For the past 12 weeks, my workouts have consisted of squatting to a max every day and benching to a max every day. This style of training is sometimes referred to as the “Bulgarian Method For Powerlifting”. The idea is that lifting heavy is a skill that needs to be practiced regularly. This is one of the more polarizing strength programs because it appears quite extreme on the surface. Some will tell you that it is a “ticket to the hospital” and others will tell you it is the ticket to world records. I, of course, found things to be a little more in the middle. Video below.
History of Bulgarian Method
As you might guess, the program started in the tiny country of Bulgaria. In the late 60’s, a new strength coach came on the scene and had the best lifters of Bulgaria working out twice a day, every day, for many hours. His lifters would work up to maxes on squats, front squats, cleans, snatches and jerks, and then do some back off sets. That was the whole program.
This tiny country then became a world powerhouse in Olympic lifting, setting world records, collecting 12 Gold medals and producing 57 world champions. This was a huge wake-up call to the strength community. Most people previously believed that you couldn’t train that frequently or with that kind of intensity. Muscles need time to recover, right?
One thing to note is that these lifters were almost certainly using large amounts of anabolic steroids, slept 10-12 hours a day and every rep was performed with a coach. In other words, the Bulgarian Method, as it was originally implemented, was only designed for full-time athletes.
Enter Bulgarian Method For Powerlifting
People in the powerlifting community recently started to wonder if they could implement this type of program. What would happen if they did squats and bench every day? Could they do it while living a normal life? Could they do it without drugs? Eventually, a guy named Greg Nuckols decided to try it out. He ran the program himself and then coached hundreds of people using the program he wrote. The Bulgarian Method For Powerlifting manual is actually free to download from his website and is excellent.
The program is super simple; work up to a comfortable max on squat and bench 4-6 days a week. A “comfortable max” means an amount of weight that you know you can hit. There shouldn’t be any grinding or form breakdown. This is critically important in terms of recovery and keeping your nervous system fresh. As your progress slows, start adding 1 or 2 back off sets. Drop the weight 10-20% from what you hit for a max and do a couple reps.
After you finish your squat and bench work, do some rows or pull-ups for the back. Deadlift once a week with light weight and perfect form. That is a super high-level program description and you should 100% download the program to read the details if you are going to run it.
Why I Chose It
To be honest, I wanted to find out what would happen. I figured worst case scenario would result in another injury. Yeah, that isn’t ideal, but I’ve been injured before and it’s not so bad. Best case, I get stronger on my bench and squat and learn a lot about my body.
I also thought it had that hardcore kind of bad ass feel to it. I mean, most people are only training legs once per week and I’m squatting every day to a max.
I ran the Bulgarian Method For Powerlifting program basically as written by Greg Nuckols. I worked out most weeks 6 times a week. Some of these strength gains might seem extremely minor, but to me, they are huge. I have also dropped some weight as part of my new year’s resolution and I’m weighing in around 184lbs.
Squat – 325 to 335 : + 10lbs
Bench – 260 to 270 : + 10lbs
Front Squat – 245 to 275: +30lbs (some of that came from rarely ever maxing out on front squats)
Overhead Press – 160 to 165: + 5lbs
I was also planning to back off the volume, rest up for a few days, and hit some new maxes. When the day came, I was sick with some virus my daughter had brought home from daycare. I still gave it a go but didn’t get any new PRs. I hit the numbers listed above during my normal training. My guess is, that with a proper taper and no sickness, I would have hit another 5/10lbs on each lift. But like I said, I’m still happy.
Not quite ready for my career as a fitness Vlogger but I’ll keep practicing.
What I liked
- Easy – I have ran some easy programs but this is as easy as it gets. You don’t have to think about anything. No looking to your book to see what percentage of your max for how many reps or anything. Just show up and squat and bench to a comfortable max and do whatever else you want to.
- Auto Regulation – Every workout was treated as it’s own independent day. I didn’t feel like I had to do something because that was scheduled for the day. If you felt bad, just do the minimum and get out. If you felt great, then do more.
- Full Body 5-6 Days a Week – I ended up loving doing a full body workout every day. Your body adapts quickly and I found it worked much better for me. If you are only doing legs once or twice a week and you have a bad workout, that means it might be two weeks between effective leg days. Now I was no more than two days away.
- Training Off The Nerve – What I mean is you aren’t killing yourself on hardly any of the sets or even maxes. Almost every rep is crisp and done with good form. In fact, over the entire 12 weeks, I only failed on one rep. This is different than how I have ever trained. I use to think muscle failure, grinding out reps, and getting psyched up every day was necessary. Now I’m seeing that you can make great progress without torturing your body so. You don’t need three scoops of pre workout and Slipknot cranked up to 11.
- Lots of Practice – By the end of 12 weeks, I was so much more comfortable squatting and benching than I ever was before. I was able to warm up quiclyk and I just felt more comfortable with the heavy weight. The weight felt almost connected to me. During maxes, I was able to keep my form, too. In the past, my body would crumble when the weight got heavy, but now I’m staying much more solid, up to 95% type loads.
- Easy to Add Volume – Volume or the total number of sets you are doing per week is probably the most important factor for making progress. If you aren’t doing more work every week, you aren’t getting stronger. With this method, you could do a massive amount of volume every week with less effort. One week, I did 25 working sets of squats. That was only about 4 sets per day. If I was working out twice per week, that would be 12 sets of squats in one day, which is not realistic.
What I Did Not Like
- BORING! – So freaking boring! In the past, I have always prided myself on embracing the grind and not caring about being entertained during my workout. I just wanted results. However, by about week 8, I desperately needed some variety in my life. I ended up making Thursday my front squat and overhead press day, and that helped a lot. I think changing sets and reps slightly would have helped too.
- No Deadlifts – So the program calls for deadlifts once a week but I found even that was hard to do. I just had almost zero energy/desire after squatting and benching to hit some heavy deadlifts. It was also hard on recovery to deadlift and then come in the next day to squat.
- Muscle Imbalance – When 80% of my workouts consisted of two exercise, it led to other muscle groups lagging a bit. I think this is more of a motor learning thing. My arms got so used to the bench press motion when I went to do some dips at week 12, my muscles didn’t know how to fire.
- No Conditioning – My cardio has gone in the toilet. I was doing about two hours per week of cardio/conditioning work before starting this program. The past 12 weeks, I have been doing about an hour of walking. My reps never went above 5 in the gym, and on the one day a week I wasn’t maxing out, I just wanted to rest and not run sprints.
Why You Should Try It
This program is admittedly not for everyone, but I still think a lot of you should try it. If you have been lifting for at least two years, squat and bench at least once a week already, have good form and have quit making progress on those lifts, you are a candidate. Run the program for at least 8 weeks and see what happens. Lots of high-level lifters have reported putting 30-50 pounds on their maxes running this style of program. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them, but I did increase my maxes while weighing less.
This isn’t really a program designed to be run forever. It’s more of a way to shock your body into growing. That being said, Gabrial Malone has been running this style program for years, and he is one strong mofo. Like I said, the worst thing that will happen is you burn out and get a minor injury. This probably will not happen as most everyone reports actually feeling better.
I’m planning on taking some of the aspects that I liked about this program and adding them to a new a program. Hopefully, this attempt at programming will go better than my last. I’m going to probably cut back to a full body routine 4-5 times a week and start back doing a couple days of cardio. I plan to add a little variety to my life in the gym and start doing a variety of exercises across all rep ranges. I’m pretty excited about getting that put together, soon.
Anybody think they would ever try the “Bulgarian Method For Powerlifting” program? Anybody ever tried anything like that? Any questions?