What If I Were An Olympic Coach
17 July 2005
What If I were an Olympic Coach
by, Louie Simmons
In 1968 Jan Talts of the USSR said his training consisted of 90% power work and 10% actual competitive lifts. By doing this, he became one of the greatest lifters of all time. I recall him moving up to 110 kg. (actual weight roughly 100 kg.) and soundly defeating Bob Bednarski at the 1970 World Championships in Columbus, Ohio. If this system worked for him, why not me? Thus by using the training of the Soviets and modifying the special exercises to fit into powerlifting, I have developed the strongest power club in the world. In the United States, Olympic lifters have the Olympic Training Center, a national coach, and money in their budget. In fact, the Olympic lifter has everything that a powerlifter does not, yet the United States powerlifters rule the world, while our Olympic lifter brothers drag up the rear at international meets. I ask you, how can this be? Olympic lifters have a lot of excuses, none valid. This brings me to the title "What if" I trained Olympic Lifters?
If I were an Olympic lifting coach, I would first teach how one should train. A major mistake is doing the two lifts too often. Good training requires variety. I have said before that everything works, but nothing works forever.
The dynamic method with submaximal weight should be employed. This method is very effective with the correct percentages. I would recommend using weights between 60 and 80% of max to start with. A lifter who can clean 400 would start with 240 for the first week of training. The lifter would perform 12 cleans with short rest periods between sets (45 seconds to start with) and then 12 power snatches with the same percent and the same rest time between sets. If a lifter's best snatch is 330, the weight is 198.
Jump 5% a week, and repeat 12 cleans and snatches at 65%. At 70% and 75% reduce the lifts to nine each. When you reach 80%, I recommend eight lifts each, for a total of 16. You are now employing the dynamic method with submaximal weight. You have also established a rest period. When using relatively light weights, short rest intervals are crucial. One should never let the body recuperate. If this happens, the athlete is doing nothing. Naturally, the lifter must use maximum force and always try to accelerate the bar.
The lifts should only be done once time per week. Lifters in the United States spend too much time on the quick lifts. The reasons is twofold. First, the bar speed is too quick, for the most part. A weight can move too fast to develop max force. The weight selection is critical. As regards the velocity-force curve (a concept you should be familiar with), the bar should have a sufficient amount of weight to achieve the force factor and a certain amount of speed to supply the velocity. If you understand this, you may begin to see the problem. The olympic lifter may move the bar so fast that force is neglected.
Remember what I said about weight selection. Let me illustrate by talking about throwing an object with a certain arm speed. Arm movement represents your absolute strength. If I throw a whiffle ball, it won't go very far because it's too light for max force to exist. Now if I throw a shot put, it doesn't go very far either because it's too heavy; thus no velocity is developed. However, if I throw a baseball, it will go a great distance because I have found a balance between force and velocity. This balance is found by doing velocity work with the Olympic lifts, and force work with special exercises in a controlled method known as the conjugate method. Foreign lifters have said the U.S. lifters lack strength, and I see the same thing. But no one seems to have an answer. I do. To suceed at weight lifting, a number of things are required. First you must be very strong.
This is where special exercises come in. If you think you must clean, for example, to be good at the clean, you are wrong, at least partly. I have seen a strong man clean 250 the first time he tried. How did he make that initial clean with no formal training? It was done through other physical activity. If he only concentrated on the clean, it is doubtful that he would ever double his effort to 500. However, if he used special exercises to develop the correct pulling muscles, he would have a much better chance.
It is known that to become a better miler, one has to increase his ability to sprint as well as increase stamina to the point of performing more and more work by doing multiple sets of runs at specific distances. At the same time, the rest periods between runs must be shortened. Also special exercises must be done to advance his progress. This is true in weightlifting as well.
The second reason why too much time on the quick lifts is that if a lifter cleans and snatches all the time, it can lead to overdevelopment in some major muscle groups, while neglecting others. I'm sure that if you line up five weightlifters in a row, you will find that some have better traps, while lacking erector size, and some may have huge glutes, while others have hardly any glute development. This is because they have different structures. Special exercises can counteract this.
When using the conjugate method, you must work your weaknesses first. If your traps are the weak link, work them first with pulls from boxes, snatch grip deadlift shrugs, or one-arm snatches. You will develop max force through heavy weights lifted at a slow tempo. If your pulls, good mornings, back raises, squats, etc., go up, your clean and jerk and snatch will go up as well.
We have a junior (22 year old) 275 pounder who is the only junior to hold the open world record in the bench press at 728.5 pounds. He actually exceeded the 308 world record, the only man to do this. He trains the bench press with 365 for eight to ten sets of triples, barely 50% of his max. How is this possible? This is accomplished through special exercises for the bench press. The triples are done in a very explosive manner, followed by triceps, delt, and lat work. The second workout consists of rack work, floor press, or board press for a max single. We don't care how slow or hard the lifts are on this day. This is the max effort method. We don't even care if a lift is missed, because at least he is putting forth maximum effort. He will do a certain major exercise for two or three weeks and then switch. By doing this, he maintains velocity on one day and max effort on the other day 52 weeks a year.
What's my point? You can do the same, by doing the multiple sets with submaximal weights and building explosive strength, and build amazing brute strength throughout the year with pulls off at least four different height boxes. Pick a certain box and max out for two or three weeks. Then switch to a different box and repeat. The pulls should be followed by some type of good morning. There should be a wide variety of exercises to choose from, and the number of exercises should be limited to four or five per workout. Don't do what you like to do; rather do what you need to do.
