There Is No System Part V

There Is No System: Part V
Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Misconceptions About Weightlifting Technique Begun or at Least Fostered by Strength & Health

From the ERA of OLD Ideas

“Paul Anderson hurled a challenge to Floyd Patterson that has less than a remote chance of being accepted. Patterson would be annihilated were he to come to grips against the ‘strongest man on earth’ in a free for all bout”.
Ray Van Cleef {S&H 02:5:1959}

Big Traps (trapezius muscles)

An article authored by a World and Olympic Champion of the 1950s entitled “Big Paul and the Big Pull” appears in Strength and Health {S&H 11:32:1965}. In this article the author wrote about a weightlifter who had sought his advice to improve his ability in the clean.

According to this article, “the last phase (of the pull) is mostly performed by the trapezius muscle and enables the lifter to give that last little something that pulls in a heavy clean….” He indicated that “a glance around his neck and shoulders revealed no trapezius power, and here lay the answer as to why he could not pull in the poundage” {S&H 11:32:1965}.

On numerous occasions over the years, Bob Hoffman and other authors noted in the pages of Strength & Health the large trapezius development of weightlifters who were record holders in the snatch or otherwise good at this exercise.

These examples illustrate two ideas carried over from the 1950s into the 1960s: the importance of the trapezius muscles and muscle size equated with muscle power. Hence the conclusion that insufficient mass in these muscles equated to lack of pulling power and the remedy is to perform an isolation exercise with many repetitions to build muscle mass, i.e. to perform bodybuilding.

The author’s recommendation was to “perform high repetition (up to ten) barbell shrugs with a weight that can be pulled about 6” above the waist.”

A few years later {S&H 3:72:1967} another author declared “that the Europeans who are pulling correctly have big trapezius muscles,” i.e. implying the large size of these muscles was indicative of correct weightlifting technique.

These two examples are cited not in any way to single out and or ridicule the authors. These ideas can be found over and over again in the pages of Strength and Health. Since these notions persist to the present day and are categorically false, they can be called myths.

The first myth is the idea that large trapezius muscles are connected with proficiency in Olympic weightlifting. Large muscles are not necessarily connected with power. The snatch and the clean are all about power.

Large muscle mass is developed with high muscle tension for a prolonged period either during isometric or near isometric conditions; or through numerous repetitions with sub maximum resistance. Essentially, with either or both, a large number of repetitions as in the ten repetition sets of shrugs cited, or large prolonged tension as in the full extension shrug against the pins of a power rack (cited several times in parts (I – IV) would be expected to produce large muscle mass in the trapezius muscles.

World class triple and long jumpers generate significant power at take off of up to 450 kilograms in a fraction of a second. Yet the lower extremities of these athletes are not in any way heavily muscled. The muscle tension at take off in the jumps is very large, but very brief. Furthermore, there is no prolonged tension from repetitive bodybuilding movements; the bulk of the power generated comes from release of strain energy accumulated in the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

EMG (electro myographic analysis) data cited by A.N. Vorobeyev in 1978 indicated that “the trapezius muscles begin to work actively from the middle of the 2nd phase (of the pull) and continue to work to the end of the 3rd phase, and then again work actively in the 6th phase.”

The second phase of the pull cited begins with the instant of barbell separation from the floor; the 3rd phase is the shifting of the knees under the barbell, i.e. during this time the trunk is still inclined to varying degrees forward away from a vertical disposition. By the time the trunk reaches a vertical disposition, the EMG activity in the trapezius muscles has fallen precipitously.

Yet, it is with the trunk in the vertical disposition or full extension position that according to myth the trapezius muscles are to come into play to provide the extra lift needed to raise the barbell high enough to complete a snatch or clean. It is also common knowledge that peak force in the pull occurs after a few centimeters of movement in the explosion phase (from the point of maximum knee flexion under the barbell to the instant of maximum knee extension), i.e. well before full extension of the trunk. In both cases the trapezius muscles are still in a relatively lengthened state.

Another Soviet biomechanist Alexander Lukashev obtained similar data in 1972.

The resurgence of EMG activity in the trapezius muscles noted by Vorobeyev in the 6th phase occurs during the descent under the barbell, i.e. not in the act of raising it as traditionally conceptualized by “big traps” exponents.

So, in point of fact, weightlifters in general do not have the time to create the prolonged muscle tension to develop large trapezius muscles from merely performing the snatch and the clean, nor do the muscles contribute some secret power to raise the barbell high in the full extension position of the trunk which lasts only a small fraction of a second.

trapezius exer

Olympic and world champion LIAO Hui (CHN) developing big trapezius muscles with a set of 20 repetitions in the upright row exercise. Charniga photo.

A closer examination of the Europeans with big trapezius muscles would have no doubt revealed that they performed shrugs and pulls for multiple repetitions which resulted in the large muscle mass observed.

