There Is No System Part II: 1962

There Is No System Part II:


The fact of the matter is that a predominant development of strength can have a negative affect on the development of speed”. {“The Dependence of the Snatch and the Clean with the Athlete’s General and Special Physical Preparedness” {A.V. Chernyak Tiiazhelaya Atletika. Sbornik Statei. Fizkultura i Sport, Moscow, Publishers, 1971:99 – 109, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.Sportivny Press©}

The commercialization of Functional Isometrics/Power Racks revs into high gear as America’s weightlifting fortunes decline

The marketing of functional isometrics (FIC) and the power rack continued in the issues of Strength and Health.

Figure 1. A high speed of descent under the barbell in the snatch, the clean and the jerk is a key component of weightlifting technique. Charniga photo

The following two comments from Soviet era sport scientists presented below lends credence that the decline in American weightlifting was at least accelerated by the commoditization of functional isometrics/power rack training.

“Consequently, strength exercises performed with the greatest range of motion in the joints are better for developing strength because they alter the muscle morphology in a “useful” manner”. A.I. Falameyev, Weightlifting and Methods of Instruction, Fizkultura I Sport, Moscow 1986 (translated by Andrew Charniga)

“The development of lifting speed, i.e., explosive strength is very important to the weightlifter, but the process of developing this quality requires a different method than the development of strength.” A.V. Chernyak, 1971 (translated by Andrew Charniga)

So, in  nutshell, power rack training, strength exercises performed over a small range of movement can have a negative effect on one’s ability to perform dynamic exercises like the classic snatch and the clean and jerk. 

Although few if any weight trainees refer to exercises in the power rack as functional isometrics, the ubiquitous nature of this piece of equipment in the schools, colleges and universities throughout the United States at the present time would certainly surprised its founding fathers Bob Hoffman and Dr. John Ziegler.

However, the perceived value of functional isometrics and today’s ubiquitous use of power racks has been, not just greatly exaggerated; but, detrimental to the development of a modern scientifically based system of strength training for dynamic sports.

Figure 2. One of the giants of Soviet weightlifting sport science: Robert Roman

In June of 1965 Terry Todd wrote the following in an article entitled “The Bob Hoffman foundation”:

The Bob Hoffman Foundation was founded in 1961 shortly before the announcement by Strength and Health magazine of the recent developments in the field of the application to sports of isometric contraction.” …”The term “isometric contraction,” virtually unknown a short four years ago, is a household phrase today…. It was a combination of the scientific genius of Dr. Ziegler and the promotional genius of Bob Hoffman that started the big ball rolling – a ball that has grown in size to become a veritable avalanche of isometric racks. They have sprung up like forests in the schools of our country, and other lands around the world are following suit”. {S&H 06:28-30,71:1965}

The declining fortunes of American Weightlifting

A recent scholarly study of the rise and fall of competitiveness of American weightlifting concluded that essentially post industrial countries like the USA become less apt to engage in hard sports like weightlifting and consequently newly industrialized countries like USSR and now China become world powers; the coincidence in time being their recent industrialization. This conclusion is not an acceptable explanation for what has transpired in American weightlifting. 

Circumstances surrounding the  rise and fall of the USA in the international weightlifting arena if enumerated one by one, are many; but the core reason can be summed up in one word: communism. The socialization of Olympic sports and all that entailed such as the state sponsored, coordinated development of sport science, the specialization of sport scientists in new disciplines such as biomechanics, sport nutrition, restoration training methodology and so forth. These developments helped propel the USSR and later on the communist satellite states of Eastern Europe into the forefront of international weightlifting.

The socialization of Olympics sports specifically weightlifting, has all but made it impossible to produce world champion weightlifting in countries where most Olympic sports are an avocation.

When this interview appeared in S&H in 04:1966:59 the power rack/functional isometrics craze was already almost five years old.

Rudy Plukfelder was interviewed by Sandor Gere in the immediate aftermath of the 1964 Olympics in which he became the Olympic champion and to this day, is the oldest Olympic champion in weightlifting history. Plukfelder retired from weightlifting and went on to become a highly respected coach in the USSR. He was the coach Olympic champions David Rigert and Nikolai Kolesnikov.

He was asked his opinion of the American lifters who competed in Tokyo:
…”I found that a modern method is missing. It seems to me that they do not have a contemporary method like the Poles or the Hungarians. What they do does not correspond to modern methods. Basically the American athletes have sufficient power but they are too slow and not flexible enough. Most of the American athletes that I saw work too slow and too stiff, especially Gubner, March and Schemmansky. They are not prepared to perform the complicated and flexible management of the bar. They are strong enough to pull the trees, but most of their work looks sluggish and poorly coordinated. Their characteristics: an awful lot of strength”.

