The Effect of Performance Enhancers on the Structure of the Volume and Intensity of the Training Load in Weightlifting

The Effect of Performance Enhancers on the Structure of the Volume and Intensity of the Training Load in Weightlifting

A.S. Medvedyev, PhD.

The Russian State Academy of Physical Culture


Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Sportivny Press©

Modern conceptions of the human muscle indicate that the muscle fibers vary with respect to structure, metabolism, and function. Muscles are composed of different fibers types within specific ratios. At the present time the majority of authors believe that the composition of the muscle fibers of the skeletal muscles is genetically determined.

The composition of the muscle’s fibers differ according to the metabolic capability and, therefore, must predetermine the functional state of a number of the body’s systems. The endocrine system of people whose muscles contain 60% or higher of the type I (red slow twitch fibers) which are able to assimilate glucose from the blood will have different requirements than the endocrine systems of people whose muscle contain many type II fibers (white, fast twitch) which are unable to assimilate glucose from the blood.

There will be special conditions of functioning in the endocrine system of those individuals who have a large number of type II  A fibers. Muscle fiber (MF) composition has a direct impact on the functioning of the respiratory, cardio vascular, and other systems. The extent of skeletal muscle capillarization determines the scale of peripheral blood circulation, the reaction of the kidneys to physical loading, and, therefore, the accumulation of metabolites in the blood.

According to published reports the content of type I MF in the body is 49.6±1.1%, 34±0.1% of type IIA MF, and 16.2±1.4% of type IIB MF. The majority of authors have concluded that speed strength training does not affect the MF composition.

Endurance training does not affect the content of type I MF, but it causes alterations in type IIB MF, which makes them indistinguishable from type IIA. These changes are reversible that over some time one can distinguish type IIB MF from type II A MF. Muscles undergo typical accommodative changes as a result of training which reverse themselves when training ceases.

It is common knowledge that anabolic steroids increase dramatically the synthesis of protein in all types of muscle fibers and the body’s recuperative ability; this, in turn, contributes to a more “stormy” improvement of results than those under natural conditions. Therefore, the germane question arises of how does one go about altering the training methods in order to avoid a large loss in the level of sport mastery in light of today’s stringent drug testing environment?

We recommend that the total volume of loading, intensity, and its structure be organized such that it contributes to increasing the anabolic effect which then accelerates the recuperative processes during the course of training; this is based on the peculiarities of the three types of skeletal muscle fibers. To do this it is necessary to determine the rational volume and intensity of the loading which facilitates improvement in the required proportion for each muscle fiber group.    

Let’s begin by looking at a time in weightlifting when no one knew about anabolics. We would suggest that a analysis of this period and a comparison of it to the modern day training, with respect to the loading parameters and the structure of the loading, will undoubtedly help us arrive at concrete recommendations with respect to a reasonable organization of the training process.

An analysis of an 8 week training cycle of elite groups of the strongest lifters of the 60s and the 80s (A.S. Medvedyev, et al, 1990) showed that there were statistically reliable and unreliable increases in the segments and the total volume of loading. All of the criteria and parameters of the intensity of the loading were stable. So, we can formulate the first conclusion that there was no change in the commonly known criteria and parameters of the intensity over this 30 year period.

However, the study revealed that the total volume of loading in the 80s increased by 40% principally through pulls and squats, and that the volume in the snatch and the clean and jerk exercises which have a direct impact on the results of the competition exercises remained practically unchanged. So, with respect to this information, our second conclusion will be the wide spread use of anabolic steroids resulted in the “stormy” growth of weightlifting results chiefly by the statistically reliable increase in the volume of squats and pulls.

The loading is controlled by means of the partial volume of loading in the exercise groups because the overall relative intensity of training has undergone no essential changes over the last 30 years, i.e., it has been a constant.

The relative intensity of the Snatch pull (SP) the clean pull (CP) and squats (SQ) was determined to have diminished for weightlifters of the 80s (94.6 and 88.6% respectively). It was discovered that the lifters in the lighter weight classes (up to 76 kg) trained at a higher intensity than sportsmen in the heavier weight classes. The diminished relative intensity was the result of a redistribution of loading over two zones of intensity: >70 to  99% and  >100%, by a reduction of the  >100% zone by one half (66:34 and 85:15% in accordance with the 80s).

If we look at the biathlon results in all weight classes of the Russian weightlifters over the 1993 to 1996 Olympic cycle, we can see that with the exception of a rare exceptional result there is no change. For instance, the level of sport mastery averaged 411.3, 411.6, and 411.5 conditional units (CU) (M.V. Starodubtsev’s table) at the Russian Cup in February, the nationals, and the world championships in the second half of the year.

