The Personal Records Keep Rolling In

In my last post, I described the benefits and progress I’d made in just 30 days of using the Bulgarian Method. In the last couple of weeks, I returned to more typical training methods, doing one major lift per day with some accessory lifts thrown in when I felt like it.

I felt confident in approaching heavy weights in all my other lifts, and as a result, hit several multi-rep PRs and 1RM lifts. So the benefits of training with the Bulgarian Method keep coming.

Since the end of the program, I have added 20 pounds to my front squat, 20 pounds to my overhead press, and have been deadlifting, squatting, and bench pressing more weight for reps. I’ll save the PRs on those lifts for my powerlifting meet in a couple weeks!

I think the big lesson I’ve learned is to be patient with the progress. The PRs won’t always be there immediately at the end of a program. Always keep lifting, eating, and resting well. That progress will come.

What I Learned After One Month of the Bulgarian Method

I didn’t set any personal records.

Actually, I did, but not like you’d think.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can focus on the benefits and pitfalls of this training method.

Omar and Greg have put together a really great program that you will have to think through before attempting. And then you’ll have to think some more as you execute. As they will tell you in their awesome email follow up series, this isn’t for everyone. You should have several years of training (real training – not the usual time-wasting, leg-neglecting, pectoral-obsessed garbage that you have probably been doing) before attempting the Bulgarian Method. You need solid technique and the sense to know how to manage your efforts each day. That last bit was more of a struggle for me than I expected, but more on that later.

Let’s get to the details. I used the front squat and the overhead press as my two lifts for this program. Both lifts are performed every day that you train. You only add in other assistance lifts when you feel up to it. I trained four days per week, the minimum training days. With ankylosing spondylitis, I wanted to be cautious in my volume, since it is easy for me to fall into a massive pain cycle from too much activity.


I went into this program being able to front squat 325. Badly. I could front squat 315 a little less badly. After a month of doing front squats 4 times a week, I was able to hit 315 two or three times in a week pretty comfortably. Still hard, but with solid form, and I didn’t feel like death the next day. That’s pretty cool. I also set some rep PRs with fairly heavy weight where I could only get a single before. I got a lot more comfortable in the front rack position since I was doing it so often. This can be a real problem area for many lifters, if they can even get into the front rack at all. I’m not saying that the Bulgarian Method will give you a good front rack position, but if you can get into it, you will be more comfortable after a month.

I know I am poised to hit some new PRs on the front squat, but with a powerlifting meet in five weeks, I need to shift back into a more traditional method and do the appropriate lifts. But after this meet, you can bet there will be some shiny new numbers on that front squat.

Overhead Press

I went into this program being able to press 190. Again, very badly, and with huge amounts of hip drive. Basically, I was doing a jerk or split jerk without the split. I wasn’t using the arms to do anything other than catch the weight at the top of the movement. At the end of the month, I was strict pressing 190 pretty smoothly, and hitting 175 for a couple reps, and hitting 185 pretty often. My mechanics improved dramatically, and I feel that there will be some 200+ presses in the near future.


We’re gonna need bigger people over here.

The Struggles

The hardest thing to do was focus on my daily minimums. This is the amount of weight that knew I could lift on any given day. The daily minimum is your best indicator of progress. This number did increase quite a lot in the month of Bulgarian Method, and I am very happy with that. Omar and Greg warned me about pushing into PR territory too often, but it is so difficult to avoid pushing really heavy when you know you can grind it out. But grinding reps is not a good idea in the context of this program. I need to be more cautious of that the next time I run the program. It is tempting to get greedy with the PRs, but that is the surest way to kill your progress. Patience, grasshopper.

I also noticed repetitive muscle strain in the lower leg and forearms. This is easily addressed through self care like deep muscle therapy, stretching, etc., and I will be more diligent about this in a future cycle of the Bulgarian Method. Because there will be one.


I am very satisfied with the program that Omar and Greg have put together. The book and tools do a great job of helping you avoid any inherent pitfalls of the training intensity. Self-discipline will help you make the best use of those tools. So if you have program ADD or think you can just freestyle every workout, this won’t be for you. It takes time to reap the rewards of this style of training, and I look forward to investing more time into it in five weeks.

Why I Train and Why You Should Find Your Reason

It may surprise you that in all of my years of bumping around in the fitness world, being certified, and competing in various sports that I never really had a solid reason for training. Oh, sure, I wanted to be leaner, more muscular, have better health, be stronger, have six pack abs, etc., etc. I had specific goals that varied with whatever sport I was involved with at the time. But what I lacked was a meaningful reason WHY. I didn’t like being overweight. I didn’t like being weak. I didn’t like being unable to do what other people could do. But those were never meaningful reasons.

