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Bulgarian Methods
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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 20, 2012
Those of us old enough to remember the 70s and 80s, probably remember that the Bulgarians absolutely dominated Olympic style weight lifting. For a country with a small population, it was something akin to how the Dutch produce soccer powerhouses and a disproportionate number of world class players. Sure, some of it is early specilization, training kids from the time they are pre-pubescent. But a lot of it is the methods, which is clear from how rapidly the adults came to dominate after starting this type of training.

If someone told you they trained for bouldering by bouldering hard every day, three sessions per day...you'd just shake your head and start taking bets on how long before they get injured. But that's essentially what the Bulgarians did.

Aside from the frequency and constant intensity of sessions, when you look at their overall scheme, it is remarkably similar to the ~4 month periodization cycle that many of us have adopted and adapted from the Andersons. They used 3 months of loading, followed by 1 month of "unloading".

During the loading months, they would train heavy, multiple sessions per day, most days (6/week) for three weeks and the last week would have a light week. During the unloading, they would have two light weeks, a heavy week, then another light week.

So how could they do this without blowing up? Why did it work? Can we utilize these ideas?

The first thing to note is that the sessions were short. Testosterone is said to peak about 15 minutes into a heavy training session and remain elevated at a high level for about another 30 min before declining. So they kept the sessions to ~ 45min then they would take a half hour break. During the 45min session, they might do 12-15 reps total (or in our case, call a rep a boulder problem or quality attempt, so cut it down to about half that number to get a similar time under tension). Each session would be a different exercise, but used many of the same muscles (e.g. Clean and Jerk, Squat, Snatch), so an analogy for us could be different board angles or styles (crimpy tic-tac vs. big dynamic slaps and throws).

This would go on for about 3-4 exercises/sessions and comprise the morning workout. This is about a 3 1/2 hr workout from start to finish including rest. Then they would do it again in the afternoon workout. Six days a week!!!!

Now granted, they didn't start out at 6/week, they worked up to it. But still. And during these sessions, they would do some warmup sets, then get to it with heavy stuff, using a wave-style loading. For us, assuming somone with a max level of V10, this wave might look something like (after warming up) V8, V10, V7, V10/11, V9, V5...rest 30min. Then change angles/style and do it again, rest 30 and one more round.


Maybe there is some interest in this, and it stimulates some dialog, we'll see. Gotta cut it right here, work calls.

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By Monomaniac
Administrator
From Morrison, CO
Nov 20, 2012
Insurrection, 5.14c.  Photo Adam Sanders.
Have you been talking to Brad Heller? We discussed this a few years back, but he called it 'greasing the groove'. I think he experimented with this on a hangboard, so you might try PMing him (bheller).

My initial thought is that the leg tissues can take far more volume than than the finger/forearm tissues. Look at cycling. On the flip side, Patxi Usobhehhjfjkjdfa sustained similar volumes before he got hurt.

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By M Sprague
Administrator
From New England
Nov 20, 2012
Lichen head. Me, with my usual weatherbeaten, lich...
I think you forgot the steroids and other freaky stuff they were taking. I doubt they were too concerned with long term health consequences too.

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By divnamite
From New York, NY
Nov 20, 2012
Does bouldering hard for 45 minutes will generate the same physical adaptation as lifting hard for 45 minutes?

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By Dana Bartlett
From CT
Nov 20, 2012
Good topic, glad you posted.
Obviously they had some success, but I wonder how many of their lifters it worked for, and how many it didn't: we heard about the good outcomes, did we hear about the failures?. Also, any comparison studies out there? Their techniques versus others? Mark makes a good point, as well.

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By Nate Reno
From Highlands Ranch, CO
Nov 20, 2012
Ellingwood Point Summit, Little Bear in the backgr...
Will S wrote:
This is about a 3 1/2 hr workout from start to finish including rest.

This is where I wanted to stop reading.

Will S wrote:
Then they would do it again in the afternoon workout.

This is where didn't think I could read any more.

Will S wrote:
Six days a week!!!!

Yep, way too much!


I have a good amount of free time, but I don't think I could get into training anywhere near this much!
Does get me thinking about adding some sort of morning session though.

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By Wannabe
Nov 20, 2012
Will S wrote:
This is about a 3 1/2 hr workout from start to finish including rest. Then they would do it again in the afternoon workout. Six days a week!!!!


