The Best Gym Pound for Pound is in Bulgaria?

September 27, 2010

The coolest thing about the Internet in my opinion is the ability to meet people from all over the globe. Over the past 3 years I’ve become friends with a sharp personal trainer from Bulgaria, Yavor Marichkov. Yavor runs a blog called Relative Strength Advantage. My favorite part of his site are his video tutorials. His little gym is popping up all over Youtube and making a big impact. If you are cruising Youtube and run across a gym with a black & white checkered floor, then stop and check it out…most likely it is Yavor’s gym. Every video that comes out of that gym is pure gold. This is why I believe it is one of the best gyms pound-for-pound.

Best Gym Pic

[Believe it or not, I was going to put up a picture of an amazing looking Bulgarian beach. When you think Eastern Europe you don’t think beaches, but Bulgaria has some parts that look like California. I decided with this picture of a painted on Bulgarian flag instead.]

Tales from an Eastern European Gym
-by Yavor Marichkov

I was skinny-fat, weak and completely lacking in athletic skills as a child. I was more interested in books I guess. Sometime before high school I noticed that I didn’t completely suck at basketball. My strategy was to wait for a pass in the opponent’s field. So when high school came, I joined the basketball team and through sheer stubbornness and lots of one-on-one with the basketball rim in my neighborhood, I managed to land a spot on the varsity team in my junior and senior years. That, along with my teenage growth spurt, fixed the fat part, but I was still weak as a kitten.

Me, The Muscle Mags and the Gym

Some of my class mates started working out and got very quick results and this inspired me to join a gym. I read a book or two and even bought fitness magazines, but following the routines from the fitness rags stopped working after a few months. It was later that I found out these newbie gains were due to the stress of introducing exercise in my life, and not thanks to the worthless routines in the magazines.

Hitting a Plateau and Discovering Strength Training

So after no longer being able to progress in the gym, I started looking for a solution. I asked around about protein shakes, high-carb diets, etc – desperately looking for a solution. It was then that I was introduced by one of my mentors to the concept of strength training. In just two months I blew through my strength plateau. My pull-ups increased from 5 to 12. I was ecstatic.

[Here’s an advanced version of the pull-up: the sternum pull-up. It is done by pulling up explosively and finishing by moving the elbows back and touching the bar to your chest. This is a great way to build the overlooked mid-back muscles as well as to work up towards a muscle up.]

How I Became a Personal Trainer

I became fascinated with bio-mechanics – the highly efficient way the body works when aligned and used properly. Fun fact – most babies when they start walking, have perfect biomechanics – they do movements (for example when bending to pick a toy) like lunges, squats, dead lifts and over head presses with perfect technique. A bunch of friends, mentored by the same guy who introduced strength training to me, started a personal training studio where they showed people how to really get results in the gym. I started hanging out there, helping out, spotting, A few years later I became a part of the team

The Best Gym in Bulgaria

The cool thing abut the gym is that it is based on free weights, complex movements and perfect bio-mechanical technique. The gym also introduced the concept of personal training to Bulgaria. We use the same principles with regular people as well as with professional athletes. Here are some of the exercises I’ve mastered as well as a few advanced moves demonstrated by pro athletes and trainers in our gym:


[Mastering the muscle-ups will give you a fantastic upper body. In fact, you could do a complete workout with just a bar for muscle ups. At to this bodyweight circuits, sprints, jump rope or a pick-up basketball game and you are all set.]

The Muscle-Up Is A Technical Move

What you do is hang from the bar and let your body swing forward. At the top of the swing you explosively pull yourself up. At the moment your upper arms become parallel to the ground, you kick with your knees up. All of a sudden you will find yourself on top of the bar. Check out the post on the muscle-up, if you need further tips for this move.

Handstand push-ups

[The great thing about handstand pushups is that they will emphasize your shoulders. After only a few weeks you will dramatically improve your proportions – the shoulder to waist ratio.]

