From Supertraining Listserv:
Ivan Abadjiev & the Bulgarian Weightlifting System
Posted by: “carruthersjam”
Members may enjoy reading the below excerpts from an article written by David Woodhouse. I have also added additional research/extracts.
Application of the S.A.I.D. Principle
SAID stands for “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands” and states that “adaptation to a stressor is specific to that stressor”. Applied to weightlifting, this implies that performance is best improved by performing the snatch and clean & jerk with maximal weights. The SAID principle became the corner stone of Abadjiev’s training philosophy.
“Our athletes do not do any “supportive exercises” they stay with full clean and jerk, snatch, and front squat We have found that taking back squat out is more effective for the healthy lifter. Sticking with the three lifts named above as the only training for the advanced and healthy lifter…. If the athlete is injured they will do back squat or parts of the lift the full lifts (ie. high pulls, push press, etc…). You must be extremely careful with the stresses you put on your athletes. You must have direct benefits from each exercise because the athlete has limited recovery capacity.” IA
In 1969 when Abadjiev took over as national coach the team used 19 exercises in their training. Over the next 20 years, as he continually adapted his program, exercises were progressively discarded until 1986 when his lifters performed just 5 (Snatch, Power Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Power Clean and Front Squat) and exclusively for single repetitions. Throughout this period the team’s results in International competition continued to improve and Bulgaria became the top weightlifting nation in the world.
Popular weightlifting ‘assistance exercises’ such as pulls, deadlifts and back squats were discarded because their movement path and speed of execution does not exactly mirror that used in the competition lifts. Abadjiev states that all available adaptation energy must be committed to exercises with the greatest cross over (i.e. snatch, clean & jerk and front squat!). Additionally, these popular assistance exercises are often performed with loads exceeding those possible on the competition lifts, and for multiple repetitions. This type of training causes substantial skeletal and central nervous system fatigue that reduces the quality of future workouts.
Adaptations from Maximal Loadings
Consistent training with high intensity loadings can increase the density of nerve impulse that can be generated by the central nervous system. Over time this allows the athlete to recruit a greater percentage of their higher threshold muscle fibres and hence significantly improve power output. Additionally, there is evidence that Type IIa muscle fibres can actually be converted to the more powerful Type IIb fibre type. Abadjiev states that these adaptations are best achieved when loadings are near maximal
Employing single lifts at maximum improves both inter and intra muscular coordination. The former involves improved synchronisation of fibres within a muscle, and the latter, improved efficiency between muscles. This is especially important in the Olympic lifts which are highly technical whole body movements. Due to fatigue these adaptations cannot be optimally developed when employing multiple repetition sets. Additionally, as technique degrades rapidly under fatigue, there is a risk that lifters may be rehearsing a sub optimal movement pattern.
Zatsiorsky states that high threshold motor units are activated under two conditions, a single maximal repetition and the final repetition of a (maximum) set of multiple repetitions….
Finally, there are many lifters who have flawless technique at submaximal loads but whose technique deteriorates under maximal loading. The Bulgarian system obviously requires the lifter to attempt maximums on a regular basis. This translates into greater confidence with heavy weights, a more consistent competition performance, plus the advantages gained from heavier opening attempts.
SAID Vs Periodisation
Abadjiev used an extension of this argument to challenge the validity of classic periodisation:
“In Bulgaria, many other sports disciplines were built on the methods developed by the Soviet experts. The main concept is distinct periodisation, preparation stage, interim stage and competition stage… I threw it away… Is it logical to achieve outstanding results by hard work and then stop and go back to a lower level?”
In simple terms classic periodisation involves a gradual progression from high volume and low intensity to low volumes and high intensity. Abadjiev implies that any improvements yielded by the high intensity period will quickly be lost when the athlete subsequently reverts back to the higher volume and lower intensity work. A lifter should therefore never stray too far from the ultimate goal of lifting heavier weights!
SAID Vs Variation
This extreme application of the SAID principle has been criticised for it’s lack of variation, a factor regarded as essential for long term progress. At first glance, the small pool of exercises and the exclusive use of singles does appear to support this argument. However, if one looks closer, subtle but very significant variation is actually quite evident. Lifters might take as little as 1, or as many as 10 attempts at maximum. They might hit a maximum and immediately drop back to 80% before progressing back up
(sometimes with minor adjustments in the weights attempted). Alternatively, after one or more maximum attempts they may perform drop down, ‘flushing’ sets at various intensities. Additionally lifters change the order of exercises or repeat exercises
within the same session to add extra stimulus where required. Finally, the coach might change the training frequency in a given week to permit greater time for recuperation.
Tapering for Competition
Abadjiev has stated that it is ‘paramount’ to maintain the intensity of training when preparing for competition. Tapering is therefore achieved by reducing training frequency over the final two weeks. Typically he would have his lifter’s drop to four sessions in the penultimate week and then two sessions during the final week. Of course athletes in his system were already very tolerant of such training.
“It is extremely important to maintain the adaptive state and keep the lifter used to the heavy poundages that will be experienced on competition day. . On the “off” days the lifter should do a generalized warm-up and no more.”
The Training Day
Abadjiev was one of the first coaches to implement multiple daily sessions and has been the most extreme in distributing the work load across the day. He performed 2 or 3 daily sessions and required lifters to take a 10 to 30 minute break between exercises. This helped to ensure the highest quality in each training segment and allowed a degree of physical and mental recuperation. Abadjiev also claimed a reason to divide the training stimulus was that circulating testosterone levels only remain elevated for a maximum of 60 minutes. The rest periods employed between exercises would, in theory, help keep this highly anabolic hormone elevated for longer. However, in light of the probable use of exogenous forms of the drug, this explanation is more likely a `red herring’.