– By Quinn Taylor

As many of you know, the CFW coaching staff spent this past weekend with Coach Alexander Varbanov and his family, as well as Tyler Touchette from Cornwall, Ontario’s Caveman Strong for an Olympic Weightlifting seminar.

A little bit about Alex: has set 10 world records in his competitive career, including a 382.5 kg Total (Snatch + Clean & Jerk) at a 75 kg bodyweight.  For those of us who can’t quite grasp that feat when measure in kilos, we are talking 841 lbs in two lifts for a man tipping the scales at less than 165 lbs. He holds an Olympic Bronze medal from 1988 in Seoul, and is considered by many to be one of the top lifters of the 20th century.

His wife Irina, who is a weightlifting referee herself and helped translate when Alex spoke Bulgarian, accompanied him. Also a huge part of weekend was watching his twelve-year-old son Nicky demonstrate the lifts. Involved in the sport since the age of six, Nicky competes in the 45 kg weight class and shows both incredible speed and athleticism, as well as maturity beyond his years. Not to mention strength. In one of the last sessions of the weekend, Nicky was demonstrating a max effort front squat. He matched his PR… of 225#! To respect his personal privacy, we will not post pictures or video to the website, but ask one of the coaches to show you some video of his lifts. You will be floored.

I know the first reaction for a lot of people hearing these numbers would be to cringe, recalling to mind some rumor of kids and weights and stunted growth. It is important to remember that weightlifting is nothing like bodybuilding or powerlifting. The reps are primarily singles, and therefore volume and time under load are significantly lower, with the focus on technique and speed. It took years of training full time for Alex to achieve those incredible weights. Similarly, at the amateur level, heavy weight is far from the priority. Alex also takes a very patient, disciplined approach to teaching youth. A child should never be pushed or pressured beyond where they feel comfortable. In fact, no one should. It should always be fun.

There are several points that I personally took away from the weekend that I think will benefit our community in our approach to the Oly movements:

  • Focus. This is perhaps the most important thing that I will be taking away from the weekend. Focus. As we know, the snatch and the clean & jerk are complex movements. None of us are so experienced with the movements that we can complete good lifts with our minds elsewhere. Focus means slow down your thoughts, shut out distractions. As you approach the bar, pick a spot on the wall ahead of you, even if its across the gym, and focus on that spot for a few moments. Inhale. Exhale. Then set. And lift. The single biggest reason you miss a lift is because you were not mentally prepared to execute.
  • Sit down between lifts. This goes hand in hand with the focus aspect. The short break between attempts is a time to relax, refocus and prepare for your next lift. Don’t pace back and forth. Don’t throw a dowel around. Don’t chat with your neighbour. Relax. Sit down. Take it easy. Next time you set up your station, bring a box or a bench over. This is your chair.
  • Keep cues simple. This goes for us coaches in particular and applies for the duration of the lifting session. Between each lift and while setting up for each attempt, cues should be concise. “Speed.” “Knees out.” “Finish the pull.” “Focus.” Once that particular lifting session is done, then is a good time to give more detailed explanations of what needs work. If we are giving you too many things to think about, let us know.
  • Practice, practice, practice… One of the basic principles of the Bulgarian Method of weightlifting is the SAID principle, or “specific adaptation to impulse demands.” In short, all training is specific to a particular task. Training your 20RM back squat will increase your strength in general, but more specifically, it will increase your 20RM back squat. Therefore, if your goal is to increase your 1RM back squat, there is no reason to be doing sets of 20. You should be doing sets of 1. Follow me? If you want to improve your snatch and clean & jerk… guess what you need to do? Go to Oly class.
  • … makes perfect? Actually, no. No one in the history of Olympic weightlifting has mastered its technique. Why? Because it keeps getting heavier. Compare it to basketball. If Steve Nash hits a 3-pointer, does his ball get heavier for the next shot? Or does the net get moved up an extra foot? No, it is no harder for Nash to sink his 10th straight three-pointer than it was his first (on an empty court, anyway.) This is where Oly lifting is so unique. Each time you “master” a lift, you add weight, thereby having to re-learn how to lift this new object. Olympic lifting is like an endless pursuit of unattainable perfection. Sounds a lot like CrossFit, doesn’t it (minus the rolling around in puddles of sweat part).

I hope that our renewed enthusiasm for Olympic weightlifting passes on to you over the next few weeks. As always, let us know what works and what doesn’t. Whether in person after class, or by email, us coaches always appreciate your feedback.

Also, if anyone has any suggestions/requests for future articles, rants, coaches’ phone numbers, let me know at quinn@crossfitwinnipeg.com.