How To Eliminate Knee Pain In Bulgarian Split Squats (2023)

If you have knee pain when you do Bulgarian split squats, hopefully, this will be the last article you will be reading.

Everyone wants to train pain-free.

(And let us not get started with neck pain and upper back pain from overhead presses.)

After all, this is the only way to make progress— training hard and recovering.

However, this plan gets derailed when you get knee pain, something very common to a lot of strength athletes.

Ask any lifter who has been lifting for years and they can recall all the times they had knee pain from squats.

And it can be from a lot of different reasons:

  • Too much squatting volume
  • Incorrect technique
  • Outside of the gym accident
  • Awkward landing

The list can go on and on.

So, in this article, we will discuss several reasons why you might be experiencing knee pain during Bulgarian split squats.

Then, we will go over some remedies you can implement today to make a positive change in your life.

Bulgarian Split Squat Knee Pain

Here are several solutions to correct your knee pain from the Bulgarian split squats,

  • You need to try a different exercise
  • You need to try a different variation
  • Fix your bad technique
  • Relax and stretch tight muscles
  • Lower your squat volume

You need to try a different variation

Poor hamstring to quad ratio

You are having knee pain because you are a quad dominant squatter, creating an imbalance between your quads and hamstrings.

This means:

  1. Your hamstrings are weak and/or underdeveloped
  2. Your glutes arenot firing properly
  3. Your lower back is not strong enough

The solution?

You need to switch to more posterior chain dominant exercises to bring up your posterior chain weakness.

So, here are just a few exercises that you can do to replace Bulgarian split squats to still work out your lower body without the knee pain—

If the Bulgarian split squat is still causing you pain, this is a good opportunity for you to try to modify the Bulgarian split squat.

(Video) Bulgarian Split Squat (2 GREAT Tips)

Here are several things that would make this exercise easier:

  • Use less weight
  • Do the Bulgarian split squats on an elevated surface
  • Do not lunge as low as before
  • Doing mini jump reps

There are a ton of ways to create less stress in this movement.

So, do not be afraid to try something new so that you still keep your body moving while not causing your knee any pain.

Sharp pains are a big no-no.

Even dull, achy, and gradual pain should be noted as well.

These are very functional exercises and no pain should be felt when doing them.

You need to try a different exercise

If the Bulgarian split squat, even after trying to modify the exercise, is still causing you pain, you may need to try a different exercise altogether.

Here is an excellent list to choose from:

  • Full squats
  • Beltsquats
  • Box squats
  • Front squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Good mornings

You get the idea.
You need to find a compound movement that still targets your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes without causing you any pain.

Here is something recent that I have been implementing to fix my quad hamstring ratio imbalance— Wenning warmups.

Performing 3 exercises before your main lift for 4 sets of 25 each in a circuit style with no rest.

Here are a few rules:

  1. Two exercises need to target your weaknesses
  2. One exercise needs to be a primer movement, related to your main lift

Here is a sample lower body circuit warmup I did:

Ifyou are in pain, you might need to resort to isolation movements like knee extensions on a machine or resistance band.

Do not be discouraged if you cannot find something you want to do.

Remember that pain is a signal from your body to fix something and to try something new.

(Video) Secret Knee Pain Fix?🤯

View it as a challenge to overcome and in the end, you will end up much wiser.

Fix your bad technique

This will show you, in general, how to perform a Bulgarian split squat properly.

And here are two things that you should look out for:

  • 1. Your front knee should not pass the toes

This can create excessive knee pressure.

And depending on your training history, you may or may not be able to tolerate this load.

You see a lot of squatters who squat way below parallel and their knees travel past their toes.

Do not focus on them right now.

Focus on yourself and fixing your squats.

In general, your knees will travel beyond your toes when you do a full squat.

This is a normal range of motion and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.

But I believe what is not commonly talked about is how your muscles are firing.

For all functional movements, your tendons and muscles will work together in order to complete a movement.

However, if your tendons and/or muscles are inflamed, this will cause you pain.

One reason why the Bulgarian split squat is used is that it allows many lifters to get some quad activation without needing to stress the patellar tendon.

Doing this exercise with perfect form means that you will not allow your knee top drift past your toes.

  • 2. Do not push with back leg

You should not be pushing much, or at all, with your hind leg.

(Video) Knee pain & Bulgarian split squats: modifications & progressions

Do not slam your knee into the ground.

And do not push hard with your back leg.

The Bulgarian split squat is an exercise that works on the lunging leg.

Add these modifications and see if they make a difference.

Relax and stretch tight muscles

Another reason why you may be experiencing knee pain during the Bulgarian split squats is that your quads are too tight.

They are pulling your knee cap and tendons and it is causing irritation and inflammation in your knees.

In order to fix this issue, you need to make sure you are stretching your quads.

Also, make sure your quads have a chance to relax.

