Back in late 2015 I ran Greg Nuckols Bulgarian method for a 12 weeks cycle in order to see if I could boost my front squat from 160kg to 180kg. I made a video around the week 8 mark to log how I was getting on.
The Bulgarian method is know for both its simplicity but also its arduousness. Made infamous by the Bulgarian weightlifting team during its peak years. Who are equally famous for prolific drug use. The system uses auto regulation as a guide for maxing (90%+ single) every single day. If you are beating your chest, need to down a triple espresso and listening to death metal every session, you are doing very very wrong. Bulgarian method is part lesson in stoic calm as much as it is a lesson in patience.
What drives progress on the method is specificity, frequency and intensity. Notice what is missing here? Volume. Attempts to adding training volume to the program must be done extremely judiciously. You walk the knife edge of regenerative capacity.
Greg Outlines elements of the program below.
Running The Program
Its surprising that there are a number of variants on what is a simplistic program. For clarity I followed Greg Nuckols ‘Bulgarian Method’. Greg has taken the effort to retool it into a powerlifting variant with a simple to follow methodology.
My choice of front squat and bench varies slightly, to Greg’s recommendation of back squat and bench. Greg tools to program towards powerlifting so back squat gets most of the focus. Prior to starting this cycle I had front squatted 170kg just once, but had lost some strength in the movement coming into this cycle.
The program format is simple for the first 5-6 weeks, come into the gym hit a sort of single max and get out. Do it 4-6 days a week. Simple.
Your exercise selection is squat and bench that is it.
You stop when you hit a movement that feels like a maximum for that session. Now this is one of the reasons this program isn’t great for beginners. Most beginners have no training intelligence, strength or skill in lifting so are best off no considering something like this for years if ever.
I used Push Band to measure my velocities on a given day trying to keep velocity above 0.18-0.30 m/s, as soon I dipped below 0.30 I would stop adding weight and move to back off sets. The front squat is more unforgiving with grinding reps than back squat. As I found out on a few occasions missing lifts!
Once a week I would perform Deadlifts at 70%. After week 3 I started adding in Back and Hamstring accessory work with light loads for 3 x 10.
Once you get past the acclimation phase you can then start to add in back off sets. Below is a flow chart demonstrating how this plays out.
Adding volume is the simple matter of dropping 10-15% of your daily maximum and doing a few sets of doubles or triples. Any attempt to add further volume will usually end in the disaster. I only did back off sets on the day I felt capable. Controlling your ego is crucial.
A few weeks a felt like I was falling apart, everything ached and my rectus femorus needed constantly stretching and rolling to stop my hips for tightening up and my knees from hurting.
On week 13 after about 3 days rest I came in and front squatted 180kgs, not the prettiest but it got up. So I added in real terms around 20kg to my front squat. I added around 10kg to my bench but had to back off bench in the final 2 weeks due to shoulder injury.
Primary adaptations seemed to be;
A. A ton of quad size and B. Doing it everyday totally changed my technique, so much so I now even back squat different to make use of improved quad strength. C. Improved core strength from handling maximal loads anteriorly daily.
Mechanical qualities and technical qualities seemed to be very much improved. But what also improved was my confidence what I used to consider ‘heavy’. No psych up, no loud music just squat.
After this cycle I also hit a rep max on my deadlift 240kg for 3 (prev 1 rep) and 180kg back squat for 6 (prev 4). I was pretty pleased with this seeing as these where two things I obviously did’nt do for 13 weeks.
After the cycle I was craving volume so did 3 weeks for 5 x 10 for most movements. I enjoyed not front squatting I’ll be honest.
Right now, Im back to triphasic training cycle with a back squat/deadlift focus. I do now however have a monkey on my back telling me 200kg front squat seems like a really good idea.
Bulgarian method was an exercise in my ability to see myself through a very tough, monotonous training program. my jiujitsu suffered while doing it. It is certainly an all or nothing type of program.