This interview is brought to you by Alexey Goldbergs from WODloft.ru where you can find the original Russian version.
Thanks to Alexey for translating it for ATG. Hope you enjoy it.
Introduction: Today we talk to Vasiliy Polovnikov, silver medalist of the 2008 European Weightlifting Championship in the -85 kg weight class, Russian champion and record holder, as well as bronze medalist of the 2014 Russian Weightlifting Cup in the -105 kg weight class.
Vasiliy, it’s quite difficult to find any information about you in the Internet. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I come from the city of Tyrnyauz, which is the administrative center of the Elbrus region of Kabardino-Balkaria. This is a very beautiful city. The only pity is that now it’s not developed as much as it could be. There I started my career in weightlifting at age 14. I progressed quickly enough, so I was noticed very early on and began to go to training camps and competitions.
From age 15 I was engaged in the junior national team and started to compete regularly and won competitions. In other words, everything was perfect. Since then, I was always in the national team roster and I have gained a lot of experience in the world of weightlifting.
Here is Vasiliy at the 2008 Europeans:
Unfortunately I missed the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, despite the fact that there was the chance for that. I don’t have a complete picture as to why it happened, because I did everything I can. In 2009, after my win at the Russian Weightlifting Championship, a new stage in my career began, when I was thoroughly entrenched in the Russian men’s national team, but at this moment I was banned for 4 years. And that’s why there so little information on the Internet about me. The ban occurred just at the time when more information was starting to get out.
Now, after sitting out the ban, I’m trying to return to the world of professional sport. I’m certainly not going to stop there and am willing to go through the full cycle of preparation for the Olympic Games 2016. I always considered myself a strong athlete and even being disqualified I continued to train and progress.
Yes, I did not compete, but remained the strongest competitive athlete in the country and the world. This is what motivated me to stay, because many athletes leave sport after such a long disqualification. There are many athletes who return to the sport after a two-year ban, but after four years I’m the first.
This is pretty hard because in this time my values of life and motivation have changed. But in all that time I was trying to be in shape and conquer new frontiers, new weights. There are lots of new things happening in my life at the moment: the return to the international platform, different activities to popularize weightlifting in Russia and in the world and the beginning of my collaboration with CrossFit GERAKLION. So soon it will be very interesting to see how all of these things will grow.
So we can say that you’re just at the beginning of the new stage in the development of your career and life in general?
Yes, it’s a new life stage. I already had some successes and achievements everywhere, but there is still a lot of work.
And what did you do before weightlifting? Many coaches believe that it’s too late to start weightlifting training at 14 years old without having any fundamentals.
before weightlifting I practiced judoSince I was born and raised in the highlands, I was very fit physically. And as for sports, before weightlifting I practiced judo. I loved judo and I progressed very quickly also. My judo coach was very surprised by the rapid growth and he had a lot of conversations with me about responsibility because he saw that I can grow into a good athlete. Then we went back to Tyrnyauz with my family where unfortunately there was no judo at that time. But that desire to work on my own development, both spiritually and physically, has always kept me going.
There were a lot of different sports at that time, but it so happened that I found myself in weightlifting. You can say it was an accident. A friend asked me to go with him so that he was not bored there. I didn’t have any special interest with the barbell at that moment, I just decided to go with him to have some fun. And eventually it turned out that he left, but I stayed there and started to progress at the same rate as in judo before. And again there was a coach who noticed me, we talked with him and he convinced me to focus specifically on weightlifting.
Who was your first coach in weightlifting?
My first coach was, and remains the same in all official documents, Makhty Mackaev, who has trained a galaxy of great athletes [Khadzhimurat Akkaev for example]. I liked his approach to other guys and to the sport. Judging by the results his athletes had already shown, I realised that he was a very strong coach and it also influenced my desire to seriously practice weightlifting.
What other sports besides weightlifting do you like to watch on TV / live or participate by yourself. You probably played football or hockey.
Yes, I played football before judo, but I did not like it.
Before football I swam… like a brick and always came last.
At the end of the day the swimming coach threw me out, saying that I have no future as an athlete. Then I became very upset and I decided that I will show him that I can achieve something in the sport. Several years passed, I met him when I already some success in weightlifting, and of course he was ashamed that he had not spotted my talent. So I was engaged in swimming and football, but I did not like one or the other. I like wrestling, boxing, judo and other martial arts. But I don’t like karate because there is too much yelling.
I like power sports that require perseverance and fortitudeIn other words, I like power sports that require perseverance and fortitude. I don’t like any team sports. I can watch football or hockey only if it’s the final match of the World Cup.
