Weightlifting and CNS recovery

If I understand correctly, Charlie likes to leave at least 48 hours between sessions that tax the CNS (i.e. speed and strength work) as he feels that the CNS takes this long to recover fully.

But what about Olympic weightlifters? If we look at one of the most successful weightlifting nations in the world - Bulgaria - we see that they do (or did; the information I have does not refer to their most recent programming) strength/power work much more often than this. They use a small group of exercises (clean & jerk, snatch, front squat, occassionally power clean) and work up to a daily max on the lifts in each session. I’ve read that a typical week might include 10-15 sessions in total.

It seems that it would be virtually impossible to recover from the CNS stress created by such a program and yet these parameters have created many of the world’s greatest weightlifters, including Naim Suleymanoglu.

So what is it that allows this program to be successful. I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t succeed on such a program, so perhaps state-sponsored selection programs allow the genetic elite (or at least those that can tolerate massive volumes of work) to be identified and this is the basis of the program’s success. Clearly nutrition, recovery methods, drugs, and the full-time nature of the athletes all play a role. But this still doesn’t reconcile the success of the program with its enormous CNS load. Here are some of my attempts to explain this, none of which I’m satisfied with:

  1. Maybe sprint/speed work is more taxing on the CNS than strength/power work? This would explain why international weightlifters are able to make progress while training heavy for several days in a row.

  2. Maybe the strength that weightlifters need benefits from concentrated loading (or controlled overtraining), whereas the speed that sprinters need does not?

  3. Maybe most weightlifters are overtaxing their CNS and would benefit by training less often. This doesn’t explain why international-level weightlifters, almost without exception, train high-intensity elements more than 3 times per week.

Let’s hear what everyone else has to say.

Charlie - thanks for the comments. It’s not so much the frequency of training that puzzles me. As you mention, if lower-intensity days were cycled with high-intensity days, then the program would allow for adequate CNS recovery. It’s precisely the fact that the program doesn’t do this that puzzles me.

From the accounts I’ve heard of the program, lifters work up to daily maximums every day, often for several different lifts on the same day. They’re allowed to miss a lift a couple of times before the maximum level is determined for the day.

xlr8 - the Bulgarian program includes heavy squatting every day, so there would presumably be plenty of eccentric stress.

I don’t think we can learn anything from the Bulgarian weightlifting stories, whether true or not. Even if they lifted every day, we can’t be 100% sure that they were lifting at or near maxes every day, with significant volume. You Remember they pulled out their whole national team from one of the major champs because they were getting caught (can’t remember which one exactly off top of my head) and single athletes have been caught on other occasions as well. Who know’s the volume drugs they have been scoffing and/or injecting. If they do make every lifter lift maxes every day then this is possibly the worst mistake as they are not realising that recovery time can vary a lot between lifters.

I think we can believe the stories of Bulgarian training methods, as they’ve been confirmed by numerous outside observers. Also, Bulgarian coaches and athletes have been very consistent in their accounts of their training methods. You would think that if their intention was to deceive, they would slip up at some point.

I would guess that the vast majority of international-class weightlifters are on drugs. I find it hard to believe that the success of their program is due only to superior pharmaceuticals, though I suppose it’s possible.

I deliberately used the Bulgarian program as an extreme example, but I personally train with a number of lifters who train 5 days per week. On three of those days they train twice a day (8 sessions/week in total). These are UK national-calibre athletes (one or two have competed internationally) and they seem to improve on such a program.

Can you give a detailed example of a whole weeks training of any one athlete? That would be interesting to see.

Did the outside sources provide such examples. I think the only one who knows the true intensity of all the exercises is the athlete his/herself, (maybe the coach also knows, but on every set and rep?) It is difficult for an outside observer to tell the difference between 87 & 97 % intensity I would think, especially on the power versions of the lifts.

