You must have surely been familiar with the notion which says, “the more you practice a thing, the better you get at it”. This notion applies to everything and a scientific approach to training is no exception. When it comes to advanced and elite lifters who have a decent level of experience in training and who are familiar with lifting super heavyweights, they need to make the use of different training methods to facilitate growth and strength gains. One such method is the Bulgarian Method which falls in the category of the simplest training methods. But it should definitely not be confused with being easy. This method is a renowned one in the field of competitive weightlifting.
As its name only implies, the Bulgarian training System originated in Bulgaria. Ivan Abadjiev who was the head coach of the Bulgarian Weightlifting Team in 1968, can be considered to be the creator of this training program. Using the Bulgarian training system, he made the team win 12 Olympic Gold Medals along with making 57 world champions, and that too in a country where the population was roughly 9 million. Since then, the Bulgarian Method gained notoriety and spread to other nations like Iran, Greece, and Turkey that marked their prominence in the field of weightlifting. Later on, the Bulgarian Method was also used in powerlifting to up the numbers on the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.
The following sections will guide you well about this unique workout program and will also let you know how you can incorporate it into your weightlifting workout routine.
Bulgarian Method: The Definitive Guide
The Bulgarian Method basically involves training a few lifts twice or thrice in a day. The reps of those lifts are kept low and you hit your max on those lifts many times in a week. This training method is designed exclusively for advanced and elite lifters especially those who compete in weightlifting or powerlifting events.
- If you are a novice or a regular gym-goer, don’t even think about using this training method. It can eventually wear you out and provide you with no substantial gains. If you are looking for a basic bodybuilding program, the Bulgarian training system is not for you.
- This is a HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD workout program.
- If you intend to follow this workout program, even if you are an elite or professional lifter, you need to be perfect with your lifting form and technique.
- The presence of an experienced powerlifting or weightlifting coach is also very important to validate your form.
- While following the Bulgarian Method, most of the lifters might need to go through steroid cycles to enhance their recovery.
What Characterizes the Bulgarian System?
The core of the Bulgarian System lies in some of its key characteristics. Let’s have a look at them:-
- Extremely Specific in Nature
The main workload of the original Bulgarian System comprises of the competitive lifts including the snatch and clean and jerk. The assistance work in it includes front squats and some power variations of the same competitive lifts. Even back squats are used occasionally under the original Bulgarian System.
- Supremely High Frequency
The original Bulgarian System involves performing the same competitive lifts and their variations in every other workout. When it comes to periods of intense training, even 2-3 daily sessions are carried out. The underlying factor behind this is that you tend to become better at a skill that you practice often.
- Maximum Effort
When you are following the Standard Bulgarian training, you would be working out with the maximum weight that you can lift for a single rep. You will repeat this several times a week. At times, you may be required to follow such protocol on a daily basis.
- Extremely Low Reps
When it comes to advanced and elite weightlifters they occasionally choose to get more than 3 reps on the competitive lifts, more than 5 reps on the basic strength movements, and more than 8 reps on the assistance work. It may surely surprise you that following the original Bulgarian program will require you to perform most of your sets with either 1 or 2 reps. Very rarely you would be performing the 3-rep sets.
- Hardcore Training Segmentation
The concept which involves fragmentation of daily training volume into more than one daily session is utilized in the most “extreme” form under the original Bulgarian System.
- The workload under this training protocol is divided into two or three daily sessions. Those sessions are again divided into two to three smaller units.
- For instance, lifters following this training protocol would perform snatch for 30-40 minutes, rest for 20-30 minutes; then perform clean and jerk for 30 minutes, rest for 20 minutes, and finally front squat for 20-30 minutes. All this will be done in a single training session.
The principles that we are going to provide under this section are not a set of preconceived belief systems. These principles, however, are the ones that can work perfectly for the majority of lifters. These principles will guide you well throughout your workout routine. You can even change them a bit to suit your individual requirements. Let’s have a look at them:-
- Simplicity is the key
Choose only a few variations that you can use for a longer period of time. You can add up paused reps, deficit work, lifts from the hang, etc. to them if you like. You need to make sure that the variations are fewer and you stick with them.
