The Bulgarian method: what is it?

How to apply this revolutionary bodybuilding method to your training?

The Bulgarian method: what is it?

Bulgarian. In the world of weightlifting, this adjective is enough to evoke images of hairy men with unpronounceable names, dressed in suspender jerseys, and who project bars all day and year above their heads according to a barbaric but curiously effective protocol, all hidden behind the iron curtain. In the 1970s and 80s, when the Bulgarian team ruled the discipline, its original training methods created a sensation in the world of weightlifting. But what is the Bulgarian method, and how can it be applied to bodybuilding?

The basics of the Bulgarian method:

  • To develop strength for a particular movement, increase the frequency with which you perform this exercise.
  • Exercise up to six times a week, and up to four times a day.
  • To avoid overtraining, alternately heavy and light cycles.

Ivan’s innovation

Ivan Abadjiev, now 84, won the first Bulgarian weightlifting medal in 1957, before becoming the coach of the Bulgarian weightlifting team from 1968 to 1989 when this poor country with barely 7 million inhabitants reigned supreme over Olympic-type weightlifting. while the other programs too often avoided making short series and favored accessory movements, Abadjiev believed in the old adage that “it is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith”, in other words, the principle of specificity. The Olympic weightlifting events consist of judging the load lifted in two movements: the snatch and the jerk. Therefore, under the principle of specificity, to progress for these two movements, it is essential to focus almost exclusively on them. 

Except for the squat front and rear, whose effectiveness on PTO remains unequaled, Abedjiev’s athletes performed a short series of their movements, often single reps, with submaximal effort. All this at an almost insane frequency: up to four sessions per day, six days per week. One would think that such a method would send them straight into the wall at the speed of lightning, in a state of physical and mental exhaustion. On the contrary, the Bulgarians were in great shape and progressing rapidly. In fact, Abedjiev alternated between heavy and light cycles. 

He avoided monotony and increased the intensity by regularly organizing mock competitions, in public. Even though the repetitive and restrictive aspect of his program flirted with overtraining, he knew how to avoid it, because of the extreme level of adaptation of its athletes. Just as a swimmer adapts by always performing the same movements, or a boxer adapts by always striking the same strokes, repeating only two or three exercises allows the body to adapt more easily. In addition, performing a single rep triggers what is called prophetic memory, strengthening the neurological pathways and causing an adaptation in muscle cells allowing to perform single reps with increasingly heavy loads. You will discover its effectiveness. performing only two or three exercises repeatedly makes it easier for the body to adjust. 

In addition, performing a single rep triggers what is called prophetic memory, strengthening the neurological pathways and causing an adaptation in muscle cells allowing to perform single reps with increasingly heavy loads. You will discover its effectiveness. performing only two or three exercises repeatedly makes it easier for the body to adjust. In addition, performing a single rep triggers what is called poetic memory, strengthening the neurological pathways and causing an adaptation in muscle cells allowing to perform single reps with increasingly heavy loads. You will discover its effectiveness.

Tips for training “Bulgarian”:

  • Do not do more than six exercises per session
  • Favor compound movements and extend the series until muscle failure
  • Perform the same session once a day, four to six times a week
  • You can also perform a single exercise, such as the dumbbell curl (five sets of 10 reps), several times a day.

Bulgarians and bodybuilding

The members of the Bulgarian weightlifting team had one goal in life: to perform Olympic movements. While they had the time and money to do four sessions a day, we assume that you don’t go to the gym more than once a day. Also, unless you participate in weightlifting competitions, you are not particularly interested in the maximum load that you can lift. From this point of view, the Bulgarian method is the antithesis of bodybuilding, the objective of which is to develop muscular hypertrophy and not to optimize strength to perform a unique rep of snatch and clean and jerk. However, the Bulgarian method may have a role to play in the development of hypertrophy. First, it can be adapted to a program for muscle growth. As in the example program we offer, select four or five compound exercises, which together target most muscle groups. Perform eight to 12 reps, and continue the series until failure. Do this program at least four times a week, always looking to increase the load or perform more reps. Alternate a week of Bulgarian training with two weeks of a more traditional program. You can also do the same exercise all day. No need to live in the gym: you can do curls with a simple bar or dumbbells, or even target Do this program at least four times a week, always looking to increase the load or perform more reps. Alternate a week of Bulgarian training with two weeks of a more traditional program. You can also do the same exercise all day. No need to live in the gym: you can do curls with a simple bar or dumbbells, or even target Do this program at least four times a week, always looking to increase the load or perform more reps. Alternate a week of Bulgarian training with two weeks of a more traditional program. You can also do the same exercise all day. No need to live in the gym: you can do curls with a simple bar or dumbbells, or even target the triceps by doing push-ups. Do five sets of this exercise, ideally 8 to 12 reps (although, depending on the exercise and your strength, you may need to do more), and repeat this session four or five times in the same day. Perform this type of session once or twice a week in addition to your usual training, without training the target muscle during your classic sessions.

Insane gains

Whether it is to repeat the same session of five exercises five times a week or to target a muscle group five times a day, this training seems insane. This is what we thought about Abedjiev’s innovation, at least until the Bulgarians won more medals than the others. The “dementia” of this method is the secret of its effectiveness because it forces my muscles to adapt to frequent and unexpected stresses by becoming stronger and bigger.

Bulgarian bodybuilding program

  • Deadlift – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Bench press – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Squat – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Rowing barre – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Shoulder press – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps

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