By the way, I have a question for you related to power sports from one of our readers Alexandr Zyablitsky. He asked on our Facebook page, where we announced this interview with you. How do you feel about powerlifting?
I treat powerlifting with respect because it’s very close to our sport. But I don’t find it interesting enough, because of its lacks of dynamics. I think something in it needs to be changed something to make it more interesting.
Today powerlifting is covered much better than weightlifting. Let’s take Iron World magazine. There is no information about weightlifting, but a lot of materials about powerlifting in each issue. Well, there some exceptions. For example, an interview with Dmitry Klokov. But it happens every six months if not less. What do you think, why this is?
In my opinion, that would be remiss of our sports system. If we look a bit in the past, in Soviet times, the situation was exactly the reverse. The whole country knew weightlifters and it was followed closely by people, they paid attention to it.
Again, the political situation strongly influences this too. Americans have always been weaker in weightlifting than the Soviet Union, and began to promote sports that were available to them. After all, powerlifting is their offspring, as well as Strongman competitions and CrossFit. They just crushed our sport in terms of popularizing. Now it is just the right moment to change this situation again, to spark an interest in weightlifting.
You mentioned CrossFit. Essentially CrossFit now just turns people’s heads in the direction of weightlifting. What’s your attitude towards it?
Exclusively positive. Moreover, I’m grateful to CrossFit.
From my own experience I can say that when I lived in America, lots of people came from CrossFit to our gym to lift some weights, but then they became more interested in weightlifting and started practicing weightlifting only. I mean, we have a lot in common with CrossFit and we help each other.
In my opinion weightlifting can help CrossFit to fix those moments for which it is often criticized. I mean that when people look at any CrossFit competitions and see how athletes pull with rounded back and lift the barbell with terrible technique, it scares them. And just weightlifters can help them fix this terrible technique and make CrossFit even more attractive in the eyes of the rest of people.
Exactly! They help us, we help them. Of course, initially, like many weightlifters, I was skeptical about CrossFit. But over time, I started learn more about CrossFit, I began to change my point of view and started to love its various aspects more and more. I don’t want to do CrossFit, but I like their system, their team-spirit, their community and how they support each other. Weightlifting is still individual sport and it’s every man for himself. Sometimes we are lacking this team spirit.
This is one of those things that we need to learn from CrossFit.
Does that mean that you don’t plan to compete in CrossFit at the end of your career in weightlifting?
Definitely not. I’m a weightlifter and even when my career as an athlete is over, I plan to continue to be associated with weightlifting and help weightlifters.
Regarding the technique, what was most difficult for you when you started? Was there something that you have struggled with?
Sure! Technique can’t be learned in one day. You gradually approach all the intricacies of the lift. I struggled with keeping a tight back and the second pull. Then, eventually, when I began to strengthen the muscles of the waist, legs, arms, shoulders, technique began to improve.
But even we as professionals sometimes begin to lose technique. Particularly after a long vacation. We call this “under-training”. Some coaches even joke when the athlete begins to improve technique, “Hey, You became stronger and your muscles more toned.” So I want to advise everyone to not leave out technique work, even if it means using smaller weights for a period of time, just to remind the muscles how to move with the barbell.
You mentioned that you had a problem with the second pull. I would like to touch it little more, because that was the question from our other reader Andrey Bayborodin. How to deal with “over-pulling” in the snatch? I mean when one first pulls the bar to the groin, and then begins to “swing” with the back.
He needs to change the initial phase. This means that he pulls the bar incorrectly, uses his muscles incorrectly. If he is over-pulling, then he already takes off his back and then, when he does not have the distance and angle to pull the weight, he has to “swing” with the back and “throw” the bar upon him.
To fix this issue he has to sharpen the initial phase – the starting position and the first pull. So he needs to work on the first pull to keep the correct angle.
For the beginners the “reverse pull” works perfectly. This is the same as a snatch pull, but it is running non-stop with keeping muscles in tension. Once you’ve made the second pull you start lowering the bar and as soon as it kisses the platform you start doing a new rep. Do that for multiple reps.
That’s when the muscles begin to remember how to move with the bar. And then on the third set you begin to understand all the angles and how pull the barbell. Slow pull is also very helpful for those people. Performing the pull slowly, you can control all the angles and correct your mistakes. You can correct the position right away and stay over the bar better.
Do you have any “idol” in weightlifting or in sports in general? Or if not an “idol”, just the person to whom you treat with great respect and would like to be something like him.
No, I have no idols. There are people whom I respect. There are many qualities that can’t be within just one person.
In his interview, David Rigert said “only people who do nothing, hurt nothing”. Did you suffer some serious injuries in your sports career?
