Movement How-To: Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squats

LCK doing a rear foot elevated split squats.
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats (RFESS) AKA Bulgarian Split Squats 

The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS), commonly known as the Bulgarian Split Squat, is a fantastic movement for targeting and building the lower body, as it is the powerhouse that works the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Because it’s a single-leg exercise, it’s also going to force us to engage our core. 

Overall, a true banger of a movement (:

The Set-Up

We’re going to need a box or bench for this one, as well as dumbbells or a barbell (for this explanation we’re going to stick to dumbbells).

Think of the set-up for the rear foot elevated split squats movement as a lunge, with the rear foot on a box instead of the floor.

  • Place one foot on the box (rear foot) while the other foot (front foot) is steady on the floor with toes facing forward.
  • Hold dumbbells on the outside of your hips/legs and look forward.
  • Descend down until the knee of the rear foot touches or comes close to the floor (think slow and controlled here).
  • Stand back up, driving the quad/glute/hamstring/calf of the front leg.
  • Switch leg positions and complete the reps with the other leg. 

Although this is a single-leg movement, we’re likely to feel some fatigue in our back leg as well, so don’t be afraid to take a 1-2 minute rest between legs.

Stuck With Your Positioning?

Tip 1: Start by doing a few basic lunges, then transition to a few lunges with a 45-lb plate under your back foot. As you start improving with this movement, you can add more plates until you eventually reach bench/box height!

Tip 2: Start with a few reps at body weight to find the optimal spot to place your feet – this can totally be awkward at first so it may take a few tries to find your sweet spot

Increasing Difficulty

When we first start adding any single-leg movements into our routine, it’s likely that even working at body weight is going to feel difficult. It takes time to build strength and balance for this movement, so start light and increase in weight as you improve over time. 

  1. Dumbbells = easiest (start with one in the working-leg arm, then move to two as you improve and get stronger with the movement)
  2. Bar in Front Rack = slightly more difficult
  3. Bar on Back Rack = most difficult (can also use the heaviest weight in this option usually)
Muscle Variations

To Prioritize More QUADS:
– Keep torso more upright
– Keep a more narrow stance/set-up (i.e. front foot closer to bench/box)
– Drive and push the knee forward hard over the toes

To Prioritize More GLUTES:
– Hinge/Lean torso forward
– Take a slightly wider stance/set-up (i.e. front foot further from bench/box)
– Keep a more vertical/upright shin by sitting back into the movement (aka don’t drive knee over toes)

Pro Tips

Use a shorter box or bench: these can be a little uncomfortable if our box or bench is too tall. If we don’t have the ability to change the height of our box or bench, we can alternatively just stack a few 45-lb weights to get the setup just right (:

Leave your ego at the door: if we’re not used to single-leg work, don’t expect to hit heavy weights with this movement. Start small and build over time! Form, and finding that mind-muscle connection is always more important than load!

The Takeaway

Adding single-leg strength movements to your training routine is a total game-changer. We will not only gain strength and balance, but we can also improve the symmetry in our lower body and make our compound movements like squats and deadlifts stronger and more effective. Don’t just take our word for it, give it a try for yourself and let us know what you think (:

Wanna test this movement?

Start with 2-3 warm-up sets, starting at body weight and increasing in weight.

Then complete:
1 Set x 5-8 Reps on each side – aim for a moderately heavy weight here
Rest 1-2 min
1 Set x 8-12 Reps on each side – lower the weight by 10-20% for this set

Need More Help?

Check out this Instagram Post for a full video explanation of this movement!

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