Written by Max Aita
Most of what I am sharing here of the Bulgarian System is from my personal experience training with a few key people that shared with me their knowledge. Those people are Ivan Abadjiev-creator of the system, Martin Pashov-whose father was an Olympic Bronze medalist under the system, and Steve Gough. Gough is a US coach who has developed many talented lifters throughout his career. He came to many of the same conclusions as Abadjiev had and in a similar way throughout his career. Having trained under both men I can attest to the almost identical similarities of both systems.
The Way It Was
The largely dominant USSR had developed many of the top lifters in the world during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The training regimes developed were rooted in a methodical system that planned the training using a phasic structure in which development of different motor qualities and technical skills were emphasized at different times in the training year.
A strict adherence to the technical skills and components were emphasized over an emphasis on simply achieving the entire workload at all costs. Many excellent coaches and excellent lifters were developed with this system and still to this day many coaches are using the foundations of this system to produce world and olympic champions.
Abadjiev’s system deviated from this system as he moved up the ranks to become the National coach of Bulgaria.
The transformation of the training system that took place was subtle over the course of years. It was not simply invented overnight and I believe that a large part of the system was rooted in Abadjiev’s own personality and character as an individual. His extreme work ethic and unwavering determination to win was a major theme in his coaching.
The elimination of many exercises and a shift in training loads toward the highest end of the intensity spectrum are key characteristics of the Bulgarian model. However the more overlooked and what I believe to be the more significant changes were in how frequently they competed and how much of the training environment revolved around competition. There were many many competitions planned in the year, over 10 in some cases, contrast that with 2-4 traditionally.
The other modifications were an absolute effort by the athletes at achieving the planned training loads regardless of technical mistakes or failed lifts. This approach has both a positive and negative influence. On one hand with the increase in training loads and the intensification of frequent competitions lifters become very capable and very familiar with the competitive environment. In most cases they are able to achieve numbers far in excess of what they would on the competitive stage during training sessions. On the other side of that scenario there is an inherent risk of injury in training when training at that level. The major down side is that technical mastery can become difficult, especially for novice and intermediate lifters.
|Phasic structure||Multiple phases with distinct emphasis on different motor qualities||Practically indistinguishable phases for most of the yearly plan|
|Variety of exercises used||Large pool of exercise variations aimed at addressing technical, and physical weaknesses, in conjunction with different phases of highly specific work aimed at realizing high results in the competitive exercises.||Very limited pool of exercises aimed at directing all available physical resources into achieving high results in the classic lifts.|
|Intensity of the classic lifts||Small distribution of lifts to maximum relative to the total volume of training||Large portion of the classic lifts done to maximum intensity relative to the total volume of training.|
|Development of leg strength||Lower frequency to workouts.|
Submaximum weights lifted for multiple repetition sets over multiple sets
|High frequency workouts. Maximum weights and near maximum weights lifted for low repetitions over very few sets.|
|Development of back strength||Large volume of loading devoted to development of back strength and technical reinforcement through the use of pulls/deadlifting exercises||As a standard very little if any pulling exercises included in normal training.|
Some of the training ideas that pass themselves off as the Bulgarian system, while not inherently bad or wrong, that I have seen are not accurate to the system. One of these ideas is the “daily maximum”. This is the concept that a lifter train with a weight that is essentially the most they can lift on that particular day based on how it feels or how technically correct it is.
This idea was never a concept I heard Abadjiev talk about or other lifters for that matter.
The if the loading called for a maximum then the lifter is expected to attempt an absolute maximum. Its not to say that you have to miss lifts overtime you trained but it was certainly not uncommon.