Training With the Russians

Russian flag

I love new perspectives.  Talking to new people either lends new insights into your own thinking or confirms that your own thinking was on the right track after all.

With lifting this means going to seminars or teaching opportunities by different coaches.  I adore my coach and the many people from whom I’ve learned in the past, but again, you never know when you’re going to hear that new cue that really resonates with you.  Or when somebody will notice something specific about your mechanics that helps you overcome a plateau.

Last weekend I got to spend a day with 4 Russians: Vasily Polovnikov (holder of several Russian records), Oxana Slivenko (olympic silver medalist and two time world champion), Nikita Durnev (Master of Sport) and coach Vladimir Safonov (Oxana and Vasily’s coach).  Here’s what I learned.

1. Russians are bigger than you.  My first impression was holy shit! Russians are big and lean!  I’ve heard the criticism before (allegedly from the Polish coach of the American national team) that American weightlifters are kinda fat in general vs. their compatriots overseas.  But seeing the Russians….. dayam!  They’re very muscular almost in a body builder way (although more specific to weightlifting muscle groups), much more so than most Americans who tend to resemble bodybuilders in bulking season, not stage season.  Now in fairness, when I researched Polovnikov after the fact, it turns out he’s just coming off of a multiyear ban for positive drug testing.  And Slivenko now competes in Crossfit where the testing is much more lax than WADA testing.  So there’s that.  But they still had to put in the work.  The drugs don’t lift the bar for them.

2. Even superheros start with the bar.  We got to watch them train for a bit before the teaching started.  In all exercises whether competition lifts or accessory lifts, they started with the bar. Even the series of C&Js that ended well over 400lbs started with a 20kg bar.  Which leads to the next point….

3. All their reps looked the same.  Bar or 440lbs, all the reps looked the same.  They’re very technically precise.  I remember reading once about somebody driving with a professional race car driver.  He didn’t speed around the city streets, or take turns at sub-acute angles.  But the speedometer never varied one iota when he was driving.  And if you don’t think that takes technical precision, try doing it sometime.  Keeping your speed exactly in one spot.

4. They like good music.  ok, maybe this is not a generalizable point, but these particular Russians like EDM (or what they called, “club music.  With bass and a beat”).  It made my heart sing to see massive squats with “Antidote” blaring from the speakers.

5. They have fun, but get very serious as soon as their hands touch the bar.  These guys were very sweet (despite a disclaimer at the beginning that “if we’re not smiling it doesn’t mean we’re unhappy or angry”) and joked around often.  But when they started to lift, all their focus went into what they were doing.  No checking Facebook between lifts.  They lifted then they focused on what they were doing between lifts.

6. They teach their progressions off the floor (not from the hip).  The USAW approach is to teach the lifts from the power position which I understand, but to me, it makes more sense to learn the lifts off the floor.

7. They celebrate masters lifters who compete forever 🙂  They were surprised to hear that it’s only lately that the American weightlifting community has begun to notice the Masters.  Their attitude was that you could compete forever.  They mentioned Masters Worlds.  It warmed my heart.

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