Multi year research of the volume of loading in the fundamental exercises groups of the strongest weightlifters of the 80s, depending on body mass, beginning with the 70s, enabled us to formulate three separate groups of sportsmen: 54 to 76, 83 to 99 and 108 to 108+ kg. It was necessary to analyze separately the results of the Russian sportsmen in the light weight classes (54 to 76kg) because their results lagged significantly for the results at the international level.

So, over the course of four years the level of sport mastery of the lightweights at the Russian Cup comprised an average of 409.1% with a negative dynamics in the Olympic cycle leading up to 1996 (413.8 and 406.6 CU). Over the same span the sport mastery of the European weightlifters was essentially greater with an average of 452.5 CU with a positive dynamics (444.8 and 460 CU).  This is no accident because one of the reasons for this lagging is that these sportsmen executed an insufficient volume of loading (only 68% of the volume recommended by our model), and the structure of this loading was typical of that recommended for heavier lifters.

Later research of the relative intensity of the SP and CP of the Russian lifters in the first one half of the weight classes showed their relative intensity to be lower by 3.8% (95.3 and 91.5%) and in the second half of the weight classes it was 4.1% greater (90 and 94.1%) in comparison with the model parameters. However, these alterations did not contribute to improvement.

It is necessary to consider not only a better scheme of restorative means with respect to the strict drug control system in place, but, in conjunction with such a scheme, a restructuring of training so that it yields both large anabolic and restorative effects.

It is common knowledge that the fast type II muscle fibers are developed with 70 to 100% lifts, but they fatigue quickly because the blood circulation to them is poor, i.e., small mitochondria. Therefore, weightlifters should train the slow type I and especially the type IIA muscle fibers because the motor neurons which enervate these fibers have a high excitability and the fibers have good blood circulation. One begins to develop the type I fibers with <70 weights. It is common knowledge that the type IIB fibers become “like” the type IIA fibers, i.e., possess greater endurance.

Let’s turn our attention with respect to this to the experiences of the “without anabolics” athletes of the 60s. The volume of <70% lifts (with 4 to 5 workouts per week) comprised a total of 52% of the total volume for an eight week training cycle. For the example this figure was 46% for 1960 Olympic champion Y. Minayev (60 kg) and 75% for 1964 Olympic champion L. Zhabotinsky (superheavyweight). This loading averaged 41% for the weightlifters of the 80s and is only 29% for the modern Russian weightlifter (with 8 to 9 workouts per week).

The chief means of increasing the loading of the <70% lifts is with the fundamental exercises of snatch, clean and jerk, and squats. The press was still a part of the competition program in the 60s.

For instance, the loading in the competition exercises was 80% for L. Zhabotinsky in 1967 when he set a triathlon total record of 590 kg. Shifting forward to V. Alexeyev (1976, 1977) the corresponding loading for him was 66.1% in all of the fundamental exercises from 30 to 70%; 28.6% in zones 71  to 100% and 5.3% in the >100% zones.

Let me pause a moment to say a few words about the >90% lifts in the snatch and the clean and jerk exercises. When Alexeyev set the triathlon record of 595 kg, the number of >90% lifts was 22, but this figure dropped to 7 (i.e., to one third the former total) when he exceeded 600 kg. If that is not enough, generally he did no lifts in the >90% zone of the competition exercises when he set triathlon world records of 630 and 635 kg.

This circumstance is not “peculiar” to V. Alexeyev. He has had long been known as a weightlifter with a large body mass. For instance, the author of this paper never lifted more than the planned starting weights in the competition exercises and in turn then increased the weight from 5 to 10 kg in each exercise.

Many years of experience has shown that the number of lifts (NL) in the >90% zone are fewer the greater the body mass. L. Zhabotinsky did from 3 to 5 lifts in the >90% zone, no more, during the month before a competition. 

It is necessary to point out something about the back squat. This exercise performed in the 50 to 80% zones practically does not lose its effectiveness with the rise in the stage of training (A.S. Medvedyev, 1986). Furthermore, repetition squats (up to 6 repetitions per set and more) in the these zones are a greater stimulant to cardiovascular system than 1 to 2 repetitions per set with 90%. Therefore, this method should be considered one of the effective means of enhancing the functional potential of the organism, especially in the absence of performance enhancers.

The same can be said of combination exercises with multiple repetitions per set, i.e., they should be done in greater volume than in current use. For instance, V. Alexeyev used combination exercises (clean + front squat + jerk) in every workout of the competition month.

Let’s defer again to Alexeyev with respect to the loading in the additional exercises. Remember he is the world record holder of the number of world records with 80. No one has yet equaled this. Additional exercises played a more important role in his training than the fundamental exercises because the volume of these exercises was higher than the volume of the fundamental exercises.

Let’s look at his training for seven competitions where he had the following triathlon results: 595; 600; 607.5; 612.5; 630; 635 and 640 kg, all of which were world records. The fundamental loading averaged 750 lifts, and the additional loading averaged 944 lifts. The additional loading comprised 35, 26, 23, and 16% over the four week cycle in May.