The Weightlifter’s Gluteus Muscles

The development of gluteus maximus muscle in weightlifters, its significance, as with the trapezius muscle, was source of confusion fostered in the pages of Strength and Health magazine. One of the principal sources of this confusion was a diagram of the human body from the side in a vertical position with the arms and legs fully extended. Originally it was the brain child of Dave Webster. The diagram consisted of concentric circles with the apex of the smallest centered at the hip joint. The diagram purported to illustrate the significance of these muscles to a weightlifter. The further the body’s muscles are from the center of the hip joint the weaker.

This is not necessarily true.

The value of the gluteus to the weightlifter is that it plays the role of a postural muscle; it is constantly involved in lifting. However, the weightlifter should not devote any special attention to developing it. Furthermore, it is counterproductive for the weightlifter to shift attention during the pull portion of the snatch or the clean to full contraction (shortening) the gluteus.

All of the body’s muscles are important to the weightlifter. All are active in weightlifting. However, if one examines weightlifting technique from the standpoint of the ideas of the 1950s, the importance of gluteus development would appear to have some validity.

According to these antiquated ideas, the weightlifter was to lift the barbell with the strongest muscles of the legs (gluteus muscles inclusive) and back and “finish” the pull with the smaller muscles of the arms and shoulder girdle which are of course weaker in comparison with those of the lower extremities. However, these notions date back to the time when weightlifting was still in the era of absolute strength. The “era of old ideas” and the idea to “keep pulling” to fully contract the muscles of the lower extremities, especially the gluteus muscles, has long since been discredited in this “era of switching.”

Today is an era of a switching of body positions as fast as possible to avoid a prolonged mechanical disadvantage such as a prolonged extension of the lower extremities. A laborious shortening of the gluteus maximums muscles to fully extend the trunk has nothing to do whatsoever with arcane notions of the superiority of individual muscles or muscle groups.

The reasons for the weightlifter’s large gluteus may be less than obvious. It is common knowledge that the development of the gluteus maximus muscles in man evolved as an adaptation to a vertical posture. The development of these muscles are very small in animals such as gorillas who do not stand erect, and it is practically non existent in four legged animals.

Asian pull in start narrow

The weightlifter’s gluetues are very active from the instant force is applied to the barbell from the platform. Charniga photo.

It has been assumed that the gluteus muscle was an adaptation for the upright posture of human movement known as bipedal locomotion because it functions primarily to prevent the trunk from “jack knifing” forward. However, recent speculation indicates these muscles are an adaptation to running because there is minimal electrical activity during normal walking, but they are very active in running.

So, any inclination of the trunk forward activates these muscles. The further a weightlifter leans forward to lift a barbell from the floor, for instance, the longer these muscles are active during the pull phase of lifting. The longer they are active, the longer the tension; the more the conditions are close to isometric, the larger the muscle mass developed from the exercise.

Lifters who start with their hips above parallel for the snatch and the clean, who have a wider than hip width stance, and who emphasize the back squat over the front squat generally have larger gluteus maximus development. This is a simple explanation to distinguish between the common misconception that a weightlifter must squeeze the gluteus muscles to fully straighten the trunk and that this conscious action “gets the hips into the lift,”, i.e., use big muscles to produce more power.

Squeezing the hips together at the top of the pull is not going to develop big muscles because it only lasts a fraction of a second; it would delay the descent under the bar; it shifts the lifter’s attention away from moving the body to tensing individual muscles.

The whole notion of developing big gluteus for weightlifting is a myth because they are firing almost constantly during the act of lifting; which places them under a large and prolonged tension; these are conditions very similar to bodybuilding or isometric exercises which are connected with large muscle mass.

So, unlike the trapezius muscles which are involved in lifting only a small fraction of time and would require special conditions to develop large muscle mass, the gluteus maximus is more of a postural muscle which would be hard for the weightlifter not to develop as it is virtually constantly working throughout almost all of the weightlifting exercises.


“Muscles when tensed are of little use”
Earle Liederman {S&H 02:34:1966}

Missing a lift such as the jerk pictured has nothing to do with loose or otherwise flaccid muscles. Charniga photo.

You cannot attend a weightlifting competition in the USA without hearing this instruction shouted over and over again to lifters who are otherwise preoccupied lifting a heavy barbell. What is to be tightened? How it is to be tightened? And, exactly when this tightening is to take place is not specified. There is just a nondescript, generic instruction to be “tight.” Of course, any attempt to convey any specific information to an athlete in the midst of lifting is silly.

Four sequence photos of Bob Bednarski, part of a “Learn to Lift by Looking” feature appear in Strength & Health in early 1967. The main caption to the article  read, “We have always believed that one of the best ways to learn to lift correctly is by watching others lift, particularly the champs. With this in mind, we are presenting several sets of sequence photos, (which is) the best way to look at various styles of snatching” {S&H 1:41:1967}.

According to the S&H, the best way to learn to lift by looking is to look at still pictures in sequence and decide what is to be done at different points in the lifting motion; actions which transpire within the space of fractions of a second. That was not true then, and it is not true now. This erroneous idea may or may not have originated with Strength & Health, but it was definitely fostered in the magazine and many people still believe it today.

Various descriptions of the weightlifter’s actions in performing a snatch accompany the sequence pictures of this article. The third photo in the sequence shows the lifter descending under the 336 lbs. (152 kilos). The bar is just above the top of his head.