Zatsioresky hypothesises that frequent sessions with less than optimum recovery induce an accumulation of fatigue but a greater super compensatory adaptation when a rest day is finanally taken. It is important however that lifters have developed tolerance to such training (see other thread).

Anecdotal evidence is not always reliable, nonetheless …
One of the biggest advantages of ‘good’ supplement use is the ability to train harder more frequently, thus perhaps enabling greater volumes and higher intensities.
While the description of training seems excessive the volumes and frequencies discussed though are vaguely similar to that discussed in the Adam Archuleta post - so maybe not impossible.

I too would like to see a typical training CYCLE or phase.
One week might be too short to see where the recovery element of the supercompensation phase occurs.

David W- Have you ideas/rules as to the length/ratio of training phase vs length of recovery phase?

If I understand the methods right, they are using 100%RM maximum singles/doubles, for, say 15 reps a session (guessing here), 2-3 times a day, every day, for a week or more? I would imagine that would cripple the majority of lifters, regardless of experience. That seems a massive assault on the joints and muscles. I would be in hospital after about 3 days of that. I may be misunderstanding the training regime though.

I disagree Jimbo, though I must point out - I haven’t any proper evidence to support my agrument.
I believe it is possible to devlop a tolerance to the training - providing the supercompensation effect is managed correctly.

Example Bulgarian session:


Singles to max
max minus 10k
max minus 5k
Repeat sequence (no depends on training phase)

30 minute recovery

Clean & Jerk - As for snatch

pm: As morning

Day 3 and 6 substitute power variations; day 7 REST (phew!)

how many weeks did they do this
‘hyper-volume’ before reducing the volume, if at all?

and if they do reduce the volume of training how long does that last?

It’s important to recognise that maxes are specific to a given session on a given day and may vary markedly. To train in this way I believe a lifter would need to ‘emotionally detach’ from training in order to minimise CNS stress.

I get the first point David, the second bit -the ‘emotionally detach’ bit - elaborate please.

Any idea how much the daily maxes vary by?

As David points out, the distinction between the daily (or training) maximum and the competition (or true) maximum is important. The Bulgarians lift the maximum they are capable of on any particular day, and of course can’t hit PB’s in every session. I’ve heard speculation that one reason for the success of the program is that when the system is beaten down, the lifts won’t be as heavy, and therefore the system will be allowed to recover. It still sounds brutal to me.

One 85kg US lifter, Oscar Chaplin, reportedly has trained only 3 times per week in preparation for international competitions. The latest report I’ve read suggests he trains only four sessions per week. For an international calibre weightlifter, this is very low-frequency training. While he’s not one of the world’s best, he’s very young and there is probably more to come from him.

Originally posted by no23
I get the first point David, the second bit -the ‘emotionally detach’ bit - elaborate please.

Zatsiorsky reports on how the Russians measured the pulse rates of athletes when lifting. If the pulse rate went above a certain level prior/ during the lift the weight was too heavy, for that given day. All of the East Europeans differentiated bewteen Competition RMs and training RMs (albeit using different protocols to do so). Maybe someone can give more exact details?

This prevents excessive physical and emotional stress from heavy lifting.

That is one of the main reasons why I do my weights (OLY and strength) immediately after my speed workouts. That way I get max CNS recovery between session. I dont have enough time in my schedule (Nor the capacity physically) to do my speed work at 12 noon and weights at 6:00pm.

I’m not an expert on the Olympic lifting, but ANY book, or piece of literature I have ever come across on Oly lifting all recomend the same thing; 5 days a weak of lifting. Beginners r recomended 1 session a day (I suspect/in the author’s eyes that they realise “beginners” are amateurs who probably have normal lifestyles and don’t have the time to train more than once per day. If they(author’s of weight lifting literature) could get away with throwing 2 sessions a day at beginners they probably would. All “intermediate” and advanced lifters are recomended 2 sessions and upwards per day in the various literature I’ve read.
Pretty brutal.