Next in our interview series with Russian weightlifters we talked with Khadzhimurat Akkaev.
In his First Interview of 2014 the 29 year old, two time Olympic medalist and 2011 World Champion talks about his training and his comeback plans. I hope you enjoy it.
The interview was once again conducted by Alexey Goldbergs from wodloft.ru where you can find the Russian version. The translation is brought to you by the ATG Shirt. Thanks to everybody who has bought one.
Khadzhimurat, first of all, thank you for deciding to give us this interview. If I’m not mistaken, this is your first major interview in the last 12 months?
Then, without further ado, let’s start. All people who are interested in weightlifting have only one question: What’s the situation with Akkaev, and will he return to the big platform after a severe injury? How is your back now?
Well, I’ve resumed training, as such, back in the beginning of last year.
But it was way too early [for serious training] after such an injury. Only 5 or 6 months passed [after injury]. The doctors told me not to touch the barbell for at least 2 years after the surgery.
There can be hernias and hernias, yes, but my case was rather complicated. There were already problems with sciatic nerve, and a very strong inflammation.
this kind of surgery usually takes 30 minutes, mine lasted for 4.5 hoursUsually this kind of surgery would only take 30 minutes, mine lasted for 4.5 hours.
This is just to give you a picture of how seriously the case was neglected.
In such cases, rehab period would need to last longer. Nevertheless, as I’ve said, in the beginning of the last year I’ve started on some easy training. But my back gave away.
Since then I’ve undertaken many physiotherapeutic procedures, with various specialists, and as of today I can already say that I feel quite well.
That is, I do not feel the same discomfort, and I’m starting to visit the gym periodically. Now I am very eager to recover and to continue taking part in competitions.
I understand this will not be easy. But I cannot just throw away 20 years of my life that I dedicated to the barbell, not at all. I believe that there’s a chance for comeback, and there is a will.
Now the most important thing is whether health permits it. So I will be able to tell for sure once I start getting back into shape.
About six months ago you posted in Instagram a video of you doing a Behind the Neck Jerk with 200 kg, wearing jeans and moccasin shoes. How did that came to be?
Oh, this was a funny story.
I visited my fried in Rostov, to bring him some papers. As any weightlifter, I couldn’t pass the gym without touching the bar. And once I was in a gym, I decided to do some Behind the Neck Presses.
I did Behind the Neck Jerk with 260 kgLater, during our conversation, I remembered that when I was in the best shape, I did Behind the Neck Jerk with 260 kg, and decided to check my ability.
It’s been precisely two years since I did that exercise last time. This was not a training session, or some kind of special idea [to demonstrate]. I simply decided to give it a try.
Generally, even Klokov himself always wondered how, even after any major competition, including the Olympics, I never lost my [lifting] form.
There were even rumors that I take something, secretly. But this is rubbish. I, frankly speaking, did not even expect that this would create such a wave.
Well, yes, you’ve raised quite a clamor with that video. Even more so, since in June you’ve said that you were going for the World Championships, which were in the fall. And then that video…
That’s what I’m saying – there is a will, a strong will. Maybe, though, my age may start showing.
But you recall Dmitry Klokov. He lifted his best results at age 29, at the World Championship in Paris.
If there is a will, a belief in oneself, and potential, then it’s only a matter of health. There is the will, there’s belief in oneself, and there are capabilities. As we all know, sport careers can end in one day. It may be all well and great, and then, suddenly – “Boom!” – an injury that is fatal to training. So, right now I am planning to slowly pick up training, starting to get into shape.
I will concentrate all my efforts on the 2016 OlympicsBut it’s obvious, that I will concentrate all my efforts on the 2016 Olympics. There are still two years to go.
So, my plans are – recuperate during the coming year, in order to get to next year’s World Championships.
But the licenses for Olympics will already be given out in this year’s Championships.
Yes, this year’s Championships are already considered a pre-Olympic one. But my objective are the next year’s Championships. The most important thing is to start, to roll on with the training, and to have fun with it, just the way I’ve always had it.
I always wanted to feel good during training. So even after the training, the fatigue felt pleasant.
So you aren’t doing active training sessions now?
Not active ones. But I regularly visit the gym; I do overall body conditioning, swimming.
In general, I prepare my ligaments and joints to the forthcoming stresses. This is very important.
Do you have an idea already, on when you would start your preparations?
I can say that it has already started. This is a preparatory stage, of sorts. At the second stage, I will start with classic exercises — Snatches, Clean & Jerks.
