Training in Bulgaria – Intro to Slavia

At 10 AM, Ivan and I arrived at Slavia for our first training session. Slavia is south of Sofia’s city center. Located here is a training complex and adjoined hotel, Hotel Champion. The complex houses over 15 sports. There is even an equestrian rink and track and field stadium on the premises. All sports are under the same team founded in 1913. Athletes from different sports and coutries (perhaps part of IOC Olympic solidarity?) could be seen arrving to hotel Champion.

The weightlifting hall is about two stories high and rectangular in shape. On one of the longer sides is stadium seating, with the top most row of seats bounded by glass windows and doors leading to other areas of the facility. Opposite this is a wall covered with large portraits (pictures about a meter in length) of famous Slavia Alumni: Botev, Peschalov, Stoyanov, …. etc. Overall, the hallis very Eastern European in look: no frills/utilitarian, slightly delapidated, and muted earth tones.

The weightlifting hall has about 7 dedicated wieghtlifting platforms which are arranged in a U-shape. It is stocked with Eleiko bars and a melange of bumper plates. Plates range from vintage to new Eleiko training, columbian plates from the 1998 Sofia Jr Worlds, and Leiko.

Upon arrival, we are met by the Coach Zdravco Stoichkov. Again, initial greetings are formal- polite, lacking vivacity . We set-up training times and –oooohhhh– sauna times (my usual New England “sauna” being steaming hot bath ). After seeing the attention paid to energy/cost savings during winter time, the sauna priveleges are much appreciated. To Ivan’s delight Stoichkov knows Rhumen Stoyanov, one of Ivan’s Bulgarian friends from competing abroad in the 80’s. Stoichkov points out Rhumen’s portrait on the training hall wall.

Anyhow, my first training session is quite eventful. I complete my strenght cycle and do snatches from the hang up to 72.5kg and power clean and jerk 80kg. At the sametime, Stoichkov lifters are training; at this point, 3 junior men and 2 junior women. On day 2, I go up to 70 kg in full snatch, which is actually more difficult than my 72.5 from hang.

And this brings us to our initial glimpse of Bulgarian lifting wisdom. According to Stoichkov, roughly, a lifter’s best snatch should be the same as their best/MAX power clean. To elaborate, let’s use a — perhaps a bit self fulfilling– example from my training:

OK, if I power clean 80kg, I should snatch 80kg, ATLEAST 75kg (53kg bodywieght) . So why am I such an under achiever ?
Start position! (see photo below) AND we are talking MINOR flaw in position. Just having the hips a hare high causes the bar trajectory to pull forward as well as lost opportunity for generating additional kinetic energy from the floor to above knee. My ability to snatch the same from the hang as the floor is another clear indication. Likewise, this means my 2nd pull and expolsiveness are just Fabulous. Wow, I can feel the kilos piling on to my total with this start positions epiphany

By my 3rd training session I learn that:
1. My start position is off – AND how to fix it
2. I should be lifting a lot more (always love to hear that especially form an expert)
3. I need to do lots of front squats (ehh old injury stopped me squatting b4 american open)

Honestly, to travel to Bulgaria to train does pose some risk to a lifter’s ego. What if I’m told I have the poor body proportions, or I’m too slow, or my technique is awful…or I plain I suck?!? I mean no one ever told me to quit my day job and trian full time. Usually, the type of lauding I get is “you’re really tough” not “you’re the future of weightlifting in the US”. Seriously, isn’t that what every nationally ranked lifter wants to hear? Does doubt ever enter one’s mind when a competitor lifts a few more than you and gets disproportionatley more attention? I mean, I dont exactly exude that “I’m so athletic look”, well in American terms anyhow; espcailly, when I have been told, in the past, that I didnt need to do sports since I’m smart (huh …. maybe that was a backhanded compliment come to think of it).

In other words, transcending the technical analyis I receive is the realization that I can do something in this sport. Rather, I have gotten confirmation that aspects of my lifting most influenced by my genetics — flexibility, speed, body type — are great. That my major obstacle to realizing my potential is having my butt 2 inches too high at the start of my pull. Most importantly, I am receiving this affirmation from someone who’s opinion is objective and well informed. (Sure, Ivan has always told me that I have conditions for being a great lifter, but we are married… ha ha ha! )

Take away point: you must always believe in yourself first, before worrying about whether others believe in you.

Still, let us examine my prior sentence though — “affirmation from an objective and qualified coach” . What exactly invokes such respect for Coach Stoichkov……

3 thoughts on “Training in Bulgaria – Intro to Slavia

  1. Steffi

    Since I am addicted to olympic weightlifting I really enjoy reading about your journey – please keep on posting!

  2. Gwen Sisto


    I noticed there was a gap in websites featuring narrative on Olympic Weightlifting. There is just not enough material on the web on weightlifting !!

    Worse yet, after going to Bulgaria, I realized that many of the “expert articles” on the web–which you have to pay for to read– are written by people who have never even had a single training session in a Bulgarian training facility.

    In part, this blog is my small part in promoting the sport.

  3. Ryen David

    Gwen – this is great stuff. As I train mostly on my own (with the team on Saturdays), I really don’t get the benefit of the expert eyes that solid coach provides. I hope you excel.


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