An excerpt from Critical Bench:
Bulgarian Weightlifting and Weight Lifting
This article was written for the single purpose of exploring Bulgarian training methods as they can and should be used by your run-of-the-mill American weightlifter. Well, that and for the purpose of firing off a little rant. But, if you can get through the ranting, I promise there will be some training stuff somewhere in there...
As of late, it seems that an increasing number of people have taken to saying that the Bulgarians have lost their edge, and that Bulgaria is 'no longer dominant' in international weightlifting. I am not altogether sure exactly what results these folks are looking at. The 2000 Olympics, for example, which was about the worst meet in 3 decades for the Bulgarians, still saw 4 Bulgarian-trained lifters on the medal stand. Six students of the Bulgarian system medalled at the 2002 World Championships. As of March 2003, if one were to look at the IWF men's rankings one will find that the Bulgarians have a lifter ranked in the top 3 in ALL SIX classes that are 69 kilos and above. Not only that, but in 4 of those classes the Bulgarian is ranked number one.
So, it seems to me that in the 'ever-expanding world of the 21st century', the Bulgarians are continuing to more than hold their own in weightlifting. Especially when one considers that Bulgaria is a nation of about 8 million, while countries of half a billion sit and flounder with no lifters and no medals.
But I digress... the fact is that the Bulgarians are still good. They are better than good. And the single most important reason for their success is their training methods.
Yes, after comments about how the Bulgarians are not that good anymore come out of one side of the mouth, comments about how their training is worthless usually comes out of the other. The most common version of this old song and dance is a statement to the effect of "Oh, that routine would KILL you!" Inherent in this excuse is one of two common premises. First is that the Bulgarians succeed with their training solely because of enormous amounts of drugs. Second is that only their hand-picked genetic freaks could handle that kind of workload.
The problem with the first point is that the Bulgarians are not that high on the list of IOC drug offenders. Sure, there are Bulgarians that use banned anabolic substances. But, the same can be said for EVERY international team, and I do mean *EVERY*. The fact is that the Bulgarians dominate the middleweight classes, where excessive use of anabolics might just put a lifter over his class limit. Some countries which will remain nameless, for instance Russia, always seem to have their best lifters drifting through the 94s and the 105s on their way to being 135 kilo heavyweights. This type of situation seems much more indicative of drug use, but of course the whiners do not want to hear logical arguments. Additionally, the Bulgarian training system is not the type that would draw too heavily upon the benefits of using anabolics. The Bulgarian-type workout consisting only of a moderate number of not-quite-maximum singles imposes a heavy burden on the CNS, but if one is looking for CNS stimulation or recovery there are better places than steroids to find it. Again, contrast this with traditional training programs in the Russian regime where athletes of high sports mastery would be training on up to 80 different lifts/exercises a year, with about 25% of these done for sets of 5 reps or more, and you can see a training protocol that drastically has its effectiveness increased by substances that will increase protein synthesis and help recovery at the cellular level.
Bulgarian Weight LiftingThe second point, that of genetics, has a grain of truth in it. The best Bulgarian lifters have been in the system for quite some time, and have risen to the top from among the best of the best. However, one can look down the Bulgarian ranks to see if it is the 'system' or the 'individuals'. Bulgaria usually has a very deep team of lifters, so much so that they can afford to sell half of them to foreign countries. I somehow doubt that, again, in this nation of only 8 million people there are that many more 'perfect weightlifters' born than anywhere else. The other thing is, these lifters have slowly worked up to what they are doing over that long time that they have been in the system. Bulgaria does not throw its 14 year-olds into a situation where they go from doing nothing to doing 27 workouts a week where they snatch to a heavy single. In fact, many Eastern European nations that start lifters as young as 12 years old have them doing only about 30% of their training as specific preparation for as long as 3 years. It takes them a long time to ramp up to the volumes they are handling once they are competing at the world level.
