your balancing skills, coordination skills, and overall strength, this exercise might be a medium to difficult squat.
2. Hand Supported Split Squat
The hand-supported split squat is a Classic split squat variation that primarily focuses on quads and hamstrings for weightlifters and strongmen who do powerlifting with heavier weights.
Because it often focuses on intensifying heavy single-leg workouts, it is not recommendable for beginner athletes.
However, there are two ways to perform the hand-supported split squat to help you work out in different ways. The first is to add more weight to your shoulders, as hand support will allow you to squat heavier without sacrificing your balance.
The second way is for anyone with poor balance and new to split squats: you perform the exercise with no weight and use the hand support as a safety net. The first version is popular among bodybuilders and professional weightlifters, men, and women who have a lot of experience lifting weights. The second version is for beginners or teenagers.
Both alternatives of the hand-supported split squat allow the exerciser to focus on building their quads, especially with the application of more weight. A hand-supported split squat should be your number one choice when specifically looking to build your quads or get more definition from them.
One issue with this variation is that sometimes people don’t make sure they are using the hand support to help them stabilize. Instead, they will pull on the support, using their arms and not their legs to stand up. It is important to remember that the hand support is only there to keep you stable, and nothing more.
For maximum efficiency in this exercise, focus only on using your leg muscles to help you stand, and make sure your position is at its most stable before squatting or adding more weight.
Due to the isolation of your quad muscles for this exercise, it is a medium to difficult squat.
3. Front Racked Pin Stop Split Squat
The front racked pin stop is a Classic split squat variation that works your quads, upper back, and hamstrings. It caters to weightlifters and bodybuilders who want to increase their lifting ability.
Anyone can partake of this split squat variation, as it works your mobility as well as your muscles. Even if you aren’t a weightlifter, the front racked pin stop split squat will strengthen your overall core as well as your legs, giving you a more full-body workout.
Alternatives for this exercise include elevating your back leg (much like the front racked kettlebell split squat), swapping your bar for another weight, or adding weights to your bar. With an elevated back leg, you can increase the impact on your quads and hamstrings.
By using an alternative to a bar, you cannot rest at the bottom of the squat, meaning your upper back receives a constant workout. With more weight on your bar, your legs and back both have a harder workout.
The front racked pin stop split squat is the perfect exercise for anyone wanting to improve their lifting ability. One common mistake people have is coming down into the squat without control, allowing the bar to smack onto the pin stop. Instead, you should make sure you are coming down smoothly to give you more control.
For more efficiency, choose a lighter weight at first that you know you can hold for several reps. Hold the bar with a good front rack position, so you don’t get put off balance by the length.
When using the front racked pin stop split squat properly, this exercise is of intermediate difficulty.
4. Smith Machine Split Squat
The smith machine split squat is a variation of the Strongman split squat which focuses on the quads, hamstrings, and core. Usually, weightlifters or strongmen prefer to use this split squat variation, as it specifically helps them train.
Beginners and expert strongmen or weightlifters will use this exercise to train their legs individually while also getting used to the standing-up movement. Alternatives include the Bulgarian smith machine split squat and the smith machine split squat with an elevated front foot. While the Bulgarian variation focuses on hamstrings and quads, the elevated front foot version addresses imbalance issues and single-leg training.
The smith machine split squat relies on weight to increase the impact on your legs. However, as you use a machine instead of free weights, you have increased stability for a firmer stance. Also, having the bar on your shoulders instead of front racked can help encourage core strength as you squat.
The smith machine split squat is a great choice when you want to train your body to lift heavier weights. One common mistake you will face is the tendency to rely on the machine for your balance. If you don’t have a good balance, you can wobble during your squats which can make the upward or downward motion much more difficult.
For efficiency, move in a calm, controlled way. Don’t put on too much weight too soon.
Considering the lack of weights used for the basic set-up, this split squat is an easy difficulty.
5. Dumbbell Split Squat
The dumbbell split squat is a variation on the Classic split squat, focusing on your quads and hamstrings, and a popular exercise for any gym-goer.