First with the bar, and then 50, 100 kg… I, you see, am starting from scratch. But there’s one thing to be noted: Improving your current result is hard work, and takes lots of training. But restoring your past shape is a little bit easier.
So, looking at my current physical state at this moment, I cannot say that I’m completely “dead”, as I am able, without preparation, to do Behind the Neck Jerks with 200 kg.
Perhaps I’m still capable of something. But this, by no means, tells you that I am using 100% of my capacity right now. Preparation is needed.
We’ve been doing some stupid things in the past. Squats with 300 kg without warming up, Pulls with 330 kg… Of course the consequences show with time.
There’s even an idiom about similar circumstances: “There was a fight between a home economy teacher and sports coach. Karate is good, but the meat tenderizer is iron.” [Idioms are tough to translate, but this is what it said]
What I mean, is that we are dealing with «iron», you cannot negotiate with it. So one must do everything carefully and correctly.
You mentioned your epic battle with Klokov at the World Championship in Paris back in 2011. In fact, it was him who pushed you into those 232 kg in the last attempt at Clean & Jerk. What have you been thinking when making that attempt? It was this moment when the championship title was decided.
Yes, almost 3 years passed since then, and I still remember that championship, and I thank the almighty for giving me the spirit to approach that attempt. Because there were no lifts in my life that were of greater importance.
I’ve been through two Olympics, but there were no attempts that were more crucial, no competition that was to become more crucial in my life.
We, Klokov and myself, have overdriven each other, and as a result, both suffered injuries before the Olympics. Because we forced [ourselves], strove for results and winded ourselves in the gyms. There wasn’t any other option for us. It was a battle of principle.
It all started with me transferring to a different category. And Dima stepped up the pace. It looked like a challenge, and I accepted it.
Everything I had at that moment – guts, spirit, character – I threw at it
So, that last attempt was actually when everything had to be decided – either you are the champion, or you are nobody with no name. And everything I had at that moment — guts, spirit, character — I threw at it.
And I still thank the almighty for that. Everyone gets a moment of truth, or the finest hour, and back then it was my finest hour. I do not know how my future career in the sport will develop, but I am ready for any turn of events. Without a doubt, I am poised to fight some more.
I can see now, that the results in the world’s weightlifting are quite average today – no amazing shows. [this interview was conducted days before the amazing 2014 Russian Championships]
Though there are some good athletes out there. For example, the ones from Kazakhstan. So there is definitely a chance for me to be among the leaders once again.
Yes, old Demon is in good physical shape now. Just yesterday [the interview was recorded on August 21] I saw him. Well, we always called him «Iron Demon». He’s a man that never gets hurt. I mean, even with injuries, he’s ready to lift some big kilos.
He deserves envy in a good way.
As for others, who demonstrate colossal results… I’d just wanted the play to be fair. So that identical conditions were there for all athletes to prepare under. And not like, when someone “gets caught” at the World Championships, and this is officially announced, but then we see that person at the Olympics! I won’t be calling names, everyone understands who it is.
I’d like that victories are deserved and gallant. Like we had with Klokov. Strong athletes came together and produced a spectacular competition. And someone’s winner, someone’s not – it’s one’s luck. I think I was a bit more lucky back then.
It is still a huge honor for me to know that back then I won over a really strong and respectable athlete, and not a second-tier contender. I think it was a fair victory in a fair play.
And that’s what I’d like to see today. Not the situation, where certain athletes enjoy some kind of special preferential treatment. Unfortunately, today this is the case. But right now my first concern is to get into good shape.
Which coach would oversee your preparations?
I have only one coach. This is Makhty Khasanovich Makkayev, and I’m not about to replace him.
I just know, that both you and Vasiliy did have some discord with him.
Of course, like in any family. People row, and make peace. This is normal. Each of us has his own character, own ambition, own world view.
So all of that is quite natural, and everybody goes through this.
Earlier you said that right now you are in the inductive phase of training somewhat, but how do you usually recover between the main competitions of the season? For example, Alexey Lovchev said, that after the European Championships, he didn’t touch a barbell for a month. Or do you, instead, return to training right away, but maybe, decrease the load? Or maybe you switch to some other program?
In general I do it in a similar fashion. Actually, during my whole career, I didn’t participate in too many competitions, compared to other athletes.
But those you took part in were grand!
Sure! They even used to joke in the national team «Akkaev probably will not participate in competition again. He only competes before Olympics.»
I never treated weightlifting as a job. For me it was always fun.So, generally, I didn’t compete too much. But after major competitions I did take long breaks.
