The Bulgarian Blitz Training Routine
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
The 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...
Step 1: Basic Routine Template
- Snatch: 3 singles, using 'Maximum Training Resistance' (use matrix)
- Clean & Jerk: MTR matrix
- Front Squat: 3 singles, using MTR, then 2 doubles with MTR -15 kilos
- Back Squat: 3 doubles with Monday CJ MTR + 20 kilos
- Power Snatch: 3 singles with MTR
- Power Clean and Push Jerk: 3 singles with MTR
- Romanian Deadlift: 3 triples with Mon CJ MTR + 20 kilos
- Snatch: work up to true 1RM
- CJ: work up to true 1RM
- Front Squat or Back Squat: work up to true 1RM
[Basically this is a 'Total Day' or a simulated competition. Again, you don't
want to psyche up like this is the Olympics, but you do want to 'let loose' and
push yourself to darn near what your absolute max for that day would be.]
There you have it. Pretty simple, eh? And who could complain about that
volume or frequency? If you cannot handle the above workout schedule, then you
have some serious recovery issues. You may want to consider retiring from
weightlifting and taking up cross-stitch, or something else less stressful.
Now, one of the important concepts here is that of "Maximum Training
Resistance." This is what some of you may have heard referred to as a
'daily max' before. The definition of the MTR is "the maximum resistance
that can be overcome one time without a strong effort of will or emotional
stress." This is key in this program, at least as I have it structured to
work for the individual. We want to use the MTR so as not to burn out the
nervous system. Thus, on Mondays and Wednesday, the singles in the classical and
power lifts must NOT be 'balls to the wall, my youngest son is hanging suspended
over a Judas Cradle' type of lifts. They are 'I can walk up to the bar and pull
this weight' lifts. Of course, you have to toe the line. Also, you have to learn
whether you are missing lifts because you are actually working above your MTR,
or because your form sucks. For me, it is an issue of pulling in the snatch and
clean and the drive in the jerk. If I am pulling the bar high enough to snatch
it or clean it, and driving it high enough to jerk it, I don't feel that I have
exceeded my MTR, whether I am making the lifts or not. If I am missing my
snatches out front, it is likely just because of my crappy first pull and lack
of a full shrug, and not because I am going too heavy. As a lifter progresses,
he will learn exactly where that line is.
At the start of the program, Mondays and Wednesdays only will be done using
the 'MTR Matrix'. This matrix will appear at the very end of the article, and I
will place appropriate comments with it.
Step 2: Adding a Session
Alright, the first step beyond the basic workout on your way to becoming a
Bulgarian. What is it? On the middle day of the week, you are going to do 2
sessions. The session you have already been doing will be the AM session, and
the following will be done in the PM:
- Snatch 80%/2 (3-4 sets)
- CJ 80%/2 (3-4 sets)
- Snatch Pulls 3-4 sets of triples with a weight 10 kilos over what was used
for the snatches
The issue here becomes on what day of the week are you able to add a session.
So, if you can do an AM and PM workout on Thursday, that becomes your 'middle
day', and you are now lifting Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Though, if adding an AM
(or basically just a session 2-3 hours earlier in the day) session is a big
stumbling block, continuing on with the progression of the program might be next
The other issue here is when to take these steps. That, I am afraid, is up to
the individual lifter and/or his coach. I would say that once you have been
'through the matrix' a couple of times at each and are able to keep making
progress, add the next step. Your body is ready for the challenge.
Step 3: Adding a Day
So, you have added a session. A few months later, you should be ready to add
a fourth day. What previously would have been the M, W, F workouts,
respectively, will now take place on M, Tu, and Sat. What do we add in? On
Thursday, you will do a workout that looks exactly like Monday's. That wasn't so
hard, was it?
Step 4: Adding a Session
You have now been lifting 4 days a week, twice on Tuesdays. Your hair has
gotten a little longer than is stylish, and you tend to wear t-shirts bearing
'80s slogans that were not even cool in the '80s. It is time to move on...
You will add an AM session to Monday. (with the previously done Monday
session moved to the PM, or done second) What will that AM session look like?
- Snatch: 85%/2 (3-4 sets)
- CJ: 90%/2 (2-3 sets)
- Back Squat or RDL to MTR
Step 5: Adding Two Sessions
This is it. The final bump in the road. It may have taken you a year and a
half to work through the prior steps. You now can answer your cell phone between
the clean and the jerk portions of the lift, and you got a new driver's license
that says "?aв C?/4иц" instead of "Dave Smith". You are ready
for the final step in truly becoming a Bulgarian...
What is added? It's simple, really. On Thursday you add an AM workout that
looks the same as Monday's AM workout, and on Saturday you do the following
workout (though it is more of a CNS warm-up than a workout) in the AM:
- Back Squat 80%/3 (3 sets)
- Power Snatches: 'light'
- Power Clean and Push Jerk: 'light'
So, there you have it. You now do 8 workouts a week. Craziness? Hardly, if
you have added the steps only once you were ready. Not quite as extreme as the
Bulgarians? Think again, because you are now using almost the exact same
routine that the Bulgarian team has been doing since new Head Coach Plamen
Asparukhov took over for Abadjiev in 2001 and reaffirmed the Bulgarian team's
commitment to staying in line with IOC doping regulations. You now train just
like Boevski and Jeliazkov, so good luck and go lift like them...
*The MTR Matrix
This is basically a system of volume/intensity progression that was used by
the old Bulgarian regime that has not fallen out of favor. You can play with and
rearrange the weeks as you like, but my preference is to go A-B-B-C-A. Some
people can handle A-B-B-C-C-A. Try different things and see what works for you.
Also, to start with a lifter is probably best off basing the entire mesocycle
on the MTR that was used during the first week. So, the weeks will just build
upon each other. As the lifter becomes more comfortable with the system and his
own capabilities, however, he will become more in tune with what his true
MTR is on any given day, and during weeks B and C, respectively, will basically
just do a second wave and a third wave back up to that weight irrespective of
what MTR was used during week one.
"A" Week: Predicted MTR -20kilos for 2 reps, Pred. MTR -10 kilos
for a single, MTR for 3-4 singles.
"B" Week: Perform A week progression, followed by MTR -10 kilos for
a double, MTR -5 kilos for a single, and then MTR +5 kilos for 2-4 singles.
"C" Week: Entire B week progression performed, followed by a double
with MTR -20 kilos, another double with MTR -10 kilos, and finally 3-4 more
singles with MTR plus 5 or 7.5 kilos.
So, if you were doing a simple A-B-B-C-A progression over 5 weeks, and you
found that your snatch MTR was 100 on the first Monday, for the next 5 weeks
your Monday snatch workouts might be as follows:
Week 1: 80/2, 90, 100 (3-4)
Week 2: 80/2, 90, 100 (3), 90/2, 95, 105 (2-4)
Week 3: 80/2, 90, 100 (3), 90/2, 95, 105 (2-4)
Week 4: 80/2, 90, 100 (3), 90/2, 95, 105 (3), 80/2, 90/2, 105 (2), 107.5 (2)
Week 5: 80/2, 90, 100 (3-4)
At this point, the lifter would start over, this time likely using 105 as the
MTR for the first A week in the mesocycle.
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