Trying to emulate the same training as Ilya, Lu, or Okulov, is one of the most common mistakes you see as a weightlifter. When people want to train like the top guys, they generally have the best intentions and a sense of logic behind their statement. Why not train how the best in the world train, because that must be how to become the best in the world. The problem is this is flawed logic. To become the best in the world we must look not at what they are doing now, but more what they were doing 3 years into the sport.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. Many top weightlifters started when they were very young, before they had hit puberty. For this reason, they were training their neural patterning more so than creating any hypertrophy, as the necessary hormones involved in their muscular development were not present. Even so, the current theme amongst beginner weightlifters in the dominant countries is as follows: attempt to master technique, whilst becoming as muscularly balanced a human as is possible. Building the base with carries, rows of all types, core stability, pulls, presses, squats, handstands, broad jumps, even running. Ilya Ilyin, the best weightlifter of the modern era, said that when he was younger he would ‘run around the gym doing all of the exercises’. At the point of muscular balance, they can start pushing their strength levels. The goal is not to be the best 16-year-old weightlifter; the goal is to be the best weightlifter. This will not occur until the 20s, and the coaches know this.
Of course our athletes tend to start weightlifting later in life, and as such are able to develop their musculature immediately. Some have a decent foundation through competing in sports at school for years. But the majority of us who start weightlifting in our early 20s or even 30s are not model, balanced athletes. Pushing top range strength and power (1RM squats, deadlifts, cleans etc) is a poor idea. We have years of muscular weakness and imbalances to fight with and correct. Years of sitting over a computer, years of sitting slumped on chairs, kicking a football with the same leg, or a dominant arm from tennis. These are all issues which must be addressed, as the barbell will help manifest and expose these problems. And so with this in mind, a more general, preparatory training regime must be adopted. I wish I had done far more work unilaterally as I was growing up in this sport, more time developing my back, my legs, and especially my hamstrings. Despite my logic, pulls did not develop my hamstrings, they only reinforced the problem. My dominant lower back took over and continued to grow, leaving me with a pelvic tilt and a very injured back, along with other imbalances I have from rowing.
Now back to the original topic. These top athletes that you see have very specific training programs with individualised amounts of volume, intensity, and exercise selection. They have targeted their weaknesses for years, and as such can afford to focus solely on the lifts. For the rest of we must think not what is Ilya doing, or what is Rahimov doing, but what was Rahimov doing. What was Rahimov doing 3 years into the sport? If we start doing this, we may be able to prevent injury and develop our bodies into the machines that these lifters are. We must have a broad exercise selection, we must do a vast amount of spatial exercises, we must strengthen our core, we must reduce our imbalances.
And so as a final note to the reader. Add in some assistance work. Do not rely on the snatch, clean and jerk, and deadlift to balance you out as they will not. Add in lunges, single arm rows, leg raises, single arm farmers walks, presses, GHR. As the wise Louie Simmons says, ‘a pyramid is only as tall as its base’.
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