Finally, as an adjunct to both points, people need to realize that the training program, as the elite Bulgarian lifters follow it, IS brutal. However, drugs are not as big a piece of the pie as they are made out to be. Neither is genetics. The Bulgarians have massages before, during, and after workouts. Do you? The Bulgarians take all sorts of herbs and 'adaptogens' and are deeply involved in legal sports performance pharmacology. Are you? The Bulgarians on the national team don't have to keep a 9-to-5, forty hour a week job. Do you? The point here is that there are many recovery factors that can come into play that do make a Bulgarian routine more accessible to their lifters than to the average American. That said, if you are willing to do some homework on herbs and learn a little bit about sports self-massage, etc., you also can reap the benefits of increased recovery.
All that having been said, I simply refuse to accept the idea that there is nothing to learn from their training. In fact, I have arrived at what I believe is a way to work *anyone* into a system that at least draws upon the same principles as the Bulgarian training methods, and have been using it with myself and others. You might never get to 'Full-on Bulgarian' status, but you can definitely make their type of workouts work for you...
Bulgarian Weightlifting and Weight Lifting
An excerpt from Olympic Weightlifting Source:
Olympic Weightlifting Resource - Bulgarian Training Methodology
Bulgarian Training Methodology
Everyone has heard of the Bulgarian training method and in fact people use the phrase "Bulgarian weightlifting/weightlifters" to support everything from nutritional supplements to setups as the new leg training protocol. However, one should be skeptical about people promoting a product or new machine or exercise claiming that the Bulgarian weightlifters use it, because chances are they do not use and would never have any intentions of using it. The main goal of this article is to help people understand the Bulgarian training methodology and the reasons behind it, in addition sample routines will be provided, hopefully with this information it will be easier to see past marketers tossing around the term "Bulgarian" to promote products and weird exercises.
The first distinction of a Bulgarian training program is the intensity of the program, the overall lack of variety in exercise selection in the program, and the consistent in the loads throughout the weeks, months, and year. Another major distinction in the training program is there are multiple training sessions per day almost every single day. The Bulgarians believe training sessions should last roughly 30-60 minutes with the average being 45 minutes. The training of the Bulgarians raise a few eyebrows but they have their reasons for creating their program.
The psychological and physiological reasons the Bulgarians adapted a multiple session training day and every day training system. One reason is that the multiple training sessions per day with rests in between will allow the athlete to perform their best at each session. Another reason given is that the multiple training sessions help elevate testosterone levels. The theory according to the Bulgarians is that testosterone level peak during training but after 1 hour the levels decline. So they came to the conclusion that multiple training sessions with short rests of 30 minutes to an hour between each session will help keep testosterone elevated and allow faster recovery and better performance. Another proposed reason for the long training days almost from 7 am to 10 pm is to make sure the athletes are not doing activities that are detrimental to their recovery and progress. It has been suggested that famous Bulgarian coach, Ivan Abadjiev, wanted longer training sessions to help control his socially and physically so they would not harm their weightlifting career and progress. Whether this was the main reason behind the long training sessions no one really knows, as of now it is just speculation.
Bulgarians varied their loads through the months though. Bulgarians would have a loading month and unloading months in the program. The loading months were usually 3 weeks of intense training, high volume and intensity, followed by 1 week with light or moderate loads. Similarly when an unloading month was planned there would be in a month 3 weeks of light or moderate loads and 1 week of maximum loads. So some could say there was a method to their madness. Even though the Bulgarians planned the their program for the workouts out in advice there was flexibility when it came to intensity. An athlete never knows at what intensity they will be able to perform until they begin lifting. If an athlete is unable to reach their maximum intensity that means it is possible the athlete is fatigued and needs improved recovery measures.
In review the Bulgarians favored training daily with multiple training sessions per day. The suggested reasons for this type of training were physiological, elevated testosterone, and potentially psychological/social, although the social aspect was never truly confirmed. Below you will find two sample routines, the first sample is a general routine and the second sample is a specific routine taken from someone's planner.
Ivan Abadjiev + the Bulgarian Weightlifting System
Ivan Abadjiev + the Bulgarian Weightlifting System - Weightlifting Exchange
By David Woodhouse
Ivan Abadjiev was born in 1932 and was himself a world class weightlifter having placed 2nd in the World Championships in 1953. After retiring from the sport he took an administrative position in Bulgaria but was vocal in his criticism of the national team's training methods. In 1969, following their disappointing performance in the Mexico Olympics, as a desperation move, the governing body appointed him national coach. Just three years later, at the games in Munich, Bulgarian lifters won three gold and three silver medals, their first medals in any sport in Olympic competition. This medal count was duplicated four years later in Montreal and in Moscow increased to two golds, four silvers and two bronzes. In 1984 Eastern European countries boycotted the Los Angeles games, a move that cost Bulgaria several probable gold medals. Nevertheless, at the World Championships two years later they won gold in 6 weight categories (versus the Soviets 3) and became the most successful team in weightlifting history.