How To Master The Handstand Push-Up

First, get comfortable in a handstand against a wall. Start by facing the wall. Get on all fours and place your palms 1-2 feet away from the wall. Lift up your hips and carefully kick up with one leg so you end up against the wall. Next, place a bunch of books on the floor. Start doing handstand pushups and let your head lightly touch the top of the books. When it gets easier, remove a book or two. After some time, depending on your initial strength, you will be doing full handstand push-ups. If you get stuck, try alternating high-medium-low reps every 2-4 weeks. Check out the handstand pushups tutorial if you need further help.

Full Contact Twist

[I learned about the full contact twist from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Bulletproof Abs. In our gym however we use a modified, strength based variation of this move. It is a full body rotational exercise, great for core strength and overall upper body and full body strength. It’s only drawback is that the silly instructors in your gym might not allow you to place a bar in the corner and practice it.]

The Keys to the Full Contact Twist

Here’s how to do the full contact twist (link to tutorial), starting from the ground up. First note that your trailing leg should rotate – just like a punch in boxing. Second, flex your leading leg. The body works in kinetic chains that run diagonally throughout the body.

What is a Kinetic Chain?

So a kinetic chain – meaning muscles working in cooperation – runs from your left leg, through your obliques and stomach muscles all the way to your right arm and vice versa. So when you want to twist a heavy barbell from left to right, you flex your left leg, your stomach and rotate toward the right side. The final tip is to stay in the hollow position. This is a gymnastic term which means to tuck in your pelvis and ever so slightly hunch forward and flex the abs. This ensures maximum power coming from the abs.

A Few More Full Body Strength Moves

Here are a few more moves we do at our gym. They are a bit more advanced but all have in common the principles of integrating the whole body and using kinetic chains – muscles working together in a sequence – that are as long as possible.

Dragon Flag

[The Dragon Flag was popularized by Bruce Lee, the Rocky movies and Pavel Tsatsouline’s books: a fantastic core stabilizer The way we perform it at the gym is with the body as rigid as possible.]

Mastering the Dragon Flag

There are two steps towards mastering the move. You need to learn to flex all the muscles of the front of the body – so legs, hip flexors and abs work together. The actual movement in the dragon flag is done predominantly with your lats – so you pull your whole body with the armpit muscles.

Elevated Renegade Rows

[Rusty already introduced the Renegade Row as a great way to get strong stomach muscles. Here we take the exercise further – the elevation forces you to stabilize a bigger percentage of your body weight.]

32kg Elevated Renegade Rows… By a Girl?

There’s no magic in this move. Maria, the cute and strong girl in the video uses the principle of flexing the kinetic chain from the supporting arm to the opposite supporting leg and all the way in between.

One Arm Evil Wheel

[The evil wheel also works by forcing us to stabilize the muscles of the front of the body in the hollow position. Here Nino, front man of an underground electronic band, Taekwondo and Capoeira master and a former trainer at our gym is doing the exercise one armed – to show off! He does push off slightly with his knees on the way up, but even doing the negative, descending part of the move is hard enough!]

—–End of Guest Post—–

Note: Make sure and head on over to Yavor’s site and ask him any questions you have on these moves. He is extremely helpful and answers just about every question submitted on his site.

[I decided to throw in a beach photo after all. This is a little beach town in Bulgaria on the Black Sea Coast called Primorsko. Looks just as nice as many of the bigger well-known beach resort cities in the world.]

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Thanks for reading all these years!


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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue September 28, 2010 at 4:44 am

Great post – glad to be introduced to a great site. Yavor gives excellent advice. I’ve got some catch up reading to do now.

Hazman @ CrazyFitnessGuide September 28, 2010 at 9:38 am

This is a very good post, and Its amazing how the best gym is in bulgaria…but also you dont really need a gym to get a body, just hard work, a good ethic, plenty of natural exercise, and bodyweight, and your set to go!

Fitness Training Programs September 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

These are some great exercises especially for the core. I noticed that these are more body weight specific which helps you develop a strong lean look versus that steroid hulk type magazine look. Keep the good stuff coming!

How To Lose Weight- Mikey September 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm


this was an awesome post. I’ve done headstand pushups before and used to be able to do 10, but haven’t done them forever. Thanks for the reminder.

And the full contact twist is definitely something I have to give a few months trial in.

these all look like great exercises that would be fun to do with an outdoor gym on the beach or something. I’ll have to test that theory in Spain next year. you coming? haha.

