How does one win a prestigious international tournament without having competed in a full year?
That’s what many people were asking me after I won the Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament.
Well, let me tell you:
I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the Shultz tournament. I like to consider myself a bit of a serial entrepreneur. I own a gym with 3 other partners, started another business, and have a lot of outside commitments. So, how was I going to maximize my training in order to get myself to peak for competition? We, at Bulgarian Muscle, have developed our very own training system based on research and experience and I decided to give it a go.
Leading up to the tournament, my brother (Boris Novachkov) and former college teammate (Jake Tanenbaum) were meeting regularly for wrestling practices and conditioning sessions.
I was using a heart rate monitor to keep track of my daily activities, sleep, and recovery. I wore it 40 days straight prior to the competition.
About 3-4 weeks prior to our departure, we started with some cross-training and really getting our lungs ready by doing row exercises and air-dyne sprints, and as we got closer to the competition, we focused mostly on mat drills and matches. We made our training fun by scheduling live matches at the end of each week. We played loud arena soundtracks and wore singlets to simulate a real tournament, which helped us leading up to the competition. Another thing that was different about this training cycle was our focus on recovery.
I didn't over-train at all. My body was well recovered before every new day because my sleep tracker was reminding me to take it easy and get sufficient sleep in order to sustain my training. In my mind, it felt like I wasn't doing enough, but I trusted the method. We did some research on heart rate variability and over-training and knew that it was better to be under trained than to go over the edge. Too many times before, I made the mistake of over-training, but this time was different. We really focussed on recovery, even more than training itself. I knew that if I was fully recovered, I would wrestle well.
Recovering my body allowed my mind to catch a break too. I had more clarity and focus and I felt ready to go. It was also helpful to see the metrics from the heart rate tracker, which I was wearing to remind me of the strain my body was taking. Many times, even when I was feeling well in my head, the device would tell me that my body is a bit worn out, so I would take it lightly that day. Trust me, it is so hard for an athlete not to do anything all day when they feel good. But many times you need to rest in order to be at your best and peak at the right time.
I’m very fortunate to be able to travel overseas and see how my teammates back in Bulgaria are training and that allows us to innovate with our personal training regimen here in the US. My brother and I wrestle for Bulgaria but we do 80% of our training here in California, and we are always looking for new ways to improve. Recovery had been my main focus for the last training cycle leading up to the Schultz International in Colorado Springs, something that we very easily ignored over the past.
Altitude was the other beast that we needed to conquer. Colorado Spring is over 6000 feet above sea level and we had to be ready for the thin air. My brother had experience with tournaments at high elevations. He wrestled in a tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at the Olympic qualifier last year. He suggested that we land in Colorado the day of weigh ins, which was the day before the competition. His experience suggested that your body isn't affected as much by the elevation within the first 24 hours of arrival, and further research confirmed this. We landed a couple hours prior to weigh ins and got on the mat for some light sparring so that we could get down to weight. The following day, I was ready to compete. My mind was in the right place and my body was well recovered. My main goal for the day was to have fun and wrestle because I love to, not being concerned about winning. I kept reminding myself to stay in the present and really enjoy the day and the opportunity to compete. Until then, wrestling seemed so strenuous and tiresome and when I was at a competition in the past, I just wanted to get it over with. This time I wanted to enjoy it. It’s the performance pressure I put on myself that keeps me from doing something I naturally should be able to do, so I decided to focus on the moment and enjoy the competition.
For some reason winning is always enjoyable. I was able to get a fall in my first match and for me that was one of those “holy shit” moments. I was there and I was winning. I thought of that as a good sign to keep things rolling. I won my semi-finals match with a tech-fall and advanced to the finals. My goal for the final was to continually wrestle in every position, no matter what the score was. In the past, I've been notorious for losing my finals matches and the reason for that was the pressure I put on myself. This time, my mind fell silent and I was as calm as ever. I knew my opponent was tough because anyone at that level is tough. My bracket had NCAA All-Americans and national champions, so I knew everyone was there to win.
We exchanged a few scrambles in the first minute of the match and at one point his knee dropped right on top of my head. I had a slight blackout moment but kept holding on. The action continued as I went over for 2 but still had control of his leg. I saw an opportunity to lock up a cradle, one that my brother and I drilled many times before the competition, so I went for it. After locking my hands, I knew he was going over.
The side ref confirmed the pin, and that was all she wrote. I was a champion! It felt amazing being able to use our very own system at Bulgarian Muscle which we created through trial and error throughout the years. We feel that we have a perfected system which combines European and American styles. I can’t wait to continue to develop this system to help others unlock their full potential and become the wrestlers they’ve always wanted to become! Stay tuned in our website and we will reveal the exact training methods it takes to become the best in the world.
Photo credit to John Sachs. Tech-fall.com