- Gradual changes should be made
It is imperative that your training program need to change over time to provide your body with the challenge that it needs for growth. While following this workout program, you need to make sure that those changes in your training schedule should be gradual and not sudden. You need to be patient in making changes along with being cautious regarding the details. This ensures that both your mechanics and strength get improved over time.
- Rest periods between sets should be short; a break should be taken between exercises
You need to be progressing at a good clip between sets. For instance, sets of clean and jerk requires you to have a max of 3 minutes of rest. On the snatch, no more than 2 minutes of rest is required.
Between two different exercises, it is recommended to take around 10-30 minutes of rest. In that period, it is advisable to relax, rehydrate, and eat something.
- Be consistent with your training unless you are facing an injury
While following the Bulgarian System you might feel like shit at times. But nevertheless, you need to be consistent with your training. It is expected by the lifter who is following this workout program to be mature enough to differentiate between training pain and injury pain. So irrespective of how brutal your training pain is, you need to get through your workout sessions without fail.
- If you are requiring a sudden adrenaline rush for an attempt, it’s time for you to wrap up
While following the Bulgarian Method you don’t need to over push yourself. Keeping a calm mind throughout your training session will fetch you better results. If a certain attempt is requiring you to psych up or yell your vocal cords out, you can simply wrap up your workout session for that day. This will also help in promoting better recovery and recuperation that will aid in improving your next session.
- Daily minimum is more significant than Daily maximum
While following the Bulgarian System of training, your daily minimum is considered more important than your daily maximum. Daily minimum refers to a weight that you can lift comfortably even on your worst days. Initially, it falls to around 80% of your true max. But as you progress with time, it can go up to 85-90% of your true max.
- When it comes to your daily maximum, it fluctuates as you progress through the weeks. Owing to this factor, your daily max is not considered a proper parameter to judge your progress. On the contrary, if your daily minimum is remaining constant, you can be sure that at least you are not backsliding. Also, if your daily minimum is increasing you can rest assured of getting stronger. It is also an indication that a new PR is on the way.
You just need to be realistic and practical while determining your daily minimum. It is the weight that you should be capable of lifting even on days when you are feeling less energetic and motivated. In case you fail to hit your daily minimum, it will simply mean that you got too unrealistic while determining it.
Modified Bulgarian Method
The good news is that you can use the Bulgarian-ish system by making some tweaks and modifications to it and include it in your workout program. It doesn’t matter whether you want to use this training system for winning Olympic weightlifting events or powerlifting or bodybuilding competitions or to get overall stronger, it will serve you in your best interests. Let’s have a look at the modifications that you can make:-
- You can add variability
You can program your workouts in 3-week cycles. You will be choosing a single variation of the lifts you want to get stronger upon and would perform them 4 days a week. Once you complete the 3-week cycle, you can choose another lift and improve upon it following the same protocol.
- Cycling of RMs
If you work towards your 1 RM in every session, it can easily drain you out. So, when you follow the 3-week cycles, you simply cycle the RMs. In such a case, an ideal progression of workouts fall in the below-mentioned zones:-
- Week 1- 3 RM
- Week 2- 2 RM
- Week 3- 1 RM
- Planned variation of intensity during the week
In the Bulgarian System, you will go through your maximum effort frequently. At times, it can become excessively taxing. So a better way out is to work your max twice a week. On the remaining days, you can go for 70 and 90% of the maximum reached on that week. It provides you better results on one hand and facilitates better long-term progressions on the other.
- One session to be performed on a daily basis
A serious lifter often tends to divide his training volume into two sessions. The quality of work gets improved due to this as the lifter gets to start his sessions in a more focused state. It also enhances neurological and physiological adaptation. This may sound to be an unrealistic way to train for most people.
