Last updated on November 15th, 2022 at 04:17 pm
Bulgarian split squats are the exercise we all love to hate.
In fact, they are seen as one of the most challenging lower body exercises.
Bulgarian split squats are typically performed with a barbell across your upper back or a dumbbell in each hand.
But, does it make sense to perform Bulgarian split squats with just one dumbbell?
Here’s what you need to know.
Can You Do Bulgarian Split Squats With One Dumbbell?
Yes, you can do Bulgarian split squats with one dumbbell. In fact, there are a few variations for you to try. Firstly, the goblet Bulgarian split squat, where a single dumbbell is held in front of your chest. The most common one dumbbell variation involves holding a dumbbell on the same side as your back leg. You can hold the dumbbell in the other hand, although this provides different challenges in terms of core stabilization and balance.
Goblet Bulgarian Split Squat With One Dumbbell
I actually think performing Bulgarian split squats with one dumbbell is a great idea.
The movement itself is a great muscle and strength builder, primarily in the quads and glutes.
However, Bulgarian split squats also hit the hamstrings, calves, adductors, and core to great effect.
With that being said, by using a single dumbbell you’ll typically be faced with a steeper challenge.
This is mainly in terms of core stabilization and balance.
The easiest version of one dumbbell Bulgarian split squats will involve holding the dumbbell goblet style.
So, much the same as a standard goblet squat, you should hold the dumbbell with two hands directly in front of your chest.
The position of the dumbbell immediately engages your core much better than standard Bulgarian split squats performed with a barbell or two dumbbells.
In fact, this is my preferred method of doing the exercise.
Personally, I believe you should be doing BSS goblet style until you can perform a decent number of reps and sets with the heaviest dumbbell in your gym.
Once you’ve achieved this it’s time to move onto the heavier weights provided by two dumbbells or a barbell.
With that being said, there are also advantages to the goblet variation over the others.
The most obvious of these is the difference in grip.
When you perform BSS in the standard manner with a dumbbell in each hand, your grip can eventually become a limiting factor.
Admittedly, getting a dumbbell up to chest level, and keeping it there, for the goblet variation presents it’s own challenges.
However, you definitely won’t have to worry about your grip giving up before your legs do.
One-Arm Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
You can of course perform Bulgarian split squats by holding a single dumbbell in one hand.
In fact, this is the most popular one-dumbbell variation.
By holding the dumbbell with just one hand you completely change your centre of gravity.
Therefore, this provides more of a challenge as well in terms of stabilizing your core and your balance.
The most popular method is to hold the dumbbell on the opposite side of the lead leg, in other words, the same side as your back leg.
What this does is to increase hip musculature activity, especially of the gluteus medius, of the front leg.
It’s important to fix your gaze 10-20 feet in front of you whenever you perform Bulgarian split squats.
However, this is even more important when you’re using only one dumbbell.
Due to the exercise being more of a challenge there is a tendency to look directly down.
Unfortunately, it’s even harder to balance when you look directly down at the ground in front of you.
And this will take the focus away from the working muscles, plus you’ll be making a difficult exercise even harder.
There is also the option to hold the dumbbell in the other hand, so the same hand as the lead leg.
But, in truth, this isn’t a commonly practiced variation, as it simply makes balancing even more of a challenge.
With that being said, challenging the muscles in different ways will always lead to better all-round ability with the BSS.
3. One-Arm Dumbbell Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
Another variation of the one-arm dumbbell Bulgarian split squat is to hold the dumbbell in the rack position.
Personally, I prefer to perform the exercise with a kettlebell, as it allows for slightly more stability.
In other words, for me, I find it easier to hold a kettlebell in the rack position.
But, that’s not to say that you can’t also do it with one dumbbell.
Much the same as the goblet variation you’ll find that the rack variation hits your core extremely hard.
Additionally, you’ll typically find that the rack position forces your cardio and conditioning system to work harder.
So, the rack variation may be a better exercise to do for higher reps, while focusing more on muscular endurance rather than strength.
I would also say that you need to be even more wary of having a focal point out in front of you.
With so much going on with the rack BSS, the last thing you want is to make balance and stability even harder by staring down at the ground.
You should also really focus on keeping your chest up, as there is a tendency to allow the torso to fall forward.
How to Perform the Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squat
Why Are Bulgarian Split Squats So Hard?
As I’ve mentioned, Bulgarian split squats aren’t an exercise that many of us would admit to actually liking or enjoying.
However, in truth, I’ve always lived by the motto, “The exercises you hate the most are the ones you should be doing more often.”
So, even though I find BSS difficult, I aim to perform them as regularly as possible.
With that being said, there are numerous reasons why Bulgarian split squats are so hard.
As you have probably already established they require a great deal of core stabilization and balance.
In fact, the lack of stability will mean there is more demand placed on your muscles and joints.
Furthermore, when you compare them to a similar exercise like lunges, BSS require a greater range of motion.
Plus, the simple fact that your supporting foot is elevated means that you’re applying more of your body weight to the working leg.
So, if you do struggle with Bulgarian split squats, you can rest safe in the knowledge that pretty much everyone else does too.
However, the more you perform the exercise, the more your body will adapt to the various stresses and strains of Bulgarian split squats.
As you can see, it’s absolutely fine to do Bulgarian split squats with one dumbbell.
You have a choice of doing them goblet style, holding the dumbbell by your side, or in the front rack position.
Each variation will provide you with a slightly different stimulus.
However, one dumbbell (especially when held to one side) will test your core stability and your balance.
While I’m on the subject of “one dumbbell”, discover which hand is supposed to the weight during a single-leg deadlift.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.