Bulgarian method
© Goh Chai Hin

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 1980s, when the Bulgarian team reigned in 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, alternate heavy and light cycles.

Ivan’s innovation

Ivan Abadjiev, now 84, won the first Bulgarian weightlifting medal in 1957, before becoming coach of the Bulgarian weightlifting team from 1968 to 1989, when this poor country of 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. Olympic weightlifting consists 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. Aside from the front and back squat, which remains unmatched in PTO efficiency, Abedjiev's athletes performed short series of movements, often single reps, at sub-maximal effort. All this on an almost insane frequency: up to four sessions a day, six days a week. One would think that such a method would send them straight into the wall at lightning speed, 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 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 the latter, due to the extreme level of adaptation of his 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 makes it easier for the body to adapt. In addition, performing a single rep triggers what is called proetic memory, strengthening the neurological pathways and causing adaptation in muscle cells to perform single reps with increasingly heavy loads. You’ll see how effective it is

Tips for training "Bulgarian":

  • Do not do more than six exercises per session
  • Give priority to 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 the 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 single 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 that we offer, select four or five compound exercises, which together target most muscle groups. Perform eight to 12 reps, and continue the streak until you fail. 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 pushing hands together. 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 conventional sessions.

Insane gains

Whether it's repeating the same session of five exercises five times a week or targeting a muscle group five times a day, this workout seems insane. That’s 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 fatter.

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