Build Massive Legs with the Trap Bar Bulgarian Squat
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
The trap bar is one of my favorite training tools as it provides a variety of unique exercises and loading parameters. Here’s one of my awesome clients Leslie Petch showing how it’s done with eccentric isometric Bulgarian squats. On a side note, huge congrats to Leslie for taking multiple 1st place prizes in the NPC South Carolina Championships this weekend.
Although the trap bar can be used for squats, deadlifts, chest presses, overhead presses, bent over rows, pullups, squat jumps, and even lunges, Bulgarian squats are one of the most brutal variations you can perform, however the stimulus to the entire lower body is incredible. Also a shout-out to Kelvin King Jr. for the inspiration for some of these unique single leg trap bar exercises. If you’re not following this guy you should as his work is top notch.
There are 4 unique benefits of the trap bar Bulgarian squat.
1. This specific Bulgarian squat variation is one of the single best training tools for reinforcing proper hip hinge mechanics on split squat and lunge variations. Essentially any type of lunge, Bulgarian squat, or split squat should involve ample forward lean with a solid hip hinge throughout. This is something I’ve addressed in previous articles (read more about lunge form here), as it’s imperative not only for taxing the surrounding musculature but also for taking stress off the joints. An upright lunge or upright Bulgarian squat is wrong plain and simple.
When using the trap bar if the torso becomes too upright and the lifter fails to implement the hip hinge mechanics, this drives the rear thigh forward and it runs into the back portion of the trap bar making it impossible to perform the exercise. In fact the only way you can successfully perform these is by using a proper hinge throughout the movement with a forward lean This is true of the lunge or Bulgarian squat variation as the movement mechanics are nearly identical.
2. Besides being a unique Bulgarian split squat variation, using the trap bar forces the lifter to maintain constant tension on their legs. That’s because it’s impossible to lock the movement out at the top as the back thigh runs into the bar approximately half way up the top portion of the lift (even with ample forward lean and hip hinge). The degree of metabolic stress and mechanical tension is through the roof on these. Throw in a controlled eccentric isometric (slow negative followed by a pause in the bottom) and you’ve now amped up the levels of micro-trauma and muscle damage. The end result is an incredible functional hypertrophy stimulus to the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors.
3. The fact that the lifter is forced to stay in the bottom half of the movement also helps emphasize simultaneous mobility and stability. In fact, one of the most difficult attributes of the trap bar Bulgarian squat is the balance and motor control needed to dial in the movement. The result is increased intramuscular tension throughout the body including the core. In addition, these do wonders for eliminating tight hip flexors which is a common problem in our society primarily due to excessive sitting and faulty posture.
4. The trap bar Bulgarian squat also helps to correct a subtle but common issue I see on Bulgarian squats dealing with back foot cramping. Many lifters will complain of their back foot cramping when performing Bulgarian squats on a bench. Although this issue can be eliminated by performing them with the back foot on a barbell (with a squat pad on the bar), if the back foot cramps at the top of the movement, it’s an indication that the lifter is placing too much stress on the back leg and not enough on the front. In addition it signals that they're attempting to drive up too high during the eccentric phase. Trying to stay excessively upright is another potential reason for the foot cramp. I usually tell my athletes to stay in the bottom 2/3rds of the movement as this not only places more tension on the muscles but also eliminates the back foot cramp issue.
Whether you use these for standard lunges or Bulgarian squats, several sets of 5-8 reps on each leg will more than suffice particularly when performed as an eccentric isometric variation.