Cubicle Warrior September 29, 2010 at 2:57 am

Hey man thanks for this post! It’s nice to see how people workout in other parts of the world.

I struggled with doing 1 pull up before but after doing statics and a variation of the sternum pull up (where in i literally jump to get some momentum going) i could do 10 now in a set with no problem.

What I haven’t done is the muscle up. My door pull up bar doesn’t allow me to do so. 🙂

Thanks again! Really inspired to try the handstand push up. I might be doing statics with that as well

Lauren Snyder September 29, 2010 at 10:08 am

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for this awesome post 🙂 I’ll definitely check out Yavor’s blog too. These exercises look great…I’ve got to try the ones that are new to me!

Thanks agian!

Mark September 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Man I love your site Rusty – and the proof is in body composition changes I’ve made. Thank you for your work!

I have hit a plateau in increasing the amount of weight I lift at the gym so this post came at the right time. I have been at it for over 3 months now and think I will switch to body weight exercises for a while.

I tried the handstand pushups, thought I was strong in the shoulders but could only do a quarter of one before having to fall off the wall. Humbling indeed!

Quick question, could you tell me the recipe you used when you lived cheap off of chicken salad? I’m trying to get ripped and save money for an extended island hopping trip – and would prefer something healthier than ramen every night


Yavor :: Relative Strength Advantage September 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm


I think the fitness knowledge goes in circles. Today I learned there were apparently “Bulgarian dips” – this is the name the gymnastic coach Christopher Sommer calls them. He learned them from a Bulgarian gymnast and I learned them from him…


the past dominance was drugs (as in almost any other sport… people need to come clean!) + work, work, work… Big fan and long time reader of your blog as you know…


yeah, after quite a few years in gyms, I get excited when I find new ways to train!


thanks for being a reader. I really do try to explain as best as I can.


I’ve seen this vid of Fedor. Old school, Rocky 4 type of workout. Awesome!


kettlebells are a great tool to add variety, aren’t they? One of my favorite exercises is the swing.


Lol! I am around 175lbs now at 5’11’’. It’s great to be light and athletic – and not look like a bouncer in street clothes.


yeah variation is needed. I’ve been getting more and more into this gymnastic type training lately…


no doubt man! Hope to get another cool article from Hollywood soon… I know you’re busy but still!


Glad you liked those exercises!


Yeah these guys are strong. Sometimes I wonder how I got there lol!


actually it is a great place to drink and party lol! I have to learn about this technique from you. I just recently started reading about the fascia cause of a back injury I got this summer…


the elevated renegade rows are difficult… but if a girl can do them…


these techniques go full circles – to the US and back. I learned a ton from guys in America as well as Bulgaria.


This is a great quote from you: “Any tough movement done correctly in good form with intensity is great for the body.” Completely agree.


love to have you as a reader. Wish you success on your bikini bod goal for summer 2011!


Hey! The CrossFit guys don’t own body weight training lol!


Haha you got me man!


Awesome. You should link your site so we can check it out!


gymnastic training is awesome. Too bad they don’t present their info in a user friendly manner. We can fix this!


yeah, I try to only talk about stuff I’ve done. Though I admit the one arm evil wheel… I don’t dare lol!


Jordan, you’ve done the difficult part. Training is easy when you are a normal weight!


I guess it’s not super expensive. The bad news – investors are over developing these areas in a bad way with too many hotels…


Awesome. I’m a big, big fan (obviously!) of body weight stuff too.


We are the one, aren’t we lol! Too funny man…


you can do it, if I can! I failed my freshman pullup test in highschool. 0 pullups. Now I’ve done as many as 21… and 3 muscle-ups.


speaking of the Rocky training video…

A great Guitar Cover Version!

Phew, ran out of time – will have to come back!


Crystal September 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Great post! Can’t wait to try those handstand pushups!

Semper Phi October 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Yavor, great job. I’m from that part of the world myself. Gavarish pa rooskie?

