Subject: Russian & Bulgarian Training
We often seem to revisit the topic of specificity of training and a
comparison of the methods used by the Russians and Bulgarians, so I would like to share comments made to me in Russia some years ago by Prof Alexei Medvedev, former world champion weightlifter, coach of the Russian national team and current Head of the Department of Weightlifting at the State Central Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow.
We were discussing (through an interpreting friend) this very issue of Bulgarian vs Russian training methods. He shared many insights with me, including the different methods of quantifying training intensity and periodising weightlifting for different classes of lifter, but this one short comment stood out at the time:
Standing there in his dimly-lit office with his hand on my shoulder, Prof Medvedev said:
"Why do you think that the Bulgarians have so many injuries?" He went on to comment on the typically long years of top-level competition by Russian athletes, their higher average age at the Olympics and their lower injury rate. He added that a certain Bulgarian coach had been contracted to work with teams in China and before long the increased injury rate and drop in consistent form had ended up in his being dismissed very quickly (actually, he used a rude gesture with his arm to show exactly what the Chinese felt about that coach!).
To add to this debate from the other side of the fence, my weightlifting coach for several years was a top Bulgarian lifter who had trained with Abadjiev and Spassov, as well as all the famous names in contemporary Bulgarian lifting and he had very definite views on the Bulgarian system, both good and bad. In explaining what athletes are expected to do in Bulgaria, their coaches told them that if they became injured or painfully overtrained, then they obviously weren't good enough for top level competition!
With great satisfaction, he added that if a nation with a total population of only one big American city could place so often in the top few nations at the Olympics, then something serious must be wrong with American training. That was his simplistic analysis! (Anyway, that was before the last Olympics). No results, no use for anyone! Bulgarian athlete - no results - no place for you!
At first I thought that this philosophy is unduly harsh, when I realised that it is not all that different anywhere else in the world. The Chicago Bulls start losing a few games in basketball and in no time, the fans are baying for blood. In world soccer, the scene is no different, nor in American football. Win most of the time and the fans are deliriously happy - lose one or two and all the armchair experts and team owners are ready to sacrifice coaches and players.
So, when one examines the so-called Bulgarian system, one cannot lose sight of the different cultural systems governing the sport. One cannot simple take a philosophy, training method or lifestyle (or even foodstuff) from one country and hope to apply with equal success anywhere else.
Anyway, a lot of this talk about 'Bulgarian' and 'Russian' systems is somewhat of a misnomer, for, as Medvedev emphasized to me: "There is no such thing as one Russian system - we have many coaches and guidelines and each coach is allowed to develop his own system. It is the Americans who are so
rigid , not us - they want fast foods, fast formulae and fixed programs that are easy to apply".
He nodded in agreement when I commented: "You mean something like a sporting MacDonalds where you can drive up and get a training program off a menu without waiting?" Sad and amusing, but all too often, true in America. Why do you think that muscle building, fitness, strength training, sports, rehabilitation and health books sell best if they offer rigidly devised set exercise routines for anyone and everyone, without much attempt at in-depth analysis or individualisation?
Dr Mel C Siff