Russian Training: Part 1

News and Views of Weightlifting:
Russian Training: Part 1
Andrew ‘Bud’ Charniga

The recent popularity of fitness clubs which include Olympic lifting as part of their core exercise routine has created and explosion of interest in training methodology, technique and so forth. Seminars abound at these facilities in the USA. That is the good news.

Many of the seminars are presented by Russian lifters or coaches creating a business of exposing the attendees to Russian training secrets. To the naïve, the unsuspecting, especially those will little experience in the sport, these ideas are accepted and passed on as gospel. Some would call this word of mouth gospel “default truth”.

For example, a recently published article extolled the success of the Russian system:

/ at the 2015 world championships in Houston “Russian champions did not disappoint”.
In point of fact the Russian champions did disappoint. Four were positive for doping including two medalists. Most embarrassing was the fact that the Russian +105 kg gold medalist set two world records which must now be nullified. The other medalist, a female, will face a lifetime or essentially a “lifetime” eight – year suspension.

/ “… Although Russia is currently back on top of weightlifting”.
True. Russia is back on top in weightlifting, just not in a conventional sense. With four athletes positive for doping, others who conveniently skipped this competition or other tested events such as the European championships; a tally of the Soviet influence in weightlifting is not flattering. Table 1 lists the positive cases for doping at the Houston event.

Table1.  Doping positives from 2015 WWC 
Place body wt Nation Gender Asia EUR USSR
34 48 AZE Fem 1 1
6 77 AZE Male 1 1
9 94 AZE Male 1 1
3 62 AZE Male 1 1
9 105 AZE Male 1 1
6 69 AZE Male 1 1
4 58 BLR Fem 1 1
4 94 BLR Male 1 1
20 75 GRE Fem 1
2 94 KAZ Male 1 1
3 94 KAZ Male 1 1
0 85 KAZ Male 1 1
31 62 MDA Male 1 1
13 85 MDA Male 1 1
13 77 MDA Male 1 1
2 62 PRK Male 1
5 69 PRK Fem 1
2 77 PRK Male 1
1 105 RUS Male 1 1
7 94 RUS Male 1 1
3 75 RUS Fem 1 1
4 69 RUS Fem 1 1
16 62 TKM Male 1 1
6 56 KSA* Male 1
8 16 19

A report prepared by an independent commission and recently published by the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed wide spread corruption in the Russian doping control network; especially as it pertained to track and field. As a result, the Russian track and field team has been suspended from participation in the 2016 Olympics.

However, it was asserted that this problem was endemic to all Russian sports.

The WADA report detailed how coaches conspired with administrators and doping control officers to help athletes avoid testing; even resorting to bribery and extortion. Furthermore, a second lab based in Moscow with suitable testing equipment was set up to check if samples collected were positive for doping. Samples found suspect were substituted for clean before delivery to the officially accredited lab.

It was also asserted in the report that these doping control problems could be found in all the former USSR republics.

The cases presented in table 1 have been arranged according to country, continent and the now – independent – countries formerly part of the former USSR. From the table it is obvious that of the 24 positive cases 19 were either from Russia or from republics, once part of the Soviet Union. Consequently, the use of doping inculcated by the Russians is still entrenched in these former territories owned by the USSR.

The whole point of the out of competition testing is to prevent athletes from being able to engage in prolonged doping prior to competition and be able to stop in time to rid the body of banned substances. The closer to the competition the athlete can retain the banned substances in his/her system, the better. Consequently, a corruption of this aspect of testing constitutes a huge, unfair advantage.

That a similar situation to Russian track and field was ongoing in Russian weightlifting can be inferred by a number of factors: unusually high results, steep, sudden improvements; avoidance of tested competitions and so forth.

The sudden rash of positives of Russian and other athletes from former USSR satellites indicates a break down in their testing avoidance and control system. In all probability, a backlash created by the WADA investigation of Russian doping control agency RUSADA. Moreover, these individuals had obviously not kept abreast of the latest protocols, i.e., no need to if there is corruption of the doping control body in Russia, known as RUSADA.

However, the illusion of the superiority of a Russian training method especially as it pertains to doing something new is just that, an illusion.

For instance, in a previous article, the relatively speaking poor performance of the Russian Olympic teams 2000 – 2012 was noted. It was established that the Russian teams of 2000 – 2012 won a collective total of one gold medal.

The obvious struggle for the Russian lifter to compete in the single most important international competition replete with modern doping control protocols is ample evidence of a prolonged dependency on banned substances.

2000 Olympics in Sydney

The Russians had six males and three females competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The men earned only two bronze medals. Two zeros a 5th and 13th place rounded out an overall poor showing. Of the six lifters, the 94 kg lifter was the 91 gold medalist at the previous Olympics in Atlanta. He was positive in an out of competition test prior to the start of the Atlanta Games. However, he was allowed to compete. He claimed his ex – girlfriend spiked his protein drinks with banned substances.

The 85 kg Russian in Sydney was also positive at least once prior to the Sydney Games.
The Russian women in Sydney garnered one silver and two 6th places. The silver medalist lifted in Athens in 2004. Subsequently, she was twice positive for doping; ultimately receiving a lifetime suspension.

2004 Olympics in Athens

The Russian men earned three bronzes, a silver and their only gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The gold medalist was positive for doping two years later. The silver medalist was positive for doping in 2005.

