Using High-Frequency Bulgarian-Style Strength Training to Dominate
The following is an excerpt from my free strength training program, Anchor-Forging Linear Progression. It is a chapter dedicated to a variation of the program titled “AFLP Death Machine.” The purpose of this variation is to increase a trainee’s work capacity, which in-turn increases recovery, strength, size, and much more.
While minimalism is revered in certain circles of the strength training community, so is the total opposite, which is commonly known as Bulgarian training. The increased frequency and volume seen in Bulgarian training offers numerous benefits to the trainee, at the mere cost of time.
Another thing to note – the following program isn’t exemplary of Bulgarian training in that it is the same program that the Bulgarian weightlifters use/used. The Bulgarians were training all day, everyday. This program is simply “more Bulgarian” because it aims to increase training frequency.
Anyway, enjoy the article!
Work Capacity – the Focus of Bulgarian Training
What is work capacity? Work is defined as force times distance. Capacity is defined as the ability to do something. Thus, work capacity is how much movement, such as strength training, someone can perform, and how quickly one can recover from it.
Someone who trains 5 days per week is going to have a greater work capacity than someone who trains 2-3 days per week, if the workouts are the same in volume and intensity for both people. The more intensity and volume one can use in a training session, the more training sessions performed per week, the less time it takes to recovery from lifting – which all equate to greater work capacity.
What’s with the over-the-top name (referring to “Death Machine”)? Well, most trainees starting out will only have it in them to perform a 3-day whole-body routine if their recovery is okay. Thus, to those newbies, people who train this frequently are god-like, or, death machines. These high-volume, high-intensity, high-frequency lifters will usually be stronger, larger, and tougher than trainees with less work capacity. Why? Because the additional training and increased ability to recover equals more strength and size in less time.
Just look at the Bulgarian athletes whose training schedules involve multiple sessions per day, multiple days per week. They are impressive specimens who are stronger, more athletic, and mentally tougher than 99.99% of the world’s population. These guys and gals have gotten their nation 214 Olympic medals in the past century. (International Olympic Committee) Note that Bulgaria is a country with only 7.25 million people. (The World Bank Group) Are the Bulgarians weak and “over-trained”? Not a chance in hell.
Fun fact: it is because of the success seen with the Bulgarian athletes and their unique training style, that high-frequency training programs are dubbed “Bulgarian training”.
What It Takes to Increase Work Capacity
It may be in the cards for some folks to ramp up their training, as a means to get stronger more quickly, add on more size, adapt to increased stress, or etc. How does one get away with an increased total workload? A person who works out like this most likely eats like a horse, sleeps like a dog, and mans-the-fuck-up when faced with challenges.
A trainee who considers upping their weekly total workload must examine his or her life outside of the weight room, first. If he or she sleeps only 6 hours each night, parties hard on the weekends, and doesn’t like hard work, then this trainee is not will not likely succeed on a higher-frequency program. But if the trainee treats sleep and diet with respect, and isn’t shy of busting ass, then he or she is a candidate for Bulgarian training (AKA becoming a “death machine”).
A simple way of introducing more training days, as a means to increase work capacity, is to add one additional training day to the week and examine how the body reacts. If soreness is excessive, sleep is difficult, and performance in the gym suffers, then the body is struggling to adapt to the extra work load. A deload or time off is necessary, and the trainee must go back to the original training schedule. More on deloads in a minute. Sleep and nutrition must be re-examined to make sure recovery is optimal before increasing the workload again.
If the trainee is managing well with the extra day, then he or she can stick with the new workload for a while. Soon enough, it will be adapted to, and the old training schedule/workload will feel too easy. Over time, the trainee’s schedule will look more and more like an typical Bulgarian training schedule.
That sums up the minimalistic approach to transitioning into higher-frequency Bulgarian training. However, there is more to be said on aiding recovery and mitigating damage during the transition.
Coping with the Additional Stress, and a Warning
While the trainee is in the process of adapting to extra training days, he or she may find two tools useful during this time: deloads and decreasing deadlift-volume.
Deloads, in this scenario, are training days that use 50% of the intended weight for exercises, as to give the lifter a break. The frequency and duration of the deloads are up to the trainee. They can last for a day or an entire week. They can occur anywhere from every 2 weeks up to every 10 weeks. As for the decreased volume in deadlifts, the reason for this is because deadlifts are incredibly taxing, which is why ramped sets are used instead of straight sets. Performing heavy deadlifts up to 3 times per week is insane. Assuming the trainee is on the “5×5” phase, it is recommended to use the following rep-scheme to progress on the deadlift: 1×5/3×5/5×5. Originally, 3×5/4×5/5×5 is used for the “5×5” phase, but the new rep-scheme will take some of the edge off of deadlifting 3 times per week.
Understand that introducing additional training days increases stress and decreases time for recovery, so if the trainee is not prepared, injury is a certain outcome. When a total beginner goes from training 0 days per week to 3 days per week, there is an increased risk of injury. When that person goes from 3 days to 4 days, or 4 to 5, the risk for injury increases once again, but this time, there is less room for error.
No one embarks on a Bulgarian training program overnight. Tread carefully. Don’t be stupid.
Finally, if you are interested in the entire AFLP strength program (which this article on Bulgarian training comes from), feel free to download the PDF at no cost. Seriously, it’s free.
If Bulgarian training and the subject of training frequency interests you, look into Jamie Lewis, an interesting guy who “breathes” high frequency training. Feel free to check out Jamie’s blog, Chaos and Pain, but be warned, his site is not safe for work.
1. “Bulgaria.” The Official Website of the Olympic Movement. International Olympic Committee. Web.
2. “Data: Population, total.” The World Bank. The World Bank Group. Web.