It wasn’t until about three years ago, when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, that I had a real compelling reason for training. Now I am facing something that could kill me, and make me really suffer for years along the way. When I was going through the process of being diagnosed, I told my rheumatologist that I was a powerlifter and loved training with heavy weight. I asked whether I’d be able to continue. She said it would probably be my best medicine. She was right. We tried several medications, but all affected me very negatively. The side effects just weren’t worth it. But training has been my lifesaver.

I had to relearn how to eat, how to train, how to rest. It was like learning how to walk again. Anytime I stray from the optimal patterns of training and dieting, my body reminds me very quickly that I am going a dangerous direction. Overreaching too far in my training will take me out of the gym for one or two weeks because inflammation and pain will blow up. Not training enough also results in increased inflammation and stiffness in my spine and neck. So it is critical for me to strive for balance.

I wouldn’t wish this kind of reason on anyone, but it does provide some teachable points that are useful for us all.

First, a compelling reason won’t go away or change much. I will never be free of ankylosing spondylitis. Not until I die. Kind of grim, right? But I am actually glad for it. Because now that I know what I am fighting for, there is no chance that I will turn away from the fight. Failing to fight the effects of this disease is the same as saying I am not worth it.

Second, a compelling reason cannot be ignored or avoided. I will feel the effects of my disease no matter what. I will never wake up one morning and not feel pain. Ankylosing spondylitis is a progressive disease, meaning it will get a lot worse. This is a guarantee. What is not guaranteed is the rate at which it progresses. I can influence that by confronting it and taking action. Ignoring it will only result in more pain and limited ability to move.

Third, a compelling reason overwhelms you. This isn’t necessarily negative. It just means that it will change your life. And that can be a very positive thing provided that you channel it to make positive changes. Life is what you make of it. There are negative and positive factors that will influence your path. A compelling reason will force a decision from you. It is up to you to make it a positive force in your life.

As the new year is upon us, I hope you will make the opportunity to look at your life and discover your compelling reasons…and then change your life. For the better.

The Bulgarian Method

Essentially, this method is a high intensity, high frequency training plan. I’ll leave it to Greg and Omar over at Strengtheory to explain the finer points and nuances. But in a nutshell, it is a training plan that focuses on two lifts for 8-16 weeks. During this time, you may do a few other lifts mixed in with your daily training, but mostly you just do those two – usually squat and bench or some variation of squat and press. In my case, I am doing front squats and overhead press four times a week. I am choosing to do a lower frequency plan because I am old (ripe old 40 years now) and have ankylosing spondylitis. I need to move often, but I have my limits.

The idea is to focus on a minimum weight (your daily minimum) that you can do regularly, and slowly build that up over time, while pushing heavier weights (daily maximums – NOT your 1RM) when you feel up to it. The key is to only push heavy while moving it fast. You want to avoid grinding reps or missing reps. If you want more detail than that, I highly recommend that you head over to Strengtheory and pick up the materials on Bulgarian Method. You’ll be glad you did.

I am choosing to do this training plan with front squats and overhead press because it will greatly enhance my upper back and shoulder strength. And also because these two lifts are old school and awesome, and doing them drastically accelerates beard growth. That’s what I heard.

I have done four sessions on this method now, which means I have done four front squat and overhead press workouts. Both exercises are done in the same session. I can tell I will have to work hard on this program, and that is good. I feel like I picked good daily minimums. I can get them each day and not feel wiped out from it. This is important, because there will be days when I feel slightly less Hulk-like. On the days when I am feeling really good, I push much heavier, and that allows me to test progress and push the limits.

Right now, my daily minimum for front squat is 255, and 155 for overhead press. I think I will bump them up just a bit next week if all goes well. I’ll be posting any significant progressions right here on the blog.

My Moment of Truth in the Squat Rack

I don’t know what got into me today. Squats, Mondays, mornings, and max lifts don’t usually have much in common for me. Maybe it was the big helping of rice last night. Or the pumpkin pie. Whatever the reason, I found myself feeling pretty good and hitting numbers on my front squat that were approaching my personal record from a year ago. I figured I may as well go out on a limb and try to match it with a 315 pound front squat.

And failed. Twice. But it was very, very close.

Right now, my front squat serves as a warm up for my back squat, so it was time to go much heavier. The plan was to work with 80-90 percent of my current max and do doubles or triples. Well, after the front squats, that went right out the window. I knew I could do much heavier, and I still felt great. So why not go heavier?

315X3 was easy, as was 365X1 and 395X1. Time to put four plates on each side and see what happens.

It wasn’t pretty, and certainly wouldn’t get three white lights (desirable) on the competition platform. But to me, it demonstrates mental strength. If you notice the dip of the barbell about halfway up, that was where I made the choice to really grind it out. In that moment, there is doubt, fear, frustration, and hopelessness. They were all battling for my focus, but I could not allow that. And so I pressed on and finished out the lift. The only way that barbell was coming down was if my body failed…not my mind. And the body is subject to the mind. This is why I train both.