Abadjiev was nicknamed 'the Butcher' for the level of discipline and commitment he demanded from his athletes. However, in his first 20 year tenure, he coached 9 Olympic Champions, 57(!) World Champions and 64 European Champions. All this was achieved in a country with a population of just 8 million people - less than that of Greater London.
Abadjiev's most famous athlete was featherweight Naim Suleymanoglu who actually defected from Bulgaria to Turkey in December 1986. Over the next 10 years Naim proved to be the greatest lifter in the history of the sport. He was a senior world record holder at 15, at 16 became only the second man to jerk three times body weight and still holds the highest ever Sinclair total. Despite missing the Los Angeles games, where he would have been an overwhelming favourite, he went on to win three Olympic gold medals plus 7 World and 6 European Championships. In Seoul he broke 4 World and 6 Olympic records and won gold by 30kg. His total would have been enough to win the lightweight division against lifters 7.5kg heavier!
Application of the S.A.I.D. Principle
SAID stands for “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands” and states that “adaptation to a stressor is specific to that stressor”. Applied to weightlifting, this implies that performance is best improved by performing the snatch and clean + jerk with maximal weights. The SAID principle became the corner stone of Abadjiev’s training philosophy.
"Our athletes do not do any "supportive exercises" they stay with full clean and jerk, snatch, and front squat. We have found that taking back squat out is more effective for the healthy lifter. Sticking with the three lifts named above as the only training for the advanced and healthy lifter…. If the athlete is injured they will do back squat or parts of the lift the full lifts (ie. high pulls, push press, etc...). You must be extremely careful with the stresses you put on your athletes. You must have direct benefits from each exercise because the athlete has limited recovery capacity." IA
In 1969 when Abadjiev took over as national coach, the team used 19 exercises in their training. Over the next 20 years, as he continually adapted his program, exercises were progressively discarded until 1986 when his lifters performed just 5 (Snatch, Power Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Power Clean and Front Squat) and exclusively for single repetitions. Throughout this period the team's results in International competition continued to improve and Bulgaria became the top weightlifting nation in the world.
Popular weightlifting 'assistance exercises' such as pulls, deadlifts and back squats were discarded because their movement path and speed of execution does not exactly mirror that used in the competition lifts. Abadjiev states that all available adaptation energy must be committed to exercises with the greatest cross over (i.e. snatch, clean + jerk and front squat!). Additionally, these popular assistance exercises are often performed with loads exceeding those possible in the competition lifts, and for multiple repetitions. This type of training causes substantial skeletal and central nervous system fatigue that reduces the quality of future workouts.
Abadjiev does acknowledge that when injury precludes a lifter from performing the full lifts, assistance exercises may need to be employed.
Adaptations from Maximal Loadings
Consistent training with high intensity loadings can increase the density of nerve impulse that can be generated by the central nervous system. Over time this allows the athlete to recruit a greater percentage of their higher threshold muscle fibres and hence significantly improve power output. Additionally, there is evidence that Type IIa muscle fibres can actually be converted to the more powerful Type IIb fibre type. Abadjiev states that these adaptations are best achieved when loadings are near maximal.
Employing single lifts at maximum improves both intra and inter muscular coordination. The former involves improved synchronisation of fibres within a muscle, and the latter, improved efficiency between muscles. This is especially important in the Olympic lifts which are highly technical whole body movements. Due to fatigue these adaptations cannot be optimally developed when employing multiple repetition sets. Additionally, as technique degrades rapidly under fatigue, there is a risk that lifters may be rehearsing a sub optimal movement pattern.