This sounds implausible without steroids or other performance enhancing drugs to improve recovery time and no 9-5 type job-- but I don't train so what do I know?!

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 20, 2012
I haven't been talking to Heller, but that does raise one of the benefits of this training style for the olympic lifters. Those movements are very technique intensive, so frequent sessions help them with the neuromuscular coordination. It's like having a particular route or problem so wired it feels easy.

As for the roids, all the other eastern bloc countries with much larger population pools to draw from were also using roids during that period. E. Germans, Soviets, etc...and the Bulgarians still kicked their asses.

The same can be said for comparison studies...the results of the olympics, world championships, etc essentially is a comparison study of methods. We know more or less how all those programs trained and we know the results.

I'm thinking the biggest item of importance here is the short duration "sets" followed by rest, e.g. 5-6 problems with normal rest as a "set" followed by 30min rest. I've done split sessions in the gym bouldering like this where I did an hour, then 30m rest, then another 45min. Seems like the smaller muscles are less fatigued that way and as a consequence those muscles keep things in better alignment and produce less overall wear and tear compared to doing the same volume in a single continuous set.

And sure, this was used by professionals who had no regular job, the training and competing was their job. So we're looking more at principles than trying to replicate it as a whole.

When I get home I'll post up a link to a good paper that examines the details of the Bulgarian methods.

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By "H"
From Manitou Springs
Nov 20, 2012
Axes glistening in the sun
Tribulus Terresteris.

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By jeff walker
Nov 20, 2012
olympic lifting and climbing are very different activities: the former one in which certain movements are repeated over and over and perfected , the latter one with nonrepeating movement (good description of this difference at rob miller's blog). every deadlift is the same, requires the same movement and technique; every boulder problem is different, requiring movement unique (more or less) to that problem. also, olympic lifting primarily puts the load on large muscles (glutes, lats, etc) and muscle groups whereas climbing puts major stress on very small anatomical structures (fingers). my guess is that big muscles like the glutes can take a lot more pounding more frequently than your fingers can.

my point is that adapting a training technique from one sport to another is problematic at best.

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By NC Rock Climber
From The Oven, AKA Phoenix
Nov 20, 2012
tanuki
I hesitate to make any post in a training forum; as a total layman who just reads a lot of stuff on the internet and works hard to manage my own training, I fear I have little to add and, worse yet, could post some very misleading info.

That being said, my experience has been that shorter duration, higher intensity workouts with more rest between workouts gets better results. I think that very often people neglect rest and adequate recovery between workouts and remain in a state of constant overtraining. To me, the Bulgarian methods seem like a recipe for overtraining and injury for all but strongest athletes. That being said, I remember watching the Olympics back then, and those Bulgarians were amazingly strong!

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By gary ohm
From Paso Robles
Nov 20, 2012
A friend, and co-worker, was on the '72 Polish olympic weight lifting team. We've talked for hours and hours about his experiences.

When he was lifting for the country, the country was all that mattered. They trained year round, six days a week, under volumes that would, and did, break most normal humans.
They were taking steroids, and other "supplements" and training, and resting, and recovering, and training.... When they were "in the program", they were treated like rock stars. As soon as they started to falter, they were flushed...

Bottom line is the Eastern Bloc countries churned out amazing lifting athletes because the ends justified the means.

A "modern day" climber is foolish to think these sorts of training protocol will carry over to climbing. The muscle groups are different, the central nervous system (CNS) requirements are worlds apart. There is no "80's era Eastern Bloc Magik" to propel a climber to the next grade.

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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 20, 2012
The West Desert...it's not just for climbing, suck...
Awesome discussion! I think there is little I can write which I was thinking which others have not already said. Just stuff like this:

  • Larger muscle groups (which are just about everything in the human body when we are comparing to forearms, hands, and fingers) can take more volume and intensity with less likelihood for injury
  • steroids = recovery
  • scope of technique required
  • what happened to those guys later?
  • time requirements
  • how many Eastern Bloc lifters did we NOT see competing?
  • why aren't they still dominating?

I think the drug testing got better, for one thing.

However, I wouldn't say Will's ideas are useless. Adapted properly and used in the right amounts on an individualized basis, it could be a great idea! The tricky part would be riding the line between gains and injury.



