News and Views of Weightlifting:
Russian Training: Part 2
Andrew ‘Bud’ Charniga
A previous article dealt with some obvious, but often not acknowledged problems connected with a myth of superiority of Russian training. Some facts concerning their checkered past participating in the Olympic Games were revealed. Objective assessment needs more information than just a survey of prolonged problems of this nature.
Rather than rely on just personal experience or opinion; five papers published in the 1990s and early 2000s provide an objective viewpoint from as the saying goes “the horse’s mouth”. These papers reveal what should be some all-to-obvious reasons for the present circumstances covered in Part I. Alexei Medvedyev authored three of those five articles. He was a three time world champion with a doctorate in sport science and twice head coach of the national team.
First, here are some opinions. Soviet era weightlifting sport science is second to none. They essentially produced a blue print for the rest of the world to follow. Virtually all modern weightlifting systems are indebted to their systematic, creative, analytical approach. Soviet coaches and sport scientists developed methods and training programs to educate an athlete from beginner to the elite level. The Russians have engaged in more high quality technical and practical research in weightlifting sport, than the rest of the world combined.
Few coaches and sport scientists outside of Russia are remotely aware of the vast amount of literature authored by numerous coaches who were once world and or Olympic champions before moving on to be incredibly gifted sport scientists.
For instance, Ilya Zhekov, author of Biomechanics of the Weightlifting Exercises, justifiably called ‘god’s’ book of weightlifting retired from sport science to work for the Russian space agency, i.e., a smooth transition from sport science to rocket science. He is just one example of many outstanding, creative, innovative people who invented the analytical approach to weightlifting sport science.
So, what is the problem with Russian training?
/ the advent of wide spread use and prolonged over reliance on performance enhancing substances;
/ an over emphasis on power to the detriment of skill, i.e., muscle building cycles.
A myth of new methods
In part I the idea the Soviet lifters were doing something new, even as the latest methodology literature was just barely off the printing presses is a myth.
Medvedyev, et al (1994) analyzed the progress of world records in weightlifting from the 1924 up until 1990. Two periods of explosive growth in the production of new world records were revealed. The first beginning in the range of years 1967 – 1973. The second even more pronounced period of growth in world records was from 1980 on; for the most part culminating with the 1988 Olympics.
According to an analysis of elite lifters’ training conducted by the Medveyev group, the number of lifts in the competition exercises; which has the most influence on improvement in snatch and the clean and jerk, had not changed since the sixties.
However, in the 1980s the volume of training increased by 40%. This increase in volume comprised mostly pulls and squats. So, the major difference in Russian training from the sixties consisted of a greater volume of strength exercises of lower specificity to the snatch and the clean and jerk while at the same time volume of exercises with high specificity remained unchanged.
There were no new developments in technique over what was already common knowledge in the sixties to explain the two periods of accelerated growth of world records. No special ‘triple extension’, a ‘super shrug’, not even more flexible bars with rubber discs could account for the explosion of world records (Medvedyev, 1994).
The only logical explanation for the periods of explosive growth of world records was the wide spread use of performance enhancing substances (Medvedyev, 1994).
According to Medvedyev, the principle distinction between the two periods of explosive growth of world records was the influence of the special enhancement applied. In the first period from 1967 – 1973 ‘weaker’ anabolics were used. In the second period beginning in 1980 more powerful “hormonal” preparations including prostaglandids became wide spread (Medvedyev, 1994).
So, first and foremost the ‘new’ in the Russian methods and technique was a ‘new’ pharmaceutical approach to training, not necessarily innovative or particularly creative techniques or methods. Why follow some tried and true methods developed by the old coaches from the 50s and 60s; or perform endless repetition to develop the optimum technique when you can just use tablets; and later on, more potent stuff to be found in syringes?
Undoubtedly, this circumstance was a source of conflict for the old coaches when guys started showing up to the gym with pharmaceutical aids. Unquestionably, the coach’s creativity took a back seat, when young lifters saw the rapid progress that could be had with these ‘new’ training aids.
Once lifters and coaches got used to training with the performance enhancers, training loads, exercises and technique could and would be geared to their use. Hence, the increased volume of muscle building exercises. Bigger stronger muscles enable a lifter to overcome big weights relying more on muscle power than precise technique.
For instance, very few lifters prior to the periods of special enhancement used the less efficient, more precarious squat or push jerk style to jerk the barbell. But soon Soviet lifters at the international level were doing push jerks such as Sots and Zakharevitch. Significant muscle mass and/or strength in the upper extremities allowed a 100 kg lifter to essentially push press with shallow ¼ squat 230 kg or jerk huge weights in a shallow split with a large bend in the back knee.
Another example of this era was the technique to jerk 266 kg at +110; which has never been equaled. This athlete used a grasp for pressing called the ‘thumbless’, to push press the weight up with a relatively modest split under the barbell.
