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How should we then train without drugs?

One can go deep down into many different rabbit holes in attempting to answer this question. I will address two main topics in answering this question. First, we must address the training methods of lifters who take drugs that we should emulate here in the U.S. and don’t. Second, address the training methods of said lifters that we should refrain from doing that will lead to injury if not on drugs.

In addressing the first topic, let me pose a question. Where’s the fire? I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen this scenario play out. Coach finds an athlete with talent, teaches him or her the lifts. Once the athlete gets a rudimentary or basic technical command of these lifts then is thrown into intense training that is too much too soon and the athlete gets overtrained, progress halts, and eventually injured and quits the sport. The same coach will continue this process Ad nauseum. The successful lifers who are retired or serving suspensions did not start their lifting careers like this. Some started at younger ages than others. There are World and Olympic champions from numerous countries who didn’t start weightlifting until their late teens. So what did their coaches do that ours largely don’t? Take their time.

Every weightlifting champion we see are developed for years before they began intense training with heavy workloads and frequency. The first 2-3 years of training is devoted to developing flexibility, mobility, technique and strength. They understand it’s a process with years of planned development. In Russian the word training is synonymous with practice. A training session is a practice session in which the lifter concludes training tired and fatigued but nowhere near the point of exhaustion I frequently see in the U.S. Years later, once a lifter has had success in competing internationally, they continue to work on the fundamentals of training they began with, mobility and flexibility.

Today we have unprecedented access to weightlifting champions and how they train through media organizations like hookgrip’s website and youtube page and weightlifting seminars these champions conduct. Through these outlets we see champions from around the globe take lengthy warmups and warmdowns after training and work exclusively on flexibility and core work during each training session. During a weightlifting seminar in North Carolina Ilya Ilyin did over 30 sets of hanging leg raises. He had just returned to training after a year off and was doing a lot of stretching and mobility work. If mobility, flexibility and core strength is important for lifters on drugs then why isn’t it a top priority here in the U.S.? One of the golden nuggets that can lead us to international success is demonstrated by champions (or perhaps better put former champions) over and over yet we largely skip it and go right into the type of training we should not do.

If we are going to train drug free and be competitive Internationally the emphasis of training must be quality over quantity. We have to take more measures to ensure recovery which include less frequent training sessions, and modifying the intensity and workloads of each training session based on how the lifter feels physically. To do otherwise will result diminishing returns or worse injury. We cannot expect to recover from training as quickly as someone on drugs so why do I see many lifters following the same programs as those are? The logical equivalent of this would be to take a team of All American high school football players and put them in a game of full contact with All Pro players in the NFL. The outcome would not only be embarrassing, it would also have a multitude of EMT’s busy driving the high school players to the ER.

So how should we then train? For starters there’s no rush. We can imitate how Russia, China and other countries develop their beginners. Slowly, with an emphasis on mobility, flexibility and technique for the first 2-3 years of training. The book “A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting” by A.S Medvedyev ( is a great resource which inlcudes programs for the frst 5 years of training We can’t imitate how they train advanced lifters on drugs so we must evaluate where each lifter you coach is at in their development and take on 1-2 things at a time. If a lifters is strong and needs to develop technically then back off on squats and assistance exercises and focus on proper technical movement patterns and drill drill drill. If a lifter has reached the level where strength and technique are even then it’s time to back off on the lifts and gain more strength.

In closing let me urge readers to look a the bigger picture, Is it your goal to simply produce national champions and world team members or is it to produce International champions? I’m more focused on the later. With stricter drug testing and penalties for doping violations we have an opportunity going into this quad like we’ve never had before to ensure that at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, we have several U.S. lifters standing on top of the medal podium.

For further study check out these podcasts.

Interview with longtime men’s gymnastics coach Christopher Summer.

Interview with Pavel Tsatsouline. Master of Sport in Weightlifting. Best selling author on kettlebell training and conditioning.

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