As it is one of the most common split squat variations, the dumbbell squat can serve athletes at any level and age, from new gym members to world-class bodybuilders.
Alternatives to this variation include elevating the front or back foot or swapping out the dumbbells for another kind of weight. By elevating one foot over another, you can get better balance and more focus on your quads and hamstrings, so you don’t have to increase your weight.
As this split squat simply adds more weight to the Classic split squat, you can use this after you feel comfortable balancing on one leg. Essentially, this variation is the upgrade from the Classic, so anyone who feels like they can do more to work their quads and hamstrings, can.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the dumbbells don’t add much to the part of the split squat variation that works your quads and hamstrings, but they make regular split squats all the more intensive overall. You’ll feel a noticeable difference in the amount of work your lower body has to put into each movement.
When doing the dumbbell split squat variation, don’t make the error of focusing too much on your arms by using super heavy dumbbells. The focus of the exercise should remain on your lower body, so don’t use heavy dumbbells that seriously impede your ability to squat.
These split squats are easy to medium in difficulty, depending on how much weight you add.
6. Split Squat with Gym Ball
The split squat with gym ball is a variation on the Bulgarian split squat and an excellent variation for beginners. It works your quads and hamstrings, but also gives you more support for better balance.
As an exercise specifically for new gym-goers or beginner weightlifters, you can increase the challenge by adding free weights. Free weights will better impact your muscles than no weights at all, and the gym ball will continue to provide more control.
The biggest mistake people make with this exercise is having a stance that is either too long or too short. An even stance is the best way to target your leg muscles.
Something else to keep in mind when doing this split squat variation is stability. You want to focus on seeing how stable you can keep yourself throughout each squat. Don’t worry about going as deep as possible, especially if going deeper causes you to lose your balance.
This split squat has an easy to medium difficulty.
7. Split Squat with Resistance Band
The split squat with a resistance band is a variation on the Classic split squat, targeting your quads, hamstrings, and knee ligaments. This exercise is ideal for anyone of any level who wants to strengthen their stability while working their legs at the same time.
Variations on this squat include adding weights or elevating one of your feet. Elevating your front foot can help encourage better balance while elevating your back foot will give you a deeper exercise to focus on your quads. Weights can also help increase the impact of your leg muscles while the resistance band helps stabilize your knee.
The most common mistake with this exercise is using the wrong placement of the resistance band. You’ll want it sitting just below your kneecap for optimal support.
During the squat, your goal is to keep your front knee perfectly in line despite the resistance band pulling against it. Doing this will help you increase the stability in your knee considerably over time, making it a desirable exercise to include in any routine.
Due to the finicky placement of the resistance band, this squat can be of moderate difficulty.
8. Eccentric Bulgarian Split Squat
The eccentric Bulgarian split squat is a variation of the Bulgarian split squat, concentrating on your quads and hamstrings. This split squat variation is best for more experienced athletes, as it requires good body control and strong lower body muscles to perform.
Variations of this split squat include the addition of weights. Weights will increase the impact on your muscles. If you aren’t seeing a real difference with this variation or if they feel too easy for you, adding weights will make the exercise more difficult.
One common mistake is not paying attention to how long you descend or ascend through the squat. As you drop, you should count in ‘one thousand,’ such as ‘one one thousand, two one thousand, etc.,’ until your knee touches the ground at ‘five one thousand.’ When you stand back up, make sure you are accelerating into a standing position.
For efficiency, gaze at a fixed point in the distance or hold onto something for better balance.
Thanks to the alternately slow and explosive movements it employs, this squat has medium difficulty.
9. Isometric Bulgarian Split Squat
The isometric Bulgarian split squat is another Bulgarian split squat variation that targets the quads and hamstrings and is an exercise for experienced athletes who want to increase the impact of their muscles and encourage better mobility.
You can add free weights to this exercise to increase the intensity, or add a resistance band for more knee support.
The hesitation at the deepest part of your squat increases the stress on your engaged muscles, acting similar to the addition of weights.
Choose this split squat variation when you feel confident in a Bulgarian split squat and wish to increase the intensity. You can also use this split squat for cross-training if you are an endurance athlete.
