This is one question that never goes away. We all want to improve, most of us are willing to work our ass off the improve, but most are plagued with doubt about which program to use, and why. Every aspiring champion has doubts about the program they are using, and whether or not it is the right one. And who can blame them? The Bulgarians maxed out constantly, and they did pretty well. The Russians and others did a more varied program, with lots of different exercises and rep schemes, seemingly a whole different style of training. So what should WE do? Who should we copy?
I for one don’t think we should COPY anyone, but we can certainly learn from everyone. America is a unique country, and we will need to come up with unique methods. We are one of the only countries in the world with a large population of recreational weightlifters, or lifters for whom winning is not part of their livelihood. Some think of this as a disadvantage, I disagree. It simply makes the genetic pool we draw from bigger. This pool is where we will eventually find the people who will move us back to the top of the sport. I am biased towards the Bulgarian way of doing things, and always approach training with the mindset of wanting to go as heavy as possible, as often as possible. I am impatient, I want to move that max clean and jerk up as fast as I can. But although my default position is always to max out, I know there are a lot of reasons why a constant diet of nothing but maximal lifts often doesn’t work out for American lifters.
For one thing, we are not all perfectly suited to the weightlifting movements. None of us were selected at age 9 for perfect limb lengths or other factors that make superior lifters. Some of us are just built wrong! Whether the problem is a spine that is too short or two long in comparison to our legs, or elbows that don’t completely lock out, these physical imperfections mean that we are not lifting machines designed solely for weightlifting! This does not mean we will never snatch or clean big weights, it does mean we might have to resort to extraordinary means to do so. Whether this means that you have to do way more push presses than jerks to build the necessary strength in your shoulders and triceps, or whether like Jared Fleming you have to resort to isometrics to build the necessary pulling strength to break an American record reaching your best total is likely to mean more than just maximum snatches and clean and jerks. In fact you might have to resort to completely different methods of training, like Jared did.
Most lifters who do not quickly become national champions or world team members are lacking strength in at least one particular motion. Fleming lacked pulling strength, others might lack strength in the squat or lockout strength on the jerk. If you have lifted for a year, and you have not yet qualified for nationals or aren’t yet high on the ranking list for the world team, don’t fool yourself. A lack of strength in some movement is the problem. The Pendlay WOD uses lots of back squats and push presses, and even deadlifts for part of every 8 week cycle as the fastest ways to increase pulling, squatting, and lockout strength. These strength exercises are programmed twice per week with one higher volume and session and one higher intensity session every week. They are pushed HARD. If you are allergic to grinding our heavy sets of squats, this training program is not for you. On the other hand, if you believe gaining muscle and getting strong are necessary parts of the sport of weightlifting, come on over. We will get along just fine.