Weightlifting Training: Key Ingredients and Approaches
By Leo Temoshenko
Mike Burgener asked me to write a document about my weightlifting training philosophy. For those of you who do not know me, I am now fifty and have been lifting since I was fifteen. Over the years, I have had the great fortune to see, know, and train with a large number of the great champions and coaches of weightlifting both here in the US and from other countries. I try to keep current, learn new things, and always ask questions. Many times some of the best advice comes from not only the great ones who are considered unapproachable, but also from the forgotten or the unknowns. If you just ask, I think you may be surprised what you can learn. Having said that, it should not be surprising that many of my opinions are actually based on the opinions of others that I greatly respect; that is why some of the following words may sound familiar. I would like to especially thank Lou DeMarco, Bud Charniga, and Mike Karchut for the valuable advice and insights that they have given me over the past thirty-five years.
Key Ingredients for Success
After studying the lifters who became World and Olympic Champions over the past sixty years, I believe they all have two common traits. These two traits are excellent genetics and exceptional desire. Genetics means having natural strength, flexibility, speed, good positions, good arm lockout, and a complete lack of fear in jumping under a heavy weight. Desire means that the lifter is totally focused on improving his weightlifting results. He thinks and dreams about weightlifting progress 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. This attribute cannot be understated. Without desire even the best genetics means nothing.

In addition to genetics and desire, there are four other factors which are extremely important for success. These factors are beginning age, efficient technique, a knowledgeable coach, and a sensible training program. Beginning age means the age when one starts training. I think one should start training at the age of 10 or 11. If a lifter did start lifting at the age of 10, then he would have ten years of training and experience by the time he is 20; then, he can still compete in the Junior World Championships. This is a similar time span to those lifters that he would be completing against.

Efficient technique means moving automatically and extremely fast in sending (pulling), receiving (jumping under the bar) and jerking. The best technicians only need to pull the bar to a height which is a few inches above their bottom position in the snatch or clean; the final inches of height is done with momentum as the lifter is already jumping under the bar.

Having a knowledgeable coach and a sensible training program is also important. A knowledgeable coach means that this person is a good teacher and mentor. Without a knowledgeable coach, the lifter will probably be old and gray before he has learned all factors which are needed to become successful. A sensible training program means one that works for the lifter. Some opinions about training will be provided in the next section.

If a lifter has the right combination of these key ingredients, then I think he will be very successful; however, there may be no combination which will guarantee one will become a World or Olympic Champion. Often times intangibles such as avoiding injuries and having good luck comes into play.
Training Approaches
There have been many training approaches which have been used over the years. I have seen the popularity of the Polish, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Soviet Union training programs to name a few. All of these training systems have produced World or Olympic Champions. The search for the “compete and ultimate” training system will never end.

I firmly believe that the best training system is the one that the lifter and his coach believe in. Having said that, I and others are on the same page regarding what we think that program should consist of although we may have arrived at this opinion in different ways. That program is the lifts: full snatch and full clean and jerk plus some squats. I am now completely sold on that approach. For me, the road to this opinion was based on reading articles, talking to others, and trial and error experiments.

I will use myself as an example, not because I am a great lifter, but rather because I believe trying a new training approach will teach you more about that approach then you could ever learn by reading about it or trying it on someone else. I have found
that the more the lifter concentrates on technique, flexibility, positions and speed, the better his lifting is. As I mentioned earlier, I am now completely sold on doing the lifts and some squats. I started training this way about 3 years ago. I found that one only needs to do singles in all exercises. However, doubles are done in the lifts up to 70 percent, but the lifter does all singles above 70 percent; some doubles in the squat with weights above 70 percent is acceptable but not to an extreme. I prefer front squats as I have found they have good carryover value for doing the lifts, but doing some back squats is also acceptable. I no longer believe in the other traditional exercises such as power snatches, power cleans, pulls, and deadlifts as I think they have very poor or negative carryover value for doing the lifts. After finding out that these exercises are not needed, training really became “fun” again.

The point I am trying to make in relating my training experiences is that if these ideas can work for me at my age, I honestly believe that they will work for the young ones who are strong, hungry, and full of energy. This is how most of the successful lifters in the countries of champions are now training.

Ideally, I think a typical training day would go something like the following. Do snatches and then take about a 30-45 minute break. Do clean and jerks and then take another break which is then followed by squats. This would then be repeated later in the day and is done everyday. However, such ideal conditions are not always possible because of a variety of factors such as school, work, or family obligations. So another alternative would be to do the snatch, clean and jerk and squat without any of the breaks in between. This would be done only one time per day and “only” 6 days per week.

I also think the amount of time between sets is important. This time should be short and not be more then 60 seconds. Basically, it is enough time to load the bar and chalk one’s hands. This not only provides good conditioning, but it also prepares one for some of the worst case scenarios during a competition such as a short warm up time or taking three attempts in a row. One must always plan for the unexpected; and this type of preparation will help greatly. Then, if something does not go according to plan, it is a “walk in park” because one is prepared.

One’s technique must become completely automatic. Often times a good athlete will move slowly because he is thinking his way through the lift. He is thinking of too many points while performing the lift. One cannot think and move quickly. It is impossible as the lift is done in a fraction of a second. It is good to think of a few key points before doing the lift, but then one must clear his mind and just do it. I believe this is something that is learned; it is not instinctive. By doing full lifts all the time and with some good instruction from the lifter’s knowledgeable coach, this will be learned quickly and become automatic.

Questions and comments about how to train a beginning lifter come up time and time again. I think that beginning lifters should just do the lifts and front squats because this will develop strength and perfect technique. The importance of developing efficient technique from the very beginning cannot be understated as correcting bad habits later is a real challenge. I used to wonder what might be possible in terms of results if one would train this way. But I no longer do. All one has to do is read the results of the international meets. The results speak for themselves.

Of the modern day champions, there have been 4 lifters who have won 3 consecutive Olympic Gold Metals. These athletes are Halil Mutlu, Naim Suleymanoglu, Pyrros Dimas and Akakios Kakiasvilis. They are Champions of Champions; they were at the top for an extended period of time. Mutlu and Suleymanoglu have also cleaned and jerked triple bodyweight which to me speaks volumes in terms of efficient technique. I find it interesting that from all accounts that I have read or heard, their training consisted of the snatch, clean and jerk and some squats. Many will say that this is the “Bulgarian System”, but I question that; I will not call it the “Bulgarian System”.

Actually this type of training dates back to at least the 1950s. In the old days, Tommy Kono and Pete George told me that their training basically consisted of doing the lifts and some squats. The great Bob Bednarski also told me the same before Bulgaria really became a power in international weightlifting. Thus, I think this training approach may well be a US training approach; perhaps it is not really a Bulgarian training approach. It is sad that I (and others) could not see the forest for the trees way back then.

Bottom Line
This is a new day; and much is possible. I would like to suggest that all of this training has but one purpose. That purpose is to succeed in major competitions and do one’s best when it counts in the heat of battle. For those few who have prepared well, they are now completely self-sufficient and can successfully deal with even the most trying conditions which can happen during a competition. These lifters can walk up to a competition platform at any time of the day or night, and without any support from coaches, family or friends, they will do their best. These lifters have an almost unbelievable mental focus and control which will now make them successful beyond anything that can be imagined.