Rusty, I’ve recently incorporated your tip of doing interval training followed by steady cardio( 1 minute on the treadmill @ 11mph, then 2 @ 6, doing it 7 times, working my way up to 10, then following it by 15-25 minutes of steady cardio, usually 8 mph on the treadmill or 10-11ish on the elliptical). You were right, I am seeing results. However, I now officially hate you(not really). This sucks. I’ve been doing this 3-4 times weekly on my workout days and will soon incorporate 5 mile jogs on my days out of the gym. I am less than pleased with myself for ever allowing myself to get as out of shape as I had, so I’m trying to dial in the bodyfat% as quick as I can so that then I can go have fun putting some mass and strength on. Anyhoo…. peace.

Yavor October 2, 2010 at 10:04 am


yep, the guy doing the evil wheel has quite some strength – from martial arts training coupled with strength training (renegade rows, full contact twist, etc…)


yes, it is the one arm evil wheel. But the girl with the elevated renegades is very strong too.


Ha! Great that you are finding this stuff useful man.


Great to see you here. Your site is growing and improving by the minute!


Glad you got real life under control and are able to spend time blogging again!

Ryan F,

Speaking of bodyweight workouts, I used to think that the way to go was either increase reps or add weight. However, I am reconsidering this as I learn more abut gymnastics. It’s actually LEVERAGE that’s the key – so we need to find to change the leverage of the exercise so it becomes more difficult


yeah those guys are strong. Especially the girl for her size (she’s really slim) and gender.


WSB is a great place to learn about absolute strength and powerlifting. Good call!


good job man. If you stick with it and increase your numbers, the HSPU will give you very nice shoulders…


Just lift it – great slogan. Wish I understood more Spanish so I can learn from you and your blog.


I don’t think it is years… After getting good at the HSPU against a wall, it would probably take another few months to get a freestanding one. Reason being – some more basic strength is needed plus a sense of balance.

Btw – there are a TON of exercises you can do at home. If you got access to a playground like the one I train at in front of my building – it’s even better…


Thanks man – really appreciated!


Glad to have you as a reader and even more glad to learn from you (not only training wise!).


Bold and adventurous! I like this. I’ve got a bold and adventurous video shoot planned for tomorrow!


Calisthenics Kingz are a great bunch of friends and body weight training enthusiasts. As are all the other guys – from the US, Australia, Europe, etc!


It really is a nice place!


Thanks for showcasing the body weight exercise category. It will grow even more!


This is scratching the surface. I’m learning about gymnastics now – now that’s bad ass!


Thanks man! Big fan of your blog as you know!


That’s right! I only train with body weight, a set of dumbbells and the playground equipment… Ok the playground equipment cannot go under the “only” category lol!


I bet your Russian friend is freaky strong. Wish I trained in gymnastics as a kid… But it’s never to late…


Another fellow Bulgarian 🙂 Good luck on the Dragon Flag!


My pleasure!


You don’t really need a gym – you need the information on how to train… Good call!


Exactly – with body weight you cannot gain excessive bulk or become fat AND strong.


10 HSPU is not bad… not bad at all. Give the Full contact twist a shot – your core will thank you. Or not!


I tried statics with the HSPU but had poor results. What gave results was rotating rep ranges and range of motion. So I’d do very high reps with very little range of motion and gradually lower the reps and increase the range…


Give them a try. Glad you liked the article!


if you are at a natural body weight right now, there’s no reason why you won’t master the HSPU really soon! Good luck!


One of my favorite exercises – you’ll love the handstand pushups!

Semper Phi ,

Gavaryu – tolka ne mnoga lol! I used to go to a Russian-language kindergarten and took a year of Russian in school. Gotta brush up on it though.

Cheers guys – really enjoyed guest posting for Fitness Black Book!


Gary - Exercise Routines April 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

The problem is getting in reasonable shape before you show your face at the gym.

Andreas June 27, 2011 at 4:28 am

Diificult exercises, only for advanced people !

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spy blackberry phone October 26, 2011 at 1:54 am

It is wonderful to Read this kind of information i am going to bookmark this for future reference its good to visit your blog i will come back to read updates from you

Spartan Ren January 12, 2012 at 3:00 am

I will be visiting his gym as I’m off to Bulgaria for a couple of days business trip next week. Thanks for the inspiration Rusty!

Never stop, Never pause…

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