I am amazed to hear that the squat is overrated as far as developing the Olympic lifts. Remember Paul Anderson? He was an unreal squatter. Paul was light-years ahead of everyone in the squat, and at the same time he catapulted himself ahead of everyone on the Olympic platform. The increase in his squat paralleled his success in the Olympic lifts. After Paul visited the USSR and astounded them, they began to build squat racks. They soon realized the benefits of the squat. I hear all the time that one only has to squat with 10% more than their best clean and jerk (C&J). But why then do we hear of monster squats by the European SHWs (900 pounds and more)? Well, if my math is correct, they are doing a lot more than 10% over their C&J. The same holds true for D. Aranda of Cuba, a junior world record holder in the C&J with 402. He squats a deep 617. The 175 pound difference is well over 10%!
The squat can be the equalizer for the U.S. lifters. I recall that Kurlovich said the squat had no correlation to the C&J. That may be true for him because of his particular body structure. He quite possibly is built in a way that the legs and low back work heavily in all exercises. But not everyone is in this category. It is true that the squat could increase to the point where it would not help the C&J and snatch, but remember Kurlovich? He claimed a 400 kg. squat. The ability to do 881 could have been the reserve he needed to do those massive snatches and C&J's."
The U.S. lifters need to increase their squat poundages for the main purpose of increasing their absolute strength in the hips, low back, and legs. The squat should be a mojor part of training. Most of the training should be between 50 and 70%. I have a 165 pound lifter that trains with 8 to 12 sets of two reps. Short rest periods are a must (45 to 60 seconds) between sets. He trains with 405-435 and his best contest squat is 722. As you can see, he never uses more than 60%. The same is true for my 220. He never handles a weight over 500, yet made an easy 843 at the Worlds. That is also 60% for his sets of two reps. I have many examples of the 60% rule. Everyone at Westside squats one time a week, followed by a variety of low back and ab work. This is our dynamic method.
We also have a maximum effort day. We manage these great poundages through a high volume of training, coupled with roughly 40 special exercises, using only two or three at a time and rotating them every two or three weeks; this is called conjugate training. If your snatch grip deadlift goes up 50 pounds along with an increase in your high pulls off boxes, your calf-ham-glute and back raises, and your squats, then your snatch is increased. You must set records in many special exercises. Pick a group of exercises that work well for you and rotate them every two or three weeks.
My methods are the reverse of everyone else's. For example, if my lifter does a C&J with 402 and we are trying to compete with a lifter who is capable of 462, my training goal is to bring up the strength to that of our competitor by working towards being equal to his high pulls, squats, back raises, good mornings, etc. When we become equal to him in the special exercises, we will be equal to his 462. The U.S. lifters have the techinal skills but lack a high level of special strength, which can only be developed through special exercises. Progress in a lift does not stall; rather, a particular muscle group stalls. If our bench press stalls, we simply do more special work on the triceps, delts, upper back or lats. That is what is holding back the bench press, not the bench press itself.
I would use the same systrem for the Olympic lifts. Only a few have a perfect balance of muscle groups. Everyone else needs to do a higher volume of work for certain muscle groups. I am certain you have seen lifters with tremendous traps with mediocre erectors or just the opposite. Just look at the photo in MILO, Vol. 3, No. 2, page 31, of Pisarenko doing snatch pulls off a bench. Note first his balanced physical development. Certainly some of it comes from special pulls, such as thoses in the photo. Why do some Russian lifters do snatch pulls while standing in knee-high water? These special exercises
enable them to kick out butt. There is no excuse for a U.S. lifter not to be on page 31 of that issue of MILO.
With a high volume of reverse hypers, belt squats, kneeling squats, and special work with chains for pulling, learning how and why box squatting should be incorporated into training, knowing what percentage and how much volume to use, doing some eccentric, isokinetic, static, and dynamic work and many special exercises, we could move up considerably in the world of weightlifting. If we are to have a chance at the world level, we must learn how to train. If there is an excuse to fall back on, it is not knowing how to train. I would like to say something about Gary Taylor. Here is an unbelievably strong man. Did you notice that he is strong in just about everything he does? I would guess that one exercise contributed to the progress of the next exercise. This is exactly what I am talking about. One needs a widee array of exercises. I am quite sure Gary could still do well in weightlifting and take his fair share of powerlifting trophies as well. Is he a throwback to lifters like Ernie Pickett, Fred Lowe, and Russell Knipp, or is he what should be the future of weightlifting? Mixing an assortment of special exercises to excel in cleaning ability and his unreal push jerk, I think he exemplifies the latter.
Powerlifters sometimes will use the Olympic lifts to help their speed. It would be wise to do special exercises in slow tempo to develop max force in the Olympic lifts. Special exercises will not destroy form, but will in fact bring good form together by reinforcing the weak links. We know that there are six phases in the snatch. I find it hard to believe that each phase is equally developed in most lifters. Find the weak phase and strengthen it through special means. I find a similar problem in the squat. Most lifters base the amount of their squat poundages off their C&J. But American lifters' C&J are so weak that it holds the squat back. Push the squats along with the pulls. Don't do it the other way around. It's not the C&J that should dictate the squats and pulls, but vice versa. The number of training workouts should be between four and a maximum of eight. For now, over eight would lead to overtraining. Once the work capacities are raised, then and only then would more workouts be added. I would raise workloads by reverse hypers and belt squats. Both have rehabilitation qualities and strength building potential. Exercises like walking barbell or dumbbell lunges and static squats against a wall would also be used to raise work capacity. Hip flexor work with either hanging or lying leg raises, one-leg swings, or spread eagle sit-ups would be done. Overhead support work must be done from the front, back, and seated. Different grips would be used. Lots of work for the torso, glutes and hamstrings is needed.
We need to view training tapes of the best lifters between major meets to see what made them strong. We must learn to max out on special exercises to test our strength gains. Learn the difference between a training max and a contest max. I have found success by changing routines and exercises to fit the individual lifter. The body is always changing and so must the training for constant progress."