The description of this picture is interesting; “The third picture is another example of a point commonly missed. As Bob moves into the low squat position, he pushes himself under bar. Note that his triceps are contracted. Many lifters make the mistake of pulling the bar high enough and then missing the lift because they were not “tight” when the weight started down”{S&H 1:41:1967}. There is that word “tight” again. At least “when” is specified, i.e. when the weight starts to drop.


The athlete pictured is switching from flexing to extending the elbows and shoulders; too fast to be a conscious action. Charniga photo.

Generally speaking, after switching from pulling to squatting under the barbell in the snatch, up until the instant the barbell is fixed on straight arms lasts about 0.5 seconds. So, the action described in the picture (tensed triceps muscles) occurred during a fraction of a fraction of a second. This action is in fact a reaction, not volitional motion, because there is no time for the lifter to consciously tense specific muscles, or even create some general “tightness” of the body. Furthermore, the tensing of the triceps was preceded by an instantaneous switching from flexing the arms to instantaneously relaxing these same muscles and tensing the extensors or triceps muscles.

A weightlifter cannot consciously perform the correct “tensing of muscles” at just the right instant of the just described exercise. It is of course absurd to even suggest so. Even more absurd is that a lifter would be able to respond appropriately to the shouted instruction “tight,” i.e. hear it, process the information, and carry it out all the while “flying” under the barbell.

Steven Vogel (“Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle,” 2001:81 – 82) has addressed this issue probably without ever having witnessed a snatch or read Strength & Health.

“Even under normal circumstances, however, proprioceptive feedback often proves inadequate. For the most rapid actions it’s simply too slow. Nerves don’t conduct impulses at anywhere near the speed at which wires conduct electrical impulses. We can only manage about a hundred meters per second (around a hundred miles an hour), and even that’s exceptionally fast by animal standards. A full trip of, say, two meters from sensor to spinal cord takes about a twentieth of a second.

Transmission from sensor to nerve, from nerve to nerve in the spinal cord, and from nerve to muscle imposes further delays, as does activation of the muscle itself. So the responses of the system are none too rapid. Once you start swinging an ax, hammer, or baseball bat, your muscles are for the most part on their own. Neither a praying mantis snagging a fly nor a squid shooting out its tentacles to catch a tiny shrimp can make much use of proprioception or any other neural feed back. You or mantis or squid can only take aim.” Steven Vogel (“Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle,” 2001:81 – 82)



Paek (PRK) descending under the barbell in the snatch. Note: the raised hair in top photo as the body drops fast leaving the hair “behind”. In the bottom photo another lifter is descending, but from such a high speed of descent, her hair has not yet caught up. Charniga photos.

This statement in a rather straightforward, but with a simple, scientific eloquence, shows that verbal instructions are useless; at best they are an unnecessary distraction. So, why do coaches yell senseless instructions like “tight?” Good question.

It will not settle the issue but a simple anecdote may be a better argument than mere science.

Some years ago a World and Olympic Champion gave some advice to some local lifters after taking a light workout in their garage gym. He advised the lifters they should not jump back in the snatch and that their feet should be pointed straight ahead (toes not turned to the side a little) in the starting position of the snatch or clean.

Of course the champion jumped backward in the snatch, and just before lifting the barbell from the floor, he turned his toes to the side.

About a month later another visitor with vast experience and knowledge of the biomechanics of weightlifting came to this very same local gym. One of the local lifters present for the champion’s workout told him the story of the advice which the champion himself did not adhere to because he did not realize he jumped back or turned his toes out before lifting. The bio mechanist paused for a moment, then responded, “Well, would you rather not know what you are doing and be a champion, or would you prefer to know what you are doing and be nothing.”

If you can sense what you are doing every step of the way, or, worse yet, listen to instructions while performing the snatch or the clean and jerk, where the various positions should take only fractions of a second to execute, you are either doing the exercise wrong or doing it too slow.

“Shoulders in Front of Bar”

Another commonly held belief which can be traced back to its adherents writing for Strength & Health is the notion a weightlifter should endeavor to shift the shoulder joints forward in front of the vertical line of the bar during the pull phase of the snatch and the clean.


A position usually interpreted as desirable for pulling with shoulders held in front veritical line of bar. Charniga photo.

For instance, in an article in Strength and Health, “Analysis of Championship Lifting” {S&H 08:24:1964}, Dave Webster wrote, “In figure 2, you can see that his shoulders are well forward in advance of the bar, an excellent position.” And, further, “his legs are nearly straight.” So, with the shoulders in front of the bar and the legs almost straight, the loading on the lumbar spine is probably maximum because the trunk is inclined so far forward in front of the vertical line of the bar.

There is an obvious counterbalancing (shifting forward of the shoulders) as the barbell is raised up to about knee height in both the snatch and the clean. However, conclusions drawn from analysis of still pictures leads people to believe that the weightlifter should try to shift the shoulders well in front of the barbell while lifting.