I’m one big walking injuryOf course! I’m one big walking injury. I had troubles like all other weightlifters – knees, wrists, shoulders, waist, hernia. I had 2 back surgeries. That’s why I can’t catch Snatches very deep and tend to do “Power Snatches” instead.
So I have been through a lot and have a lot of experience in rehabilitation after injuries or even how to compete when you have an injury, because you’re not always in the best shape before the competition.
What can you advise in the event of any minor injuries, continue to train or take a break until full recovery?
You have to train, but try to remove the load from the injured body part. Do some assistance exercises for other parts. There are many exercises for this. Then everything depends on the person and his/her motivation. There are often occasions when professional athletes have to drastically change the training program and maintain their shape in very non-standard ways, including swimming and other sports that are non-typical for weightlifting.
In other words I vote for training and giving the injured body part lighter loads, because as the practice shows it promotes faster recovery after injury.
Initially, you competed in -85 kg weight class, but then you moved to -94 kg. Then you were disqualified and now you compete in -105 kg. Why did you decide to go to this weight class? After all, it is now perhaps the class with the most fierce competition for a place in the national team. Competitors include Andrey Demanov (2014 European Weightlifting Championship winner), Timur Naniev (silver medalist of 2014 European Weightlifting Championship), Maxim Sheyko (2014 Russian Weightlifting Cup winner), David Bedzhanyan (world record holder), and Dmitry Klokov with Khadzhimurat Akkaev, who have not yet declared their retirement officially.
I’ve always had an interest in competing with the best athletes. Of course, the -94 kg weight class is also very strong. During the ban I gained weight up to 103 kg and after I snatched 200 kg and clean & jerked 230 kg for the first time in training, I decided to compete in -105 and not get into -94.
Currently I am a “raw” 105 kg. I mean that I didn’t train in it properly. But I do not want to do it ahead of time. In June I will start my first serious training in -105. But once again, I’m interested in competing in -105.
But now Apti Aukhadov goes to -94, and there was Ilya Ilyin before that. So there will not be too boring.
Well, it’s not a fact that Apti goes up to -94. It’s still just a rumour and we will look closer to the point.
And do you believe that Ilyin goes to -105?
I don’t know. But I have always believed that -105 won’t be comfortable for him. Ilya gained up to 105 kg at each training cycle before the big competitions and he always managed to get into -94. But now he is even below 105 kg. Yes, he certainly can add some kilos in the clean & jerk but it may adversely affect the snatch, he may lose speed and the technique will begin to change… so we’ll see.
If I understand correctly in June you plan to begin preparations for the 2014 Russian Weightlifting Championship to be selected for the World Championship?
Yes, I have enough motivation and capabilities.
When should an athlete think about going up to the next weight class?
squeeze the most out of your current weight classI believe that over time the athlete begins to understand what his/her optimal weight class is. The only thing that is worth mentioning here is that before moving on to the next weight category, the athlete should try to squeeze the most out of his current weight class.
So after losing weight to get into a lighter weight class for a couple of times, eventually your body will give you a signal to move up.
For example, when you have gotten into your weight class two or three times and on the fourth time you have a weight 3-4 kg above the one from which you dropped previous times, it is worth thinking about switching to another weight class so that don’t hurt your body. But if you got half of that weight and it’s not yet well-developed, ie having a belly hanging out etc, this indicates that you are still a bit early.
As far as I know, after the bronze at the Cup of Russia this year, you were called to the training camp and you were preparing for the 2014 European Weightlifting Championships, but you didn’t go there. Why?
I look at it as a trial period. I think I was given a trial period till the 2014 Russian Weightlifting Championship to show and prove my rights to represent the country in international competitions. Other guys have long trained in the lineup, they already have some achievements, some goals set by coaches and team leadership. And with me it turned out that I just got out of the ban and immediately jumped up into the team. I do not think that if was someone else was in my situation, it would have been different.
Now you train with Vladimir Safonov, who is primarily known for the fact that he is the trainer of Oxana Slivenko since 2005 and her major victories began under his coaching. Can you tell us about the methods of Safonov’s training? I’m talking primarily about some basic principles. What is the main focus?
What I like about him is that he bases the training program off of how his athletes feel. He tries to create a “tandem” with the athlete. Not all the coaches can see what the problem with an athlete is. Is it the technique or strength or something else? Because they do not “feel” the athlete.
They try to “sharpen” the athlete under that technique that they want to see. But this is not always possible. This may be due to injuries. For example, I can not stay over the barbell because of spinal surgery. And that’s why I pull back my back early.
