Bulgarian Strongman by Chase Karnes
(NOTE: The following information was taken from the Jim Wendler Forum and was written by Chase Karnes.
I thought I'd share some of the great conversation I had with a Bulgarian Strongman Competitor today.
I got a phone call from a Georgia cell phone number yesterday. In a thick Eastern Europe accent a guy says, “I hear you have yoke, farmers, atlas stones and other strongman equipment. Traveling through and need to train.” I told him I was training events at 9am Saturday and asked if he could make it. He said he would be there.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I showed up this morning. As I’m unlocking the gym a huge truck pulls up and out steps this 315 pound beast of a man. He introduced himself and even with his thick accent and a small language barrier we seemed to communicate just fine. His name was Mitko and he’s from Bulgaria and a former Bulgarian strongman, who’s currently living in the states and shooting for his heavyweight pro card this year through the American Strongman Corporation (ASC).
We had a great training session and even better conversation. Anytime I have the chance to pick someone’s brain when it comes to training I always take full advantage of it – especially a Bulgarian strongman. I thought I’d share the gems of information I picked up from him throughout the day. A lot of its repetitive, but it bears repeating again. Because it’s the shit that works.
These aren’t exact quotes from Mitko, but I’ve just paraphrased everything the best I remember.
“My gym lifts make up the majority of my training at the moment since I’m usually traveling. I squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. That makes up the most of my training. I like to work up to a top end set of 8, 6, 5 or 3 typically. Recently I worked up to 3 sets of 5 on axle clean and press at 365 pounds. Those felt strong so I decided to hit a heavy single at 405. That was easy. Next I hit a single at 442. I had more, but I’m pretty sure that would beat the current world record so I stopped there.”
This reminds me of Jim saying never to short change your last set on your 5, 3 and 1 weeks. Even if you plan to go up whether it’s Joker sets or going for a 1RM. If he can hit a world record in the gym after doing 3 sets of 5 at almost 85% of his 1RM and go onto hitting a lift bigger than the current world record, I think pushing your last set on the respective weeks even if you plan to work up heavier, you’ll be ok.
I also saw video of that axle clean and press. Unreal. Same goes with his 600 pound bench press. Oh and the video of a Jeep wrangler driving over a piece of plywood placed over his abdomen when he volunteered for the circus when their performing strongman got injured.
“I like to follow squats up with front squats for sets of 5. Just putting the work in. I can’t use an Olympic grip due to flexibility. I don’t use straps either like many do here in the states. The problem with straps is you brace differently and it’s less taxing on the core. Your chest collapse forward. It’s not as effective as the cross arm grip. Keep the chest up and arch the upper back hard. We are building strength on these. When the technique goes (referring to the chest collapsing forward with straps, but still squeezing out reps) we lose what we are training.”
“Since I don’t get to train events frequently I always train my worst events. I typically pick 3 or 4 and train them hard. I also train the events, not max out on them each time.”
(During today’s training he carried a 330 Husafell stone for 3 runs of 120-180 ft. His last competition his stone was 410 pounds for max distance. He worked up to and carried a 700 yoke for two runs of 80 ft. His last competition yoke was 950. He worked up to a 340 stone. His last competition stone was 400. In other words he worked sub maximally, but focused on moving fast and technique.)
It was pretty humbling when he asked me for technique tips and coaching on the Husafell stone and Atlas stone. What was even better is I pointed out one thing on the Husafell that will make a big difference in getting some extra distance for him. I pointed out a handful of things on Atlas stone over bar, and it made such a difference he said it’s no longer weakness for him. There are a few lessons here.
He said he knew I was good at the Husafell and Stones. He knew those were his worst events. He knew he could learn from me. He was humble enough to ask for help. He’s a top level 315 pound heavyweight strongman competitor, yet he asked a 215 pound amateur strongman for advice and then applied it.
In other words – you can always learn something from others. Whether they are stronger or weaker than you. Be humble and always learning. Technique is so fucking important. He deadlifts close to 900 pounds raw. His last squat workout (yesterday) he squatted 600 raw with no belt for 3 sets of 5. It was a “light day”. My numbers don’t come close to that. Yet I loaded the 340 stone over the bar for 3 easy reps. He couldn’t get the same stone over the same bar for 1 rep and he’s taller than me.
But after we worked on his technique and changed quite a few things he was throwing it over with ease. He then said he’s confident he could throw a 400 pound stone over that height just as easy now. I’ve never picked up a 400 pound stone. There’s no way in hell I could load it over a 54 inch bar. Again – technique is so fucking important. Strongman or powerlifting or just lifting in general.
A few other random things:
- “Fuck all these weight classes. When I get to worlds I’ll have to compete against guys weighing 400+ pounds. You Americans and weight classes. Strongman has 2 weight classes in my opinion. If you’re under 231 you’re a lightweight. If you’re over you’re a heavy weight. Strong is fucking strong.”
- “If you want to compete at World’s in strongman you better damn well be pulling 900 fucking pounds.”
- “If (a current World level strongman competitor) would realize his weakness is his deadlift he could win World’s. In my opinion he doesn’t put enough focus on it. He’s strong and fast on everything. His deadlift is his weak link. He should focus on just building his deadlift for some time. Instead of trying to improve all his events at once.”
- “I’ll out press (a current World level strongman and strong presser) any day of the week. I’m a fucking presser. And deadlifter. And squatter. And bencher.”
- "I do all my warm ups and lighter work sets with no belt. For example, anything under 600 on squats I use no belt. The belt has a purpose, but is overused by most. Put it on when shit gets heavy."
There was a ton more that he said and I’m sure things will continue to pop into my head over the next few days. But that’s all I can think of at the moment. Hopefully some of you pick up a thing or two from Mitko. (And I found out later his actual name is Dimitar, but he goes by Mitko in the States.)