This is incorrect because among other things it places excessive stress on the lumbar spine. It is common knowledge that lumbar area injury is the most common injury for weightlifters. A weightlifter should not strive to achieve the aforementioned position because the spine is not designed for a heavy loading in a horizontal position.

Wilton Krogman aptly quoted William Gregory who said that the spine of a “four legged animal is a bridge that walks” (Scientific American, 12:633:1951). The spine of a four legged animal is designed like a cantilever bridge (Krogman, 1951). These adaptations do not exist in the human spine which is designed for a vertical posture and locomotion. Consequently, you can use your back to lift a barbell in the snatch and the clean, but over time it significantly raises the risk of lumbar injury.

The Slow First Pull

The idea that the weightlifter should begin to lift the barbell from the floor with a “slow first pull” is another ill conceived ambiguity which persists to the present day. You can not place all the blame on Strength and Health for this idea because even prominent sport scientists get it wrong. V. M. Zatsiorsky, widely regarded as the father of biomechanics of Europe, even offered a scientific basis for purposely lifting the barbell slow from the floor. For a detailed discussion of this idea see “Essential Components of Weightlifting Technique” (

Dropping Under the Barbell

The concept of descending under the bar for the snatch, the clean and the jerk has been covered in some detail in the series “Essential Components of Weightlifting Technique” However, it is of interest as to how this had been covered on various occasions in the pages of Strength and Health.

An article appeared in Strength & Health  “Breakthrough on the Clean and Jerk” which addressed this issue. “At the finish of the pull there is a pause in the motion of the bar; it is here that the lifter proceeds to descend under the weight” {S&H 02:10:1972}.


The barbell pauses briefly before descending; but the lifter should not wait until this has occurred to begin moving his body under the barbell. Charniga photo

The author was a former world champion and world record holder in the clean and jerk, so this advice would have been considered gospel. Without question this advice is incorrect. Lifting until the barbell becomes motionless before descending under it would ensure a disastrous descent, i.e. most likely the barbell crashing onto the lifter.

However, the recommendation is consistent with the other ideas about the pull prevalent in the pages of the Strength and Health and reinforced by this very same lifter. In an article published earlier {S&H 12:30:1967} “How to Improve Your Clean,” he recommends isometrics, shrugs, slow pull off the floor, and full extension.

The barbell would have to eventually become motionless (cease to rise) in order for the weightlifter to fully extend the trunk (fully contract the gluteus), raise up on the toes, and shrug the shoulders; these are all volitional actions which are too slow and counterproductive.

Shoulders Squared (taut) for the Pull

The advice to square the shoulders for pulling the barbell, or, in other words, the shoulder blades should appear flat have also been addressed in the pages of Strength and Health. The shoulder blades are to be held “taut” in this position, not rounded. This advice can be found in a number of articles about weightlifting technique in Strength and Health. Unlike the nebulous “tight” this technique advises one to square the shoulders and hold them in this position before and during the lifting by tensing the posterior shoulder girdle muscles.

It was considered a mistake if a weightlifter lifted with the shoulders sloped. For instance, referring back to the same “Learn to Lift by Looking” article in Strength and Health one of the sequence pictures of Polish Olympic and World Champion Palinski indicated,. “His back angle is good but notice how his shoulders are pulled slightly forward” {S&H 1:41:1967}. And, unlike the similar position of Palinski, Bob does not allow his shoulders to be rounded.” Apparently, the authors may not have noticed that many East European and Russian lifters lifted with the shoulders sloped.

At the risk of being a hypocrite, it has to be pointed out that this sloped disposition of shoulders can be observed from still pictures in most of the top athletes of that day. The sloped shoulders technique of many of these lifters was analyzed in Robert Roman’s two texts: The Press, the Snatch, the Clean and Jerk (1970) and The Snatch, the Clean and Jerk (1978). Whether these men were taught to lift this way by their coaches or did it because it felt more effective, it happened to conform to some research of weightlifting technique published some years earlier. Soviet biomechanist Felix Verikovsky addressed this issue in 1963: “The Clean with a Deep Squat.”

“The shoulder girdle should be lowered, with the arms straight. We see some athletes with the shoulder girdle pulled back slightly; which should not be considered correct.

“The force applied to the barbell at the beginning of the lifting exceeds the force of gravity. If the muscles which raise the shoulder girdle are in a partially contracted state, they will either be unable to resist such a force because the shoulder girdle will drop, and, as a result, the rhythm of the barbell’s movement is disrupted or the force output of the muscles which straighten the knee and hip joints will drop involuntarily.” (translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.)

In addition to the just described negative consequences, consciously holding the shoulders back as with the nebulus “tight” gives the athlete some vague task to perform not directly connected to the execution of the exercise. Besides, if you are holding the shoulders back, the muscles involved are “tensed;” so, now what are you supposed to do when the coach yells “tight”?

The Disposition of the Weightlifter’s Feet

An article written by reputed weightlifting expert Dave Webster entitled “Watch Those Feet” was published in Strength and Health in 1965 and addressed this element of weightlifting technique. The author used diagrams depicting the placement of the weightlifter’s feet in the starting position or in the squat under position (squat and split) to draw his conclusions as to whether the technique was correct.