In 1995 the Chinese men’s team won the team title at the world championships for the first time in their history. We analyzed the Chinese weightlifters’ training at their school of high sport mastery. This school is one of the sources from which the national team is selected. The analysis by experts showed that the athletes performed an average volume of about 4000 lifts in the fundamental exercises. The volume of loading of the <70% lifts averaged 42%. The volume of additional loading was equal to the volume of fundamental loading (the number of workouts per week depending on the training cycle was from 6 to 15).

The similarity of the structure of the Chinese’s loading is, apparently, no accident, since we have been aware that this country since 1990 has been predisposed to employing devices which allow them to determine the muscle fiber type composition of the muscles not normally present. Furthermore, the Chinese lifters are periodically checked for the hemoglobin content of their blood.

The volume of loading for the strongest USSR weightlifters of the 80s, depending on the weight class grouping, was a maximum of 2,813 and a minimum of 2,221 lifts for an eight week cycle. The loading of <70% comprised 35 and 59%, respectively.

Let’s consider the volume of loading for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and higher repetitions per set. We suggest that special methods of planning be employed (especially for the multiple lift sets) and the portion of such lifts (in %) depending on the stage of training, the athlete’s qualification with respect to what we have touched upon is of great significance.

3 to 4 repetitions per set (with 75 to 80%) should form the core of the year round training in the fundamental exercises. This method is varied with 1 to 2 (85 to 100% weights) and 5 to 6 (60 to 70% weights) repetitions per set.

Five or six lifts per set are planned principally for the transition period. Subsequently the volume of these lifts diminishes as the competition period approaches (see the piece meal programs published by the USSR sport committee in 1983 for all of the sport schools). Multiple lifts per set, as we already said, improve the “functional potential” of the body, particularly endurance. This is particularly important for the weightlifter with a large body mass.

Two time Olympic champion L. Zhabotinsky, whose best result was 590 kg (a world record), executed the following volume in the competition exercises in the four week cycle leading up to a competition: 1 to 2 lifts per set 40% of the volume, 3 to 4 lifts per set 52%, and 5 to 6 lifts per set which is  only 8% of the volume.

V. Alexeyev had a similar distribution when he reached a result of 525 kg: 59, 33 and 8%. However, when he set the world record with 600 kg, the accentuation of the loading had shifted to the zone of 3 to 4 lifts per set which is 58%; the 5 to 10 lifts per set increased to 15%. And, finally, when he lifted 640 kg, the 5 to10 lifts per set loading was the highest at 18, 30, and 52%.

To sum up our analysis of V. Alexeyev’s, training we can ascertain with sufficient certainty that the parameters and structure of this distinguished athlete’s training were such that the exercises themselves (contributing basically to endurance), though far from the maximum loading, created conditions which developed all of the muscle fiber types at the same time. Maximum force is required only on the final lifts of multiple repetition sets with a moderate intensity, or by means of a summation of the loading over time.

Therefore, Alexeyev’s training increased the anabolic effect and accelerated the restorative effect of the training to a even greater degree when one takes into account the use of anabolics at this time (the IOC began drug testing at the 1976 Olympics). The results obtained could not be accomplished under natural conditions, i.e., with only the use of  restoration methods.

These are the facts. And facts, as the saying goes, are what count. We have not discovered similar information in the literature with such an interpretation. On the other hand, the information presented here far from solves the problems discussed.

Conclusions: In order to enhance the anabolic affects and to accelerate the restorative affects of the training (in conjunction with improving the means of restoration), one should attend seriously to the 70 to 100% zones with respect to the volume and intensity of the loading and also the loading of <70% in the fundamental exercises, as well as the systematic use of additional exercises.

Furthermore, we recommend that a larger volume of combination exercises be employed (regardless of weight class, stage of training, and individual peculiarities) than one observes at the present time; in particular, one should plan multiple repetition per set loading.

Furthermore, it is necessary to revitalize the make up of the yearly individual training plan, bearing in mind that lacking performance enhancing drugs, a break of more than two weeks from the barbell can have a negative effect on one’s training (many athletes have difficulty returning to training after a break of one month even with active rest). The periodization of training takes into account the regularities of the adaptation process which should be understood to mean one periodically changes the training means, methods, and magnitude of loading, i.e., the optimum volume and intensity (A.S. Medvedyev, 1986).

The facts we have discussed can be employed to develop the fast twitch fibers by way of developing the red type II fibers, along with avoiding undesirable reverse morpho functional reconstruction to the weightlifter’s body.

There are general rules for structuring the training process, including the rational structure of the volume and intensity applicable to everyone. However, individual differences oblige one to take them into account.

The basic concept of sport training is for each sportsman to fulfill his potential by increasing his sport mastery. Therefore, the goal of “copying” the training of some distinguished athlete is not a good idea.







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