The Toughest

Barbell Bulgarian split squats are the toughest exercise that a natural bodybuilder can do in the gym.

Many exercises in the bodybuilding game have a legit claim to the iron throne as to which move is actually the toughest.  Squats, deadlifts, and barbell walking lunges are all examples of a few exercises that have viable claims to the iron throne.

But they all bend the knee to the King of the gym.  All three exercises are hard and more importantly effective for building muscle.  But they pale in comparison to the amount of physical and mental fatigue that barbell Bulgarian split squats will inflict on you.

My statement is not based on hype or trying to sell you snake oil.  My statement is based on my decades of living in the iron jungle and consistently doing all of these moves.  For the record, the barbell walking/reverse lunges are a close second.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squats: A Complete Leg Exercise

barbell bulgarian split squats

Outside of being the toughest and most feared exercise in the gym, barbell Bulgarian split squats are also the most complete leg exercise.  They are also unfortunately a criminally underrated and underused leg developer.

You might ask why barbell Bulgarian split squats are unpopular.  What it comes down to is most bodybuilders disdain for true, John Henry like hard work.

Many bodybuilders like the feeling of appearing to work hard for social media likes and fake adoration instead of actually doing the real work when no one is watching.  Optics matter more to these bodybuilders than doing tough, honest work.

Barbell Bulgarian split squats are the closest thing you will get to a complete lower body exercise.  What you simultaneously feel in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes during the execution of this exercise is unmatched across the gym.

Squats and deadlifts are always mentioned as the top 2 moves when it comes to lower body development.  And yes, they are excellent muscle builders.

But if we broke down squats, deadlifts, and other lower body exercises to their core, we would find out that despite their greatness and effectiveness, they hit specific muscles much harder than other muscles.  Take a look at some of the all-time best leg exercises and what they do in comparison to barbell Bulgarian split squats.

What Muscles Do These Exercises Hit?

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat: primarily hits the quads and glutes; solid hamstring involvement.

Barbell Squat: primarily hits the quads; little hamstring/glute involvement.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL): primarily hits the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back; little quad involvement.

Barbell Hack Squat (BHS): primarily hits the quads; little hamstring/glute involvement.

Barbell Reverse Lunge: primarily hits the quads; solid glute involvement, little hamstring involvement.

Glute-Ham Raise: primarily hits the hamstrings; some glute/calf involvement, no quad involvement.

Barbell Hip Thrusts: primarily hits the glutes; some hamstring involvement, little quad involvement.

All of these movements will help you on your journey to develop a phenomenal, natural physique.  These are all exercises I use with regularity.

A good athlete comparison of the barbell Bulgarian split squat would be basketball’s GOAT himself, Michael Jordan.  Barbell Bulgarian split squats can do almost everything for the legs at an MVP level.  I would say the weakest part of the barbell Bulgarian split squat would be its ability to develop the hamstrings.  It’s solid but not great.

The other exercises are like another all-star player who is phenomenal but does have some slight holes in their game in terms of being a complete player.  It takes a full team to win the chip, but I want the best player on my team.  That player, in this case, is the barbell Bulgarian split squat.

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squats Progression

barbell bulgarian split squats

In late November 2020, during the midst of the pandemic, I did barbell Bulgarian split squats with 205lb x 3.  At the time I was fired up because that was a new PR.  It was a hard 3 reps.

But in this workout from December 2022, I did 225lbs x 4 and I did them using 1 and 1/4 reps.  Barbell Bulgarian split squats are hard enough on their own but adding 1 and 1/4 reps to them makes them powerful and unethical like Thanos.

Over the summer I got 235lbs x 3 using regular reps.  What breeds success is being consistent with your training.  This consistency also builds confidence on the natural bodybuilding stage.

I believe, with 99.9 percent certainty, based on what I’ve seen on stage, in gyms, and online, that very few bodybuilders are consistently doing barbell Bulgarian split squats.

The generic bodybuilding legs routine of half squats, half leg presses, leg extensions, and leg curls is the most common routine.  Based on what I’ve seen on stage most of the time, that routine is not getting the job done for creating phenomenal legs.

Many natural bodybuilders with weak legs will complain about their placings at shows, but then will not address the issue in the offseason.  Listen, leg day is a hard, strenuous day, but it’s necessary to do it in order to complete your physique.  You cannot win a show with just arms and abs.


Barbell Bulgarian split squats are hard.  But nothing in life worth anything will come easy.

If you want to separate yourself from the pack in terms of lower body development, the barbell Bulgarian split squat should definitely be a part of your arsenal.

I’m all about giving natural bodybuilders the correct information to help them maximize their physique.  I heavily advocate for more bodybuilders to use this exercise to add more meat to their legs.

Because of the nature of move, in terms of balance and confidence, you might start off with very light weight.  But if you continue to work this move, you will develop bigger and stronger legs.

It feels good to move heavy weights on 1 leg.  If you have dieted correctly your legs and your confidence will absolutely stand out on stage.

I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,

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