Other than that, all I have to say is:
Monomaniac wrote:
Patxi Usobhehhjfjkjdfa

Blahahaha!

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 21, 2012
So the paper I was going to link has a busted link. Here are a couple of more descriptive articles on the Bulgarians:

charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMu...
endlesshumanpotential.com/bulg...

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Nov 28, 2012
At the BRC
Monomaniac wrote:
Have you been talking to Brad Heller? We discussed this a few years back, but he called it 'greasing the groove'. I think he experimented with this on a hangboard, so you might try PMing him (bheller).


Here's Pavel's article about 'greasing the groove' if anybody's interested. More lifting lingo than I like, but an interesting idea.

docs.google.com/document/d/1oI...

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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Nov 28, 2012
Me and Spearhead
Aerili wrote:
The tricky part would be riding the line between gains and injury.

Isn't this always the crux of training for performance?

+1 to the fingers being the weak link and probably not holding up to the training load.
And also the fact that those programs were meat grinders starting w/ a huge pool of athletes and building an olympic team out of the survivors.

I do believe that the best way to build strength/muscle recruitment is to use very heavy/intense but short training sessions. The more frequently you can do it the better, though the question is how frequently can you do them without injuring yourself.
Cool training topic idea,
BA

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By Monomaniac
Administrator
From Morrison, CO
Nov 29, 2012
Insurrection, 5.14c.  Photo Adam Sanders.
Brent Apgar wrote:
The more frequently you can do it the better, though the question is how frequently can you do them without injuring yourself.


Do you really mean this, or am I misinterpreting? You are extremely knowledgeably, so surely you are familiar with the Supercompensation concept. Do you not buy into it? Assuming we accept this principle, then "as frequent as possible that does not result in injury" would suggest doing the next workout as soon as the 'fitness' line crosses the X axis (i.e., recovers to baseline). At this rate you would never get stronger and never get weaker, so in theory you would avoid injury, but clearly this is not 'better'.

I believe in supercompensation, so I would argue more frequently is not better. 'Better' is whatever frequency produces the best steady improvement, which is generally greater than the frequency that barely avoids injury (although in theory, after becoming 'positive', the fitness curve trends back down toward the X axis eventually, so too much rest could also be detrimental).

On a side note, a pair of my high school XC teammates ran for the U of Oregon. Their philosophy was quite "Bulgarian". They had a stable of 100 or so runners they didn't give a shit about. They ran them into the ground, and the 5 left standing were in incredible shape. The rest were hopelessly injured or burnt out. Great if you're the coach; not so much if you are the athlete.

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By Tyler W
From Utah
Nov 29, 2012
Scooby Snacks
jeff walker wrote:
the glutes can take a lot more pounding more frequently than your fingers can.

Only thing I got out of this thread.

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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Nov 29, 2012
Me and Spearhead
Mono, thanks for the leeway and calling me out. My reply was way too brief and therefore not very worthwhile.

I definitely believe that the body will supercompensate and that this is why we see performance gains with training. So yes, I agree that taking too much rest between workouts and returning all the way to baseline will not give the performance gains people are after.
Which is what I was pointing towards w/ the comment of "the more frequently the better".

What went through my head that I didn't articulate is the bigger picture of the overall training cycle. I'm sure that you're familiar w/ the training practices of some of the eastern block countries where the athletes would be pushed for weeks at a time until there body would start to break down. The athletes would actually lose performance from training so hard (I think the standard drop used was something like 10-15% loss on a lift), at which point the athlete would continue to train but at a much lower total work volume. This allows the body to recover and supercompensate while still maintaining the motor patterns used for the sport in question.

So what I really meant to say was. The real trick is knowing how hard to go and how long to keep the hammer down before you destroy something.
Related side note to the OP: An interesting part of the Bulgarian style of training is that although the athletes would train way more frequently than seems safe. They weren't necessarily trying to set PR's every time they stepped in the weight room. They may have been "maxing" out for each session, but the max on the day might only actually be 85% of the athlete's 1RM.

