The Bulgarian system produced lifters who were not very muscular, but capable of executing heavy lifts.
The Bulgarian "System" is just another example of a fad or trend that came and went. In the article below a respected American weightlifting coach, Bob Takano, gives his take. Like Bob, I first heard of this "system" in the 1984 article in Sports Illustrated that he refers to. Unlike Bob, I never traveled to Bulgaria. I did take the opportunity to attend a clinic here in the U.S. given by Angel Spassov, a Bulgarian coach, around 1989 or so which I have written about in Milo magazine.(March 2016) It was clear to me that the success that Bulgaria was having in weightlifting was as likely in spite of their training as it was because of it. As Bob states below, there are many factors that came in to play which basically setup a "system" of natural selection of the most genetically talented and robust specimens who could survive and adapt. (with the help of medicinal support) The Bulgarians broke a lot of lifters in order to produce a few who could survive and excel under the stress. In the modern age with more stringent testing, the Bulgarian mystique has faded. So have the numerous articles, programs, and products claiming to be be "Bulgarian". Do not misunderstand, maximum lifting has it's place in training when the proper foundation has been established and when prescribed in the proper amounts. Maxing out everyday, day after day however, is a recipe for pain. If you want to be healthy and lift for a long time, you'll have to put more thought into your own "system".
I continue to hear about lifters that are fascinated with the Bulgarian method of training, practice it and swear that it is THE WAY to train. I’m speaking about the practice of going up to max singles on every lift every training day.
We first heard about this approach when Dr. Terry Todd wrote an article about Naim Suleymanoglu’s lifting for Sports Illustrated in 1984. Most of us were stunned as we had never heard about such a radical departure from accepted training orthodoxy. I had the opportunity to go to Bulgaria as part of a NSCA Study Tour in 1989 and to listen to Abadjiev’s presentation on this particular approach.
We even had an opportunity to watch it during a training session in which each member of the national team worked up to a max single (many of them exceeding the existing world records at the time), then lowered the bar by 10 kg, lifted that, added 5 kg, lifted that and then repeated a single at the max weight. These progressions continued throughout the training until the time limit for the session was reached. This can also be observed in the video Secret Bulgarian Training which is available on my website.
The logical question that comes to mind after learning of this approach is “Yes, but how do they train during the Preparation mesocycle?” Both former national coaches Dragomir Ciroslan and Harvey Newton have posed that question during discussions we held about Bulgarian training. Since then I’ve had a number of discussions on this issue with very knowledgeable coaches about the training methodologies that must take place before elite level athletes are able to employ this type of training on a prolong basis.
I’ve heard that the Kazakhstanis, who did very well in London, only Bulgarianize their training of athletes after 10 years of Russian style training. I recently had an online chat with Lisandro Digiuni, the national coach of Colombia, a rising weightlifting power. He assisted Bulgarian Gancho Karuchkov as a member of the Columbian national coaching staff for several years. The Colombians only use Bulgarian methodologies for Master of Sport and International Master of Sport lifters. Up until that point they employ the more traditional Russian and Cuban methods.
When I was in Bulgaria it was immediately after the 1988 Olympics and a time period during which the Bulgars were riding high in the international rankings with multiple world record holders. Since so many are enthralled by the Bulgarian training methodologies, they might want to consider the following factors as they approach the issue of the preparation of weightlifters.
Candidates for the national youth development programs were selected at age 12. This doesn’t mean you automatically got in if you were 12. You had to be 12 and display great aptitude for weightlifting.
Selected candidates were enrolled in Sports Schools where academics were covered in the morning classes and the afternoons were dedicated to training by university trained coaches. These were boarding school situations.
There were 85 university trained (which means they had degrees in weightlifting coaching) and salaried coaches in Bulgaria.
The goal of the program was to start with 3200 select weightlifters at the beginning of each quad and end up with the 10 left standing at the end of four years. These 10 would form the Olympic teams. There is no mention of the fate of the 3190 who didn’t make the team.
There were 3 teams of 10 each in the national training center that used the Bulgarian style of training. There was a Senior A, a Senior B and a Junior A team. Quarterly trials that resulted in the worst 2 Senior A lifters being moved down to the Senior B, and the two best Senior B lifters moved up to the Senior A were a part of the competitive atmosphere. The same dynamic took place between the bottom of the Senior B and the Junior A.
The aforementioned 3 teams were made up of salaried professional weightlifters.
Abadjiev and 3 assistants coached the 30 lifters with assistance from personal coaches who would work periodically at the national center. This was possible because of the relatively small size of the country (110,994 square kilometers).
The national center had a full time sports physician and nutritionist.
Restoration centers that provided hydrotherapy, massage and other recovery modalities were available near training centers in Sofia and Varna.
There were only two Olympic sports in which Bulgarians expected to medal—Rhythmic gymnastics and weightlifting. It’s not hard to figure how government sports funding was being allocated.
Several Bulgarian lifters in the 1988 Games were found to be positive for furosemide, a powerful diuretic that is normally used to flush the last traces of metabolites of ergogenic aids out of the system prior to dope testing.
Now there is a good chance that many of these factors contributed to the great successes of the Bulgarians during their period of dominance. But if you want to think that only doing max singles everyday is THE FACTOR then go for it!
(Originally published at www.takanoathletics.com)