If there is one single deficiency in the Russian training resulting from these periods of special enhancement that you can point a finger at it is the obvious difficulty of the Russian lifter to jerk the barbell from the chest. Soviet papers as far back as the sixties found ability in the jerk from the chest deteriorated with increasing muscle mass and strength in the upper extremities.
For example, even though the Soviets had many more lifters, more money, including funding for sport science research; by 1988, 60% of the world records in the clean and jerk were in the hands of Bulgarians and or a Turkish lifter trained in Bulgaria. At the present time Russian lifters hold two of the fifteen senior world records in the jerk. One female and one male record each. Both of these lifters have been positive for doping.
Moreover, all of the Soviet records of 1988 were in the heavier weight classes where the weight of the barbell is a smaller percentage of body mass. Balance is the biggest problem in the jerk from the chest. The rising common center of mass of barbell and lifter stipulates more skill, the heavier the weight relative to the lifter’s bodyweight.
“Jerk technique varies. Athletes in the first five weight classes have better technique whereas the heavyweights do not. A weight of 226% and more of bodyweight can be adopted as the point of departure for high level jerk technique.” A.T. Ivanov, 1971
The data in table 1 shows a comparison of today’s world records relative to those in 1988 taking into account the changes in bodyweight categories. The calculations were performed according to those established by Medvedyev in 1994. As you can see the Soviets held the records from 90 kg and up; the Bulgarians from 82.5 kg down.
Table 1. Table 1. World records in the clean and jerk of male weightlifters from 1988 compared to 2015 records with Medvedyev’s coefficients to compare absolute strength.
|Wt.cl||1988 WR||Wt cl 015||Coeff||2015 WR||Equiv¹||Differ||%|
¹ The equivalent of the record in 2015 to lifting in the weight divisions of 1988.
² Pending IWF approval. Established as 182.5 kg in 2002 the record was rounded off to 182 kg in 2007, i.e., 13 years to raise this record 0.5 kg.
³ Pending approval of the IWF. The 171 kg record of Terzissky (BUL) was set in 1987 – 29 years ago.
** If approved 246 is equivalent to 240.9 kg in 2015 still 1.62 kg less than 242.5 at 100 kg in 1988.
Moreover, the calculations confirm Medvedyev’s observations that the clean and jerk is the most sensitive to doping controls. For instance, the current world record in the 77 kg class of 210 kg is only equal to a lift of 207 in 1987. This record of 215.5 kg was established at a bodyweight of 75 kg, i.e., 28 years on, the current record is 4% less.
It takes less power to jerk the barbell from the chest than it does to clean it. Most of Russian training methods to improve the jerk from the chest are oriented to developing power as opposed to developing precise technique.
Russian problems jerking the barbell from the chest were documented as far back as the late 60s. Relatively recent publications show that this problem is ongoing (Khairullin, R.: Kanyevsky, V.). For instance, Russians lifters in London missed four crucial jerks one at 85 (for the gold medal), one at 94 and two missed jerks at +105 (for silver).
Two Russian sports scientists Khairullin and Kanyevsky wrote of Russian lifters employing assistance exercises of questionable value and poor jerk technique, especially as it pertains to balance and precision in scissoring the legs.
Figure 1. Russian lifter exhibiting poor technique as described by Khairullin.
“It is common place to see a weightlifter make a good result in the snatch; easily clean a big weight, but be unable to fix it overhead in the jerk.” (Kanyevsky, 2005)
One after effect of the period of special enhancement are instances of Russians missing jerks becoming commonplace even though:
“The principles of proper jerk technique have been common knowledge since the time of N.I. Luchkin. These techniques have been described in sufficient detail in all of the Weightlifting textbooks published (beginning in 1972). (Kanyevsky, 2005)
Figure 2. Even with a jerk from the chest with 228% of bodyweight, balance is the critical factor. Charniga photo
Furthermore, it is worth noting that no Soviet or Russian ever clean and jerked triple bodyweight. A clean and jerk of 300% of bodyweight is arguably one of if not the most difficult feats of power/skill in all of sport. Two Soviet lifters cleaned triple bodyweight; both were unable to jerk it.
Figure 3. Jerking 300% from the chest requires not just power but exceptional balance and skill as well. Charniga photo.
Table 2. Lifters who have clean and jerked triple bodyweight
|7/ LAN Shizhang
- Information provided by Phillip Niemann
It is logical to conclude current Russian methods with an emphasis on developing power; increasing muscle mass; employing a lot exercises are a carry – over from the eighties with a consequential deterioration in technical skills. The advent of wide spread use and over reliance on performance enhancing substances was the beginning of the end of the an era of creativity and innovation in Russian weightlifting sport science.