Several of the author’s recommendations are incorrect: yet are still perceived to be true at the present time.

For instance, the author recommends the feet be positioned at about hip width which is fine, but he says, “The feet should point to the front…. In this position the feet will be set at the strongest place to pull” {S&H 11:19:1965}. Webster indicated a starting position with the toes turned to the side is incorrect; this disposition of the feet, the most common variant in weightlifting, is prohibited.

Weightlifters choose a variety of foot dispositions to begin lifting such as toes pointed straight ahead, toes turned to the side, feet hip width apart, narrower than hip width, and wider than hip width. However, the correct rule of thumb is to position the feet about hip width apart with the toes turned to the side as much as 45°. Virtually all of the Russian texts published in the 1950s, such as Bozhko’s and Luchkin’s, Vorobeyev’s in 1964 and others recommended turning the toes to the side.

An exhaustive analysis (doctoral dissertation) on the subject of the starting position for the snatch and the clean by V. B. Kanyevsky (“The Starting Position in the Snatch and the Clean for Weightlifters of Different Body Types”, Lenin State Institute of Physical Culture, Moscow, 1983) essentially agreed with practical recommendations of the Soviet textbooks that it is best for toes to be turned to the side even up to 45° in the starting position of the snatch and the clean.

Most of Webster’s conclusions, including jumping backwards in the squat position and the positioning of the feet, are incorrect. However, when ideas, whether correct or incorrect are published, they tend to become more readily accepted and, subsequently, cemented in the collective conscious.

The Myth Surrounding the “Big Squat”

No matter how many facts and figures are quoted and practical examples of high class weightlifters, the idea that it is necessary to squat with big weights to lift big weights in the snatch and the clean and jerk is firmly entrenched in the American psyche. A scholarly examination of this topic has already been done (see Charniga, “Concerning the Russian Squat Routine” and “The Relative Value of the Back Squat in the Training of the Weightlifter,”

However, the basic premise of Misinformation Engineering that information for sale inherently subordinates objectivity; the mixed content of Strength and Health most definitely contributed to this fixation with the big squat in the minds of athletes and coaches alike. However, it is interesting that in an earlier period of the evolution of Strength and Health, when the magazine was not as cluttered, Bob Hoffman made some profoundly simple, astutely objective observations. This was Bob Hoffman the weightlifting sport scientist.

In an article about the techniques and benefits of performing deep knee bends in Strength & Health magazine {S&H 02:40:1945} Bob Hoffman wrote:

“Weldon Bullock and Louis 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 and they would take huge breaths between each bend.”

“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 class, 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.”

In all probability, the mixed content, the growing commercialization of the magazine, and the training methods of the 1950s when the USA was a power in weightlifting contributed to the tabling of this simple, sensible idea.

The Weakening of American Weightlifting: Enfeebling Psychology

Early Blue Prints for American Mediocrity in Weightlifting

Without question the tireless contributions of Bob Hoffman created the conditions for the success of American weightlifting starting in the 1930s. The rise and fall of American competitiveness has already been covered in the parts I- IV of “There is no System.” However, the magazine published some materials which possibly helped pave the way for the pathetic condition of US weightlifting at the present time.

In 1967, then associate editor of Strength and Health Bill Starr wrote an article entitled, “On Foreign Lifters Competing in Our National Meets” {S&H 12:57:1967}. Essentially the article castigates the practice of allowing foreign nationals to participate in US national championships events and be eligible to win medals.

“The basic purpose behind allowing foreign athletes to compete against our own is, supposedly, to raise the motivation of our fellows so that they will perform better. In my opinion, the practice of allowing foreign lifters to compete for medals in our national competition has the reverse effect. Rather than increasing motivation, it stifles it.”{S&H 12:57:1967}

The author goes on to castigate the officials for allowing the three Japanese nationals to compete in Harrisburg, PA at the national weightlifting championships of 1963. He  stated emphatically this should not be allowed to happen again. He referred to the competition as a “Japanese verus United States duel meet with Japan taking the majority of the prestige…. The Japanese so far outclassed the Americans that there wasn’t even a contest.”{S&H 12:57:1967}

This event has already been described, albeit briefly, in part III. However, since this incident was being rehashed as long after the fact as December 1967 and the lame arguments employed; it be re-examined in more detail.

It should be noted that the author’s opinions received much support. Strength and Health reported that the magazine had received “many, many letters” on this speaking out article. One such letter from a soon to be elected weightlifting chairman said, “These guys should stay home or lift as extras. They haven’t a place in our championships” {S&H 03:09:1968}.

First of all, the argument as to whether the officials who decided this practice would “raise motivation” may have been misguided in their approach to stimulate American weightlifters to strive for the highest results is immaterial. At the very least, they should be given credit for understanding that motivation is essential to achieve high results in a sport like weightlifting.

That the participation of superior athletes in an American championships would not only “not increase motivation but stifle it” tells you everything you need to know about the competitive spirit of our athletes of that era.

You have to force yourself to be extraordinarily motivated to push your body to lift maximum weights and push yourself to increase those “maximums.”

