Q: I work with young athletes and do a lot of power cleans and squats. My question is, “What are the strongest weightlifters in the world doing to get strong?”
A: Olympic champions and world-record holders have been produced by many different training methods. China is on top in weightlifting right now as a team, but Russia and Turkey are also producing champions and world records. If you step back and look at the big picture, however, you’ll see that today’s lifters use principally two systems: the Russian and the Bulgarian.
Commenting on those differences is accomplished weightlifting coach Dr. Alfredo Herrera, who has studied in Russia and has been speaking in the United States about the Russian system in seminars sponsored by the Risto Sports Olympic Weightlifting Academy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dr. Herrera says that one of the major differences in the two training systems is that the Bulgarians perform more lifts closer to their one-repetition maximums each month.
For example, during a four-week training phase, elite athletes using the Russian system might attempt 15 snatches between 95 and 100 percent of their 1RMs, and the same athletes using the Bulgarian system might attempt 30 snatches in that range. Rather than focusing on the higher intensity zones, the Russian system uses a high volume of training in the medium range, about 70 to 75 percent of 1RM. The Russian system also includes more assisting exercises than the Bulgarian system. So which is better?
The Bulgarian system often leads to rapid results but is tougher on the body. When the Bulgarian weightlifters were at their peak in the ’70s and ’80s, they often retired early, most likely due to injury. In contrast, the Russian lifters tended to have much longer careers.
Remember, we see a country’s successes only, so we do not know how many casualties happen along the way to achieving those champions. Also, if you’re coaching young athletes who are not strictly weightlifters, it may not be appropriate to emulate the programs used solely to train weightlifters—even on a scaled-down level.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.com. IM