Safonov understands the athlete and creates a comfortable environment for us. He sees, hears and understands the athlete. He has the knowledge in technique, physics, and in healing injuries. He is always working until the last rep. Always with you in the gym, always close to you on the platform. He even will put the bumper plates on your barbell if it’ll be necessary.
Continuing the theme here is another training related question from Andrey Bayborodin: Are there any cycles in your training program? Do you have any periods in your program when you really stop doing snatches and clean & jerks and focuses on the strength development.
Only when I recover from an injury. If I don’t have any injuries I always do competitive lifts. But the weight and volume varies. Again, it is necessary to work regularly with a barbell, and perform classic lifts so that I won’t lose the technique and do not allow my muscles forget how to move with the bar.
In the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that you began to collaborate with CrossFit GERAKLION. Can you tell me more about these activities?
Initially, the idea of some cooperation with GERAKLION arose after a conversation with Oxana, because I had planned to conduct various seminars and other activities aimed at popularising weightlifting in the future. We met with Sergey Eryomin President of The Fund of innovations and modernization in medicine and sport “Geraklion”, talked and came to an agreement in regards to the popularisation of the CrossFit and weightlifting in Russia.
CrossFit GERAKLION already has everything in order to create a strong team in CrossFit and other power sports, including weightlifting. There is sports equipment (barbells, pull-up bars, rowing machines, etc.) and medical equipment to conduct a comprehensive examination of athletes.
So I do not see any reason that may interfere in achieving our goals. I am very impressed with the desire of people to do something for the development of sport in every way and I plan to help them in this.
Do you plan to send in athletes from CrossFit GERAKLION to the Moscow Weightlifting Championships?
Definitely! And it has already happened. Two athletes from CrossFit GERAKLION attended the Moscow [Weightlifting] Championships.
I noticed that many weightlifters lifting for 2+ reps, do not stand up from the squat and drop the barbell. Why is that?
It’s simple. Many use lifting straps and dropping weights from overhead [after standing up] may result in injury, because you are connected to the barbell via the straps.
You’ve changed Nike Romaleos 2 weightlifting shoes to Reebok CrossFit Lifter recently. What is the reason for that?
I did not like the Nike Romaleos, because the heel raise is too big. I often shifted on to my toes and had to catch the bar in front of me because of it. The offset in the Reebok weightlifting shoes is less and there isn’t such problem, but I can’t say that I’m pleased with them either. This weightlifting shoe is not for weightlifters.
They are too soft and haven’t any cushioning. In general, this transition was not a good one. I’m going to the United States and I want to purchase a new model of the Adidas weightlifting shoes, because I have heard good things about them from my friends. I just want to note that all the above is a purely individual characteristics and some people will find Nike works best for them. You have to look for your own shoes.
Last year you held a series of seminars in weightlifting in the United States with Dmitry Klokov, Ilya Ilyin and the guys from Norwood Weightlifting. Are you planning to repeat this experience with them or separately?
Yes, this June we’ll host seminars and training camps at Waxman’s Gym, and some seminars in Black Box S&C, Black Flag Weightlifting, Catalyst Athletics and Texas Barbell.
And this time we will hold them together with Oxana Slivenko and my trainer Vladimir Safonov. The fact is that during my discussions with people at our first seminars I have noted a lot of interest specifically in women’s weightlifting.
As you know, there are some tricks associated with female physiology. But who can explain those better than a multiple World and European champion and her trainer? And in parallel, we will continue preparing with Safonov for the upcoming competitions.
In the future I plan to change the format of such events and to bring other guys from the national team, because I see the demand for it here in Russia and other countries. As I have already said, it is aimed at popularizing the weightlifting and CrossFit.
Also, we plan to launch the certification program towards weightlifting in the United States like in CrossFit.
Can you tell me a bit more about these seminars? What’s the format? Are they just a theoretical lecture or is practice with the analysis of errors of seminar attendees?
Unfortunately, my experience shows that it is easier to get them to completely forget what they learned somewhere, somehow and teach again from the ground up than to try to correct the many mistakes that they have.
I can say that this approach gives good results. In any case, all participants of the workshops show a good and rapid progress with weights and technique. As for the format, we try to make it not boring, including the theoretical part, as well as a demonstration of our technique and a lot of work with a barbell. Of course, I can not disclose all the topics of our seminars, but we plan to film some videos from the upcoming seminars. So stay tuned!
What are the most common technical errors you have seen in crossfitters during those seminars?
Yes, during those seminars we have identified a number of errors inherent to people involved in CrossFit.
Usually it is too powerful upper body, weak legs, weak lower back, weak shoulder girdle. The main mistake is lower back. Many mistakes in the second pull and receiving. Well, I can enumerate them for hours.