The most common mistake people make with this split squat variation is holding the deepest position of their squat immediately. If you can’t do this, try holding your squat a little before reaching your deepest point. You’ll still give your quads and hamstrings a serious workout by doing this.
For best efficiency, try counting out the seconds in ‘one-one thousand.’ You can also have support nearby to help you if you become unbalanced.
Due to the nature of this split squat, the difficulty is medium to hard.
10. Zercher Bulgarian Split Squat
The Zercher Bulgarian split squat is a variation on the Bulgarian and Strongman split squats that targets the lower body and upper body muscles, including your core. Generally, this split squat variation is for weightlifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen who want to improve leg and core strength.
Alternatives for this split squat variation include losing the elevated foot for a more stable exercise. The lowered foot will decrease the intensity until you feel balanced enough to execute the split squat properly.
As a great way to benefit both your legs and core, some weightlifters use this exercise instead of others because it’s easier on your back. If you’re having back pain, feel free to try this variation.
Avoid the mistake of letting your front foot come off the ground when doing this split squat variation. Keep your foot flat during your set so your quads and hamstrings get put to work.
For best efficiency, only do about ten or 15 percent of your normal squat depth. You can also do more reps at a higher speed.
This split squat variation has a high toughness level.
What to Know About Split Squat Variations?
Split squat variations can target more muscle groups than the regular split squat. They can also provide conditioning for certain activities that the regular split squat might not, including gymnastics, soccer, or weightlifting.
What are the Common Mistakes in Doing the Split Squat Variations?
The common mistakes in doing split squat variations include overdoing weights, not having the proper form, and going too deep in the squat. When you do all of the above, you will lose the proper form and not work the proper muscles correctly.
Which Type of Split Squat Variation is Beginner-Friendly?
The types of split squat variations that are most beginner-friendly are the resistance band split squats and the split squats with a gym ball. Both these versions offer more support and control so you don’t accidentally hurt yourself. Also, neither uses weights, so the up and down movements are not a struggle.
Which Type of Split Squat Variation is Good for Weightlifters?
The type of split squat variation best for weightlifters is the dumbbell split squat. The inclusion of dumbbells alongside the split squat won’t prove too much for anyone accustomed to working with weights, but they make for an excellent addition for single-leg workouts.
Which Type of Split Squat Variation is Good for Athletes?
The type of split squat variation best for athletes is any Bulgarian split squat variation. These exercises combine body control and a slow drop time to challenge your muscles and get them used to explosive movements. If you’re at the point where you find regular split squats and split squats with a resistance band too easy, give the eccentric Bulgarian split squat a try.
Which Type of Split Squat Variation is Good for Bodybuilders?
The type of split squat variation best for bodybuilders is the Zercher Bulgarian split squat variation. Keeping a barbell stable during each squat puts your whole body to work, and you can increase the weight as much as you desire to keep challenging yourself.
Which Split Squat Variation is More Difficult than Regular Split Squat?
The split squat variation more difficult than the regular split squat is the Zercher Bulgarian split squat. While most split squat variations are more challenging than the regular split squat, the Zercher Bulgarian variation is most difficult because it uses heavyweights.
Which Split Squat Variation Should You Do for Aiming Quads?
The split squat variation for aiming quads is the Isometric Bulgarian split squat variation. Because you have to hold the squat at the deepest point possible, the isometric Bulgarian split squat does more for your quads than other split squat variations.
Which Split Squat Type Exercises the Glutes More?
The split squat type that exercises the glutes most is any Bulgarian split squat variation. Note that the longer your stance is, the more you will activate your glutes, so keep this in mind when doing any of the variations.
Do Split Squat Variations Act on Different Muscles?
Split squat variations, for the most part, act on the same muscles, the hamstrings and quadriceps. The main difference in the split squat variations is how they target these muscles and the level of stress they put them under.
What Are the Alternatives of Split Squat Exercises?
Some alternatives of split squat exercises are pistol squats, goblet squats, lunges, leg extensions, and leg curls. All these alternatives, especially the lunges, will engage the same muscle groups in your legs for stronger quads and hamstrings.