One common method to relax your quads is to lay down on a Foam roller and just relax.

Stay on your tight quads for at least a minute or two.

There is no hard and fast rule on how long you should foam roll.

Just enough so that your muscles can relax.

And if stretching, massaging, and relaxing your quads does not seem to help, you should also focus on your hips and hamstrings.

Your knee pain is only a symptom of what is wrong with your body.

It could be directly related to your knees or it could be your feet, ankle, or even hip that is dysfunctional.

So, do your due diligence and make sure that you are taking care of your body.

(Unlikely) You are squatting too much, so lower your squat volume

Unless you have never lifted weights before, it is moderately difficult to do so many Bulgarian split squats that it will cause you knee pain, given that you have good form.

(Video) Fixing Knee Pain in the Split Squat | Week 78 | Movement Fix Monday | Dr. Ryan DeBell


The weight is not heavy enough for you.

And especially as a beginner, you will be intimidated about using barbells for the Bulgarian split squat so it is not likely that you are squatting so much that it caused your knee pain.

Nevertheless, we will address this as a reason just in case you were the ambitious fellow/gal that loaded up 225lbs on a barbell to do Bulgarian split squats with.

You need to ease up on the volume and just do something that does not cause you pain.

A lot of concepts in strength training are straightforward but newer lifters tend to either forget the basics or were never taught them.

If you caused yourself pain, you should stop the activity and reflect.

(Or you need to check yourself if you are only sleeping 5 hours a day).

But chances are if the Bulgarian split squat was a main movement in your program, you were not following the traditional strength training protocols.

In this manual, also in my current program, you get to understand and learn strength training principles that work.

And what works is that you make the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press your main movements.

Nothing else.


Knee pain is not normal so do not try to normalize it in your everyday life.

Prehab and rehab your existing injury so that this will be one of the last times you will ever have to experience knee pain from the Bulgarian split squats.

Or any squatting or lower body compound movement.

Be smart with your programming and recovery and you should be fine.

For instance, avoiding dizziness during squats, or shoulder popping during lateral raises is already a good start; this puts you ahead of the curve for staying in this game long term.

(Video) Split squat knee pain #shorts

How To Eliminate Knee Pain In Bulgarian Split Squats (1)


How To Eliminate Knee Pain In Bulgarian Split Squats? ›

Studies have shown that when allowing the knee to come over the toes during a squat, more force is placed on the knee [1]. This can be problematic at times for an angry knee. Clinically, I have found that by keeping the shin vertical (knee behind toes) during the bulgarian, my clients tend to notice less knee pain.

Why do my knees hurt when I do Bulgarian Split Squats? ›

Bulgarian Split Squats can also give you knee trouble. When you squat down to perform this exercise, your thighs and knees have to work harder to maintain the balance of your body and prevent you from falling. If your knees are weak then performing Bulgarian split squat might not be a good idea.

Are Bulgarian Split Squats good for bad knees? ›

Focusing too much on quad exercises without posterior chain workouts can lead to knee issues, so split squats are a great way to ward off knee pain, Gaglione says. Also, because your feet are stationary, you're reducing the risk of a forward weight shift as a result of the stepping motion.

How do I make my knees less painful when squatting? ›

Keep your knees directly above your heels, not your toes. Lean back against the wall as you squat down, going as low as you can comfortably, without lowering your buttocks below knee height. Make sure that your knees stay in line with your heels. To get back up, press off of your heels, not your toes.

Why are Bulgarian Split Squats so painful? ›

One reason Bulgarian split squats can feel so challenging is the stability they demand from the muscles and joints they are working. After all, balancing on one leg while bending down and straightening back up is no easy feat.

What is the downside to Bulgarian split squat? ›

Barbell Bulgarian Split Squat

The downside is that it requires a more lengthy setup, it's a little more risky (you can't just drop the barbell if you get stuck), and it can be harder to stay balanced. This variation also places more stress on the back, so if you have lower back pain or an injury, it's not for you.

How do I become more stable on Bulgarian Split Squats? ›

First, master the basic split squat and then progress to having your foot on a low box. As you conquer that, increase the height of the box until you can balance on a bench. Another tip is to find a point of focus, like a pole, and use that to help keep you balanced.

What is a good alternative to Split Squats for bad knees? ›

Which Squat Substitutes Should You do for Bad Knees? If your knees tend to bother you, machine leg presses, step-ups (start low), floor bridges, RDLs, and leg curls are great alternatives to strengthen the legs without putting much stress on the knees.

Is Bulgarian split squat knee dominant? ›

Both the BSS and BS are hip dominant exercises.

How do you make Bulgarian Split Squats easier? ›

Proper leg spacing and balance are key to getting the Bulgarian split squat right. So, if you're really trying to up the difficulty, make it harder to find that balance. Resting your back leg on an exercise ball as you squat makes it harder to use that leg for stability.

