Use Barbell Bulgarian Hack Squats and Lunges To Crush Your Quads, Glutes, and Hamstrings
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Over the past several months I’ve showcased several variations of the barbell hack lunge and split squat describing why it’s such an effective lower body lunge movement. Fortunately the same principles can be applied to the Bulgarian squat making it one of the most physically demanding yet growth inducing lower body exercises you can perform. Here's one of my national level NPC figure athletes Leslie Petch demonstrating it with a brief eccentric isometric pause in the stretched position.
This specific hack barbell loading protocol (with the legs straddled over the barbell) provides several benefits.
1. These force balance and stability to be spot on as any deviation will make it very difficult to re-gain your balance without having to drop the bar. In fact most of my athletes find hack lunges and hack Bulgarian squats to be the most difficult variations of the stride pattern to maintain balance and stability on. As a byproduct the feet and ankles must work overtime resulting in greater neural drive and recruitment up the kinetic chain particularly in the hips and legs. This is one of the reasons why you’ll experience metabolic stress and hydrogen ion buildup (burn/lactic acid accumulation) almost immediately.
2. The barbell Bulgarian hack squat/lunge keeps constant tension on the muscles. That’s because the lifter will be unable to lock out the movement by going too far at the top as the bar hits the legs towards the top end of the movement. Many lifters use the top of the lunge to release tension and provide temporary rest for their lower body. This also results in overextending the lumbar spine at the top and losing core tightness and spinal stability. The hack variations of Bulgarian squats and lunges provide an immediate remedy for this.
3. The barbell Bulgarian hack squat teaches proper stride mechanics and hip activation as the straddled position with the bar hanging between the legs teaches individuals to lean over slightly with the hips set back. In fact a proper Bulgarian squat and lunge involves a significant hip hinge and forward lean throughout. By keeping the hips set back this helps to eliminate anterior forward knee drift. This represents optimal mechanics for any Bulgarian squat or lunge. Unfortunately most individuals perform lunges and Bulgarian split squats with excessively upright mechanics. The barbell hack variations of split squats helps to resolve this almost immediately.
4. Finally having the bar directly under the center of gravity absolutely crushes the glutes. If you've never tried this you'll be stunned at the level of constant intramuscular tension and burn you'll feel in your entire posterior chain as well as the quads.
As usual you'll also notice I have my client performing these in an eccentric isometric fashion to improve body mechanics, enhance kinesthetic awareness, and aid in proprioceptive feedback.
Won’t the Smaller Range of Motion Sacrifice Size?
The smaller range of motion used during the Bulgarian hack squat and hack lunge will not compromise strength and size gains. In fact keeping contact tension by staying in the bottom half of the movement only is one of the most effective techniques you can use to elicit strength and hypertrophy in the lower body as you're essentially staying in a semi stretched position the entire time (constant eccentric overload) which produces incredible levels of muscle damage for maximal growth.
Also anytime a lifter begins to fatigue on Bulgarian squats they will inevitably rest in the top position not the bottom as the top regardless of how hard you squeeze the muscle provides very little tension to the targeted musculature. With this movement there’s simply no rest for the targeted musculature. That’s one of the reasons this exercise produces incredibly high levels of metabolic stress and mechanical tension both of which further trigger hypertrophy gains.
Finally this variation eliminates momentum as you can’t power your way through to the top by relying on rapid motions. Instead the lifter is forced to slow the movement down and minimize momentum to stay locked into the bottom. Balance and stability are also heavily taxed by staying in the bottom half particularly when holding a barbell. Finally, emphasizing the bottom half does wonders for improving mobility and stability due to the fact that the stretch is emphasized while maintaining high levels of motor control. As a result this does wonders for improving joint health and quality of movement.