Sometimes I would even take up to six months of rest and recreation. I never treated weightlifting as a job, like many athletes do. For me it was always fun.
Look at Athens, for example. Yes, I was disqualified for 2 years. So back then I did not do any athletic training. I simply had fun for 2 years, and haven’t visited the gym at all.
After the two years I started to prepared myself. Then there was the Cup of Russia Cup, the the Olympics. After the Beijing Olympics nobody has seen me up until the middle of 2009. Then Russian Cup again, where Vasiliy won, and I took 2nd place.
But I was totally underprepared back then. After that I’ve been resting for another half-year. Then came Europeans. I missed the entire 2010 season while preparing myself. Then I competed at the 2011 Europeans.
So, after the major competitions I would miss at least 2-3 months, no questions asked.
I didn’t like working out, frankly speaking. I’m a lazy guy in this regard. I cannot pump it in the gym, like Klokov does. He’s been reaching everything by hard labor, and I was rather lucky. I cannot say that I would wind me up to death in the gym.
Of course, before Olympics, when I have set this target for myself, I gave it all to training, and dished out all I could.
Back then I had some overtraining and terrible headaches. But my targets were simple — pull out all the stops for once; win, and then everything can go to hell.
But now I am feeling a certain dissatisfaction with the fact that I have not yet displayed all I can.
Plus, I also heard, that some athletes, allegedly, are challenging us, Dmitry and me, to the platform. And although I have now distanced myself a bit from weightlifting, I still hear the rumors.
So I have a wish to once again set the record straight, so no one would do the talking. So there would be no talks that it all was just pure luck. No, all these are the results of persistent training. And I want to prove it. But then again, it all depends on my health.
Do you have any ritual before or after the competition? For instance, many bodybuilders, who follow a strict diet and immediately after the competition go to McDonald’s and «get stuffed».
No, I don’t have anything of that sort. I am generally very easy on eating as such. The only thing – I cannot walk around hungry. I always need to take a little bite.
But getting stuffed – I never did that. And I have no rituals. And I don’t believe in “signs” too. I have my religion, and hope in the almighty.
What is your take on nutrition in the preparation of weightlifters, and how do you normally eat when preparing for competitions?
No take at all. Right now I am not doing any professional training, but meanwhile, I now eat twice as much as I did during the times when I was training.
I could go without eating for two days straight
Back then I could go without eating for two days straight, because I had no appetite. So I never had any problems with weight, and never had to “work off” [excess weight].
And what is your weight now?
My weight now fluctuates between 103 and 105 kg.
There’s a video on YouTube, where you Snatched 210 and Clean & Jerked 245 kg. Judging by the looks, it was in Taganrog. What was your weight back then?
And some people were like: «Akkaev looks quite chubby, like 112-115 kg»
No. It’s just that the video is not a full one. It was a scheduled meet, and I weighed in before it. So my weight was exactly 108.2 kg. On Monday I did Clean & Jerks with 225, 235 and 2 attempts on 245, but the video shows only one attempt.
And on Friday I snatched 195/2, then immediately 205 and 210.
They simply didn’t give me any more attempts. But it was clear already, that there’s a reserve. I.e. 108 kg was my working weight.
Before the Olympics it could go up to 109, and if you «get stuffed» on food then it could even reach 110 kg, but in the evening it would go back to 108-109.
I never weighed more than 111 kgSo all that nonsense, that I weighed just under 120 kg, it’s complete rubbish. I never weighed more than 111 kg. And even that, was only after the Olympics and post injury rehab, when I came to Sochi training camp.
Now my weight is 103-105 kg. A good enough weight to work with, where one can start getting back into shape.
When doing Cleans with big weights, you have often had your back rounding, and the knees would cave in. Did you try to fight that somehow, and what would you advise to people who have similar problems?
First of all – this is related to my particular body build.
I have relatively short back and long legs. I cannot say that I’ve had a weak back. It’s just that I’m not the one who is built for Clean & Jerks. Later, when I gained weight and transferred to 105, I somewhat rectified this problem.
Of course, I’d still get bent, but not as much as before.
And what did you do so your back won’t round as much? Many have this problem.
Yes, this is a big problem. Apart from being related to one’s particular body build, this also tells you about the low second pull. So to deal with it, one must try to pull the barbell closer to the groin. What I actually always did. If you pull it a bit higher, then the barbell will fly up much higher, and the catch will be higher. So, simply be patient and work on it.
