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Old 04-23-2010, 09:39 AM   #1
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Default Bulgarian Weightlifting

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...

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Bulgarian Weightlifting and Weight Lifting
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