T Nation

Ramblings of a Mad Man


From December 2006 to June 2008 Ivan Abajiev, arguably the most successful weightlifting coach in history worked with a small group of athletes in a garage in Benicia, California.

Athletes like Nikolay Hristov(105+) S:205kg CJ:250kg, Martin Pashov(94kg) S:170kg CJ:210kg, Donny Shankle(105kg) S:165 CJ:205kg, James Moser(105kg) S:165kg CJ:191kg, Max Aita S:142kg CJ:170kg.

Life was hell... Training consisted of AM/PM workouts Mon - Sat and an AM session on Sunday. Like most of the athletes that Abadjiev trained, I quickly grew to despise him. The man was an endless vacuum for training and emotion. Once, when asked for advice about how to handle training with Abadjiev, James Moser said "... the best advice I can give you is, to sneak into his bedroom on the first night and stab him no less than 1000 times - then at least youâ??ll have a fighting chance!"

Now that some years have passed and I have had time to reflect on my experience with Coach Abadjiev, I cherish those days and I now can appreciate how much I learned from him. In the last few weeks of his stay, I taped several interviews with Abadjiev and I also had a translator assist me in transcribing fifty or sixty pages of notes about his life and his training system. Remember, this man is over 70 years old and had no formal science educationâ?¦

Here is an excerpt:
"When we increase the function, or use, of a system we also increase the dynamic process of degradation and accretion. You have both accretion and degradation working in a dynamic balance. Lysosomes, full of acids and various enzymes break down proteins and subsequently, various cell structures are rebuilt stronger. These lysosomes can function in multiple ways in the cell. One example is can be found when you remove a Kidney, the remaining Kidney hypertrophies in order to compensate for the increased work load.

When you increase the function of a system you can achieve adaptation. When you apply this to sport, by having an athlete systematically train longer and train harder, you are continually increasing the degradation and subsequent turnover of the proteins involved. If you donâ??t put athletes into the extreme conditions, you will not produce the extreme changes that athlete needs to achieve big results."
- Ivan Abadjiev

Program Advice?

Good read Dave.



I honestly thought those papers/notes were lost!!! In the move from Benicia to San Ramon. As the American "scientist" that was privy to those 2 years or so, it was quite an experience. The man, completely uneducated in our western sense was simply driven to read, study, and try (sometimes very strange things) in order to get his athletes stronger.

I distinctly remember too, that his passion for the sport was unmatched, he used to sleep outside of his lifters rooms before big meets in order to make sure that nobody bothered them, and let them get rest before their big day (at the Olympics/World events).

David, what were those grilling sessions called? Where Uncle (Abadjiev) used to grill you guys for hours on end.


Nice post thanks!
So you trained with Abadjiev??

Do you mind answering a few questions please?

  1. Whats Ivans view on using recovery methods such as massage, whirlpool etc? I've heard that some say he "didn't believe in them" and thought that they interfered with the adaptation process, however I've also heard that the bulgarians made extensive use of massage and water therapy. Whats the final word on this?

  2. What was his view on nutrition/supplements?

  3. Is it true that his athletes had to fast on sundays in order to raise growth hormone or something? It's something I've heard!



I did train with Abadjiev the entire time he was in the U.S. In fact, after meeting Abadjiev in Bulgaria with Alexander Krychev (72' Bulgaria Silver Medalist and my coach at the time), I started a non-profit called American Weightlifting to help fund his stay as well as Hristov's and Pashov's.

In response to your questions...

  1. Abadjiev insisted that we minimize recovery methods like whirlpool and massage. He cited issues with adaptation but we always suspected the reason was because we couldn't go as heavy the day following a massage and that tended to make him angry. When we did use water therapy (approximately twice a month) it was Hot Tub 3 minutes and Cold Pool for 5 minutes then repeat and out!

  2. On the nutrition front his primary concern was always calories... it was a constant challenge maintaining body weight in his system. Morning weigh-ins could be very stressful. It's hard to imagine a 5 foot tall seventy year old striking fear into the hearts of group of young men but believe me he did! His basic outline for nutrition was 3 meals daily with one snack and then a Meal Replacement before bed. Meals tended to follow a basic 40 - 30 - 30 macro nutrient breakdown. Breakfast was smaller, lunch and dinner were our primary meals with a moderate size snack being wolfed down after waking up from afternoon nap and before the PM training session. Supplements included creatine and he wanted us to take a B12, Folic Acid, Orotic Acid combo - but the B12 needed to be injected which was not possible. He had a Soviet study that showed substantial increases in test levels from the cocktail.

  3. Fasting to increase HGH was never mentioned... although bedtime was strictly enforced to take advantage of peak hormone secretion.



loving the eccentricity of sleeping outside your lifters room to make sure they got uninterrupted sleep :smiley:



Thanks for the thorough response, I appreciate it!
Thats a very interesting view he has on recovery methods, considering that the soviets were the complete opposite.


Follow up question:
Was there a specific time when he wanted you guys to take your supplements? Did you have to take them with or witout food?

When doing 2 a days how long was the rest period in between?


David can probably answer this better than I can about the supplements, but I don't necessarily remember uncle specifying a specific time of day for supplements. He just wanted them to take them (often after training or in the evening) but that was mostly because they pretty much met in the training hall in the mornings and the guys couldn't really get anything down in the early morning.

They would often take vitamins, creatine, etc... with food at dinner or lunch. That was a large part of what I helped with there.

As for the trainings, they rarely did twice daily training, it was more of 4 - 6 sessions per day, with 20 - 30 or so minutes between say the two sessions in the morning and then lunch, nap, two sessions in the afternoon with 20 - 30 minutes in between. Then Dinner, then possibly another 1 -2 sessions in the evening.