We as weightlifters divide the lift 3 parts but for the crossfitters we had to divide it into 8-10 stages and dive into each one of them separately.
I noticed that many сrossfitters lift their butt very quickly and then begin to “swing” with the back and jump forward.
That’s what I’m talking about! The upper bodies are too massive and the legs are underdeveloped.
From the start they switch off the legs, lift up the pelvis and lift the bar only with the back. So we lowered the seminar participant’s pelvis and pushed them into the correct positions to understand the proper angles.
Also a lot of people have a poorly developed back. I mean that they have a very strong legs, strong upper back, but due to a weak lower back they can not maintain the correct angle during the pull.
To identify these problems a coach should have a sharp eye. Cause oftentimes coaches say: “Don’t lift up the pelvis” and the athlete even understands and feels when he starts to lift up the pelvis, but then their coach can’t tell them how to fix it, what muscles they need to develop for this.
The basis of the “CrossFit pyramid” is nutrition. You stick to any diet like Paleo or whatever or just eat everything that is convenient?
Yes, I definitely follow a diet. If you want to achieve any results you must ensure what you eat well.
I eat very selectively and primarily what allows me to gain quality muscle mass. I prefer meat and veggies. I mean that there must be meat in my diet. It could be chicken, beef, lamb or fish. But it is always combined with vegetables, sometimes with cereals. I eat bread extremely rarely.
Do you use any supplements? And if so, which ones?
Of course, like other athletes. My stack is quite standard: amino acids, creatine, protein or gainer and vitamins.
What kind of supplements do you think are absolutely necessary for begginers in CrossFit and weightlifting?
I don’t recommend pre-workout supplements for beginnersWell, pretty much the same stuff: amino acids, creatine, protein, vitamins and glucosamine & chondroitin.
I absolutely do not recommend the use of any pre-workout supplements in the initial stages of training. First of all, the body gets used to the effect, and in the future people can’t perform a quality workout without it. You have to learn to “get crazy” without it.
And secondly under the influence of various stimulants from these supplements people cease to feel the “red line”, beyond which there is a risk of injury. With this new courage people attempt big weights and get injured.
Another question from our Facebook page follower Mikhail Filippov: What’s your favorite brand of bars and bumpers?
Currently it’s Eleiko. Although lately I’ve noticed that the quality of them dropped a bit. During the upcoming trip to the United States I want to test the new American Barbell bars and bumper plate. I have gotten positive feedback from my friends, and maybe we can even establish a relationship with the manufacturer for deliveries to Russia.
And finally, a few questions not related to sports. I read somewhere that you like to read. What is your favorite book?
I prefer “useful” literature. This could be any book on philosophy, physiology or something else that develops some skills in a person. I very rarely read fiction. When I do I read only that which was recommended to me by my friends. I encourage all athletes to pay attention to the development of mental abilities, because there are some science reports showing the effect of brain activity onto the physical performance.
What’s your favorite meal?
Lamb or pork?
C’mon, I’m a representative of the highlanders [all caucasus peoples in Russia]. Lamb, for sure. And I fell in love with tuna recently.
Do you have any hobbies?
Yes. I love music. In the sense that I love to create music.
I even used to bring some of my music to the gym and we listened to it while training. The boys enjoyed it. I also have a dream to organize a big open air concert someday, with good DJs and even me playing some sets there. Also I would love to be featured in a movie. In other words, besides the sport I like the arts.
Drawing is one thing I can’t do, I’d love to though.
Since you mentioned the movies. What’s your favorite movie or genre?
Well, I can not highlight any movie or genre. I like movies that give you something to think about.
It can be fiction or even melodramas. The main thing is that it must be meaningful. So that at the end of this movie I can take something from it. I recently watched the movie “The King’s Speech” and I highly recommend watching this enlightening movie. The general idea of the movie is that no matter how high your status is, sometimes you have to step over your pride for the good of the common cause.
Well, thank you very much for the detailed answers to our questions. I wish you success in all your endeavors that you’ve mentioned and in the upcoming competitions!
Thank you for your questions. Stay tuned!
IWF says he was banned for two, not four years though.
Alexey Goldbergs says
Tell that to Vasiliy, who was banned in 2009 and [officially] returned back to platform in october 2013 😉
I’m sorry, I’m obviously not involved in the process. I just noticed the discrepancy.
The IWF has a two year rule for first time violation. This is consistent with their public documentation of his suspension. It’s possible that the RWF told him otherwise or that he received different papers. I can only speculate.
Could you ask him why there’s this misconception?
Alexey Goldbergs says
Vasiliy said me that this “two years” rule was introduced after he was caught. And previously that was four years ban.
I love these interviews.