Written by: Kevin Cann
In a conversation with John Flagg (might have been on the Clinical Athlete podcast) he had pointed out that my training style is very similar to the training style of many weightlifters. To be honest I have never thought about that before.
Weightlifting is the yacht club of the strength sports; I don’t want my reputation being destroyed by that getting out there. This sparked an interest in the sport of weightlifting for me.
I got Quinn Henoch on the podcast to chat programming stuff. I found this podcast “Weightlifting House” that is very good and definitely not just for weightlifters, and I got some good information on the training of various national teams within the sport.
When I first started working with Jeremy Hartman, he told me to watch this documentary on Pyros Dymas, the famous Greek weightlifter. I developed a fascination with the Greek weightlifting system here.
Dymas did spend quite a bit of time in the Soviet System before the current day Greek system. As did the rest of that Greek weightlifting Dream Team. I know in Russia every kid does gymnastics and does not specialize in a sport until they are a little older.
This is how the Greek system is today as well. Children are encouraged to play as many sports as possible and specialization does not come until later. Year 1 of weightlifting seems to be unloaded positions of the clean and jerk and the snatch and GPP stuff like jumps and pull-ups. This is also similar to the Soviet System.
Year 2, the Greeks only perform 8 exercises. The front and back squat, the Olympic lifts, and a couple variations of the Olympic lifts. They hit a maximal attempt only 1 time every 2 weeks at this stage. The majority of the work is done between 80-85% of 1RM.
In the 3rdyear of training the exercises drop down to just 4. They hit maximal attempts every 4thor 5thweek. During that training block after the acquiring of a new max, they work up to 100% very frequently, sometimes multiple times per day.
The advanced athletes are even required to take it when they know they will miss. The Greeks see benefits to missing weights. Every 3rdor 4thweek is a lighter week with a drop in volume and only working up to 85% of 1RM.
Every year they have a transition period that lasts 15-20 days where they are eased back into the handling of maximal attempts. This fascinates me because their program is only 4 exercises. There are not variations and there is zero accessory work.
Dymas competed in 4 straight Olympics at a gold medal level in this system. Part of that long-term success requires you to stay healthy. I am sure the coach makes day to day decisions in the gym. In any high level weightlifting gym there is always a coach sitting there a few feet away.
This has really got me thinking over the last year. How important is variation and how important are accessories? Time is a constraint and we need to maximize our time in the gym to drive high level performance.
I find variation to be very important. Many powerlifters played sports growing up, many did not. I think building up strength at various angles is our way of addressing the chances that the lifter specialized in another sport early in life or did not play sports at all. Americans get into this sport later in life.
I also find variations to be important for skill development. There are more efficient ways to lift than others. Variation allows each lifter to explore those movements and find the ones that work best. The coach can place constraints on these movements that help guide that process.
All skills and strength follow a non-linear pattern. When one skill regresses, another better be there to pick it up. For example, maybe you pull sumo, but you start to see a decline in sumo performance. If you train conventional hard and make sure you can lift numbers close to your best, you can switch and potentially hit a PR. We see this at times with PPS.
Variation also gives you a wide skillset to pick from. Let us say that a lifter gets stuck at the knees with the sumo deadlift because they were out of position off the floor. This most likely looks very similar to a conventional deadlift for the back. If the lifter has that skill with a conventional, they have a stronger chance of locking out that weight.
I choose to use many different exercises in my training than just a few for those reasons. I could go on with that as well, but you guys get the point. As for accessories (think bodybuilding type work) I have always been skeptical.
It just does not make sense to me that a 50lbs chest fly is going to help you bench 400lbs. I get the theory a bigger muscle has more potential, blah blah blah. Your body adapts to the stressors placed upon it. Muscle growth will occur from training the lifts, more is not necessary.
I have used this argument in the past, that accessories help to increase load tolerance at joints and may help to reduce injury risk. This theory is also nice, but just not true. Fact is, we don’t know shit about what causes injuries.
Tendons and ligaments don’t respond better to light weights and higher reps to help protect you from heavier weights. I think we may believe this stuff because accessories help to control loads. Lifters tend to “leave room” in the program for the accessories.
Increasing performance and reducing injury risk is a contradictory statement. You need to do more to perform at a higher level. Doing more increases injury risk. As a coach we need to take the information that we have and make day to day decisions based off of that information. Basically, don’t train like an asshole.
As a coach we need to educate each lifter to understand what pain is and what it isn’t, and we need to create an environment that allows them to learn those lessons in the gym as well. Through education and smart training we can build resilient lifters.
Over time we give them the tools to navigate painful situations and to keep training. Self-efficacy decreases disability. Self-efficacy also increases strength through developing the skill of training. Making good decisions that allows the lifter to get the most out of each training day.
Over time we get more high quality training days (doing more), and less missed training days (injury risk), but that is all that we can do. We don’t understand enough about injuries to say that we should spend time with accessories as they are “protective.” Shit will happen at some point. Lifters should expect it, not fear it, and be equipped to deal with it.
Going into Nationals, we are dumping all accessories out of the program. We are going to spend time doing the things that we know will make us stronger. I like how the Greeks setup training. We aren’t going to just do singles as grinding out a rep in powerlifting might take around 10 seconds. We need to be prepared for that.
However, we train heavy every single day in the gym. We will continue to do that. That is the sport. This just requires the coach and the lifter to pay attention as training becomes a lot more than numbers on a spreadsheet. This is the new standard.