Zatsiorsky states that high threshold motor units are activated under two conditions, a single maximal repetition and the final repetition of a (maximum) set of multiple repetitions. However, the greater time under tension in a multiple repetition set increases both non functional hypertrophy and muscular fatigue. Non functional hypertrophy is an increase in the size of the muscle cell's sarcoplasm rather than the actual contractile unit, the sarcomere. This can push a lifter into a heavier weight class without a corresponding increase in strength.
Finally, there are many lifters who have flawless technique at submaximal loads but whose technique deteriorates under maximal loading. The Bulgarian system obviously requires the lifter to attempt maximums on a regular basis. This translates into greater confidence with heavy weights, a more consistent competition performance, plus the advantages gained from heavier opening attempts.
SAID Vs Periodisation
Abadjiev used an extension of this argument to challenge the validity of classic periodisation:
“In Bulgaria, many other sports disciplines were built on the methods developed by the Soviet experts. The main concept is distinct periodisation, preparation stage, interim stage and competition stage... I threw it away... Is it logical to achieve outstanding results by hard work and then stop and go back to a lower level?”
In simple terms classic periodisation involves a gradual progression from high volume and low intensity to low volumes and high intensity. Abadjiev implies that any improvements yielded by the high intensity period will quickly be lost when the athlete subsequently reverts back to the higher volume and lower intensity work. A lifter should therefore never stray too far from the ultimate goal of lifting heavier weights!
SAID Vs Variation
This extreme application of the SAID principle has been criticised for it’s lack of variation, a factor regarded as essential for long term progress. At first glance, the small pool of exercises and the exclusive use of singles does appear to support this argument. However, if one looks closer, subtle but very significant variation is actually quite evident. Lifters might take as little as 1, or as many as 10 attempts at maximum. They might hit a maximum and immediately drop back to 80% before progressing back up (sometimes with minor adjustments in the weights attempted). Alternatively, after one or more maximum attempts they may perform drop down, 'flushing' sets at various intensities. Additionally lifters change the order of exercises or repeat exercises ithin the same session to add extra stimulus where required. Finally, the coach might change the training frequency in a given week to permit greater time for recuperation. These and other variables can be continually adjusted to keep training both mentally and physically stimulating (See Appendix). It should be stressed that Bulgarian lifters utilise daily 'training' maximums rather than absolute (best ever) maximums. On a given day, depending on fatigue and arousal levels, these two loads could vary significantly.
It has been reported that Abadjiev favoured a sequence of three hard weeks followed by one lighter one. Some have described the light week as involving a reduction in intensity whilst others suggested they simply involved a reduction in the training frequency with no reduction in intensity. It is likely that Abadjiev experimented with all the variables and adopted different models depending on the individual situation.
Tapering for Competition
Abadjiev has stated that it is 'paramount' to maintain the intensity of training when preparing for competition. Tapering is therefore achieved by reducing training frequency over the final two weeks. Typically he would have his lifter's drop to four sessions in the penultimate week and then two sessions during the final week. Of course athletes in his system were already very tolerant of such training.
"It is extremely important to maintain the adaptive state and keep the lifter used to the heavy poundages that will be experienced on competition day. . On the “off” days the lifter should do a generalized warm-up and no more."
The Training Day
Russev and Abajiev
There are a number of schedules that have been presented by former Bulgarian coaches as examples of an average training week. Some call for absolute maximums only on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings and (maximum) power snatches and power cleans on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. Other examples depict maximum lifts morning and evening on successive days. Please see the Appendix for examples.
Abadjiev was one of the first coaches to implement multiple daily sessions and became the most extreme in distributing the work load across the day. His lifters performed 2 or 3 daily sessions and took a 15 to 30 minute break between exercises. This helped to maximise the quality of each training segment by allowing a degree of physical and mental recuperation. Abadjiev claimed an additional advantage of dividing the training stimulus is that circulating testosterone levels only remain elevated for a maximum of 60 minutes. The rest periods employed between exercises would, in theory, help keep this highly anabolic hormone elevated for longer. However, in light of the probable use of exogenous forms of the drug, this explanation is more likely a ‘red herring’.
