Originally posted April 13, 2016 on Stack
The traditional Bulgarian Split Squat is one of those exercises that looks like it won't confer many benefits for your training, but it can contribute to many characteristics athletes need in their sport. This variation of the Bulgarian Split Squat is a play on the Hatfield Squat, created by "Dr. Squat," Fred Hatfield. His programming, on his way toward squatting 1,000 pounds, made the safety squat bar famous. He did so by doing hand-assisted Squats, among other things.
The hand-assisted technique allows you to keep your form in check, but also push yourself past the weakest point of your Squat. If and when you struggle to get through your weak point, your hand hold gives you the safety to spot yourself and finish the rep. This results in bigger strength gains, since you can push maximum amounts of weight.
The awesome thing about the hand assist is that it's simple to translate to a Bulgarian Split Squat. This will no doubt lead to greater strength gains unilaterally.
Why Single Leg?
There is a debate among strength coaches as to which is better, bilateral or unilateral movements. But why not incorporate both? Single-leg strength clearly translates to athletics, because most sports have instances where one leg is working. If you think of sprinters, for a split second they have only one leg/foot in contact with the ground. So it makes sense to train some single-leg movements like this Safety-Squat Bar Bulgarian Split Squat.
This doesn't mean bilateral training with the Squat and Deadlift are not useful or awesome, because they very much are. You can develop massive amounts of strength through these two exercises, especially along the posterior chain. Combining both ways of training your lower body is sure to have a huge impact, whatever your goal.
Know Your Limits
When you do traditional Bulgarian Split Squats, balance tends to be a limiting factor in how much you are able to lift or control. Additionally, if you are using dumbbells, grip strength can limit how much you lift. In fact, most lifters and athletes have stronger legs than what their grip can manage. That's why the Safety-Squat Bar Bulgarian Split-Squat is so ingenious.
When you use the Squat Safety Bar, you can load on as much weight as you can safely handle. No more worrying about whether your hands will hold up. The load is on your shoulders, much like a regular Back Squat. This allows you to overload your legs for maximum gains.
But what about balance?
Some athletes have poor balance, but the hand assist solves the problem when they do this single-leg exercise. Being able to hold onto something allows you to focus on what's most important—overloading your quads and glutes. Furthermore, you can give max effort to each rep and push max weight because the hand assist acts like a self-spot. Hit a rep you can't quite finish? No problem; let your hands help you up.
Pushing max weight leads to developing max strength. And that's what we're looking for, right?
Set up the safety squat bar at your normal rack height for Squats. Place a bench or box behind you to put your back leg on. Unload the bar from the rack, elevate your back foot, then grab the rack itself.
Lower into a Split-Squat until your front leg is parallel to the floor. A good way to do this is to put a pad by the bench and aim to touch the pad with your trail leg. Either way, you want to ensure you are hitting depth. Once you get to the top of the movement, engage your glutes to finish.
The Safety Squat Bar is an amazing tool to have in your gym. Using it for Bulgarian Split Squats can take your single-leg training and strength to the next level. Adding the hand assist will take it even further and push you toward greatness.