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11 Lessons from the Russians


11 Lessons from the Russians

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to California to attend the Dream Team Clinic (one of the perks of being on Team Juggernaut haha), featuring Dmitry Klokov (you may know him from YouTube), Ilya Ilyin (2x Olympic gold medalist and World Record holder), Vasiliy Polovnikov (9x Russian Champion) and Zygmunt Smalcerz (US OTC coach) at Waxman’s Gym.

This was a truly great experience to see such great athletes in action and to be able to be coached by them. I could go on for pages and pages about what I learned but here are 11 key points…

1. Simplify

The amount of knowledge I gained from this seminar was not so much in the words spoken, but from what I saw and how they communicated with not just athletes, but also each other and the questions they received from the attendees. Their lack of English probably helped more than it hindered their ability to get some things across. Were they very specific in what they wanted? You betcha. At the same time, the core concepts were not horribly complicated. In fact they were quite simple. There were many questions that they were almost confused about, showing facial expressions which to me said, “What the crap are you even talking about?”. A few times they would have to try the movement before they could give an answer to what they were asked, simply because it wasn’t a point that needed or had a lot of attention put on it. I think this is a huge thing, especially among the beginners. You don’t have to teach every biomechanical detail to the athlete. The goal is to get them to do what is most optimal, not make them professors of weightlifting.

2. They Jump

I should have counted the number of times they said the exact word “jump”. Perhaps the number of times they actually demonstrated a huge jump. Ilya jumping up, Klokov jumping across the platform, it is all about jumping. Of course I loved the crap out of this. Who doesn’t love when credible sources back up a core concept you have been teaching? Not only did they jump, but they exaggerated the concept of getting up on the toes during the lift. “More high up on toes”, of course in a Russian accent.

3. They Shrug

Again, I loved the validation. Not that I need it, (but come on, who honestly wouldn’t swim in the glory of having these 3 back you up) but it helps dispel some of the things people have been saying about at least 2 of these 3 lifters. “shoulders – ears”, again in a Russian accent. Just a side note, I may start using a Russian accent in all of my coaching. Now after these last two things, I do need to note that they do not coach the so called jump and shrug the way some do. There is no power position. At no point do they teach to stand all the way vertical before the full extension of the pull. There are some differences in which they reach the end result, but they still say jump, and they still teach the shrug.

4. Bar Path off the Floor

One of the things I really enjoyed, not necessarily from a coaching perspective, but as an athlete, was that they teach a straight bar path from the floor to the hip. They do not teach the bar coming towards the lifter at all from the floor. While this is different from what I teach about getting the bar to come towards the lifter, I am conflicted because I have such a hard time getting the bar in myself- Most of the time it comes straight up. This goes along with what they teach for foot pressure. Often people talk about getting the weight to the heel and the front of the foot comes up. Recently I have been discussing keeping the whole foot down with that big toe. They teach the weight in the mid foot or front of the heel and pushing with the whole foot. They don’t teach a shift in foot pressure from what I heard, but to always push with the whole foot, keeping the bar in a straight path from the floor to explosion. This seriously simplifies a lot of problems people debate in this country.

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Get your own copy of Dmitry Klokov’s book, along with 2 hours of video instruction for the snatch and clean and jerk. Just click the picture above.

5. What You See Is Not Always What You Think

During the section where they discussed corrective exercises I learned a lot about what people have said or seen on youtube and other internet “resources”, specifically from Klokov. He demonstrated a lot of movements done improperly, knowing it was not the correct way, but in an attempt to address a certain weakness in the movement. Specifically the pull from the floor to the hip, he said he does them both while too far behind and in front of the bar. I will say again that he knows this is not the way it is done in the lift, but said it is useful for addressing a weakness in either the back or the legs, depending on which way you do them. This should put a damper on everyone who says, “well I saw so-and-so do this on the internet”. Just because you see something doesn’t mean you understand the intention, or the understanding that it may not be ideal but is being used to train a certain aspect, not to practice the actual movement.

6. They Do Not Train CrossFit

It was specifically asked if they did CrossFit for this or that. While they did say they do “CrossFit type exercises” it was also clarified, specifically, that they do not train CrossFit. This does not mean CrossFit is evil. This simply means that yes they do complexes and a lot of volume work with all sorts of different movements, and CrossFit has become a blanket term for many different things, but they do not and are not training to compete in CrossFit. So stop it.