It has been suggested by some former Bulgarian lifters that the divided daily program was actually another way for Abadjiev to control his lifters. He was reputedly a stickler for timekeeping and kept his lifters under extremely tight evening and weekend curfews. If their entire day was filled with training and restorative treatments, there was less risk of them fatiguing themselves with other pastimes or distractions! Interestingly, the impact of Abadjiev's persona was so great that observers actually noticed a drop in intensity when he was absent from workouts.
Application of the Bulgarian System
Over the last 20 years, as more information has been made available, the Bulgarian System was adopted in other countries, most notably, Greece, Turkey and Iran. Additionally, independent coaches worldwide have begun to adapt the basic template for 'amateur' lifters of different abilities and stages of development. When adapting the program however, one must be aware that Bulgarian lifters were professional athletes who ate, slept and trained at their National Sports Centre. They had massage before and after training and employed daily water therapy sessions (e.g. sauna and whirlpools) and other restorative methods. In a recent seminar Abadjiev made no secret of the fact that his lifters (like all elite athletes of the time) also took advantage of banned anabolics.
The following is a summary of the 'Americanised Bulgarian' system, which top US coach Steve Gough devised for drug free (mostly part time) Western athletes:
Tom Gough CJ
The corner stones of the program are the three maximum sessions performed on alternate days, e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Time permitting, and with increased work capacity, lifters can then add lighter sessions (up to ~85%) on the 'off days' which function as active recovery from the preceding heavy workout. The last stage is to perform similar 'tuning' sessions on the morning of a heavy workout. There is substantial practical evidence that suggests a moderate session in the morning can actually improve the quality of a workout later in the Tom Gough evening.
To ward against overtraining, as discussed previously, a lighter week can be taken as required. (For examples of how to structure the actual workouts please see the Appendix)
If the lifter embarks on this program cautiously then it is the author's firm belief that tolerance to three maximal sessions per week should be achievable for all, providing a lifter has an efficient technique and is injury free. I would suggest initially setting targets 5% less than (recent) maximum and limiting attempts at maximum to 2 or 3. Over time the athlete and coach will gain an intuitive understanding of when to push, when to back off, and how slight changes in training load will impact on future sessions.
When a lifter first begins to employ maximum lifts in training, the workout may require several days to recover. However, over time, tolerance to the heavier loading develops and the athlete can progress to maximum without significant preparatory arousal. Subsequently CNS fatigue is reduced and training consistency will improve.
To make the most of this approach, the lifter must research and employ any legal methods of improving recovery. Methods that have supporting scientific evidence include creatine, contrast showers, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks and massage. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these in any more depth.
When an American lifter asked Abadjiev what he looked for in an athlete, he replied simply, “will power.” Elsewhere, the Bulgarian System has been described not as a program but as a “state of mind" or "way of life”. There is no doubt that lifters who choose to employ this method must be highly motivated and robust. They must be extremely disciplined both in and out of the gym (to ensure optimal nutrition and sleep etc). Finally, they must be fearless in their pursuit of new maximums and must avoid cultivating a negative attitude toward failures. One of the most striking aspects of the excellent Ironmind DVD, “Unbelievable Bulgarians” is actually the number of missed attempts...
Greatness will never be acquired by staying in one’s comfort zone!
This is the quote that stands out for me:
No I don't get pre, intra, and post WO massages and boy do I wish I could... the closest I get is a foam roller.
No, I am only taking an all in one: creatine, NO, and energy pre workout, multi v, fish oil, fat burner, and protien supplements.
Yes, unfortunately I have a job that is not weightlifting/bodybuilding and it is quite a drag on my workouts.
On a serious note, I learned a lot from these articles. I had a lot of wrong impressions about Bulgarian training. I think I've heard it mentioned before that some Olympic style lifters wouldn't do deadlifts or squats about their lift totals. I don't know which teams advocate this - or if it's the norm. Still learning.
Yeah, most people at the gym aren't nearly as eager to give a rub down as they are a spot :y:
I'll try to find some stuff on the Chinese team. They do other assistance lifts, mainly in the offseason. There are some good vids on youtube of the Chinese training. I'm at work right now, so I don't have access.
My dream scenario:
Me: Excuse me ma'am... I just did some real heavy squats, would you mind massaging my quads?
Stairmaster Trollup: Oh sure, I don't mind.
Me: OOOOOHHHH YEAH!!!
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