New Planet Muscle Article on "the Bulgarian Method"

In the latest issue of Planet Muscle (July, 2013), I have an article that deals with what is commonly called the "Bulgarian method" of high-frequency training.  To be honest, it's probably one of the most "non-bodybuilding" pieces I've ever written for any of the major muscle magazines.  I'm glad Jeff Everson actually printed it (I had my doubts when I sent it to him.)

To whet your appetite, here's a portion of the article where I discuss the three factors of frequency, intensity and volume:

     "Any well-designed program must take into account three important variables: frequency, intensity, and volume.  Programs that fail are ones that don’t properly manipulate and control these variables.  For instance, if you were to perform a program for lots of sets, lots of reps, and lots of intensity multiple times per week, you would be setting yourself up to fail – and would surely do so.  If any two of the variables are high, then the other variable must be low.  (But I’m getting ahead of myself; we’ll get around to that shortly.)  First, a brief discussion of each variable.
     Frequency is the number of times that you train a muscle.  A lot of programs will take into account how often you train each muscle on a monthly (or even yearly) basis.  But I don’t think all of that’s necessary.  What is necessary is that you monitor what you are doing on a weekly basis.  (Obviously, the more frequently that you train a muscle group each week, less volume and intensity should be used.)
     Intensity is a bit more confusing for a lot of readers.  In bodybuilding circles, intensity tends to refer to how hard you train each muscle group.  Such is the case with Mike Mentzer’s “heavy duty” training or Eric Broser’s articles for Planet Muscle.  However, in this article, I’m going to be using intensity as its referred to by most powerlifters and Olympic lifters.  In this case, intensity refers to % of your one-rep maximum—basically, the heavier that you train, the higher your intensity.
     Volume refers to the amount of total work you do in each workout session, and then in the course of a week of training.  Volume is the one variable that a lot of bodybuilders have the hardest time controlling.  It’s easy to add sets and reps during a workout, and let your total volume exceed what your body is capable of recovering from.
     As I was saying earlier, two of your variables can (and should) be fairly high, which means that the other variable must be relatively low.  Take the traditional bodybuilding program (the kind that you typically see in the pages of PM).  It is relatively high in volume and intensity, and low in frequency.  I think this kind of program is most common because it’s easy to design, control, and understand – it doesn’t take a lot of thought, and (of course) it’s effective for a lot of lifters.  Basically, you just “bomb and blitz” a muscle with a lot of sets, reps, and plenty of heavy weight, then you give it a week to recover.  But it doesn’t mean that this is the only way you can train.  (And it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s even the best way to train—although this kind of training should be used at times during a training year.)
     In Europe and in countries from the former Soviet empire, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and (yes) even bodybuilders take a different approach.  Russian lifters (and those lifters inspired by Russian-style training), for example, tend to keep volume and frequency high, while intensity is low.  Whereas lifters who use the Bulgarian approach tend to favor high intensity and frequency, with fairly low volume.  Of the two, the Bulgarian method is the easiest to control – and thus it’s more ideal for the average lifter.  Which brings us around to the training program in this article..."


  1. C.S.

    You've mentioned before several times that you felt you were the strongest when when performing higher frequency training, but were personally at your largest (muscularly speaking) when using a lower frequency. However, you've also had quite a bit of success putting on muscle with higher frequency methods (Sheiko, daily bodyweight training, etc.).

    From a purely muscle size/hypertrophy standpoint, do you believe one method is better than the other (high frequency vs. low frequency)?

    Also, why do you think you were so successful at building muscle size when training with a lower volume? Was it because that was your goal? Higher rep ranges/volume? Diet?

    I look forward to hearing your responses.

    Thank you.

    1. no man -he built the most muscle at a young age by doing low frequency -HIGHER volume

  2. John,

    Thanks for the question.

    I was at my largest when I was about 21 years old (I'm currently 39). I weighed around 220 pounds with about 8-10% bodyfat. At the time, I trained with quite a lot of volume and with a lot of intensity - but I did train each muscle group infrequently - as in only about once per week. My favorite training at the time was to train Monday through Friday, working one bodypart each day, then take the weekends off.

    At the time, I was single. I worked as a personal trainer. I taught weight training at a University. I ate 6 meals per day, consuming about 4,000 calories daily with about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. My lifestyle - stress-free as it was - was perfect for building muscle. And my ONLY goal at the time was to build as much muscle as possible.

    I'm sure that my age at the time helped.

    I was my strongest when I was about 30 years old. I could squat over 600 pounds, deadlift over 600, and bench press between 350 and 400 (depending on my bodyweight). I weighed about 175. I trained with either a Sheiko program, a Starr program, or a hybrid of the two. I also had a full-time job, two young kids, and a stressful marriage. (I was never that strong when I was younger.)

    Fast forward several years. I now train high-frequency, using routines similar to the "Bulgarian" method and the Ditillo-style program. I weigh about 205 to 210 (sometimes higher). I am not as large as when I was younger, nor am I as "powerful" as 10 years ago. I squat over 500, however, and deadlift over 500. I overhead press around 230, and am stronger on all my exercises for sets of 5 to 8 reps than I ever was 10 years ago. I also have a "real" job, eat about 3 to 4 meals a day, don't really worry about what or how much I eat. And I'm not in a stressful marriage - my current wife makes life very stress-free.

    The point is this: Perhaps - and only perhaps - I would have gotten better results when I was young by using my current method IF my other factors (diet, lifestyle) were the same. But I don't know.

    If you have the perfect diet, lifestyle, supplements - all of that - then the low frequency, high-volume, high-intensity training is probably the most ideal.

    If you have more of a "normal" lifestyle - as my current one is - then I think you would be better off training "HFT".

    My advice - without knowing your training history, lifestyle, etc. - is to use ALL of them for an extended period of time, and see what works best.

    Hope this helps,

  3. I pretty much agree Sloan, BTW man just a heads up I published this link on the latest Testosterone linkfest- keep up the writing man, many guys would like to learn the ways of the veteran.
    BTW man I noticed that most bodybuulders would say that HIT is low-volume -its not -it is high volume especially the Dropsets.

  4. That's a good point. Most of your "HIT" guys who were successful - such as Dorian Yates - actually used quite a bit of volume in their workouts. They may have done only one or two sets to the point of momentary muscular failure, but they did quite a few sets working up to those last couple sets.

    When you add in things such as drop sets, forced reps, etc., then you really do increase the volume substantially.

    I would put the majority of HIT training (such as what was used by Yates) in the high volume, high intensity, low frequency category. And, like I said, I think this method is popular because it's the most easy to control - and manipulate if need be.

  5. Usually Blogs lack depth for serious learning. They are good for intellectual entertainment (in a good sense), announcements (again in good sense -- for example announcing some new ideas, new articles, new products), "general interests" reading. Not the case with your post though, really enjoyed it reading it and it held my attention all the way through!

    Read my Latest Post


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