“I feel that they need coaches who are able to establish modern training methods for the individual lifters”. {S&H 04:1966:59}

The following are sample training schemes of selected American lifters as they appeared in various Strength and Health articles.

The training of Tony Garcy {S&H 04:1964:25}
1. Press 80%
2. Rack: A- Low position squat; B- Low position pull; C- Low position press
3. Stretching
1. Snatch 60 – 80%
2. Rack: A – Middle position squat; B – High position pull; C – Sticking position press
3. Stretching
1. Clean and jerk
2. Rack: A – Low position squat; B – Low position pull; C – Low position press
3. 3. Stretching
1. Rack: Low position squat; B – Low position pull; C – Low position press
2. Stretching
1. Press, snatch and clean and jerk 85 – 95% for single lifts
2. Stretching
Note: All of the rack exercises were held for six seconds

A sample of Gary Cleveland’s training program {S&H 08:1964:50-52}:

When asked what kind of routine he followed. “I have used routines and methods based on old fashion, full movement weightlifting, pure isometric contractions, and Bill March’s limited movement contractions and have both made gains and gone stale on all of them,”… I have obtained best results by working out five days per week … Each workout usually lasts about 1.5 hours.” Some sample workouts:
Monday Press off rack
C&J light
Squat up to 200 kg
High pulls
Snatch heavy
Parallel bar dips
Squat from #198 on York power rack
Pulls from #7 on York power rack

Future 1968 Olympian Ernie Picket’s workouts {S&H 06:1966: 34,65}

“Without the aid of a coach”… “He has utilized Bill March’s isometric rack routine, Terry Todd’s pressing program, Bill Andrew’s powerlifting schedule and Bob Bednarski’s positive approach to heavy poundages.” He listed a 5 – day per week training schedule and assuming he spends approximately the same amount of time as Cleveland spent completing each workout he would train about 7.5 hours per week.
Sample workouts:
Power snatch
Snatch off bench
Rack work
Top press 350 lbs
Middle press: 350 “
Low press: 305 “
Second squat: 400”
Deadlift: 600 – 625 “
Squat cleans off benches
Bench Presses
Rack work:
Top press: 520 lbs
Second squat: 400”
Front Squat: 320”
Deadlift: 500”

The rest of the days are similar. For most part, there is a relatively modest amount of dynamic work in proportion to the preponderance of static work (power rack training).

Sample of Jim Dorn’s workout:
Monday and Wednesday:
Top press: 520 lbs; Eye level Press:340; Chin- level press: 520; Quarter squat: 1000 x 6; Middle pull: 420 hold 10 –seconds; Front squat (in rack): 390 x 3: deadlift: 670x 1; Bench Press: 470 x1
Press, snatch clean and jerk, Power clean

Dorn’s results at the 1964 Senior national chps. 122.5 snatch and 160 kg clean and jerk at 90 kg bodyweight.

At the 2008 Olympics LIU Chunhong won the 69 kg class with 128 kg snatch and a C&J of 158 kg. She was 23 years old, about the same as Dorn in 1964.

Jang Mi-ran the 2008 Olympic champion of the 75+ kg class was interviewed by Reuters on December 4, 2008. In that interview she said: “I usually train 6 – 7 hours per day six days per week”. Her results in Beijing were snatch 140 kg, clean and jerk 186 kg. This result in snatch and jerk would have placed her second in the superheavyweight class at the 1964 USA national championships (with a two lift total excluding the press) in front of candidate for the Tokyo Olympiad Sid Henry who snatched 132.5 kg and clean and jerked 172.5 kg.

Bob Hoffman wrote an article for Strength and Health based on a conversation with Norbert Schemansky on a plane ride home from Moscow in the spring of 1963 following the participation of the American weightlifting team. Here are some excerpts.
Shcemansky said, “ Let’s quit reading the back issues of Strength and Health. Let’s quit living in the past. Let’s get up to date and make some world records and win some world championships!” ….

“In Moscow I was talking to Kono, and he seemed concerned with Veres’ presses and some other lifters’ presses. He said he was going to take pictures of the various presses and try to analyze them to see just how they did it. I think Kono is missing the boat. His press is good. But his quick lifts are no longer good. And the same goes for Jim George, Tony Garcy, and some of our other younger lifters. While these fellows brought their presses way up, their quick lifts have stayed the same for years”.

“In the meantime, their competition, men like Lopatin, Kaplunov, Veres, Toth, Baszanowski, Palinski and others have improved their presses and also have brought up their quick lifts”. {S&H 08:1963:14-15}

Hoffman agreed with Schemansky’s assessment. He went on to list the improvements of the aforementioned lifters like March who improved his press by 55 lbs in two years but remained stagnant in the snatch. The table presented below reveals the overall negative effect of improvement in the press on the snatch and even the clean and jerk.