- Including “bodybuilding” work
If you are a weightlifter you can also incorporate some bodybuilding related work following the Bulgarian training program. If a certain muscle group is lagging or not getting adequately stimulated by your three main lifts, it’s recommended to take corrective measures for it. It helps in ensuring maximum performance as well as preventing probable injuries.
Bulgarian Method for Powerlifting & Bodybuilding
By following the below mentioned basic principles, you can easily incorporate Bulgarian Method into your bodybuilding/powerlifting routine or any training regimen that includes resistance training.
- Prioritizing and focusing on certain lifts (primarily competition lifts) to improve the neural factors.
- Practicing those lifts on a frequent basis.
- Pushing hard on those lifts often.
- Segmented training.
You must keep in mind that the Bulgarian Method works more optimally for lifters who are genetically-gifted and execute the exercises with proper form. It may not work exceptionally well for most regular natural lifters.
Bulgarian Method Workout
By now you must have surely got some decent idea about the main elements of the Bulgarian Method. Now it’s time to get to the main workout plan that you will follow. Let’s get through it.
- At first do your warm-ups
Your workout will fall under any one of the following two cases. Just proceed the way as mentioned:-
Case 1: You hit your daily minimum and you feel good.
- Now once you are done with hitting your daily minimum, work up to your daily max. You need to hit your daily max with perfect form.
- If your back, legs, and hips are still feeling strong, perform some dropback sets. Lighten up the barbell by 10-20% to perform them.
(If they are not feeling strong, you can wrap up your session for that day)
- Perform dropback sets of 2-3 reps until you reach a point where one set gets slower than the previous one. You can also perform those sets until your RPE reaches 8.5-9.
- After finishing your squats, follow the same protocol for the bench press.
- Once or twice per week, Perform some submaximal deadlifts that will be 70-85% of your 1 RM for 5-10 singles.
- If you need, you can perform 1 or 2 accessory exercises after going through all the above steps.
Case 2: You hit your daily minimum and you feel tired and terrible.
- You can either switch to some other exercise or wrap up your training session for that day.
It is imperative that before you proceed with your training you go through your regular warm-ups. This will help in preparing up your muscles in advance to tackle the load that they will be training with. It also helps in the prevention of injuries.
By the end of your training session, if you are not feeling excessively enervated, you can throw in some bodybuilding accessory exercises like pull-ups, dumbbell rows, leg curls, bicep curls, etc. It helps in focusing on the muscles that are not adequately stimulated by your primary weightlifting or powerlifting lifts.
Classic Bulgarian Method Workout Routine
Classic Bulgarian Method Workout Routine
Snatch heavy single + back-off singles or doubles, clean & jerk heavy single + back-off 2+1 or 1+2, back squat heavy single + back-off singles or doubles.
Power snatch heavy single + back-off singles or doubles, power clean & jerk heavy single + back-off 2+1 or 1+2, front squat heavy single + back-off singles or doubles.
Bulgarian Method Spreadsheet
Spreadsheets serve to simplify complex numerical data in a manner that makes it easier to comprehend. The Google sheet presented here provides you with a handy template that you can use while following the Bulgarian Method.
Thanks to Chris Fountain for creating this awesome template.
This spreadsheet gives you a detailed idea about the various phases that you go through while following the Bulgarian method. It will aid you in eliminating any kind of perplexity that may arise regarding the selection of weights. You will be using a certain percentage of your 1 Rep Max as you progress through the sets. This excel sheet will also let you know which accessory movements you should perform which can aid in increasing your numbers on the specified lifts. Although the accessory movements are optional, you can choose to perform them to counter your weak spots.
We expect that this workout guide would have surely provided you with everything that you need to know about the Bulgarian Method. This training system has proven to be immensely effective for Olympic weightlifters. The “High Intensity, High Frequency” approach of this program is also helpful for lifters to break off their plateaus. However, you should not immediately jump up to the Bulgarian System of training leaving the workout program that is currently working for you. You can keep this training method in your reserve to try out when you are looking forward to promote massive strength gains along with breaking off plateaus.