All the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world cite old Soviet weightlifting research. But very rarely does anyone mention exactly what they learned from this mythical late 20th century research—until now.
I resolved to find out what all the fuss is about—one text at a time. I started with Managing the Training of Weightlifters by Nikolai Petrovich Laputin and Valentin Grigoryevich Oleshko, 1982. But first, a little background on why these Soviet texts are valuable:
The time was the Cold War. The USA and its capitalist allies were entrenched in an epic schlong-measuring contest with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. The measuring was done by counting nuclear weapons and Olympic medals. The Soviets had a knack for weightlifting. They also had 100 Million young men who knew that one sure way out of poverty was to become a top weightlifter for the motherland. Throw in a lot of scientists with pads and pencils, ready to record data, and you’ve got a powerful opportunity, albeit unfortunate.
So what did I learn from Managing the Training of Weightlifters? I’ve summarized the biggest learning points in bullet form below. Most of this is very specific to weightlifting (snatch, clean and jerk), and very specific to winning at the Olympics. So read it with that lens.
1. Career of a Weightlifter
- It takes 5-10 years of dedicated training for an athlete to reach full potential
- Average is about 8 years
- Heavier athletes take longer than lighter athletes
- Most lifters at the Olympics are 26-27 years old
- After 7-10 years of dedicated training, athletes stagnate and PRs stay within 1-3%
- My Conclusion: if you want the best chance to be an Olympic weightlifter then make sure you were born in the right year to hit 26-27 in an Olympic year, and start training at age 18-19. Of course, older and younger Olympians exist. I said the best chance.
2. Prilepin’s Chart
- Laputin extensively cites the work of A.S. Prilepin. You may know this as “Prilepin’s Chart,” although it’s really “Prilepin’s Table.” This table tells you for any given percentage of 1RM
- The optimal number of reps you should perform during a workout (3rd column)
- The total range of reps you should perform during a workout (4th column)
- Number of reps you should perform in a set (2nd column)
- Prilepin’s table is generally regarded as gospel in strength training. See below.
3. Strength Development
- The below table shows the distribution of total lifts executed in training by load (as a percentage of 1RM). Loads of 85% are used most often.
- Athletes with weaker nervous systems require more volume at lower intensity
- Athletes with stronger nervous systems require less volume at higher intensity
- Increasing grip strength leads to success for lifters in all weight classes
- One of the most reliable predictors of success in the jerk is the speed of the dip/drive
- Furthermore, the speed of reversal of the dip/drive is paramount
- Lifters who pause at the bottom of the dip jerk less weight—always
- Use depth jumps for explosive strength development
- Loads range from just bodyweight up to the empty bar
- Sets of 10 reps with 1-2 minutes rest between
- No more than 4 sets
- Performed at end of training, 3 times per week
- The conjugate method is mentioned very briefly on page 75, but no details or explanation are given. The author seems to imply that it is a well-understood concept and doesn’t need review. Louie Simmons later popularized the conjugate method. You can read a good explanation of Louie’s method here.
- Top lifters perform a total of 20,000 lifts per year of which 480-500 are at 90%+ of 1RM. This includes all exercises– classic and assistance.
- A note on snatch pulls
- Performing snatch pulls above 90% of your snatch was shown to gain strength for pulling muscles, but at the expense of altering the bar path from a correct snatch. Therefore, during the pre-competition period, don’t exceed 90% on snatch pulls, and eliminate them completely within one week of competition.
- Optimum training volume as a percentage of monthly volume:
- Snatch: 27%
- Clean and Jerk: 26%
- Squat: 20%
- Pulls: 15%
- Press: 10%
- Other: 2%
4. Volume Leading up to Competition (Tapering)
- 1-2 months prior
- 8 workouts per week with weights
- 2-4 workouts per week focused on general physical preparedness
- 1 month prior
- 5 workouts per week with weights
- 4-8 lifts per set
- Larger volume, lower intensity
- 2 weeks prior
- 4-5 workouts per week with weights
- Higher intensity, lower volume
- Focus on technical mastery
- 2 workouts per week focused on general physical preparedness
- No good mornings, pressing, heavy squats, or pulls
- Each week of the competition month as a percentage of total monthly volume
- 4th week: 35%
- 3rd week: 28%
- 2nd week: 22%
- Last week: 15%, tapering up to day of competition
- Last maximal loads done 13-17 days before competition. Competition first attempts judged from these lifts.
5. Percentage Relationships for Top Athletes
- The below table shows what you can expect for max loading in accessory lifts if you know your max load in the classic lifts. The percentages assume “highly qualified lifters.” Note that lighter athletes will have a strong squat without a correspondingly strong snatch and clean and jerk.
6. Optimum Rest Intervals Between Lifts
- Previous research established
- 2 minutes rest for snatch
- 3 minutes rest for clean and jerk
- For a series of 10 warmup lifts before competition lifts, Laputin recommends increasing rest intervals
- Starting at 1.14 minutes between warmup lifts 1-2
- Gradually increasing to 2.14 minutes between warmup lifts 5-6
- Gradually increasing and finishing at 3.15 minutes between warmup lifts 9-10
Those are my major learning points from Laputin’s Managing the Training of Weightlifters. If you’re interested in geeking out and talking details on any of this, I’d love nothing more, so hit me in the comments or contact us here!