There are athletes, who have difficulty standing up from a clean, but once they stood up, they can Jerk it. And there are those that stand up easily, but then they often miss the Jerk. You are obviously fall into the first category. What was your best Jerk from the rack?
Well, actually, I never did this exercise. But everything that I Cleaned, I’d Jerk successfully.
Maximum of what I did was Behind the Jerk with 250/2. Of course, the coach would put that in my training program. But, now I can admit it, I have been goofing off these exercises. I was always sure that I can Jerk from the front.
There was a time when it was not the case, and they started to re-train me: “Here are your elbows, and make your back that way”. But in general, I would rarely miss Jerks from the front.
My upper body was always powerful. Back, arms, shoulders. So I would usually tackle it easily. But I understand what you are talking about. There are boys with seemingly strong upper bodies, arms and shoulders well developed, but they can do heavier Push Press, than Clean and Jerk.
Even Klokov comes to mind. He did Push Press with 225-230…
I believe he mentioned 250. Right at the time when he trained alone, went for 250 and injured the shoulder.
Oh, there you go! So, he did Push Press at 225-230, and sometimes could take 235 and miss Jerks from the front rack. So, it’s either granted to you, or not, and I cannot connect it with anything, really.
How much time in a year do you spend on general physical conditioning? And what do you do then?
Heavy Pulls and Squats I do at all timesHeavy Pulls and Squats I do at all times.
The only thing here, again, due to particularities of my own system, I cannot sustain large volume of training, and overtrain in no time.
Even when I prepared to Athens Olympics, they studied my body in the institute, and found out, that work with many repetitions is prohibited for me.
This means that I can do Clean & Jerks and Snatches every day, but in sets with 1-2 repetitions.
There are athletes, which can do Snatch with 3-5 repetitions in a set, and Clean & Jerk with 8-10 repetitions, and they still won’t over-train. I cannot.
But I usually spend time on pure strength exercises only in the recovery period. I.e. I spend a month or two resting after the competition, and then I do “base” training for a month or two.
How long would your usual training session last? In your interview with Klokov you’ve said something like 30-40 minutes, but this just seems like it’s not enough. This time is only enough for warming-up and for a quick trip around the weights. But what about accessory exercises? Roman chair twists, Presses, etc.
Well, this is the way it was. When Klokov would only finish warming up, I was already gathering my stuff and leaving the gym.
The guys in the national team saw that, so it’s not an exaggeration. I’ve only had a maximum of 2-3 exercises in the morning and 2 exercises in the evening, the rest only if I wanted. Of course the trainer would tell me: «Go do some body conditioning, stretching etc.»
Sometimes I did, but in general I felt so self-assured, that I didn’t see the reason to do all that. Of course, when I would transfer to a new category, I’d work out a lot.
And when I prepped for the first Olympics. My trainer back then was Soltan Osmanovich Karakotov. I lived in the camp in Ruza for 2 years, and this is when we laid the foundation. After that I’ve been training in the mountains for a long time, we also did some base training.
In this case, how much time did you rest between attempts?
In reality, I was such a lazy guy, that I’d wanted to end the session as quickly as possible.
That’s why my training session lasted 30-40 minutes. Quick warm-up and stretch, check the weights and off I was.
I would rest 2 minutes max between attemptsI would rest 2 minutes max between attempts. But not because I would cool down quickly. We’ve had even 15 minutes breaks during the competitions. Makhty would constantly ask me: «So, how are you? Cooling down?», and I would always reply «No, I’m alright.» It’s just that I felt positive effect of keeping rest periods short, so my body would adapt to these stresses.
In all of your athletic career, what, in your opinion, played the most positive role, gave the greatest effect: improvement of technique, building strength, change of coach? True that only all that altogether may bring the result. But can you pick out something special, where you can really feel and say: “That’s when I rapidly improved”?
Most importantly — the regimen. If you have a target, an objective, a qualified coach, intelligently selected set of exercises, pharmacology, vitamins, then the result will come.
I’m talking primarily about professional athletes. Of course, when you have a full-time job, then you won’t be able to follow the program all the time. This is understandable.
But if you are a professional athlete, then have the goodness to stick to regimen. Timely eat, timely sleep. Then the results will come.
When I wanted to reach my objective, I followed the regimen and listened to my coach. In training mode, your coach is your father, mother, brother and sister, and your everything.
Also, in your interview with Klokov you said you’re living in Rostov. Do you still live there?
Yes, I live here permanently. Beautiful city. This is the place where my soul is, where I feel comfortable. Of course, I could live anywhere, cause I have friends everywhere, and they all glad to welcome me, but I want to live here.