The idea of having someone to compete against who can show you that the limit is higher than you think; and, that if these guys can lift those weights, you can too; or at the very least do better than you are doing. This has to be a positive for someone truly striving for perfection.

Unfortunately, the axiom that most typifies the American competitive spirit, that “all things are possible,” probably got lost in the shuffle of the events of 1963 and by 1967 were long forgotten.

However, if the reader believes the attitudes expressed in the Strength and Health article are questionable; it gets worse.

The Notorious Three

The three Japanese lifters in question who competed at the Harrisburg, PA national championships where the “Japanese so far outclassed the Americans that there wasn’t even a contest” were Ichinoseki, Miyaki, and Ouchi. Ichinoseki and Ouchi were teenagers in 1963. All three were students at Hosei University in Japan.

An article written by Kenji Onuma describing the Japanese training system was published in Strength and Health in 1968. According to the author, “At Hosei University’s weightlifting club, whose proud products include the Miyaki brothers, Ichinoseki, and Ouchi, the lifters train outdoors simply because there is no indoor weight room”{S&H 11:36:1968}. The author noted also that there was no paid coach for this open air weightlifting area.

Later on in the aforementioned article by Starr, the author writes, “Perhaps it is a certain amount of national pride, patriotism, or whatever, that prompts such an article…. One could foresee the liberal possibilities of the present practice if some of the lifting powers wanted to make the Americans look bad”{S&H 12:57:1967}. The author also mentioned that foreign lifters should only be allowed to compete as extra lifters.

That the preferable alternative would be to allow the foreign lifters to compete as extras so as not “to make the Americans look bad” is nonsense, because the arguments put forth in this article make the Americans look much worse than three Japanese college students ever could.

Three students, not professional weightlifters, flew all the way from Japan to the USA in 1963; then across country to Harrisburg, PA, twelve time zones from home, in a strange country with strange food and customs. They grew up, at least initially, amidst the ruble from World War II. Two were teenagers; they had “to train outdoors summer and winter, rain or shine” {S&H 11:36:1968} and without a full time coach.

They came to a country that had not only defeated them in World War II, but destroyed most of the infrastructure of Japan only eighteen years earlier. It was the same country that confiscated private property and incarcerated its own citizens of Japanese ancestry; at least two of whom competed in the 1963 competition. Numerous racist propaganda films produced in the forties to justify the incarceration of US citizens, commonly referred to them as “slanty – eyed Japs.”

The notorious three scored 21 points to 31 points for the full team sponsored by York Barbell Company, located a short car ride from Harrisburg, PA. Some of the lifters who represented the York Barbell club team at the championships in Harrisburg could be classified as semi pro athletes. They were either employees of York, or were receiving, or were about to, receive money for college through the Hoffman foundation.

Whether the notorious three were allowed to win medals or counted only as extras, the result would have been the same. The lesson to be learned from this experience was obviously missed. This should have been another wake up call to critically look at the direction of American weightlifting; in a downward spiral.

Instead, lame excuses were made to insulate the USA from what was perceived as further embarrassment. The author Bill Starr went on to recommend, “More international meets against such blossoming nearby countries as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Canada ….”. The team standings of the 1967 Pan American weightlifting championships were: USA 1st, Puerto Rico 2nd, Cuba 3rd {S&H 12:57:1967}.

Were this article written today, the list of “blossoming countries” suitable for us to compete against, no doubt, would be different because we have long since ceased to be competitive with Cuba; the women of Mexico and Canada routinely place higher in the team standings at the major international events than those from the USA.

Several points made in the Onuma article of 1968 are worth noting; they are still topical {S&H 11:36:1968} :

“What is responsible for this remarkable rise of the little fellows from the land of the rising sun?”

“There is no secret…. They have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

“I do not feel most of the American lifters are training hard enough, or perhaps I should say often enough.”

“Nobody talks while training, but concentrates on his lifting.”

“They feel sports is no play, and if someone cannot stand such hardships, he might not be able to stand hard training of any sort, to say nothing of life’s hardships.”

“The standard of lifting is so high today that it is no longer possible to become a world champion with a take it easy training program.”

“The students are always prepared for intensive training or competition….”

“We in Japan encourage young lifters to enter sufficient number of competitions every year for maximum development and improvement. Under normal conditions, the college lifter, for instance, will enter an average of ten competitions a year, with perhaps three important ‘peak’ competitions.”

”There is no off season in Japan as far as weightlifting is concerned.”

“Under the present situation, a young ambitious lifter is not to lay off completely, for say a couple of months….He will continue to train all the year round with continued enthusiasm, although he avoids falling into monotony and staleness.”

No Warm Up, Six Sets of Presses and a Shower

Contrast the conditions and methodologies of the Japanese described in the Onuma article with this description of an American workout, inadvertently, juxtaposed in the same issue of Strength and Health. The title of the article is “That Magic Formula” {S&H 11:32:1968}.