Why are my knees so sore from squatting? ›

If squatting hurts your knees — and you're not suffering from any pre-existing injury — it's because you're making your knees do more of the work than the hips. Learning how to utilize the hips during a squat is important if you want to make them more joint-friendly. Box squats can do that.

Do knee sleeves help with knee pain? ›

A knee brace can take pressure off the part of your joint most affected by osteoarthritis and help relieve pain. If your knee feels like it might buckle when you put weight on it, a knee brace can also help you stand and move around with more confidence.

Should you go heavy on Bulgarian Split Squats? ›

For Leg Strength: Go for 4-6 sets of up to 6 reps with a heavy weight. To Improve Balance: Try 2-3 sets of 10+ reps with a very slow tempo. For Muscle Growth: Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps with a moderate load.

Should I do Bulgarian Split Squats first or last? ›

You shouldn't be trying to do Bulgarian split squats before you've mastered a regular split squat, a back or front lunge, a step-up, and even walking lunges,” Summers says.

Are Bulgarian Split Squats better than lunges? ›

While the Bulgarian split squat utilizes multiple muscle groups, it does place greater emphasis on the quads, which makes it better for hypertrophy. That said, it's still a good exercise for building lower body strength, but the lunge is better for overall strength because it's even more of a compound movement.

What is better than Bulgarian split squat? ›

Curtsy Lunges

This alternative to the Bulgarian split squat is better for improving your stability and balance, because the position of your non-working leg is different. This allows you to work additional muscles like your calves. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips.

What is the best stance for Bulgarian split squats? ›

When you place your back foot on the bench behind you, make sure it's roughly hip distance apart from your front foot or even slightly wider. Even though you're not powering the exercise with your back foot or leg, having this wider "kickstand" for support will help you complete the Bulgarian split squat effectively.

Is it better to do Bulgarian split squats with one or two dumbbells? ›

Performing the exercise holding two dumbbells to your sides ensures muscular balance on both sides of the body. The suitcase Bulgarian Split Squat can also be performed with kettlebells or any other weight, so long as you hold it by your sides.

Should you rest in between legs on Bulgarian split squats? ›

Bulgarian Split Squats x 4 sets of 15 reps each side; rest 60 seconds after each side and 2 minutes after both legs. *Same weight as last week or heavier if you can.

What is the average weight for a Bulgarian split squat? ›

The average Bulgarian Split Squat weight for a male lifter is 135 lb (1RM). This makes you Intermediate on Strength Level and is a very impressive lift. What is a good Bulgarian Split Squat? Male beginners should aim to lift 32 lb (1RM) which is still impressive compared to the general population.

What is a common mistake for split squats? ›

The most common mistake when doing the split squat is allowing the front knee to cave inward as you go forward. Some people call it knee buckling. This is a faulty movement pattern, and repetitions in this position will cause damage to the knee.

What type of squat is easiest on the knees? ›

According to the Arthritis Foundation, a good way to start and to take pressure off the knees is with a wall squat (3). Resting your back against the wall forces good form too. You can also make squats safer for bad knees by reducing the range of motion. Squat only as deep as you can go without pain.

Should I use knee sleeves for split squats? ›

For comfort, using appropriately-sized sleeves can make squatting less painful and provide better stability for the joint. However, they're probably not necessary unless you plan on maximizing the weight on your squat in a competitive environment.

Should your knee touch the floor in a split squat? ›

The back knee should point toward but not touch the floor, and your front knee should be directly over the ankle. Power form this position and continue through until the opposite leg is now forward lunging.

What to pair with Bulgarian split squat? ›

The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg squat that engages multiple major muscle groups with emphasis on the quadriceps femoris and gluteal muscles. Depending on the lifter's goal, it can be superset with hip thrusts, glute bridges, and donkey kicks, among others.

How do you get rid of knee pain fast? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Rest. Take a break from your normal activities to reduce repetitive strain on your knee, give the injury time to heal and help prevent further damage. ...
  2. Ice. Ice reduces both pain and inflammation. ...
  3. Heat. ...
  4. Compression. ...
  5. Elevation.
Jan 25, 2023

How can I make my knees stronger? ›

Knee exercises for runners
  1. Knee bends – 3 sets of 10 repetitions (reps) ...
  2. Thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg. ...
  3. Straight leg raises – 3 sets of 10 reps with each leg. ...
  4. Hamstring stretch with thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg. ...
  5. ITB (iliotibial band) – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg.

How to reduce knee pain? ›

How can I ease knee pain at home?
  1. Applying heat or ice packs.
  2. Modifying activities to avoid causing pain.
  3. Practicing gentle stretches or exercises.
  4. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  5. Topical treatments such as muscle creams or rubs.
  6. Wearing a brace to support the knee.
Nov 4, 2020

How do I improve my knee stability when squatting? ›

Strengthen the Hips. The lateral hip muscles (primarily the gluteus medius) play an important role in stabilizing our knee. When we squat, land from a jump or run, these muscles ensure the knees stays in line with the foot and don't cave in. Strengthening these muscles can improve the ability to stabilize the knee.

