Why is it the best weightlifters look like they are nearly stage ready for a bodybuilding show? The answer is simple. They have built every muscle to support their end goal of maximal power and precision. The Russians are the measuring stick that I use to evaluate greatness in weightlifting or strength. The reason being is that they are incredibly strong, and not just 1 or 2 individuals such as Klokov and Apti. Instead it is hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who lift incredible weights over the years. They are also one of the longest standing superpowers in weightlifting.
In the last article I talked about the differences between the Russian system and the system we have here for youth lifters. This article will talk about a few things that you can do to develop the same supporting structures, tissues, and positions that the greats have. In order to keep this short, we will assume you have the necessary mobility to do the lifts. They might not be perfect (mine certainly aren’t) but let’s assume you can perform them well enough. The focus for this article is on a new type of approach to help late arrivals to the sport reach the same goal all lifters have. Greatness.
Previously we talked about how the systems in other countries produce athletes with more stable positions and greater tendon strength to withstand the workloads they will train at after their teenage years. Because their positions are not compromised with this level of intensity or fatigue, they can handle at or near max effort loads often. Mobility is not an issue because the proper positions have now been ingrained for over a decade. Therefore they can move with reduced risk of injury.
Unfortunately you found weightlifting after high school sports (which probably did a number on your body already) or in college looking for something new. So you potentially missed out on a decade of GPP, mobility, positioning, and technique work that the youth in other countries had. No chance you can come back from that and still compete with them, right? Well, maybe you can.
If their secret is tissue quality, supporting musculature, and positions, then their secret can really be their undoing. When these youth athletes around the world train as children they are missing something very important that everyone in their late teens or 20’s has, testosterone. The ability for adults to adapt to training stimulus as an adult is without question far greater than that of a child. As a result,we have the ability to accomplish greater amounts of adaptation in slightly shorter amounts of time. But in order to adapt in the way we need, we have to do the right things.
This is where we have to change the mentality and learn that just because Apti does clean triples off the blocks with 180, doesn't mean we can do clean triples off the blocks for max effort. Unless your body is ready to hold perfect positions under max load, you should very rarely do these things. Instead, keep the competitive movements within the range of 85-90% only if the speed is fast, the execution is crisp, and your positions do not break down. But there needs to be so much more to the training of a 20 something year old lifter in order to contend with the world's best.
Improving the tendon strength is an incredibly complex process that the body undergoes. Just like anything else though, the tendons must be stressed in order to be strengthened. You can do this through various resistance exercises, but we already do those. The thing we often miss in this country is plyometrics. The methodical increase in number of foot contacts and the intensity of these exercises, done properly, builds the elastic components of the tendon. It also helps improve the stretch shortening cycle so that we can get a greater voluntary muscular contraction, say out of the bottom a clean. Plyometrics itself is an incredibly in depth portion we will not get deeper into, however you can check out a previous article here to learn more about why you should jump more and how you can implement jumps.
Accessory training is often talked about by strength and conditioning nerds, but rarely used by the majority of coaches in the U.S. This leaves room for overuse injuries like elbow dislocations, disk injuries, shoulder issues, and so on. Accessory movements should be used to increase the function of stabilizing and supporting muscles within the body.
A few accessory movements that will help all overhead athletes increase the strength and function, stability, and longevity of their shoulders are exercises such as band pull apart's, trap 3 raises, and prone presses. These simple exercises included every other day in an athlete’s program will build a tremendous amount of musculature and control of the shoulder over a year or longer. Now the Russians may not use these exact exercises, but again we are not in the same situation they are and have to think differently. A few other muscles that need attention are the glutes, transverse abdominals, adductors, and serratus so the athlete can build a complete base on which to put the training of the competitive lifts.
These follow exercises and other can be put into program following the strength work to increase supportive muscular strength to prevent injury, as simply as:
Monday - Back Ext. 4x10, Band Break Aparts 4x10
Tuesday - Barbell Step Ups 3x8 each leg, IYT’s 3x8 each arm
Wednesday - Trap 3 Raise 3x10 each arm, Shoulder Elevated Glute Bridge 3x10
Thursday - Scap Push Up 4x10, Reverse Hypers 4x10
Friday - Walking Lunges 4x8e, Dumbbell Rows 4x10
Building the supportive musculature and tendon quality is incredibly important, and as long as the athlete has the needed mobility they will also improve their positioning over time. This is done not through drilling positions, but building the strength and stability to finally hold those positions both under load and unloaded. This is a great way to get more out of your training with less work.
If you are at the top of your weight class in the U.S. (thank you for putting in the incredible work it takes to reach your level) or if you are just starting to lift and happen to be reading this, first off thank you for taking the time to listen. Secondly, please don't let ego drive your training. You are capable of greater feats of strength, as long as you plan to reach for your genetic ceiling and not simply aim to add the next big wheel on the bar.
Building the supportive musculature and tendon strength you need to really compete at a high level is actually fairly easy. Before you start training your competitive movement each day, do various types of jumps. These will prime your nervous system, loosen the muscles further, and over time greatly improve your tendon strength as well as your stretch reflex. Towards the end of your training session in your extra accessory work in the important areas, (upper back, glutes, lower back) just one or two exercises a day. They do not have to be incredibly complex, they just need to be trained more often so that you will hold up better over time. The position work is simple, as these other two things get better your positions will also, but make sure to focus on sticking the positions in all of your movements for every rep. That's what the pros do and you should too.
For someone who started training in their 20’s or late teens, doing extra work to support your competitive movements will only work to speed up your improvements over the long haul, and fight off injury. The majority of the volume, for those who start at 20 something, should come from accessory training which will help positions. The russians do it as children, but we weren't lucky enough to have that system. If we implement the principles they use, in a way that fits within the limitations 20 somethings have, we will last longer, move better, and lift heavier than we ever thought we could.