Sunday, March 6, 2016

What I Learned from Dmitry Klokov

What I Learned From Dmitry Klokov

As a conditioning coach working with athletes in a variety of sports, it is often a goal to make an athlete stronger. I do not work with “strength” athletes, i.e. where success is measured by the amount of weight on the bar (powerlifting and weightlifting). Strength is just one piece of the conditioning pie, but an important piece. Strength fascinates me - to study (the theory) and to make my athletes stronger (the practice).

One pet peeve of mine is that many athletes are impatient and just want to go “balls to the wall” when they are trying to improve their one repetition maximum. I believe that if you want to get stronger (increased maximal strength) you must lift heavy weights, but you cannot do this all the time. You need a plan that will bring you to your goals or new PRs, and you need patience and intelligence.

I had the pleasure of attending a weightlifting seminar a week ago led by Dmitry Klokov, the Russian weightlifter. It was in Innsbruck, organized by Crossfit Innsbruck head coach and owner Tom Hölzl. Klokov is a world champion weightlifter, and won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Here is a link to a list of his best lifts; there is a video also on this page:

Two things really hit home for me in the seminar.

1: He is very exact with technique in all the lifts he showed us and had us try.

2: He does not recommend going HEAVY a lot. 

Dmitry teaching an old dog (me) new tricks!
Photo courtesy of 
-->Crossfit Innsbruck

I was very happy to hear that a monster like Klokov preaches patience and prudence in strength training. I am going to give a couple of examples of other strength experts who also preach that patience and brains will conquer balls and ego over time.

Jim Wendler has a great lifting system known as 5/3/1. He has squatted 1000 lbs. and benched 675 lbs. This is a direct quote from Wendler’s article in T Nation:

While it may seem counter intuitive to take weight off the bar when the goal is to add weight to it, starting lighter allows you more room to progress forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy and they want to start now.
This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.

Mark “Smelly” Bell, owner of the Supertraining Gym, and a very accomplished powerlifter, says in his seminar with aspiring NFL combine hopefuls helping them with their 225 lbs. max reps training, says (my words, his are similar in the video):

You don’t need to lift insane heavy weights to get stronger. That you can go 100 – 105% ONLY ON OCCASION! He feels that 90-95% of your training should look clean (meaning lifting with good technique). Here is the link to the video: 

The take home message is that when you want to get stronger, you should leave your ego at the door and start with conservative loads to make sure that you can progress every workout as you move to increase your maximal strength. You should also lift with the best possible technique. This will decrease your risk of injury. These are simple concepts, but they are too rarely used.

You must have a plan; you have to know when to go “hard” and when to be “smart”. And training smart is almost always a better plan than training “hard”. Yes, you can lift heavy at times if you are ready, but be smart and be patient.

This season (2015-16) Peter Penz and Georg Fischler won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the FIL luge world championships, and Janine Flock also won silver in the IBSF women’s skeleton world championships. I was responsible for their strength training. I don’t often publicly put notches on my belt when my athletes have success, because I am just part of a bigger team that works with these athletes.

In our Olympic training center, we have physiotherapists, masseurs, sport psychologists and a nutritionist who work with our athletes. Then there are the specific sport coach and assistant coaches, and the technicians who work on the equipment; the list goes on and on. At the risk of omitting other important people involved I will simply say that this list is not complete. I have not listed all the people who contributed to the success. Some of my coaching colleagues whom I work with also contribute to the training. There are really too many people involved for me to “take credit”.

Why do I then write about these athletes in this case? To show that we are working with real athletes in the real world, and indeed it is sometimes a challenge to get them stronger and to keep them patient at the same time. They are highly motivated, and they work hard. A huge part of my job is to make sure that they also work smart - lift with good technique, and know WHEN to go heavy!


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