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Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Russian perspective on the Bulgarian system




Awhile ago, I ran across this article by Glenn Pendlay, then of California Strength. This was a group of serious lifters here in the U.S. Glenn has been very successful here developing young lifters. I really agree with what he is saying. Learn from everyone, then find what works for YOU. I believe this applies as much to throwing techniques and training as much as lifting. Good stuff.

by Glenn Pendlay MS

My new friend Ruslev Khomenko, a Russian coach of Junior athletes, and I talked a fair amount about the Bulgarian system of training. When I first brought this up, I expected him to dismiss it as inferior to how he trained athletes. He did not do this, in fact he said it was a GREAT system, maybe the best. The qualification was this, it is the best, IF IT WORKS FOR YOU!!! In his opinion, it only works for some people… and if you dont belong to this select group, you can still be a great lifter, you just have to try something else. His best results were 135/160 at 62kg bodyweight, not good in his estimation, and the Bulgrian system hadnt worked for him. According to him, some people get a real deterioration in technique when they train to max all the time, others, for whatever reason, get more and more effecient. Some people thrive on frequent squatting, some simply dont.

This strikes me as a common sense attitude. Do what works. The Russians believe their “system” works for a wider variety of people, and doesnt produce as many injuries. But they, or at least Ruslev, agrees that the Bulgarian system is the “ideal” for a person with no weak points.

All of this brings up another interesting observation. There doesnt seem to be that much discussion among coaches from other countries about whos system is better or worse, who is right or wrong. Based off of a weeks worth of conversation with coaches from multiple European and Asian countries, it seems they agree on a few things. One is that effecient technique needs to be taught. Another is that a lifestyle has to be provided to the athlete and followed by the athlete that allows them to handle a high training load. Another is that the athlete has to continue to follow the program, increase the workload and increase the weights. Concerning training programs, I get the feeling that a lot of Europeans feel about the same way about this as Americans feel about the brand of shoes that a lifter wears. Yes, everyone has a preference, but does anyone really think that the brand of shoes that one wears will determine whether he or she will become a champion or not?

I got the feeling over and over while talking to coaches who have a history of producing multiple Junior World champions, World Champions, and even Olympic medalists that we here in America are worried about the wrong things. I got the feeling that we might better worry about sleep habits, eating habits, and various recovery methods than how often we go to maximum. Of course, all this only after we worry about picking the right people to coach in the first place. But I prefer to concentrate on what I can control.

This is not to say that how you train doesnt matter. It shouldnt be hard for anyone to think of several training programs that would not work at all with little problem. But the parameters that a successful program must exist within are well established, and it is also well established that many different programs exist within these parameters.

What are these parameters? Based on conversations with 8 of the male medalists and 3 of the female medalists at the 2010 Junior Worlds, as well as conversations with the Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Turkish coaches, here is how the best are currently training. The minimum training sessions per week that I encountered was 5, maximum 12. Minimum hours spent training per week was about 8, maximum about 18. I did not talk to the Chinese, who I dont doubt top this number. Everyone snatches. Everyone clean and jerks. Everyone squats and front squats. Everyone does power snatches and power cleans. Most do pulls. Many do some sort of pressing or push pressing. This group of exercises makes up most of the work done. Many have some sort of exercise which they do which isnt as widespread, some do jumping exercises, some bench press. A few do some sort of good morning exercise or stiff legged deadlift variation. Some do some variation of back raise, back extension, or Glute Ham raise. In no instance which I encountered did these “extra” exercises make up any sigificant part of the training load. No one does only singles. No one does sets of 10. Most use a variety of reps between 1 and 5. Most do snatches and/or clean and jerks, or some close variation, every workout or almost every workout with significant weights. The most interesting thing I encountered was a Russian coach from Chechnya who advocated lots of Kettlebell work for beginning lifters, including the throwing of the KB behind ones head. He only advocated it as a warmup for lifters who are not beginners.

If the preceeding has closed one mystery, it has certainly opened another. If the sets and reps, and time per week we go to maximum arent what is holding us back, then what is? If we dont do enough pulls, or do too many… if this is not the problem, then what is? Well, I do not know if I know the answer or not. But if the answer to that question is the same answer as to the question “what are the differences that I saw between us and the medalists?” then I have a few observations.

And that will be another post…

glenn

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