“On Tuesday B…. comes into the gym at his usual training hour of 4 o’clock. He growls a few times …. walks over to 225 (pounds) and does five reps in the military press. He is still in his slacks and street shoes and the only piece of garment that resembles a training uniform is his York T – shirt plus, of course, a lifting belt he may or may not borrow from one of the lifters in the gym so he won’t have to go to the locker room for his. He will then press 275 for three reps, and then do three singles with 325. He will then start to walk to the locker room for a shower before going home {S&H 11:32:1968}.

The author of this article noted further that the lifter in question usually never does more than two exercises a day during the week. He did no stretching or calisthenics before or after the workout described; he did not bother to change into training clothing. The rest of the article described the training of some other top American lifters of this day, essentially in the same “I’m OK your OK” style. The gist of the article was that this is how we train, each man is different and trains differently and that is OK. Nothing is mentioned about any connection between our declining international competitiveness and our “I’m OK your OK” training system.

The reader is referred to Part I to find Yakov Kutsenko’s critique of American training which he contrasted with that of the Japanese at the 1960 Olympics.

So, after eight years, what had changed?

Strength and Health reported “From Toth via Nagy”{S&H 07:85:1971} on the training of the Hungarian national team in 1971 

Here are some of the ideas presented:

For developing endurance “thirty to thirty five sets a day with light weights are recommended.”

“Speed and strength combined will manifest themselves in flexibility.”

“The more flexible the lifter, the more weight he can negotiate.”

“Injuries occur when warm ups are neglected.”

“Many athletes are entering 12 to 15 competitions a year. Toth believes this number to be excessive….He recommends eight competitions a year.”


Example of flexibility contributing to raising a big weight. Charniga photo.

Following this last remark about competitions, the author of “The iron Grapevine,” where the report appeared, inserted a comment. (“Editor’s note: We feel that even this number is too many. Two to four a year for national caliber lifters is plenty.”) So, despite what the Hungarians and Japanese were saying, Strength and Health decided it was necessary to interject their own recommendation that one sixth to one half the quantity of competitions per year as recommended by foreign coaches were good enough for our athletes.

This recommendation indicates that American ideas were still stuck in the 1950s. The idea reflects a belief that weightlifting was primarily a strength activity of maximum straining similar to power lifting. Consequently, too many competitions, apparently, more than two to four in one year would be fatiguing, despite what the foreigners, who were producing the bulk of world champions were saying.

A two part article published in the Soviet Union in the mid 1970s by Vasily Alexeyev (“My Training Experiences,” Tiiazhelaya Atletika Yezhegodnik, 1976-1977) detailed his training for the year 1974. Alexeyev competed in eight (8) competitions. He competed in March, April, May, September, October, November, and twice in December. He set at least one world record in each competition, including the clean and jerk at both competitions in December. At least one half of the competitions involved foreign travel. Albeit, this was now the two lift era, but here was a man who was 34 years old and at the time weighed about 150 kg.

A graph depicting Alexeyev’s training in 1974 showed that over a period of ten months (March – December) he set eleven world records in eight different competitions. For instance, in March of 1974 he set the world record in the clean and jerk with 240.5 kg; in May he set snatch 187.5 kg and total 422.5 kg records.

Some of the contents of these two articles have been translated and published by the International Weightlifting Federation. Alexeyev did a lot of hyperextension exercises, usually twice a day. He also popularized combination movements such as a power snatch plus press behind the neck followed by an over head squat. The specific contents of these workouts received most of the publicity. However, the fact that he competed in eight competitions setting world records in each has apparently been overlooked. He “practiced competitions” 2 to 4 times as often as advocated by Strength and Health magazine.

So, regardless as to what he did or did not do in training, whether hopped up and down on one leg or skipped rope every day, he got better at competitions by entering competitions with relative frequency, even at his age and the late stage of his career.

The lesson here may not be readily apparent. Two years preceding the “I’m OK your OK” article about the “magic formula,” the same author wrote an article in Strength and Health {S&H 06:36:1966}. The article was part of regular series in the magazine called “Behind the Scenes.” It began with an interview with Norbert Schemansky. The article essentially was a follow up of an article Hoffman wrote about his conversation with Schemansky “Wise Words from a Great Champion” {S&H 08:14:1963} discussed in Part III.

First he looked at the performance of the American team at the 1964 Olympics. Accordingly, he discovered that “Tony Garcy was the only American to improve his position after the press….This would indicate that the Americans were lagging behind in the fast lifts” {S&H 06:36:1966}.

This is the same conclusion Hoffman came to after talking to Schemansky on the plane ride back from Russia in 1962. This was still the same situation a few years later.

At the suggestion of Schemansky, the author did a simple mathematical comparison of the world records of 1955, the USA records of 1955, and the same two sets of records in 1965. He found that between 1955 and 1965 the USA lost a full 200% of ground in the total compared with the world records of 1955 and 1965. However, his solution was the same as that of Hoffman and Schemansky in 1963; the Americans needed to do more pulling.

Despite the fact this was not the correct solution, it was a noble effort to convince our lifters that we needed to change our training methods because we were falling further behind the rest of the world in the quick lifts. However, for whatever reasons, by 1968 the author may have realized that we were not going to change much. He essentially abandoned the introspective, critical analysis of our athletes’ training methods and adopted the “I’m OK your OK” approach.

