Lifelong Movements – Invest In Better Movement: Movement No. 3 – The Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat Deficit


This is the third blog post in the series, and I must say, the feedback is fantastic. Many PTs are gaining the knowledge to implement the techniques I am discussing, which makes the time I spend writing these posts all the more worthwhile.

Just to recap, I will cover the same areas in each blog post in relation to the specific movement discussed. These are:

  • Background of the movement;
  • Movement analysis;
  • Literature that is freely available;
  • My top three key coaching cues;
  • Limitations and correctives.

Background of the movement

The kettlebell (KB) Bulgarian split squat deficit (BSSD) can be viewed as one of the most advanced movements in the gym environment. The benefits of the movement are endless, from glutes development to core control, from hip range of motion (ROM) to balance and proprioception. This movement challenges the body in so many ways that I rarely leave it out of a client’s programme (for some clients, I regress it to a variation they can tolerate).

Apart from the pistol squat, I’d say this is the most beneficial single leg movement out there.

Movement analysis

As with all movements, if the BSSD is executed incorrectly, the risk of injury will begin to increase. What tends to happen during most single leg exercises is that the client overloads the anterior chain (front of the anatomy), meaning the quadriceps take up too much tension. After a while, this will start to irritate tissue around the knee unnecessarily. Our mission as practitioners is to ensure our clients load efficiently to prevent unwanted stress and promote good movement recruitment.

The set

  • Pick up the KB and place into the farmers’ carry position, with the wrist in supination. (This is a good way to keep the client’s shoulders in a good position).

  • Split the legs as wide as possible between the two boxes. The wider the legs are split, the more glutes activation there will be on the front leg (like the lunge as mentioned in Chris Beardsley’s post on Instagram).

  • Ensure the full front foot is on the box/step to promote good posterior chain (rear anatomy) activation through lighting up the glutes and hamstrings.

  • The position of the foot can vary, as some like to pivot on their toes and some like to have their foot fully plantarflexed (like in yoga).

The action – part 1

  • As with most lifting, the strategy must always involve creating tension. During this movement, this is done by creating intra-abdominal pressure (see the previous post and the video on this).
  • The client must be made aware of the scapular position, with the wrist being in supination and the scapulars being slightly retracted (ask the client to ‘pinch a penny between the shoulder blades’).

  • Pivoting on the rear foot, the client should ‘press’ themselves downwards until they are at full ROM or their knee slightly touches the ground. They should maintain a vertical shin and a slight lean forwards.

The action – part 2

  • The ‘drive’ back into the upright position should be vertical, and the client should imagine they are pushing something off the top of their head.
  • During the ‘drive’ upwards, the client should focus on the heel of the front foot and on lighting up the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings), as previously mentioned.

Literature that is freely available

The first is an article by Chris Beardsley, titled Split Squat (2017), which is published by This is by far the best source of information out there on this topic.

Another great paper which compares the bilateral squat and unilateral squat (BSS) and highlights the similarities on an EMG (electromyography) is Muscle Activity in Single- Vs Double-Leg Squats by Bradley et al (2014).

My top three key coaching cues

1). The Box – this a good cue for those who have a tendency to move forwards or backwards. Ask the client to imagine they are in a box and the only direction they can move is downwards:

2). Pull Up – this cue is for those clients who tend to push up and out on the bottom position rather than pull up from the heel (as mentioned in a previous video)

3). Use both glutes – this is for clients who are not activating the rear leg glutes. This cue helps open the hips in the bottom range.

Limitations and correctives

1). Balance – this is quite often a limiting factor. Using something as a support (such as a pole) is great for this.

2). ROM – as with all exercises in the gym environment, there may be a ROM limitation. I use this movement to fix that problem – this video shows how.

This completes the third blog post in the series. The next one will cover the bench press.