My Failures and Successes and How I Got There

Self-examination is always good for a reality check. As I dig into giving this blog a purpose, I have read through past posts and pages to see what still applies, what needs editing, or what needs to be ditched. I came across a list of my goals, and it was an eye-opening look at what was important to me in 2014 (some of the goals were accomplished in 2014, some in early 2015).

  • Get to 15% body fat
  • Compete in a strongman competition
  • Compete in a powerlifting competition – Done
  • Earn my trainer certification before my 39th birthday – Done
  • Squat 450 pounds
  • Deadlift 500 pounds – Done
  • Overhead Press 225 pounds
  • Bench Press 315 – Done

The Failures

Body fat percent – 2014-15 saw me riding the old weight loss/gain roller coaster. I attribute this to trying to do too much too fast. The net change in 2014 was probably additional body fat as I continued to struggle with getting a handle on dealing with ankylosing spondylitis. This type of arthritis is not a forgiving disease. When it flares up, I am down for the count. And setting up a training plan that was too aggressive contributed to flares. And that meant no training or very low intensity training. But the real reason for the fat gain was sub-optimal eating. Fat gain is not caused by lack of training. It is always caused by overeating.

Compete in a strongman competition – didn’t happen because of training difficulties with ankylosing spondylitis. I felt fortunate to be able to get through the powerlifting competition in early 2014. Honestly, I am not sure this will ever happen because of the demands of the sport. But I won’t rule it out just yet.

Squat 450 – I got close! Very close! My top squat for 2014-15 so far is 425. I am hopeful that I can get the strength back throughout the last weeks here in 2015. It would be great to at least hit my old PR. I struggled to get past 425 because of some technique issues, and of course, my old friend AS (ankylosing spondylitis). I think I’ve got a better handle on both of those now, so I expect big things in the coming months.

Overhead Press 225 – I cracked 205 once upon a time, but just couldn’t seem to get beyond that, or do it consistently. While I was chasing the 500 pound deadlift, I dropped the priority on this lift. It is back at top priority for 2016, and that training is already underway.

The Successes

Compete in a powerlifting competition – Signing on the dotted line and paying out money has a funny way of helping you commit. That’s exactly what I did, and even though I felt less than optimal for performing on the platform, I got in there and did it. I didn’t set any records for myself, but I learned a lot through the process.

Earn my trainer certification – This was actually the second time around for me. I earned my CFT from International Sports Sciences Association in 2014. I am in the process of laying the groundwork for an online coaching business, but am taking clients now. A hallmark of personal training and coaching is that the service should be personal – designed for you, with your goals in mind. It is up to me to create a method that gets you to your goals, and teach you all along the way so that eventually, you can be independent.

Deadlift 500 – One of my proudest achievements in 2015. I finally worked out a progression that allowed me to improve consistently. There were some scary moments along the way when I thought I’d wrecked my back, but I hung in there and stuck to the plan. I am also happy that I was able to make this lift at Iron Sport Gym in Glenolden, PA under the approving eye of Steve Pulcinella. I learned a good bit of my work ethic from him. Go train there if you have the chance. PRs are guaranteed.

Bench Press 315 – Another proud moment from early 2015. I’ve got some gnarly stuff going on in my shoulders and chest muscles from old wrestling and martial arts injuries, so I am grateful for any progress in the upper body lifts. I’d like to see improvement on this lift, but I’ll look for the gains through my overhead pressing. It won’t be a major focus for me in 2016.

When I look back over the failures and successes of the last year or so, I can see that it all comes down to one word: consistency. Where I failed, I consistently failed to stick to a plan. Sometimes, that was because of my choices, sometimes because of illness. Where I succeeded, it was because of consistency. And in every case, if I’d been more consistent, the results may have been even better. It wasn’t fabulous programming (although, I have to say that I think mine is pretty good); it wasn’t supplements; it wasn’t specialized equipment. It was just good old-fashioned hard work.

Now it is time to take some lessons from the failures, and time to build on the successes. I’ll do that by building on the habits I’ve already established, and replacing bad ones with good ones. I look forward to sharing the journey with you!

Training Log November 24

Pretty straight forward work today on the chest. I went a little wild, though, and added incline bench press. I don’t think I’ve done that lift in 15 years. So it was time. Felt super weird and was hard to stabilize. That means a weakness, so I think I’ll do it regularly now.

The rowing got a lot harder. Sometimes that happens when you adjust your technique and actually do it correctly. I didn’t have the sequence (legs, hips, arms) working quite right before. Now I do, and I feel more of my body engaging in the movement. More tiring, but ultimately, much more effective.