That was not the correct solution either to the problem of a lack of an American training system.

The history lesson is that most of the people involved in the administration and participation of an Olympic sport such as weightlifting need to first come to the realization that change is necessary to keep up with international standards; and, second, adopt the collective will to implement change in order to keep from falling further behind; to begin to catch up.

The Connection Between Air Conditioning and Weightlifting Results

There was another article in the same issue of Strength and Health with the article by Kenji Onuma and “that magic formula”; entitled, “Criticisms of the Senior Nationals.” The article outlined three major concerns of the athletes who participated in recent national weightlifting championships. The most interesting is the following, “the contest is always (with one exception 1967) held in an auditorium that is not air conditioned. It just isn’t wise to exert so strenuously when the temperature is so hot….The meet sponsors should at least make an attempt to get an air conditioned auditorium. A little extra expense for this important item is not money wasted” {S&H 11:57:1968}.

The author of this paper attended the Panonia Cup Weightlifting Competition in Siofolk, Hungary in the spring of 1989. The warm up room for the athletes was a small area located outside the competition hall under a tent. On the second day of the competition it began to rain hard. The outdoor temperature plummeted from about 65° F into the low 40s in a matter of about one hour. Rain pounded the tent as the lifters were warming up; the temperature continued to drop. The president of the International Weightlifting Federation Gotfried Schoedl was in attendance. When asked about the deteriorating conditions for the athletes, he said, “Of course these conditions are not acceptable, but it won’t affect the good athletes”.

In 1989, the Junior World Weightlifting Championships were held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The lifters warmed up (and trained) outdoors, in the sunshine, with characteristically Florida conditions of about 90° F and high humidity. The lifters had to walk from the warm up area outside into the auditorium air conditioned to around 70°F; where the competition platform was located. The transition from hot box to refrigerator was a shock. Ronny Weller, for instance, who flew in from Germany the day before his competition, managed to lift 205 kg and 230 kg, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

Too many examples can be cited to refute the American complaint about a lack of an air conditioned arena, which was not even a common amenity; even for America in the 1960s; allowing Japanese college students to compete in our national championships and many other excuses. As our competitiveness waned, excuses snowballed.

More About Those Improbable Poles

The remarkable rise of Poland’s weightlifters after World War II was covered briefly in Part III. However, some peculiarities of the history of Polish weightlifting appeared in an article in Strength and Health “Polish Weightlifting” {S&H 06:27-29:1973} written appropriately enough by Pole Stefan Sienarski. He had first hand knowledge of the origins of Polish weightlifting.

According to Sienarski, “weightlifting was not too popular in our country…. We might even venture to say that world champions could easily lift our front runners along with their barbells. Such was the situation between the two world wars as well as in the early post war years.

2012 Olympic Weightlifting Champion Zielinski (POL) is a product of the Polish training system. Charniga photo.

“For decades the Poles had not viewed any weightlifters representing an international level of performance. We first encountered some outstanding champions in 1951 with the arrival of accomplished Soviet sportsmen in Warsaw and other cities. The Soviet weightlifting champions and their coaches did not limit themselves to competitions, but conducted joint training sessions along with Polish weightlifters, held lectures for instructors, and showed film; all of which was to pave the way for Polish weightlifting.

“Luckily the Soviet champions also left behind their barbells with the wish that they serve Poland’s sportsmen as well as they had their Soviet weightlifters who had topped a number of world records in Poland.

“This was more than a symbolic gift. Although weightlifting existed in Poland, there was a shortage of high quality equipment. The Soviet barbells thus were Poland’s first equipment representing an international level of excellence.”{S&H 06:27-29:1973}

So, only eight years after the first encounter with Soviet training methods, Soviet champions and access to international level equipment, Poland had its first world champion and the team placed second at the 1959 World championships in Warsaw.

In contrast to the situation in Poland in the early 1950s, Bob Hoffman the architect of American weightlifting success, beginning in the 1930s, owned a company which manufactured high quality barbells with the ability to distribute them anywhere in the USA. He was a pioneer in the food supplement industry and in this capacity recognized the value of supplementation; especially protein, for weightlifters. Consequently, our weightlifters of the 1950s had relatively good access to quality equipment, lived in a country which was the economic super power of its day, a country with easy access to fully stocked grocery stores, accessible to all, and protein supplements.

The activities of Bob Hoffman provided significant advantages for our weightlifters over what was available to post World War II East Europeans, such as the Polish lifters, who lacked access to quality equipment, advanced training methodology, access to elite weightlifters, knowledge of good weightlifting technique, and, apparently, looked to horse meat for their protein. However, these advantages eventually were overcome by better training methodologies, increasing time spent in the gym; and strict discipline. It is worth noting that the article by Starr mentioned Poland in reference to changing the rules so that foreigners could not compete in our nationals, i.e. we don’t want them coming here.

That is why we refer to the arguments, for instance, to exclude foreigners from our nationals and a lack of air conditioning as lame excuses which are blue prints for mediocrity.