Olympic Lifting Then And Now
8 June 2005
Thoughts on Training Before and Now
Back in the 60's when I began lifting, the steps were (as with most lifters of that period) first to perfect the lifting movements and second to build strength. The lifts themselves were not (with exceptions) often thought of as the primary strength building movements. Assistance movements such as shrugs, pulls form various heights, snatch & clean dead lifts, good mornings, squats, etc. were done generally in sets of 3-5 or so to increase the lifts. Full lifts for the most part were done to test ones' progress. Then usually, as a meet approached, the assistance movements were tapered off and the full movements were peaked up aiming for a max or pr performance on contest day.
Strength and Health magazine was the primary source of lifting information with articles on the training of the top the lifters of the time. Most of us were self-coached making up routines based on this information plus the input from fellow lifters. The goal was to create a routine which would over a specified period of time, increase ones' lifts. My routine was based loosely on the Hungarian system which cycled exercises whose poundage's were percentages of a projected total to be hopefully achieved at the end of a cycle. I feared (as did many others) that performing heavy full lifts too often would result in staleness and thus the reasoning for a cycling type program.
After a meet, depending on the results, the same routine with new peak weights was setup for the next contest cycle or if the planned total was not attained, it was "back to the drawing board". Usually drastic changes were not made but rather minor adjustments to the basic routine incorporated always looking for that "secret" combination of exercises and percentages that would produce improvement. Whether or not this type of training produces the maximum results is not at all convincing.
Now, after being retired from competitive lifting for some 16 years, I have become aware of the "Bulgarian System" devised by the long time Bulgarian coach Abadzhiev and convinced that this is the "secret". Bud Charniga, Eleiko distributor, long time friend and fellow lifter who covers major international lifting events, has had many conversations with world class lifters and coaches about lifting and training. Lou DeMarco, another long time friend, coach and lifter had many discussions with Bud regarding European training and coaching. The consensus was that many of the world champions and world elite lifters were using some form of Abadzhievs' system. Lou called me about a year ago describing the basics of the system.
Being entrenched in the past training practices, I was highly skeptical at the time. Shortly after, Steve Gough, a long time coach and proponent of Abadzhievs' system, invited me out to watch two lifters he was coaching in Ennis, Mt. (At the time, I was unaware that Steve had been using this system for some 15 years with excellent results, one being his son, Tom, an outstanding lifter being a national record holder and champion and Olympian).
Quite frankly, driving home after seeing the boys train working up to 95-100+ percent attempts in the snatch & c&j, I told myself these guys are going to burnout within a few weeks- WRONG! After a month and with more information on the system, the logic or the program became clear to me.
It can be said that Abadzhiev saw the trees in spite of the forest. As a young gymnast he formulated his basic training ideas and spoke out on them. He was, of course, ridiculed by all of the coaches. After switching to lifting and applying his ideas, he trained himself to a silver medal at the 1953 world championships. Outstanding, to say the least. Finally, after the miserable Bulgarian showing in the 1968 Olympics, the powers to be, decided that they had nothing to lose by giving Abadzhiev a chance to coach the national team. The rest is as they say, "history".
The logic of the system is straight forward. As in other Olympic sports, lifting is highly specialized and requires specific motor pathways and nervous energy. For these functions to be maximized for optimum results, other movements must be avoided as they only corrupt them. As a crude example, a world champion in the decathlon does not hold any world records in any of the individual events or in a more narrowed example, a 100m sprint winner is very rarely a winner in the 200m event.
Single attempts, after a warm-up, as one would do when competing, adding squats (mostly singles also) for standup strength is the basis for the system. As in
Competition, the top poundages are striven for including prs when ever possible. The premise being that the body adapts to this type of competition single attempt training. To the old fear of "burning out" one will notice that although the intensity is very high, the load is not. I now believe that in those early days, the burnouts were probably caused by the nervous drain of high assistance movement loads and not by heavy single lifts.
In the engineering field, it is said that any engineer can design a complicated apparatus to perform a specific function but it is the truly talented engineer who can design a simple machine to perform as well if not better. It would seem that Abadzhiev is that talented engineer who has not been given the credit and recognition that he deserves. The champions he trained all know his genius but all of those so called "experts" because of pure jealousy refuse to acknowledge his accomplishments and give him the respect he earned.
I would urge lifters and coaches to examine this system and apply it whenever possible. The "secret" is out and it's time to put the "drawing board" out front at the curb on Monday morning.