One leg bench squat (AKA rear foot elevated split squat, AKA Bulgarian lunge)
Brian Van Hook MS CSCS
VH Sports Performance
We have all heard of the infamous back squat: "The squat is the King of all exercises." The honest truth is you do not need barbell squats in your program to build strong muscular legs. Now I am not saying you should not squat, what I am saying is the squat is not the end all of all exercises. I am a huge fan of Mike Boyle, and I have learned a lot from this man, I believe he is one of the best in the business, but he is not a fan of squatting, if you have had the change to read some of his information he is almost dropping all back squats from his training programs. Now I have to say I am not totally sold on his idea, but I am not far off. I personally never like squats when I was playing football, I am a tall guy (6’7) and the squat is a killer exercises for tall guys like myself. It’s a killer on the lower back and every time I did them I felt like my Lumbar spine was about to snap. I have also worked with several athletes with similar concerns and nagging back pain. At this point in my training career I will not have any clients with even a little back pain or a history of pain, perform to the normal back squat (front squat yes) but not back squat!! So what other options do you have? Well a favorite of mine is the Single leg bench squat (AKA rear foot elevated split squat, AKA Bulgarian lunge)
Single leg squats are an excellent alternative to barbell squats. Talk about an exercise that builds strength and size along with stability! Single leg squats incorporate the need for balance more than any other leg exercise. The more unstable the environment the more the muscles have to work at performing the task. Because you have the added factor of balance, the single leg bench squat is much more difficult to perform than the normal barbell squat, just as the barbell squat is much more difficult than the leg press. I do not want to go into the numbers and percentages, but like the great Mike Boyle once said, why not get the same exercises at half off! You can load you barbell with less weight (I have my guys hold dumbbells in each hand, just seems a little safer to me).
The single leg bench squat is considered somewhat of an advanced exercise. And should only be used after a proper progression is built up and the athlete has the correct amount of single leg strength. You should not be loading up the weight on the first go at this lift. Every athlete I have will start out with bodyweight lunges then weighted (dumbbell) lunges, even with the strongest of kids I will have them start with holding 10-15 pound dumbbells in each hand. At his point it’s not about the weight, it’s about them getting used to this exercises.
I wanted to quote something Mike Boyle said on one of his articles because he says its best:
“Single leg supported exercises is a great introduction to single leg training and should always precede the dynamic variations. In other words split squats should precede lunges, lateral squats should precede lateral lunges, and rotational squats should precede rotational or transverse lunges. Failure to do this will result in exceptional soreness, possible disruption of the training program, and often a loss of confidence in the coach or trainer by the athlete or trainee”.