Ian is about as accomplished as any weightlifter can be, and when you learn of the injuries he has acquired along the way, his story is even more impressive.
Ian’s career began at the age of 12 back in 2006 with his dad as his coach. Not long after he began training occasionally with Team California Strength way before it became what it is today, back when its main lifters consisted of Donny Shankle, Martin Pashov, Caleb Ward, and Max Aita. Ian has always adopted a more Bulgarian style of training, with very few accessories, focusing more on the classic lifts at high intensities.
Ian also spent some time training at podium gold with the late Ivan Abadjiev from whom he learnt a lot, and also the incredibly gifted Albanian lifter Hysen Pulaku.
Having been riddled with injury for the last few years, undergoing both shoulder and knee surgery, as well as finding the time to study and finish school, Ian is now finally back to full time training and is already looking very strong! Having snatched 160kg, clean and jerked 195kg, and back squatted a PR triple at 255kg, it doesn’t seem he is too far from PR territory.
I have been a fan of Ian’s since I began lifting around four years ago, and so am incredibly excited to share this interview with everyone. Ian and I also plan on recording a podcast together at some point soon where we can go a little more in depth on his training and talk over some current weightlifting affairs. Post some questions in the comments and I’ll make sure I ask them to Ian when we catch up on the podcast.
Anyway without further ado, here is the interview...
Hi Ian, thank you so much for doing this. I think everyone reading this knows your numbers and accomplishments, and we probably don’t have room to fit them all in anyway! So could you give me the top 3 moments in your weightlifting career and why they were so important to you?
Thanks for including me in your interview series, Seb! This question is tough, but I’d say
2010 Youth Pan American Championships Gold – Because it was my first international win.
2011 World Youth Championships Silver – Because it was my first medal at a world event.
2014 Pan American Championships – This was both an American record as well as my first senior international medals.
Growing up in the sport as a young lifter you were surrounded by some big names. Donny Shankle, Martin Pashov, Dave Spitz, Jon North, Hysen Pulaku (one of my favourite lifters ever) … What was it like being a young kid lifting with such goliaths? Do you think that training with these guys helped create you as a lifter?
Training with them was fantastic and definitely helped me improve when training with them. I firmly believe that having someone out lift you is the single best way to reach your potential because it eliminates doubts as to whether lifting a given number is possible. Martin Pashov also told me early on to pick big numbers and work toward them every session with a focus on the ultimate goal rather than incrementally celebrating each kilo of progress.
You are one of the few lifters who trains with a Bulgarian style training system and clearly it has worked for you. Why do you find this to be the best way to train? And have you ever been tempted to just say screw it and hop on something totally different like LSUS?
I don’t do Abadjiev’s full Bulgarian system, but my training is focused on the classical lifts/putting the energy spent into the exercises with the greatest chance of helping my competition lifts. One way to think of it is with each deviation away from a competition style snatch or clean and jerk, the chances of improvements in that exercise translating into improvements on your competition lifts are lower. For example, by the time you are doing snatch off 3 blocks for triples with straps, your position is different, you’re using straps and you are doing reps, so there are a lot of added variables when compared to a competition snatch. At the same time, I’m not against accessory work if it’s for a specific purpose. After injuring my shoulder in 2014, I found snatch grip push presses advantageous during warm ups. I have been coached by other people when away from home on a different system and it ended as a total disaster when I strayed too far from the system I have always used.
I know you were coached by the late Ivan Abadjiev. What was it like having such a renowned coach? What are some of the lessons he taught you that have stuck ever since?
I only trained with Abadjiev once or twice per week when he was in California, but he was very influential. I’m sure other people have already said this, but one of the greatest takeaways was you can’t always be motivated, but you can always be disciplined.
You’ve made a point of saying in podcasts that you lift at least 10kg more in competition than you do in training, and that before you snatched the American record of 173 kg, you had only hit 158 kg in training in the build up. Can we expect another 15kg difference? That would put you at 175 which just so happens to be a new American Record…
A lot of my training numbers depend on my training situation. When I was hitting 15kg more than I did in training, I was training alone mostly in my friend’s grandparent’s garage without heating in the winter. When the combination of a taper, adrenaline and not being cold came together, I was ready and I was able to snatch 170kg at the 2014 Junior Nationals. I have snatched 160 twice recently, but my stability doesn’t feel quite right still since I had my knee operated on in July, so I won’t be ready for PRs quite yet.
What sort of shape are you in right now? It has been great seeing you post some big lifts recently, 160kg snatch, a 195kg clean and jerk, and most recently a PR squat triple at 255kg. Is that squat indicative of PRs on the horizon for you?
Hopefully PRs aren’t too far off, but I’m not quite ready for new records. If I can be over 95% of my PRs at nationals, I’ll be satisfied with my performance.
How are you doing now in terms of injury? It’s been a tough few years for you. We have all felt for you but also been excited to see you make a comeback to the top.
In addition to the injuries, I was trying to finish school which I did a few weeks ago. I wasn’t as focused on lifting as I was when doing my best lifting, but I hope to be back to setting PRs this year. Fortunately I don’t have anything torn or seriously injured now.
The 105s is a stacked class now! Other than yourself there’s D’Angelo, Wes Kitts, Donovan, Ethan… The standard has improved significantly over the last 2 years. Do you feel confident you can reclaim the crown? And what do you think has led to the improvement we have seen in this class?
I don’t like predictions because it is a tough field. USA Weightlifting in general is much more competitive than it was just a few years ago. There is a much greater participation and athletes now have opportunities through coaching and/or joining sponsored teams to not have to work full time jobs. These factors I attribute to the rise in USAW standards.
As a lifter who doesn’t do much in the way of variation, what is your take on the recent Westside Barbell outbreak? Some people think that it is the way forward for the American lifter. Do you agree?
I haven’t been following it. If what they teach works, the results will speak for themselves. If not, the results will speak for themselves.
I heard you say once that the two most important things in weightlifting are to keep the bar close and to move as fast as possible. Do you think people in the US tend to dedicate too much time to technique and need to spend more time at max weights?
Excluding major technical flaws, I do believe people spend too much time doing technique work at light weights and not enough at heavier weights. Each athlete has different proportions, strengths, weaknesses and flexibility. These all contribute to different styles of technique, not just one.
If you could train with any two lifters, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
There are so many, I’ll just pick two from the past. Ronny Weller because of his speed and intensity and Stefan Botev because of his ability to go after endless heavy singles.
The two lifters who stand out to me at the moment are Rahimov with his 214 kg clean and jerk, and Lasha with his 217 kg snatch and world record total. What are your thoughts on these two lifters?
Internationally, those two are fantastic. Georgia is doing very well now with Asandizde, and Kakhiashvili in the federation. Rahimov’s victory in Rio was one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of the sport and his explosiveness looks second to none. Kianoush Rostami and Ruslan Nurudinov also stand out as fantastic international lifters, but I am honestly most excited to see how some of our young lifters do in the future. CJ Cummings and Harrison Maurus, of course, are the most prominent of them, but there are probably 10 others I have watched with world class potential who are up and coming.
Finally, which exercise is most likely to help me move from intermediate to advanced? Drop kettlebell snatches on a bosu ball, or hang split cleans with bands? Or would you advise differently?
I would just recommend always working on your weakest link in your lifts. It’s not as fun, but the improved results from this kind of training makes hard training worth it.
Once again I'd like to thank Ian for being our first guest on Weightlifting House Interviews.
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