Chinese Weightlifting Training Methods


Kirk from lifthard.com who trained under Chinese Weightlifting Coach Wu answers questions about the Chinese Olympic weightlifting training methods.

Update: See below.

The basic outline

Yes, we do max as much as possible, and training is generally, “train so hard you can’t walk” and yes, there’s no such thing as short cuts. Yes, the premise of overtraining is almost completely ignored but much emphasis is placed on recovery as well. Yes, it’s almost Bulgarian in intensity and Russian in exercise selection. And yes, we do eat rather odd things such as blood pudding for the “immune system”.

Here we go with the Q and A.

Q:
I’ve always wondered about shoulder flexibility and the “chinese jerk”. I’ve noticed that Chinese lifters are able to get the bar VERY far behind their heads, very rarely pressout, and have the bar behind their heads far enough to where they would be able to jerk grip overhead squat after recovering. Did you guys do any special shoulder flexibility exercises or is this just the result of teaching and practicing the jerk this way? I remember the American lifter Caleb Ward also did his jerks a lot like this.

A:
There’s a stretch that we do, that many say is nonsense, but it’s worked for me and a lot of my friends. Here’s a video.

We’ve no name for this stretch, so I guess I’ll call it “Chinese shoulder stretch” What happens is he puts his knee behind my shoulder blades and pulls them together, to give the pecs and anterior deltoid a good stretch. Also, arch your lower more to get the bar in position.

Often, the anterior deltoid’s and infraspinatus tightness (especially from half-range bench press and push-ups) as well as weakness in the posterior deltoid, lower back and entire upper back region, from the trapezius to the rhomboids can reduce the ability to drive it that far up.

The back is far stronger than the shoulder, thus by pushing it further backwards, the back structure supports the weight thus enabling one to get heavier weights up and with more frequency. The shoulders will fatigue and eventually get injured much faster compared to the lower back.

When training, actively try to push your head forward and arch your back. Another way of training it is by doing snatch balances and overhead squats from a rack, with a clean grip.

Q:
In regards to the chinese system: how different is training for intermediate level lifters compared to the elite lifters? Are the lower class lifters doing the same program/intensity as the elite, or is it dialed back (or even completely different) ?

A:
Lower class lifters, generally lack

  1. Strength
  2. Power at the right positions (a lot of time, newbies are more powerful slightly ABOVE the “pocket” because they can’t seem to “snap” that amount of power required fast enough (In that 0.02 seconds) , thus you see bars going “off” timing)
  3. Technique

At the beginning, the template could be pretty standard. Do an exercise, every alternate day. However, as their weaknesses and strength begin to show, that’s when the coaches come into play. If the athlete is extremely strong for his level but his technique is shit, more work and time is spent at technique. If technique is mediocre, but strength is horrific (generally never the case) there’ll be an extra 3-4 sets of squats and pulls off blocks, on blocks, on floor or anything. This takes about 6-9 sessions to observe

Remember that the “Chinese” weightlifting methodology is actually “Weakness correction” 

Once they come to an elite level, where leg strength back strength, is all at it’s limit, less time is spent there. So instead of squatting and pulling HEAVY, 4-5 times a week (per exercise), it’ll reduce to perhaps 1-2. Maybe 3 if the leg strength is decreasing (rare)

EG of a newbie;

BW: 69KG
Squats: 140KG/ FSquats:115KG/ Clean Pulls: 175KG/ Snatch pulls:150KG/CNJ 100KG/ Snatch 80KG. Receives pulls a bit too high, bar crashes.

It becomes crystal clear what his strength is. His back. His weakness, his legs and technique. So boom, instead of 2FS/2BS sessions, it can become, 2BS/3FS sessions. Instead of 7 sets at 90-100%, it’ll become 10 sets at 90-100%. This goes on for about 3-4 weeks of hell (I tell you, it’s absolute mental hell) Another 30 minutes is spent fixing technique again at the session’s end. Empty bar work. Done! Problem changes, fix it again.

Eg of an elite

BW:77KG (Pre-contest bw probably 82KG)
BS:290KG/FS:260KG/Clean Pulls:280KG/ Snatch pulls:240KG/ Snatch/CNJ:165/202 (Mind you, this is a number I’ve SEEN with my eyes)

From what I heard, this guy’s been doing squats and pulls 6x a week, alternating front/back/clean/snatch pulls. So clearly, his strength is enough, it’s just his technique that’s the limiting factor. To most eyes, his technique is fantastic, but after my coach pointed out certain things, it became clear how come he just couldn’t lift more. He would raise chest/hips at the same rate, however the moment he’s about to reach second pull height, he yanks the bar a bit too soon (only happens at limit weights) and ends up “swinging” the bar slightly. Anything below 90%, he’s spot on. Anything above, he freaks a bit and that’s what causes the miss.

