If you have had any measure of exposure to the sport of weightlifting (often referred to as Olympic-style weightlifting), you may have heard of the “Bulgarian Method” of training. Many have heard of this system, but few know a lot about what it entails. Hopefully, this will prove to be a good primer on the subject.
The mastermind behind this training system is the legendary Ivan Abadjiev. Abadjiev took the reigns as the national coach for Bulgaria in 1969. In the 20 years that followed, the nation of just eight million people had nine Olympic champions, 57 world champions and 64 European champions. This astounding achievement was not by accident. After a selection process that began around age 12, young athletes who were identified as having the potential to become champion weightlifters went through a period of general physical preparedness and then began specific weightlifting training.
The most basic summation of Abadjiev’s program is this: One becomes proficient at the classic lifts (the snatch and clean and jerk) by frequently doing those lifts. Beyond this, the body is stressed with workloads thought by most to be downright harmful (let alone beneficial) to the progress of a lifter in order to produce the kind of adaptation that turned many lifters into champions. It was and still is controversial.
To elaborate, Abadjiev removed “assistance exercises” from healthy lifters’ routines and had them focus on (at most) six different exercises (power snatch, snatch, power clean, clean and jerk, front squat and back squat). Abadjiev believed that utilizing one’s energy on lifts that did not have a high correlation to the two competition lifts was indeed a waste of energy for the weightlifter.
Abadjiev also believed the human body could respond to stressors and achieve an adaptive state, which would function at a higher level than before. The stressors came in the form of frequent, high intensity training sessions, rather than the accepted training principle of the time – periodisation. Constant stress is imposed on the body in order to produce the adaptive state. The thought is that lowering intensity for periods of rest only serves to return the athlete to a state of lower performance. There is no such thing as overtraining in this system, only undertraining. Maximal or near maximal weights are attempted on a regular basis by experienced lifters in the classic Bulgarian system. This is thought to be critical to the lifter gaining confidence with heavy weights--and in turn--producing a more consistent competition performance.
Athletes in the Bulgarian national system under Abadjiev were split into several smaller training groups to increase the competitive environment and motivate lifters. The stressor of competing is often very important in Abadjiev’s system. Frequent competition experience is used to produce a psychologically adapted state in the athlete, also increasing the likelihood of consistent results.
Rest is an obviously key factor to one’s ability to make gains on this type of program. Top international lifters are often “full time” athletes and utilize frequent naps to supplement their nightly sleep. Massage, water therapy, food supplements as well as substances banned in athletics have also been used to increase a lifter’s ability to recover from the intense workload of this system of training. This is a training philosophy that is not for everyone and cannot be recommended for everyone. Many lifters over the years were unable to adapt to this system, but of the ones who did adapt, many became champions.
If you are interested in learning more about the Bulgarian style of training, below are some links and resources to help you out. These resources will catch you up on what the Bulgarian system is all about faster than you would probably be able to learn in a few months of searching the internet alone.
Ivan Abadjiev + the Bulgarian Weightlifting System (explaining why):
The Bulgarian Method (explaining what & why):
23-Day Bulgarian Workout:
Training Abadjiev Style:
12-Week Training Cycle (by former lifter under Abadjiev and assistant to Abadjiev):
John Broz Interview:
Bulgarian System discussion by top U.S. Coaches:
School of Champions: Bulgarian Training Documentary (Video):
Training Insight from a lifter:
Sports Illustrated Article (on Bulgaria in their hay day):
Interview with Mike Burgener (halfway down, it discusses Bulgarian training):
Bulgarian Weightlifting (explains the Daily Training Maximum program and why Bulgarians are so successful):
Woodhouse, David. Ivan Abadjiev + the Bulgarian Weightlifting System. http://weightliftingexchange.com/index.p....d=438&Itemid=60
“The Bulgarian Method.” http://everything2.com/title/the+Bulgarian+method
Krychev, Alex. Personal conversations, http://csanutrition.com/guides_training.htm
Todd, Terry. Beyond Bulgaria’s Vest-pocket Hercules. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1122166/1/index.htm
Jared Enderton – Jared is a weightlifter, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and a nationally ranked weightlifter in the United States. He has earned his Bachelor’s Degree (with honors) in Exercise Science from the University of Northern Iowa. His certifications include: ACE-PT, CrossFit Level 1, and USAW- Sports Performance. He is also a former State Champion and All-American wrestler in the state of Iowa. In addition to working as a weightlifter and a personal trainer, Jared also has an extensive background in researching and selling sports supplements.