Table 1. Results of selected Olympians in the triathlon with obvious negative effect of improved results in the press on the snatch and the clean and jerk
Name/Olympiad Press Snatch C & J
I. Berger USA
1956 60 kg 107.5 107.5 137.5
1960 60 kg 117.5 105 140
1964 60 kg 122.5 107.5 152.5
I. Palinski POL
1960 82.5 kg 130 132.5 180
1964 90 kg 150 135 182.5
Y. Vlasov USSR
1960 90 kg + 180 155 202.5
1964 90 kg + 197.5 162.5 210
W. Baszanowski POL
1960 67.5 kg 105 117.5 147.5
1964 67.5 kg 132.5 135 165
1968 67.5 kg 135 135 167.5
1972 67.5 kg 142.5 130 162.5
M. Nassiri IRI
1964 56 kg 105 85 120
1968 56 kg 112.5 105 150
1972 56 kg 127.5 100 142.5
V. Kurentsov USSR
1964 75 kg 135 130 175
1968 75 kg 152.5 135 187.5
I. Foeldi HUN
1960 56 kg 100 90 130
1964 56 kg 115 102.5 137.5
1968 56 kg 122.5 105 140
1972 56 kg 127.5 107.5 142.5
P. George USA
1948 75 kg 105 122.5 155
1952 75 kg 115 127.5 157.5
1956 75 kg 122.5 127.5 162.5
N. Ozimek POL
1968 82.5 kg 150 140 182.5
1972 82.5 kg 165 145 187.5

American lifters were improving in the press to the detriment of the quick lifts while the Europeans improved presses by adopting the then considered cheating style of rapid hip movements and excessive lean back; while at the same time were accelerating away from the USA in the quick lifts.

Team placings at world and Olympic weightlifting championships beginning in 1932.

1 – USA wins first ever medal – bronze
2 – USA wines first ever gold medal

Year 1st 2nd 3rd
1932 France Germany Czechoslovakia¹
1936 Egypt Germany USA+France²
1937 Germany Austria USA
1938 Germany USA Italia
1946 USA USSR Egypt
1947 USA S. Korea Canada*
1948 USA Egypt Great Britain**
1949 Egypt USA Iran**
1950 USA Egypt USSR
1951 USA Egypt Iran**
1952 USSR USA Iran**

1953 USSR USA Egypt
1954 USSR USA Iran
1955 USSR USA Egypt
1956 USA USSR Iran
1957 USSR USA Iran
1958 USSR USA Iran
1959 USSR Poland USA
1960 USSR USA Poland
1961 USSR USA Hungary
1962 USSR Hungary USA
1963 USSR Hungary Poland
1964 USSR Poland Japan
1965 Poland USSR Japan
1966 USSR Poland Hungary
1968 USSR Poland Japan
1969 USSR Poland Hungary
1970 USSR Poland Hungary
1971 USSR Poland Bulgaria
1972 Bulgaria USSR Hungary
1973 USSR Bulgaria Hungary
1974 Bulgaria USSR Poland
1975 USSR Bulgaria Poland
1976 USSR Bulgaria GDR
1977 USSR GDR Hungary
1978 USSR Cuba GDR
1979 USSR Bulgaria GDR
1980 USSR Bulgaria Poland
*Egypt and the USSR did not participate
** USSR did not participate

By the time the 1964 Olympics rolled around it was essentially over for American weightlifting. Interviewed by the then, new managing editor of S&H Harry McLaughlin, Hoffman made the following response when asked about the prospects of the US team for the forthcoming Olympics in Tokyo: “All we can promise for this year’s Olympics is that our fellows will score points to help the overall American team effort. ….But whereas we won four gold medals at London, Helsinski and Melbourne and one at Rome in 1960, it will be necessary for us to improve to win just one this time,” the five time Olympic mentor predicted”.

Antecedents to the present era of Enlightened Ignorance

Most American university strength and conditioning rooms are a mélange of past and present, a hodgepodge, a gallimaufry of latest and greatest strength and conditioning commodities. There is no system. The single most prevalent practice is to copy the program of the winning football teams of the day.

Comments from Bob Hoffman in the aftermath of the 1960 Olympic Games:

“It is difficult for us to compete against the Russian athletes because we cannot match many of the phases of their training and mode of living. We have rules to go by, many of which are antiquated and outmoded, but we have them”. {S&H 9:3:1960}

Bob Hoffman Comments about deep knee bend
Strength & Health magazine February 1945

Weldon Bullock and Luis Abele have specialized in the deep knee bend…. Abele was never successful in winning the senior national weightlifting title” These fellows would practice 20 repetitions per set….

“But the York champs who won national titles year after year, Terry in 132, Terlazzo in 148, Terpak in 165, Davis in the 181 and Stanko in the heavyweight classs, all of whom established world records…. Did not specialize in the deep knee bend. To them it was just one good exercise and was practiced no more than any other good exercise.”