Norik Vardanian

Norik Vardanian – Five Things I Learned

This is a series in which we will attempt to collect, reflect on, and make sense of the great information given to us by the growing number of coaches and athletes we have interviewed on the podcast. You can see the rest of the series here

Norik Vardanian is a weightlifter who, in my opinion, is the gold standard for efficient movement (check out a compilation of his lifts here ). His snatch and clean are incredibly fluid, demonstrating a masterful feel and control of the barbell. During his interview on the Weightlifting House podcast (you can find it at the bottom of this article) he explained why particular exercises are superior for aiding in the development of that style of lifting. It was a discussion packed full of great information and even better stories. Here are the Five Things I thought were most relevant from the Norik Vardanian interview.

For those who may not be familiar with Norik, a quick bio will make you aware of his athletic achievements and level of dedication to the sport. Norik has been competing in weightlifting since 2002. He has trained since 1999/2000, initially coached by his dad Yurik Vardanian, according to Sinclair score, the second-greatest weightlifter of all-time. Norik has competed in the Olympics and is a multiple-time National champion for both the USA and Armenia, having held an American record in the snatch for a period of time.

Now let’s get on to learning from one of the best weightlifters in the USA.

1 – Longevity is Key

Norik speaks at length about the importance of a steady progression for weightlifters throughout their initial years in the sport. This is an especially relevant point for younger lifters. Movement quality should be prioritized and the allure of succeeding early on at the price of long-term development isn’t worth the tradeoff in a potentially shortened or less-realized career. Repeated success, the ability to display mastery over and over is the mark, in Norik’s mind, of getting the most out of your talents.

“If you’re not lasting 10+ years I don’t even want to talk about you as far as being one of the best. You’ve got to be durable in the sport and you have to last.”

2 – People Want Big Weights too Early

Branching off from the first point is the need, or desire, for big weights too early in a lifter’s career. For me, this comes down to the need for reproducibility. If you make a majority of your lifts, but they are poorly performed, sloppy, and generally inefficient it will be tough to repeat that result over and over, year after year, continually putting more weight on the bar. Granted, at some point, when lifting maximal weights your technique will potentially start to worsen, but up to that point everything should look and move identically. Athletes and coaches should look to develop such a reliable and efficient technique that, when on a competition platform and you are incredibly nervous, your movement won’t let you down.

Norik goes on to say that, “technique is much more important than strength” and “strength is a lot easier to come”. Basically, the weights will be there eventually. If you put in the time to develop a feel for the bar, crisp movements, and efficiency, building strength should be less of an issue.

“I like to set the technique first… If it looks gross we aren’t going up. You’ve got to make it look good before you want to go bigger.”

3 – Place Governors on the Lifts

No foot movement, no contact, no hook grip, all of these snatch variations have a place in training, not just because of their ability to help someone’s technique. These variations will inherently limit the amount of weight you can lift in the snatch or clean, so that the intensities of the competition lifts will vary throughout the training week. Norik says that a challenging no hook, no foot movement snatch will feel like a max effort lift, but will only be ~80% of your best full snatch. Adding in these movements throughout the week will undulate the training intensity enough to allow for overloading and then to allow for an appropriate amount of restoration.

“If I do a no foot snatch with 140 that’s like me snatching 150, 155 with moving my feet… That 140 is way less damage on my body and I can come in the next day and feel just as good.”

4 – The Importance of Coordinating Hip and Knee Extension During the Finish

In an age where weightlifters are consumed by hip use and bar contact during the snatch, Norik is practicing and preaching nearly the opposite. He discusses at length the importance of coordinating hip and knee extension to create a completely vertical finish. The use of the variations mentioned above allow him to dial in this bar trajectory. No foot and no contact lifts highlight the need for less aggressive hips and a more balanced movement. Overusing the hips without proper knee extension puts swing on the bar and “the chances of you catching it in a perfect position is way less lightly”.

“In weightlifting we want that vertical movement… If that bar is moving forward away from us it is not doing us any good, but if that bar goes up if gives me more time to get under it.”

5 – Drug Culture Runs Deeper than you Think

We all know that performance-enhancing drugs have been a long-term fixture in the sport of weightlifting despite the ramifications of their use (bans, medals stripped). Just how deep this runs in each individual country’s training system is more complicated than we think. Norik, who competed under the banner of Armenia and then the USA, details the strategy of Armenia to get around doping regulations. Apparently, local pharmacies even sell most of the drugs.

“Definitely that’s the norm, it’s just expected. If you lift weights, you take supplements.”

Norik goes on to say that higher-level athletes will return from a lay-off after a major meet and on day one they resume their drug use. It is incredibly casual in other countries, as bizarre as it may seem to a country which prides themselves on their stringent drug testing. Although that is not to say all weightlifters in these countries are on drugs. There is a standard of performance which must be met first. Some athletes are intentionally kept clean incase of predictable testing periods.

“They definitely had their reserve, a couple of guys…After 2012… They were hearing everyone was going to crack down on doping… So they told us, “you guys gotta stay clean”. Not everyone did, but they said they were.”

That wraps up this article on the Five Things I learned from Norik Vardanian. A bit of technique, training, and politics, with plenty more left to discuss, but we will save that for another time. Norik is an incredible athlete and has paid his dues in weightlifting, so these points should be deeply considered.

Norik Vardanian
Norik Vardanian. Photo – LiftingLife / Patrick Costello

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