7. The Elbows

One of the things that has been taking some thinking about is the position of the elbows. Ilya said to turn the elbows back in the overhead position. This is different than what I have been taught and have thought in the past. After it was brought up again, Zygmunt said that it isn’t so much about the direction, but more about everything being turned on. I must also note that they did not teach to reach up with the shoulders in the overhead position, but the shoulders were again, turned on, but in a more neutral position. While Ilya’s elbows are turned slightly back, his shoulders are not opened up in a way that we see when someone’s chest is falling forward. He still has a VERY upright posture. This posture was talked about and praised extensively and I believe plays a huge role in the ability to turn the elbows back in the catch. I still think you cannot turn them back if the chest is falling forward, but while an upright posture is maintained it shows to be effective.

8. The Wrists

This goes hand in hand with the elbow position above. They teach a straight wrist, and not an extended wrist while the bar is overhead. The reason being that it puts excessive pressure on the wrist and elbow. I originally taught a straight wrist as well, but over time I started being more relaxed on this position. Looking at the overall picture, I think the extended wrist allows the bar to sit back a little, but is something that can be better managed with a more upright posture. Pretty sure world records have been set either way though.

9. They Do Not Do The Same Thing Now As They Did Early In Their Careers

Stop trying to mimic what these athletes are doing after a decade or more of training. They all admitted that early on in their careers they did many more exercises for much more volume than they do now. The time line I asked about was the first 3-5 years of their careers, so if you are in your first or second year, you clearly should not be trying to copy what these seasoned lifters are doing in their current training. In addition to this, their training blocks that they work with are a matter of months, not weeks. Ilya spoke of his 10 month training phase. Now clearly this is someone at the top of the game, but if you are jumping from training idea to training idea every few weeks, perhaps it is time to reconsider your strategy.

10. They Are Strong… Very Strong

I doubt this really needs to be noted, but the base strength of these athletes is unreal. Besides their huge squat numbers which include back squats in the 300’s (kg) and front squats 280kg and up, they are strong in every other way as well. Vasily pulling about 600lbs for a triple deadlift, cold, looked like a piece of cake. They are not just strong in the lifts, they are just stupid strong.

11. They Do Not All Do or Think the Same Thing

The greatest thing about this seminar was that there was no magic bullet. I know many people hope for such a thing, asking about specific exercises, rep and set ranges, etc. but I was most excited about the variety of thoughts and programs from one to the next. Vasily had a programming point of view that very much resembled what I have been exposed to. Ilya has a program that encompassed 10 months and went from swimming and rowing to a gradual inclusion of the lifts, to an ultimate elimination of everything but the lifts and squats. Klokov has a program that didn’t really exist. He stopped having a strict program around 2004 I believe he said and does what he feels necessary until his very strict program starts during the last 3 weeks leading into a competition. Which one is better? Vasily has won 9 Russian national titles. Ilya has won 2 Olympic Championships and 3 World Championships. Klokov has won a World Championship and Olympic Medals. These are all ridiculously successful athletes with very different programs, while the core concepts of the lifts remain.


Is what they teach the only way? No. Is what I am writing a 100% accurate depiction of what they do and teach? Unlikely. This is what I took from this seminar. I loved every minute of it. The concept that athletes can be so successful without completely over complicating the teaching of the lifts is sort of enlightening. Why? Because that means there isn’t some magic technique to make you lift a world record. You have to get it right, then work your ass off. After that, you have to do it some more. My day was made after spending just a minute with Ilya showing him some video of my lifts, he said my technique was “very good” and if I can just stay over the bar a little longer I could snatch 172. That, and to fix my jerk I need to “Jump more”, as he put it… in English. Bonus material included while I was training- Klokov called me either a “Strong man” or “strong for American”… There was some debate about it but I’m going to go with the first one. Ultimately it was awesome and if you weren’t there, you should have been. It was great to get the information about their system directly from them, rather than so-called experts who spout their interpretation without ever having exchanged a word.

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Colin Burns

Colin Burns is a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center. He currently holds the American Record in the Snatch with a lift of 169kg. Burns won the 2014 USA Weightlifting National Championship and was a member of the Senior World Team. A USAW Sports Performance Coach and CSCS holder, Burns has served as a physical preparation coach for the US Olympic Training Center, University of Wisconsin Badgers football program and University of Michigan Olympic sports programs.

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2 Responses to “11 Lessons from the Russians”

August 06, 2015 at 11:44 am, Grow Like a New Lifter Again? • Strengtheory said:

[…] Ilin took multiple months off lifting entirely after his 2012 Olympic gold medal, mostly sticking to rowing and swimming for his training.  He eventually got below 90kg (he competed at 94kg, generally weighing over […]


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