Strength and the OTC

A popular question in certain circles is “what is wrong with the training of American weightlifters”, the assumption being that at least some of the blame for us not doing well on the international level falls on stupid American coaches who just dont get it.

In quite a few internet forums there is now a common theme, that American weightlifters arent strong enough and stupid American coaches dont work hard enough on improving maximal strength.  It is enlightening that most of these people who have come to this conclusion have never produced a high level lifter themselves, and the foriegn coaches they idolize generally have the opposite opinion!  Most comments from foriegn coaches that I have heard 1st hand or 2nd hand are similar to this “they pull the bar well but cant catch it, they drive the bar well in the jerk but cant get under it” or this “Americans can do pulls and squats but not the competiton lifts.  They should concentrate more on the competition lifts and less on the slow lifts which dont translate over into bigger snatches”.   Both these comments express the opinion that what we need is less “strength” work and more practice on the competitive lifts.

Central to the argument of these “internet experts” is the assertion that the Olympic Training Center has been unsuccessfull in producing consistent progress amoung the lifters training there and that they flog technique to death and have no interest in increasing maximal strength.  This has been said again and again on the internet and there are arguments over the validity of this claim on several forums right now.

Lets look at the claim that the OTC does not work on maximal strength.  Among the athletes who are actually there, what are the reported changes in training from the training that got them to the point of an invitation to go?  Now I have not talked to every single one, but enough of them to have a good general idea.  First of all there is a reduction in technical work on the competition lifts, especially the full lifts.  There is an overall increase in training volume, a very high increase for some athletes, with the volume made up of much harder work on pulls of various types, all the way from clean grip deadlifts with high weights, romanian deadlifts, partial clean pulls or snatch or clean deadlifts from various boxes, etc.  There is an overall increase in squatting volume, with heavy exercises like partial squats even used in some cases.

So we see the opposite of what most “internet experts” claim, an overall increase in strength exercises and a decrease in the full competition lifts especially the competition lifts done at higher weights or higher percentages of the athletes maximum.

What is the single biggest reported change in physical ability for athletes who have spent their first year at the training center?  In talking to a great many of them over the last 7-8 years, I would have to say an increase in the squat.  Almost every person going to the OTC makes squat gains.  What is the complaint that I have most often heard from athletes at the OTC or who have left the OTC, or the personal coaches of these athletes?  That they worked so hard to get stronger, that they got stronger at the expense of the competition lifts.  In other words, the squat went up but the snatch and clean didnt, or at least didnt go up as much as expected.

Trying to answer the question of whether the OTC is doing a good job with the weightlifters training there is a question better left for another post.  The answer could never be a simple yes or no, because there are successes and failures there just like there are in any training center or club, and the factors involved in these successes or failures are never so limited as to be entirely the fault of the training program being used.

However, if one were of the opinion that they are not, then based off the opinions of people who have actually either been there or coached athletes who have been there you would have to say that it is for the opposite reason the “internet experts” propose, that the error is too much time and effort spent on strength and too little on competition lifts.

If the assertions of the “internet experts” about what is going on at the OTC are so far off the mark in their criticisms of the OTC, I would tend to think it would also lower the value of some of the other things they have to say about American weightlifting as well.

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One response to “Strength and the OTC

  • Vernon Patao

    I have been a resident at the OTC and have made tremendous gains there. In fact, I would not have made the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Weightlifting teams without the coaching of many of my mentors including Lyn Jones, Dragomir Cirosolan, John Thrush, Doc Yogi, etc. I am confident to say that we had a great group of athletes at that time with top notch coaches.

    One thing I did notice over the years was that we were consistently 10-25% weaker than the top weightlifters around the world. Why was that?

    An interesting point is that the USAW has one of the cleanest (as far a drug use) weightlifting programs in the world. I was fortunate to train with world record holders, olympic gold medalists, and world champions. None of our national team members could keep up with those top lifters’ with the volume and intensity of their workouts. We focused on training just as much as recovery at the OTC. We had unlimited use of the OTC sports med facility as well as private chiropractors and masseuse. Still, we could not keep up with the workload of those.

    I am not sure what the magic formula is to get USAW back on the world map. I do have to thank Crossfit for exposing Olympic Weightlifting which I believe will help USAW identify more talent than ever before.

    Regardless of our current situation, I am gonna do my best to develop great athletes and weightlifters by sharing my experiences with as many people as I can.

    Mr. PENDLAY, I hope one day you can share your knowledge with my athletes here on Maui…….using all of my Pendlay equipment. You can stay at my house.

    Stay Strong,
    Vernon Patao
    (808) 281-3664

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