Today when I was coaching I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen. Late in the afternoon around 5 pm, 2 strongmen with Wringling Bros circus came in to train. They didn't say anything at first, they just came in and started training. They only spoke to each other at first in Russian (or so I thought). Then I heard a word spoken only in Bulgarian, na'sdrava (which means cheers as a greeting or a congratulation). I have heard this word spoken by some of my dads students who were Bulgarian, and by the few Bulgarian lifters and coaches I have met. When they were resting I introduced myself and asked them if they were from Bulgaria. They said yes and I struck up a conversation with one of them named Valentin Dimov, who turned out to be a former weightlifter of the Bulgarian National team.
Valentin spoke decent English and we proceeded to talk about weightlifting for close to an hour. What I found out is very interesting and very useful to anyone wanting to know how coaches in Bulgaria start teaching the lifts to beginners, especially the very young ones. It turns out Valentin's first and longtime coach was Galabin Boevski's father. Valentin started training when he was 8 years old. For the first 2 years, Valentin was taught back and front squats, and was allowed to use light barbells for 3-5 reps. He was taught the snatch and clean and jerk with sticks and unloaded barbells. He was not allowed to use weight for the first 2 years on the lifts themselves. Valentin was taught bar positioning from the floor and various hang positions. He said what was most stressed is how to use the hips through the finish of the pull and drills to learn how to catch the bar in a snatch or clean. After the first 2 years, he was allowed to use some weight and mainly did power or full snatches from the floor but also did them from the hang a couple of times a week. Same with the clean. He also started front squatting more and back squatting less. He continued to do basic strength exercises like presses, rows, and clean deadlifts but less often. Valentin began lifting in competitions and when he was 12-13, he was invited to train at a weightlifting center full-time. There, his training mainly focused on the lifts. Power versions of the lifts in the mourning, followed by power jerks from the rack, and front squats. In the evening full lifts, snatch, clean and jerk, and more front squats. When He was 17-18 years old, Valentin was doing 145 snatch and 177.5 clean and jerk on a consistent basis as a 67.5 kilo lifter. He competed for Bulgaria Internationally as a junior and was invited to train with the Sr. National Bulgarian team. Ivan Abajiev was not head coach at this time. When he was approaching his late teens, Valentin's training was going well but decided to give up the sport as it was the mid 90's and weightlifting was not well funded at the time in Bulgaria. The top lifters were making around 200 dollars a month, and he felt this wasn't enough considering the intense training for little reward.
He joined circus teams doing a balancing act and various feats of strength. He eventually came to the U.S. and joined Wringling Bros. where he performs with his wife. After telling me his experiences, I asked him if he would demonstrate some lifts. He hadn't done any olympic lifting over a decade but loaded a bar to 60 kilos and POW he was fast. He did 3 power snatches and one full, then did a few clean and jerks. He looked as if he never quit. Many weightlifters and coaches are familiar with Abajiev's system of lifting but few are familiar with how beginners train. Light weights, flexibility and mobility for first 2 years, and a slow steady progression through early teen years. Beginners and young teens are not thrown into heavy, twice a day workouts, but gradually work up to it over a period of years.
Click here to discuss this article on the Pendlay Forum