Keeping up with times
The difficulty adjusting to even the threat of out of competition testing after the Seoul was almost immediate. For instance, once stringent testing begun after Seoul world record production came to a complete standstill by 1992. You can see from the data presented in table 3 that Soviet lifters held but two of the 10 world records in the snatch whereas Bulgaria held five. This is another indication a large volume of lower in specificity exercises and muscle building does not necessarily enhance the acquisition of skill.
Table 3. Table 3. World records in the Snatch of male weightlifters from 1988 compared to 2015 records with Medvedyev’s coefficients to compare absolute strength.
|Wt.cl||1988 WR||Wt cl 2015||Coeff||2015 WR||Equiv¹||Diff kg||%|
¹ The equivalent of the record in 2015 to lifting in 1988.
It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that varying degrees of pharmaceutical enhancement was the principle reason for the explosion world records in the 1967 – 1973 and from 1980 to about 1988 and not necessarily any new innovative developments in training or weightlifting technique.
On the other hand, a good case can be made for the superiority of a Bulgarian type training system from the data presented. This type of training system places the emphasis on specificity with much less attention to assistance exercises.
For instance, presented in table 4 are the only four lifters have won three Olympic gold medals. Three Olympic gold medals in weightlifting is another monumental feat; a testament to the athlete’s extraordinary skill; as well as, exceptional longevity to remain on top.
Table 4. Weightlifters whom have won three Olympic gold medals.
Of these twelve gold medals, 11 were achieved with essentially a Bulgarian type of (high specificity to competition conditions) training.
The quotation below from the Medvedyev article of 1996 sums up the problem in a nutshell: we need new restoratives and new methods. Either no one read this article or neither goal has been achieved. Hence today’s embarrassing conundrum in Russian weightlifting.
“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.” A.S. Medvedyev, 1996
Presented below is an example germane to weightlifting from the Soviet era Track and Field. This quote is from the Track and Field textbook for the Institutes of Sport of the USSR. It was taken from the chapter dealing with the biomechanics and the training for throwing events; written by a Russian authority in the throws. It is a vivid example of an error in anticipation of future events, without taking into account current conditions; which, were not destined to remain unaltered.
“The shot is one of the heaviest implements in throwing which noticeably affects the athlete’s speed of movement and reduces the precision of movements. The speed of the release of the shot and the optimum angle of release relative to the horizontal determine the distance of the throws. The accepted optimum angle of release has remained unchanged for the past 20 years. Coaches have been basically focused on how to achieve the maximum possible speed of release.”
“Throwers of the 1958 – 1959 period learned a speed of release of 13 m/sec when a result of 19 m was commonplace. The work of many people of different specialization was required, over a period of 20 years, to raise the speed of release by 1 m/sec. Indeed this helped U. Baier establish the world record of 22.15 m in 1978 when he released the shot at an angle of 42º to the horizontal at a release speed of 14 m/sec.”
“We expect the speed of release will rise over the next 20 years to 15 m/sec; which will raise the world record to 25 m.” (O.Y. Grigalka, 1982)
This text was published in 1982 at the height of second era of special enhancement noted by Medvedyev. Thirty three years after this was published the world is still waiting for a 15 m/sec speed of release in the shot put and a world record of 25 meters. The fact of the matter is the author did not anticipate a new era of sophisticated testing. Apparently, no new methods or technique have been developed to achieve the 15 m/sec release speed and a 25 m throw in the shot put; outside the use of pharmaceuticals.
Not only has no one threatened the current record of 23.12 m of Randy Barnes (who had been subsequently suspended for life) but the IAAF is considering nullifying that record and starting over.
/ Medevedyev, A.S., Medvedyev, A.A., Masalgin, N.A., Sarsania,S.K. “Prognosis of World Records in Weightlifting and the Use of Performance Enhancers”, Teoriya I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury, 8:39 – 43:1994 Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. https://www.sportivnypress.com/2016/2218/
/ Medvedyev, A.S., “Prognosis of world records”, Teoriya I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kulyury 3: 2000. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. https://www.sportivnypress.com/2016/2224/
/ Medvedyev, A.S., “The Effect of Performance Enhancers on the Structure of the Volume and Intensity of the Training Load in Weightlifting”, The Russian State Academy of Physical Culture, 1996. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivnny Press https://www.sportivnypress.com/2014/the-effect-of-performance-enhancers-on-the-structure-of-the-volume-and-intensity-of-the-training-load-in-weightlifting/
/ Khairullin, R. “Stabilizing the Technique of the Jerk”,Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivnny Press https://www.sportivnypress.com/2014/stabilizing-the-technique-of-the-jerk/
/ Kanyevsky, V., “Problems with the Jerk”, https://www.sportivnypress.com/2014/problems-with-the-jerk/ Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivnny Press
/ Grigalka, O. Y., “The shot put and Discus”, Uchebnik Trenera Po Legkoi Atletike, FIS, Moscow, 385:1982. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivnny Press