The 77 kg bronze medalist was declared positive for doping at the Athens Olympics, retroactively in 2012. The IOC re – tested over a 100 samples from the 2004 Olympics with the latest technology in 2012. Consequently, by 2012, the crack this guy slipped through in 2004, had closed.

The Russian women earned two bronze and one silver; with one of the bronzes going to the female who later received a lifetime suspension.

2008 Olympics in Beijing

Four of the six Russian males who competed in Beijing in 2008 already had or would be positive for doping.

Of the four Russian females competing in Beijing, whose collective swoon in results was documented in the book A Demasculinization of Strength; one would be positive for doping in 2013. Moreover, the 69 kg female became world champion in 2006 with a clean and jerk result of 140. She won gold a year later in the same weight class, in Chang Mai with a clean and jerk result of 156 kg. In Beijing she was able to jerk only 140 kg.

A re -testing of Beijing samples produced two female positives: the 58 kg silver medalist and the 75 kg bronze medalist. The Russians will therefore forfeit these two medals.

2012 Olympics in London

The six – man Russian team in London won two silvers and a bronze. However, the two 105s were scratched without a tangible reason at the last minute. One of these 105 kg lifters had a prior positive result and served a two year suspension.

This incident was reminiscent of the Russian team of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. The rules of that day permitted a team to enter up to 10 lifters. The Russians brought 12 guys to Seoul. Two alternates were part of the team in the event of the injury to one or more of the ten entered. Only nine of the twelve present competed. It was common knowledge the Soviet Union had a boat docked in Seoul. Presumably one of the functions of the personnel on board was last minute testing to approve an athlete ‘clean’ for the competition.

In light of this incident in 1988 consider a report to the WADA about pre – screened athletes fro the London Oympics:

“Before the London Games, the pre-competition samples were collected in official doping control bottles.  The analytical results were reviewed by the Moscow Laboratory to determine the likelihood that an athlete was in danger of testing positive at the Games.  That likelihood was characterised by Dr. Rodchenkov as either red where the athlete was going to test positive at the Games and should be replaced; yellow, meant the sample still showed traces of PEDs, but should be clear in time for the Games; and green meant the athlete was cleared to go to the Games.”  Mclaren, R. 2016

The Russian women in London won three silvers. However, one of the silver medalists was positive in 2006 when she was only 15 years old.

By 2012 the problem with corruption in the RUSADA was ongoing and no doubt permitted bigger cracks for lifters to fall through in order to avoid out of competition testing, or to arrange to cover up positive cases.

Well then, in all Olympics from Sydney to London (and even further back – Atlanta) the Russia team had a minimum at least one representative with a doping positive. The mess in Houston is a culmination of events stemming from the difficulty of ridding the Russian training system of the dependence, a fixation on ‘tablets’ and the like.

Part and parcel of any training system in weightlifting has to center around the technique of the competition exercises. Loading, exercise selection must to be designed to inculcate and reinforce the best technique to lift the barbell.

For instance, consider the following comment from a Russian coach from the article cited:
“The bar must always be close to the body in the pull”

This “must always” sounds as an absolute. Consequently, exercises and training methods are designed around ideas such as this. For example, exercise technique is designed to effectively deploy and develop the muscles which are presumed most important for optimum technique.

The idea that the barbell must always be close and the emphasis on accentuation of the shoulder shrug; which are part of the Russian technique protocols. This in its turn, created a myth of the importance of the trapezius muscles in the pulling phase of the snatch and the clean.

The reader is referred to the pictures of the world champion and world record holder.


DENG Wei (CHN) lifting at the 2013 Chinese National Games. Charniga photos

Another quote from the article is typical and is both true and profoundly false:
“I do not intend to offend coaches and athletes from the US, but most of their developments in weightlifting were used in the USSR in the 60s, techniques and methods already long forgotten and replaced.”

This untruth, the whole of notion of new and old techniques requires a more in – depth treatment which will be dealt with in next installment of Russian training.

Nonetheless, here is one an anecdote on “long forgotten techniques and methods”.

While visiting the Soviet Union in 1979 the author purchased the then just published 1979 Weightlifting Yearbook at a bookstore in Leningrad. These small texts were compilations of articles written by coaches and weightlifting sport scientists. The articles covered research of training methods, biomechanics, nutrition and so forth.

I brought a copy of this book to a weightlifting club where the foreign athletes who were competing in the USSR Spartakiade were training. The Russian lifters who trained at this club said that stuff is old we don’t do that anymore. So, why bother to publish it?

In point of fact the lifters were still using barbells; doing power snatch, power clean, clean pull, clean and jerk, snatch, snatch pull, back and front squats. Nothing new about that and nothing ‘new’ or radically different than exercises and techniques to be found in the yearbook articles.

The ‘newness’ of the methods and techniques will be covered in part 2.

However, here is one final quote from the article:

“Sergey Bondarenko believes that if you want to be the best, you need to learn from the best. The Russians know how to get weightlifters strong and powerful, so if you are serious about training study their methods.”

Well then, whoever believes that will be very pleased to review the table above and the history of the Russian lifters at the Olympics with modern testing protocols.

/ Goss, K., “How champion Russian weightlifters train”
/ World Anti – Doping Independent Commission Report #1, November 9, 2015

/ Richard Mclaren Report to the WADA 07/16/2016