While this wouldn’t be a big deal (considering it’s elite total), it is a problem in a nation where anything you lift, there are at least 8 others who can do the same.

One thing is the same though, intensity is the same. Workload is huge. Another way we learn is, if it takes you 3 1/2 hours to complete your whole workout, and suddenly it drops to 2 1/2 hours, you’ll see your worksets increase suddenly from 6 sets of triples at 90%, to 6×3 @ 90%, then 2×3 @ 80% then up to 95% for another 4-5×2 or singles. They use time as a gauge rather than just sets and reps done.

Ever considered that?  Using time as a gauge instead?

Q:
How do they keep their patella and quadriceps tendons from exploding?

A:
My coach also emphasized squatting with a moderate pace, pausing slightly at the parallel point and drive up. As weights hit 85%<, I’d do 3 reps like that, 2 reps, ATG with the bounce. This was believed to strengthen ligament/tendon strength as well as develop strength throughout the whole ROM.

Also, if you see again, in that paper, I wrote something saying “Big on prehab” and “All rounded muscular development”. Kinda tells you a bit on how much bodybuilding is also used on top of weightlifting work.

The Chinese believe it’s much better to use a variety of methods. Everything Poliquin/Pendlay/Medeyev/Abadjiev did, they did as well. Only thing is, when they used it. I’ve seen pause squats, I’ve seen the so called “cyclist squats” (Add quad strength and prehab for tendonitis) , super narrow stance squats (For lifters who always fall forward), super wide squats (Increase ROM when receiving). They’re all included, as “mixers” when the need arises, but the basics stay. Front squat, snatch balance and back squat.

Q:
Regarding Volume

A:
This calculation of tonnes per session is something very Russian. My former Russian coach would go with tonnes and predicted % (usually 80% accurate). The problem was the 20% when you don’t feel good, and have to trudge on and that’s when problems begin.

If you take a look at that picture of what I wrote, you’ll notice that I wrote “Solid base, then ramp”. In the Chinese methodology, much time is spent developing the base. An elite and a newbie session can both last 3 hours, but the newbie is spending much of the 3 hours with an empty bar. As much as 2 hours. I remember having to do 150 snatch pulls, then high snatch pulls with knee rebend, then snatch balances for 2 months before I was allow to even consider snatching. This didn’t include the 1 month that was spent with just the bamboo stick doing 300 pulls. And squats. Yes with the bamboo stick. Even after that, I’d still have to spend many hours snatching in front of a mirror.

Q:
How do they define efficient technique and ratios to squat/pull?
Whom has optimal technique?
How do they teach the lifts?
What does Coach Wu think of US lifting?
What’s and why’s of recovery? Nutrition and rest.

A:
I’ll try to answer these questions, but I don’t think we ever had numbers for this. I do remember that my coach mentioned a FS that’s 20KG above, is a 50/50% chance of a clean, a 30KG FS is an ok chance and at 40KG, it’s usually almost guaranteed the lifter won’t be pinned.

If you looking at an angle of repetitions, what he’s probably saying is, if you can front squat something 5-6x, you’re guaranteed to stand up with it, 3-4 reps, you’ve a 50/50 chance and 1-2 reps, unless you’ve a bloody efficient technique, you probably won’t be able to.

So if your lifter has a 180KG FS, he should be able to clean 140KG no problem. Now here’s the “problem”. Not everyone has the same efficiency in technique and a clean isn’t a front squat. The front squats just mean you’re strong enough to get up, if you clean it. Nobody said if you’re strong enough to clean it.

Efficient technique is merely defined as, “Kuai, zun, di” and something else I forgot what’s it called in Mandarin.
It translates to “Fast, accurate, low and close”. Pull fast, be accurate, go low and keep the bar close.

I asked him this years ago, and Coach Wu doesn’t think anything of the American team. He’s too busy improving the Singaporean team for a chance to the Olympics especially because this is a very young team (2 years)

Update: Kirk posted some updates

The idea is, to have the snatches and CNJ and squats worked every day so that the “groove” is really deeply embedded. But because you don’t want to spend too much time stressing the athlete with the same movements every day, you just make them work to a 1RM,2RM or 3RM, for a single set. Also because of the order of the exercise, you actually see PRs during the oddest times. Like when you’re really fatigued at the end, you may get a snatch PR. It’s happened to me twice.

  • Mike1

    Very informative!
    Thank you for posting it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/DeanLLeighton Dean Linder-Leighton

    Awesome

  • Mike

    I really enjoyed this article more than any article I have read in a long time. I would love to hear more on the prehab techniques. Are the pause squats done from front and back squats? What do the rep ranges look like. What do they do for lifters who have developed quad tendonitis. How does the lifter get rehabbed back in for this and do they change volume for him long term?

  • CJ

    Great article. I had to move, lost my coach, and am now writing my own program. This is great insight into training methodologies.

  • shakti

    thanks a lot