Blackboard from Vladimir Safonov seminar

Vladimir Safonov Seminar – A Complete Write Up


Two days in Cincinnati, Ohio – a total of 16 hours with Vladimir Safonov, Russian National coach, and a lot of lifting. Steven D’s gym hosted Vladimir and it was more than equipped to handle the number of people attending. There were plenty of platforms and all of the equipment was Eleiko. There was no reason not to lift to the best of your ability.

First, I’ll describe the set-up of the seminar, how it was structured, what we did, and other information relevant to people curious about attending one in the future. Then I will divulge the details of Vladimir’s approach to coaching the lifts, programming, and working with athletes – basically, the supporting rationale to why he does what he does.

Disclaimer: I will try to provide the specific information given to us by Vladimir and I will denote the addition of my opinions or information provided by the gym owner, Steve. I do not represent Vladimir in any way. Let us continue…


When we arrived we all had a short meet and greet with Vlad, giving names and reasons for attending. Vlad went on to describe how he was introduced to the sport. His father pushed him to do it, starting at 6 years old. He then competed for quite some time, eventually peaking at 160/192 weighing 90kg. Injury derailed his athletic career and from then on he started coaching kids, working his way up the pecking order. He has now coached European, World, and Olympic medalists. After the introduction we were then moved to the platforms where the real learning began.

We were introduced to a variety of exercises common in Vlad’s programming, with a few them being: snatch grip push press + overhead squat, snatch pull, hang snatch, snatch balance, behind the neck jerk, squat jerk, clean, clean + jerk, and probably a few more that I’m forgetting. A few of the big technique takeaway from this day were:

  • Loose arms, shoulders (internally rotated) in the pull
  • Start with the hips slightly higher, knees pushed out, lower back set tight
  • Minimize space during the pull, keep the bar close, but not with the arms, and slide the feet as they are repositioned for the catch (don’t stomp/jump)
  • Push through your whole foot, the whole time
  • Overhead the bar is placed over the traps, behind the ears
  • At the power position the shoulders are on top of/over the bar slightly, hips are pulled back (this is in contrast to the way some people teach the power position with the weight on the heels and the shoulders slightly behind the bar)


Next, we will cover the programming takeaways from day one. First and foremost, if you take anything away from this article it should be what Vlad repeated over and over throughout the time we spent with him. Programming (and a portion of technique) should all be specific to the individual. There are non-negotiables, a template if you will, but how that template is filled in depends solely on the person. Examples of differences include how much training they can handle, what injuries they are dealing with, their individual weaknesses and strong points. Everything is custom and trying to write one plan for every person is a fool’s errand. Here are the other important concepts from Vlad’s discussion of programming:

  • The sweet spot for most exercises is between 70-80%, a majority of the volume should be done there
  • Snatch and Clean and Jerk main lifts and the accessory lift for the day do not repeat
    • The lifts are always changing
  • Workouts are fluid and should be changed if deemed necessary (if the athlete looks good, go up, if they look like trash go down or move on)
  • One snatch movement and one clean and jerk movement each day
    • The first movement is the priority and heavier than the other movement, rotate snatch and clean and jerk daily, prioritizing the other (there is a picture at the end of the article for reference)
    • Accessory movements are lighter (i.e. muscle snatch/50-60% on a light day vs. hang snatch/70-80% on a heavy day)
  • Squat twice a week, one back and one front (normally no sets with reps higher than 6)
  • Perform pulls frequently (~4 times a week) rotating snatch and clean
    • Includes variations, done heavier than actual lifts, with a majority of pulls performed flat footed at the finish (don’t go onto toes)
  • Accessory movements after snatch and clean and jerk variations include: RDLs, back extensions (done often, including isometric holds), strict pressing (think pressing with arms: overhead, bench, dips)
  • Squat jerk is very important movement in programming and is used nearly as much as competition jerk


The next day was a bit more of the same, including this time a question and answer portion after we finished up training. We did go through other variations, how they should be performed, and covered more of the commonly used variations in Vlad’s programming. The Q&A will be posted for all to watch and hopefully illustrate a bit of what I have said up to this point.

First, we started off with the muscle snatch, a common snatch variation in Vlad’s programming. The question was asked, “which muscle snatch variation should we use, with or without contact?” Vladimir replied that no contact muscle snatch is the real muscle snatch. Then we went on to perform the no contact muscle snatch to squat. That is a tricky movement, but you can feel the difference it makes in your pull and catch. Following those two movements we did no contact snatches, which is another staple exercise.

After performing the snatch variations we did push presses – heavy, and then wrapped up with some paused snatch pulls (3 seconds), also heavy. As I mentioned above, pauses are used frequently in Vlad’s programming, for both squats and pulls. Once all of the barbell work was done we went on to perform some jumps. Vlad loves to use box jumps, but we only had hurdles (which Steve prefers). Here are a few of the technique takeaways from day two:

  • The pull when performing a muscle snatch should be straight
  • When performing a muscle snatch to squat, you pull high then drop under (more active upper body than a normal no foot snatch)
  • All pulls are performed as high pulls, the “rest are bullshit” – Vlad (when I asked about panda pulls or pulls with just a shrug)
  • Drills told to me by Steve:
    • Ehab drill (for people who move feet too much, stomp or jump, in pull under)
      • Take bar, pull under as if performing a snatch, and just slide one foot, keeping the other firmly planted. Move to next foot, while keeping the other still firmly planted. Then try to slide both feet. Repeat.

More Programming

Day two’s programming talk was a little bit more informative. We discussed lift ratios, how Vlad views sex differences in programming, and quite a bit more. Again, the importance was placed on the individual and the need to attack weaknesses. This means you start with the weakness most impacting performance and try to remedy that before switching too much of your focus elsewhere. If you tightrope jerks, but can’t rack the clean it doesn’t matter how bad your jerk is. You need to target the limiter in the lifts. Here are a few of the programming takeaways from day two:

  • Females can tolerate more work and more reps (has to do mostly with their body size)
  • Lighter weight classes can recover quicker and can do more work
    • The cut off is 75/96 (according to Steve this is where the difference is noted)
  • Women typically lack upper body strength and must make up for this deficit by strict pressing more often (3-4 times a week, including: strict press, bench press, dips, etc)
    • This is on top of the push pressing, snatch balance, jerk, and other upper body volume
  • Senior athletes jump on the last day of the week, usually onto boxes, performed in a 5×5 fashion (mostly sets of ~5)
  • *Vladimir programs off of snatch and clean and jerk*
    • Back squats are programmed as high as 120% of the clean
    • Snatch deadlifts up to 120% of snatch
    • Clean deadlifts up to 120% of clean
      • This is as high as he will go with percentages (these max percents are only done as singles)
      • (NOTE: This is how I interpreted what he said. I could be misinterpreting something)
  • Adjust workouts according to what hurts (if your knee hurts then avoid squats)

The question and answer to follow was incredibly informative and includes a wealth of information that may not have been touched on in this write-up. I left that separately, so you can hear it from Vlad. It will be posted as a podcast and/or an actual video (links here). If you have any questions beyond that, feel free to reach out to me, Steve, or Vlad. Even better, attend a seminar yourself. There are countless stories, bits of information, etc. that couldn’t be included due to space constraints and respect for the athlete’s/Vlad’s privacy. Those are only things you can experience at the seminar! I hope you all enjoyed this insight into the Vladimir Safonov seminar at Steven D’s gym.

Sample Week to Illustrate how Vladimir Programs

You can listen to a full recording of the Safonov Q&A on the Weightlifting House Patreon page. You can sign-up here.

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