ANGEL SPASSOV and GAYLE HATCH
By Gayle Hatch
Mens Head Coach 2004 US Olympic Weightlifting Team
Since this is the 20th anniversary of my meeting with Angel Spassov, I
thought I might mention a few things about that meeting. When Angel visited the United
States in August of 1989, I had the pleasure of spending several days with him. The USWF
Southern Regional Training Center in Baton Rouge was his last stop before going back to
Bulgaria. In addition to my attending his lectures, Angel and I stayed up to the early
hours of the morning talking weightlifting. Spassov was affiliated with the Bulgarian
Higher Institute for Physical Education and Sports Instruction. Since 1980 he had worked
with approximately 760 coaches from 52 countries. I had used the Soviet style of
perodization and had become very successful with it. I went into our conversation with an
open mind so that I could make my program even more successful. During our conversation,
Angel spoke quite a bit about Ivan Abadjiev, the famous Bulgarian National Coach.
Arguments could be made that Abadjiev is the greatest weightlifting coach ever. I made a
strong point to Angel that I did not and would not use steroids or other performance
enhancing drugs in my program. Angel applauded my stance against steroids and said I could
modify the Bulgarian system just as I had modified the Soviet system and get great
Following are a few key points from the Spassov meetings that made an impact on my
Teaching Weightlifting Technique Bulgarian model
I start by teaching a beginner the back squat first because it is the number one
strength building exercise and it is the fundamental position for weightlifting.
The front squat is taught next. This exercise develops strength and balance in the
receiving position for the clean. The full movement of the clean pull from the floor is
taught next followed by the power clean and then the squat clean. The split jerk is taught
next using a stick or light bar only. Once the lifter has learned the proper foot work for
the split jerk, the full clean & jerk is taught. Next the snatch pull from the floor
is taught first. The power snatch is then taught followed by the overhead squat. The
lifter then learns the squat snatch. The lifts are considered learned when the lifter has
the timing and movement correct. Remember never sacrifice good technique for additional
I use this method 95% of the time, but I would like to point out that if I have a
particular beginner who has problems with this method because of one reason or another, I
will quickly switch to a different sequence of teaching. The athlete may respond better if
he is taught the lifts in parts from top to bottom before learning the full movement. The
Bulgarians believe there is no scientific evidence that teaching the lifts in parts is
better than teaching technique using the full lift. A good coach should know both methods
of teaching technique.
Number of exercises I still use 16-19 exercises in my training systems as
Abadjiev did prior to 1986. When I met Angel in 1989, Abadjiev was using just 5 exercises,
snatch, power snatch, clean and jerk, power clean and front squat. These exercises were
done using single repetitions up to maximum. After my discussion with Spassov, I was
convinced that since I would not use steroids in my program I would have to go in a
different direction. I was convinced that Spassovs suggestion that a lifter should
work up to his max for the day (not his best ever) in the snatch and clean & jerk with
no more than 2 or 3 attempts at this weight. Then coming back down to 80% and performing
another segment of heavy doubles and sometimes triples back to max 10 kg is needed
for strength development.
Sessions In Baton Rouge, I cannot have 3 effective training sessions a day.
My athletes work or go to school, but I do have two very effective workout sessions per
day. The sessions are not split into morning and evening, but we have two sessions in the
afternoon. There is a 30 minute break between the A session and the B session. An elite
lifter will have 8 sessions per week. I find having both sessions closer together has a
positive effect on the all around conditioning of the athlete.
Cycle I use both 3 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week in a monthly
cycle. Sometimes I use 2 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week, and then repeated with
2 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week. This would be a 6 week cycle. I use a lower
volume and intensity in the unloading week than the Bulgarians do. This is a must if you
are training your athletes without steroids.
Squats - I did not drop back squats from my program but substituted one day of
high box step-ups in place of a day of back squats. Sometimes I also do front squats and
back squats together.
Clean Jerks (not clean & jerks) Angel Spassov introduced me to this
exercise in 1989. It is an excellent exercise to develop core strength and teach the
athlete to finish his leg drive.
Advice for Young Coaches from Coach Gayle Hatch - It is a long hard road to reach
the top and become a Head Olympic Team Coach or head coach of other International Teams. I
am proud to be in three weightlifting halls of fame, the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame,
US Masters Hall of Fame and the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. The
answer is to stay in the eye of the storm. Teach and motivate your athletes like winners.
The Gayle Hatch Weightlifting Team has won 51 mens National Championships and has
had members represented on 4 US Olympic Teams, 12 mens World Teams and 21 mens
Junior World Teams. Our current top lifter is Matt Bruce who has just made his third World
Team and is in pursuit of the 2012 Olympic Team. Young coaches should try new approaches
until they can find a system that works for them. Talk to coaches who consistently have
lifters in the top 10 ranking. Visit their training centers and observe their style
of coaching. If you pick up just one thing then it will be worth your trip. In my case, I
picked up a lot of positive information from Angel Spassov.