There are marvelous people here. And today I’d hardly move to any other city from Rostov.
How is your cat Clovis?
Oh, the cat is huge. Feels great.
Travels along with you as before?
Yes, as before. However, I’ve been travelling abroad lately a lot, to visit my friends, so I took him to the parents in Nalchik. They all grew on him so much of course, and don’t want to give him back to me. Be that doesn’t make him not a cat of mine.
There are rumors that you’ve become a family man. Is it so?
No, that’s not true. I’m often asked this question for some reason, and I don’t even know where these rumors are coming from.
What do you consider to be your best achievement in your sports career?
World championships in Paris.
I, for some reason, thought that you’d mention your title of “Best weightlifter of 2011”.
After two Olympics I was thinking “Why would I need that championship!? Not in a hundred years!”.
But later I realized that each competition is needed. World championships, European championships. They are all very necessary. But that one was especially memorable for me. First of all I particularly remember it, because of the fair and open battle with Dima Klokov.
the pride of father means more than the world’s recognition to meAs for the title? Well, I can say nothing but words of gratitude to those people who believed in me and voted for me. This certificate is at home on the wall in a frame, as it should be. I often look at it, and it makes me feel pleased that it happened the way it did back then.
And outside of Sports?
For me, the pride of father means more than the world’s recognition.
Obligatory Question. Your best lifts in the main exercises: Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Front Squat, Back Squat, Pulls, Press?
- Snatch — 210;
- Clean & Jerk — 245;
- Push Press — 220;
- Behind the Neck Jerk— 260;
- Military Press — 140-145, don’t remember exactly;
- Front Squat — 290;
- Back Squat — 330/2;
- Snatch Pull — 290;
- Clean Pull — 330.
What are your most favorite and least favorite exercises?
Least favorite, of course, is the Clean & Jerk. I hated it.
When my weight was low, it was very hard to do for me. I had to cut weight, and it caused fatigued legs, so I had to stress really hard.
The Snatch was always my favorite.
I always controlled it very well. Practically, in all competitions, I would make all 3 attempts in the Snatch. I have to be completely “dead” to screw it up. Although, in [this] my favorite exercise, back at Europeans, I did “zone out”.
But this was, again, because I had to “tinker” with my bodyweight, and this was causing many problems. Later, than I gained weight and gained strength, it became easier to do Clean & Jerks.
But in any case, compared to other exercises, I never liked the Clean & Jerk.
If it wasn’t for weightlifting, what would be your sport?
Greco-Roman wrestling. Until today this is my hobby, sometimes I even go wrestling.
I even have a small dream: to participate in the provincial Greco-Roman wrestling competition.
Again, in the interview with Klokov you’ve said, that even after the end of your career as competing athlete, you’d still want to stay close to weightlifting. In particular, you said, that you will definitely solicit, that only deserving athletes would be sent to the World and European championships, and not the “third raters”. Have you started taking any steps in this direction? You still think that way? Or was it just an outburst of emotions?
No, I only had the outburst of emotions when I spoke about our Federation [in his “scandalous” interview].
Since then all emotions calmed down. And yes, I still want to be related somehow to weightlifting. But I do not see myself in the role of a coach.
At the same time, I do not want to throw away the 20 years I dedicated to the barbell. All I have today is thanks to the sport. And I do not abandon my words.
I want to be related to weightlifting. Though I don’t know, in what role. I still haven’t started with that, because I still want to compete as active athlete.
So we shall see your comeback?
Definitely yes! As far as I know, even today I’m still listed in the reserve. And I’ve heard lately, that the head coach of the national team, Venkov, is waiting for me with anticipation.
Can it be said, that time has rounded the sharp corners you’ve had with team management after that scandalous interview?
Yes. I believe, that everyone has spoken out, flashed out their grievances. But as I’ve said already – people row and make peace, and this is normal.
Maybe one has to be a bit more tolerant sometimes. But, considering my roots, when it’s time to fight down one’s emotions, and to use one’s intellect – I’m not always able to do it.
You are known for your passion for fast and expensive cars. What are you driving today?
Right now it’s Mercedes-Benz S500 with 222-m body. Yeah, I like that stuff, and I cannot help it. And praised be the Almighty, that I now have resources to realize these desires of mine. As one of my friends says: «We pay dearly for our principles».
Khadzhimurat , thank you again for the interview! Good luck to you recovering, and we hope to see you soon on the platform!
Thank you, and see you again!
More Interviews from the Series
Cover Photo Credit: Hookgrip, also available as a poster here.