Fundamentally I think that one of the biggest advantages that Pro athletes have over us weekend warriors is that they can train and rest according to how they feel. If all you had to do everyday was train and recover I'll bet you could make some significant gains in your climbing performance.
Can you do this on the road living the dirtbag lifestyle... I say no. Not if you're truly being a dirtbag and don't have the resources to throw at good/adequate nutrition, self care and supplemental training.
cheers,
BA

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 29, 2012
What Brent is referring to with the "train until losing performance" is usually called Accumulation Training. Poliquin shot for a 20% reduction when training an Olypmic speed skating team (that went on to win a bunch of medals).

In his 9 out of 10 book, MacCleod gets at a similar idea (don't have it in front of me, so this is from memory) when he talks about someone bouldering who can normally max V10 who keeps training before being fully recovered until his max has dropped a few V-grades and that this type of sustained loading makes for really productive stimulus.

It's still supercompensation, but on a different time scale. Instead of a micro-cycle, workout to workout supercomp, it's meso-cycle.

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By josh villeneuve
From Enfield, CT
Nov 29, 2012
So basically, instead of 2-3 workouts a week (6-8 grips, for 3 sets) you would do 4-5 workouts a week, at 2-4 grips for 2 sets? Is that the general idea? For a hangboard workout at least.

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By jmeizis
From Colorado Springs, CO
Nov 29, 2012
The Beginning of Mr. Clean (5.8) at the Barkeater ...
jeff walker wrote:
big muscles like the glutes can take a lot more pounding more frequently than your fingers...


So asses can take a pounding. Good insight for current and future prison inmates I suppose...thanks for a good laugh by the way.

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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Nov 30, 2012
On the idea that the Bulgarians were a meat grinder machine that just started with a big pool of lifters and broke a lot of the athletes, with the few left standing (who were able to tolerate the training load) being the team, I offer this:

"After experiencing such disappointing results in the 1968 Olympics, Bulgaria decided to develop a special sports school for young Olympic hopefuls in several sports, including weightlifting. There were 10 boys in the weightlifting groups, ages 14 to 16. Krychev, who was 16 years old at the time, was a member of this first group of lifters who were to become the core of the 1972 Bulgarian Olympic team. Ivan Abadjiev, who had been a silver medalist in the 1957 World Championships but was then working in an administrative capacity for sports, was selected as the coach of this team.

Abadjiev administered a program that involved multiple training sessions per day at extremely high intensities. Many of the grassroots coaches of the junior lifters, who were still communicating with their athletes, objected to these methods – some gave him the nickname “The Butcher.” But critics soon were silenced, because during that first year his junior athletes were breaking senior national records. "

Ten kids isn't a lot. Break more than a few and you've got no team.

Quote is from: charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMu...

But along the lines of what Gary Ohm says above (from the same article linked):

"Krychev believes that to become a world-class weightlifter, the athlete must be focused on their training and not have to work outside. “Today’s results are so high, in order to achieve those results the weightlifter has to train, think, sleep, drink weightlifting only. He doesn’t have to worry how he is going to pay the rent, how he is going to pay the insurance to provide for the family. Unless some system is in place, don’t expect miracles.”

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By slim
Administrator
Nov 30, 2012
tomato, tomotto, kill mike amato.
reading brent's post, i'm interpreting it as higher frequency, lower amplitude. by not trashing yourself you are able to supercompensate more quickly to get back to a higher point than the previous workout.

i think your overall life schedule plays a big part in this - right now i have barely enough time for 1 big workout per week. so i will tend to maximize volume because i have plenty of recovery time.

for other folks who have a lot of smaller chunks of free time, doing smaller volume (but yet high intensity) workouts might work better.

good topic.

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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 30, 2012
The West Desert...it's not just for climbing, suck...
Brent Apgar wrote:
Isn't this always the crux of training for performance?

Sure. But I think climbing uniquely calls on body parts to do things they didn't evolve to do, as we all know, and the risks of aggressive training could be higher and harsher in some cases, and that's really all I meant. I believe you reiterated those thoughts: "The real trick is knowing how hard to go and how long to keep the hammer down before you destroy something."

I think it is a bit of a fine, somewhat unforgiving line in climbing between supercompensation and overtraining, and it seems that many climbers maintain a mindset determined to ignore warning signs or dismiss them.

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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 30, 2012
The West Desert...it's not just for climbing, suck...
slim wrote:
right now i have barely enough time for 1 big workout per week. so i will tend to maximize volume because i have plenty of recovery time.

To my knowledge the literature supports this as an effective form of strength maintenance.

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