18 Weeks of Maxing Out Squats, Presses, and Power Cleans

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For the past 18 weeks I have given over my programming to Zach Bijesse, my young friend, who is smart, super strong (he is a superheavyweight class weightlifter), and dedicated to a programming philosophy that is “Bulgarian,” in that it prescribes constant reiteration of the training lifts, at maximal efforts. Usually, the day’s workout prescribed more than I could accomplish in the time I had available for training, involving, ideally, maxing out on three lifts and adding volume in one, two, or all three. This chart, the latest and last iteration in a series of check-ins on the program, doesn’t reflect the volume work, or the overall volume attained, or the average intensity, nothing like that. It does just one thing. It plots my best single rep effort in each lift attained over three workout sessions each week. During a week for which there is no data, it means that for some reason I wasn’t able to attempt the lift, or Zach didn’t program it. There was a brief switch out to Front Squats, not reflected in this chart, a very brief dalliance with deadlifts.

The chart has clear and inescapable implications. It demonstrates the following points. (a) Maxing out Press day after day three days a week got me absolutely nowhere. Yes my press is stronger now than it was at the beginning of the program, but not by much. I peaked out on the press early on, in my sixth week, and then bounced against that glass ceiling for the next twelve weeks. (b) Maxing out on squat continuously helped me to get my HBBS up to where my LBBS was … back in January. I obviously need some other approach to squatting to make appreciable gains in it. Bottom line is: my squat sucks. Maybe I just lack the testicular fortitude to really squat heavy. That may be the case but the bottom line is: this program didn’t bring me a heck of a lot closer to my goal. What it did do was build confidence in me that I can do heavy singles day after day. That’s something. Yet, since I don’t feel much closer to my long term goal of a 1.5 x bodyweight squat (now 315 lbs) than I was last December, I am left underwhelmed. (c) Maxing out my Power Clean day after day got me ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. In the first six weeks I made about 5kg progress; in the next six weeks I made 1kg progress; in the final six weeks I made no progress, and ended up consistently able to pull only what I’d pulled at the beginning. BOO.

By no means are my results to be regarded as a repudiation of “Bulgarian” training methods. I am the trainee here, and I am responsible for my own results. It isn’t the program, it’s me. There is no denying the validity of the Bulgarian concepts: effort drives adaptation, and, if you want to get better at something, do more of it. Why then didn’t I succeed following Zach’s program?

Well, I think that I might have had better results following this philosophy if I was younger, had more time to train, had better opportunities for recovery, especially sleep (i.e. wasn’t a full time professor and father of small children), and was able to do more like 10 training sessions a week, instead of 3. All these factors limited my gains and, disappointingly so. I know nobody is more disappointed in my failure to thrive on this program than my buddy Zach. SORRY ZACH. But it is where it is.

For me, then, is there any benefit to “Bulgarian” methods? Yes, for about six weeks. I do believe, and this is a well-known truism in the strength training world, that just about any program can bring you good results … for about six weeks. I believe Dan John is the one who made this concept famous. So, if I was looking to boost my numbers in lifts that I was stagnating in, I might, repeat, MIGHT, choose to do a six week program of daily maxes. But then I would switch it up. I see no value in pursuing this method for longer cycles, without interruption. But then, I’m not an Olympic style weightlifter from Bulgaria, or even one of our competitive Bulgarian style lifters at Asheville Strength and Conditioning. I’m just some old professor guy and I have to choose my programs wisely, based on what works for me.

Let me know what you think...