How do you stabilize your knees when squatting? ›

How To Fix Knee Valgus During Squat (7 Tips)
  1. Focus on your toes.
  2. Screw your feet into the ground.
  3. Perform single-leg exercises.
  4. Work on your hip abduction.
  5. Increase ankle mobility.
  6. Narrow your stance.
  7. Use the appropriate weight.
Nov 7, 2020

Does knee compression help squat? ›

A compression knee sleeve brings more blood flow and warmth to the area of the knee, which helps with inflammation and pain, while also offering knee support and aligning the knee to prevent injury while you do squats and deadlifts as part of your powerlifting or weightlifting routine.

When should you not wear knee compression sleeves? ›

Some knee sleeves have a reinforced hole where it should go over the knee. People should always stop using the compression sleeve if they experience any pain, discomfort, or skin irritation.

Are knee wraps or sleeves better? ›

The difference between knee wraps and sleeves is significant. If you work with heavy weights and go for a 1 rep max every set, then knee wraps are what you want to use. If you have a casual training session with sets for 3+ reps, then knee sleeves are the right choice.

When should I wear knee sleeves for squats? ›

In general, you'll want to pull on your knee sleeves when you're either going very heavy or for very high volume. That might mean attempting a new max squat number. It might also mean gearing up — literally — for a 20-rep squat session.

How often should I do Bulgarian split squats? ›

If you are new to this exercise, you should perform 5-8 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 2 times a week. Once you get stronger you want to aim for 12-16 reps on each leg for 4 sets, 2 times a week.

What are sissy squats? ›

The sissy squat is a quadriceps femoris-dominant exercise that is carried out by squatting down while stooping backward and hinging on the knees, all the while maintaining a relatively straight upper body.

Is Bulgarian split squat the hardest exercise? ›

The Bulgarian Squat, or Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat (RLESS), is one of the hardest hitting lower body exercises you can do. While many people champion the classic barbell back squat as their leg exercise of choice, science shows the Bulgarian Squat is superior.

Are Bulgarian split squats better for glutes or quads? ›

A type of single-leg squat, the Bulgarian split squat is sure to deliver big benefits to your lower body. With one leg behind you and elevated off of the ground, this exercise targets many of the same muscles as a traditional squat, but with an emphasis on the quads.

Do Bulgarian split squats make your quads bigger? ›

Bulgarian split squats build very big legs

Also, due to the demands of balancing on one leg, Bulgarian split squats hit your quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, and calves. I can't think of another legs exercise that hits every single one of these muscles. Because of this, your thighs grow large, quickly.

Do Split Squats strengthen knees? ›

Furthermore, aside from increasing muscle strength, ATG split squats are beneficial in improving ankle mobility, knee stability, and balance.

Why do my knees hurt when I squat or lunge? ›

In most cases, anterior knee pain when running or squatting (or lunging, walking hills or sitting with bent legs!) is the result of patellofemoral joint syndrome. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is one of the most common knee complaints we see here in the clinic.

What is the best foot position for Bulgarian split squat? ›

Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand 2–3 feet in front of an elevated platform, such as a bench or plyometric box. The elevated platform should be knee-height or slightly lower than knee height. Your feet should be hip-width apart.

What can I do instead of split squats for bad knees? ›

Which Squat Substitutes Should You do for Bad Knees? If your knees tend to bother you, machine leg presses, step-ups (start low), floor bridges, RDLs, and leg curls are great alternatives to strengthen the legs without putting much stress on the knees.

Should your knee touch the ground during split squats? ›

Lower yourself down, working to keep your shin in that vertical position. Don't allow your back knee to hit the ground; stop an inch from the floor if you can. Squeeze your glutes hard to keep your knee in the proper position, then press your front foot off the floor to drive up.

Should I train legs if my knees hurt? ›

Until you build up the surrounding muscles and start to feel better, avoid movements that feel painful or hard on your knees, and anything that's high-impact, suggests Lori Karchinski, D.P.T., clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy in Copiague, New York.


1. Bulgarian Split Squat: How to Do Safely Without Back Pain
(Feldenkrais with Taro Iwamoto)
2. Knee Pain With Lunges or Split Squat (Here's Your Exercise Solution)
(Sports Rehab Expert)
3. Pain with Split Squats and Lunges? (How To Help)
(E3 Rehab)
4. STOP This Bulgarian Split Squat Mistake!
(Squat University)
5. He Had KNEE PAIN With Every Squat!
(Squat University)
6. He had KNEE PAIN with squats for 10 YEARS!
(Squat University)
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