But I am sure David can give more detail as I was out in Benicia about 1 -2 per week during the time, whereas David pretty much lived there.


Like Dr. Johnson mentioned above, Abadjiev's newest iteration of his system is comprised of two training sessions with 3-4 exercises each. Between each exercise he mandated 20-30 minutes of rest. This made for a very long day. Sessions lasted between 3 and 4 hours. We started at 9:00am on the dot. If you were late to training there was hell to pay.

After AM session we ate lunch and then took an hour to an hour and a half nap. Afternoon session started at 4:00pm after a cup of strong coffee. Then dinner followed our PM session. On rare occasions he would have us go back out to train after dinner - but usually just for a squat. I might be able to find some of my training diaries from those days and post them if there is sufficient interest.



I for one would love to hear more from the training diary under Ivan


dspitz I am extremely interested in understanding what you guys do/did. If anything just PM me some dairi entries with a little context explation attached...

There is a lot of speculation and shit-talking regarding to his Training system, but since I ain't no expert I keep my mouth shut. I will say that I cannot handle that level of work-load but I would like to start implementing some of it slowly.

The biggest gains I made was after meeting a coach in NJ who got me lifting, pulling, and squatting heavy 3x a week, and a lighter 4th day with RDLs 'n such. That was during winter break, but I can't see him on a regalar basis so I'm left with winging it on my own.


So why don't you lift, pull and squat heavy 3x a week now when it worked well for you?




Koing I still lift, pull and squat heavy when I go to the Oly gyms in Bmore or NJ (or the univ gym when class starts). It was that coach who showed me I can do that and more.


Here is a scan from my training journal... Monday, Wednesday, Friday we typically worked to max attempts on every lift and then backed off for one or two singles at 5-10kg less. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we worked Full Lifts at each session at about 10kg less than our max from the day before on every lift.

The volume was substantially higher though... we would perform 3-5 singles and sometimes a few doubles. In addition, Abadjiev would add an additonal squat to each session on Tuesday, Thursday Saturday. The higher volume days were hell because we were so mentally exhausted from the Max Effort day.

The worst part of the training was often times the lecture we got after practice. In Communist Countries; when an organization started to get loose, a high ranking official from the Communist Party was sent to straighten out the employees... this process was known as Sobrania. Abadjiev used this term to refer to his iron out sessions. Man... he could talk!

I can post a few more journal entries if you guys want. Good times!


Thanks for sharing, I would love to see more if you have the time.
What did Ivan talk about in the lectures? Was there anything that stuck out in your mind as being important?
Did he ever test his athletes for jumping ability or sprinting speed?
Thanks again.


Sobrania was always different... sometimes it was him venting about how poor the training was going, sometimes it was insightful and almost carring, sometimes it was comical and sometimes it was just plain genius.

He was always a very good orator though and he always came armed with examples. If someone complained about overtraining, he would go on about the stress limiting system of the body. Then he would cite how the heart was a muscle and never took time to rest.

If someone complained about being hurt he would cite the fact that the individual was sore because he was a Weightlifter and that if in fact that person were gay... his a**hole would hurt!

As far as testing for jumping or sprint speed... absolutley never. The cornerstone of his training system is specialization. Anything done outside the classic lifts were a waste of time and energy to him.


Love the idea of Sobrania. I shall adopt it for my own coaching :smiley:

Good posts spitz!



Dave... a a few follow up questions (maybe the journal entries will answer it)
-On M,W,F did you guys also squatted? Or were squats thrown in T,Th,Sat only.
-How were the lifts divided among the days? As in power snatch Monday, clean Tuesday, squat snatch Thursday etc...
-Did you guys squat on each session in a day? As doing back squat in the morning and front squat in the evening of (say) a Tuesday.

thank you for taking the time to let us know what you fellas did,


I attempted to attach a scanned page of my journal from those days, but it never showed up... user error no doubt.

I am happy to share the info from my experience with Abadjiev because it was a very interesting time and he is a wildly fascinating figure. I will caution everyone though... I believe strongly in the system that we use at Cal Strength under Coach Pendlay. It works for more athletes, more often than any system I have seen. That being said, if you have a group of athletes with perfect technique, good prerequisite strength levels and extreme motivation (like a fear of losing everything if one doesn't perform) then Abadjiev's system produces the biggest lifts the world has ever seen.

NOTE: We rested 20-30 minutes between exercises... 6-8 attempts to get to Max. Big jumps with no wasting time. As Abadjiev would say "...if the rabbit takes time to warm up before he decides to run from the wolf, he will be dinner!"

PS: Max, Drop to 1-2 singles at 10kg less
PC/J: Max, Drop to 1-2 singles at 10kg less
FS: Max, Drop to 1-2 singles at 10kg less
S: Max (3-5 attempts)
CJ: Max (3-5 attemtps)
FS: Max, Drop to 2-3 singles at 10kg less

FS: 10kg less than the Day Before's Max (3-5 singles)
S: 10kg less than the Day Before's Max (3-5 singles)
CJ: 10kg less than the Day Before's Max (3-5 singles)
FS: 10kg less than the Day Before's Max (3-5 singles)

FS: 5kg more than the Day AM session (2-3 singles)
S: 5kg more than the Day AM session (2-3 singles)
CJ: 5kg more than the Day AM session (2-3 singles)
FS: 5kg more than the Day AM session (2-3 singles)

*on rare occasions he would add a squat or power clean after dinner

LIGHT Power Snatch
LIGHT Power Clean