The Bulgarian System

Who Created it?

  • Ivan Abadjiev is one of the most successful and prominent coaches in the history of Olympic weightlifting. He is the author of the famous Bulgarian training methodology that is currently widely followed by many elite lifters and coaches.

  • He won a Silver medal at the 1957 world championships, however it was coaching that brought Abadjiev to the level of unprecedented admiration of the weightlifting experts. Abadjiev coached the Bulgarian national team in 1969 - 1989 and 1997 - 2000 and was able to bring it from a mediocre standing to the elite super power of Olympic weightlifting.

  • Abadjiev prepared 12 Olympic champions, 13 silver Olympic medalists, 4 bronze Olympic medalists, 57 world champions, 64 European champions.

 Amazing right?

Abadjiev’s training system was based on high intensity sessions. Unlike the traditional Russian training methodology, Abadjiev’s sessions included mostly only classic Olympic lifts performed with lower repetitions but on maximum weights. Supporting lifts were limited predominately to squats. Abadjiev’s method contradicted major established views on training process and brought him as many followers as opponents. And, of course, it was proved to work at the time based on the medal track of Abadjiev’s students.

This is one of the most gruelling and intense training methods I have ever encountered. Against the better advice of those around me, I decided to embark on this training method.

So what is it?

The key principal within this training method is the principal of SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands). It was created after Ivan Abadjiev watched the Los Angeles Lakers training for Basketball. Abadjiev observed the Basketball players training at maximal intensity all day long and, having seen the excellent results from this specific training, decided to apply this principal to Olympic Weightlifting. As you can see from the introduction the results were phenomenal.

Abadjiev observed that, as athletes have limited recovery capacity, all their training should have a direct benefit to their performance. Only Snatch, Clean and Jerk, and Front Squats are included.

How is it implemented?

From the Weightlifting Text “Naim Suleymanoglu - The Pocket Hercules” I based my own method for the Bulgarian routine. This text includes Naim Suleymanoglus training diary. From this training diary I created an excel spreadsheet of the percentages that Naim trained at. I then applied these percentages to my own lifts and used this as my Bulgarian routine.

I have included this resource via this link for you. To use it replace the highlighted boxes with your current personal bests to see what this program would look like for you.


My Experiences with the Bulgarian Routine

The Bulgarian routine broke me. In the short term, I saw some awesome improvements. I was able to put on 5% on Snatch, Clean and Jerk and Backsquats in the first 4 weeks of the program. However, I was also in a great deal of pain. I put this down to adapting and being soft. I thought it was something I would just have to put up with if I wanted to be excellent.

This was foolhardy of me.

I spent the next 3 months pretty much unable to train. I ended up with some pretty bad patellar tendonitis that needed cortisone injections. I also ended up with a sagittal tear of the VMO that needed PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections.

So I got great gains in the beginning. Then I needed some very high level medical care to tolerate the training. I then stopped making progress and decided that this method of training was not for me.

How can you use this information in your own training?

You can get great results by training at a high intensity for short periods of time. I recommend low reps at high intensity in the penultimate week before a competition, before your taper week.

I do not recommend a pure Bulgarian system as covered in the excel sheet above.

The athletes who successfully train using the Bulgarian method have a great deal of external help – including medical professionals – strength and conditioning – physiotherapy and massage. Without these protocols in place, it is highly unlikely that this system will function effectively for you.

Any Questions?