Recently I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia to see the city and to visit the school for “Heavy Athletics" – better known as the St. Petersburg Olympic Training Center. This training facility is located in a suburb of St. Petersburg called Pavlovsk.
Pavlovsk is a picturesque village surrounded by woods, fresh air and quiet. When I arrived at the school with my interpreter Anfisa Breus, we were introduced immediately to head coach Vladislav I. Krylov. Vladislav is the chief (as they call it) coach for this particular OTC that trains only Olympic weightlifters. Vladislav welcomed me with open arms and after a brief introduction to his staff of 4 other coaches, he started to show me the facility. Vladislav told me that there had been other Americans come there before, but none had brought an interpreter with them like I did, so there wasn’t any communication or sharing of ideas or training methodology. The Americans only observed, according to Vladislav.
At this center there are only 15 available spots. Eight athletes were there at this time training, 7 juniors and 1 senior lifter – Yuri Myshkovets, an 85 kg lifter that won a silver medal in the European Championships earlier this summer. He had been back in training for only 3 weeks after a long break from the Europeans.
During the tour of the facility we stopped in their kitchen. Vladislav was speaking about purifying the organism (body). He invited me and Anfisa to sit down and talk about the diet of the athletes there. He spoke about body purifying with diet and nutrition. He said that the athletes drank only 3 different drinks. The first was simply purified water and a lot of it! The second was green tea and the third was an unusual old school Russian concoction derived from mushrooms, water and some form of sweetener. I never really understood how it was made, but this is what I can remember from the translation. The top of a large mushroom is placed in a jar. Then they pour purified water over it, which makes the mushroom rise after a certain period of time. There is a sweetener (?) of some kind in the jar which is mixed with the water. This mix is then put somewhere to ferment for many days. Refrigerator or some other place – I’m not sure where. Vladislav told me that this particular drink was very high in antioxidants and was extremely good for the body. Then he poured me up a large glass of this concoction, which made me a little nervous. I didn’t want to get sick half way across the world from drinking a mushroom tea. Anfisa told me that her Grandmother used to make the same drink, so I told her if she drank it I would drink it. Vladislav could tell that I was a little nervous about the drink so he also had a glass. After the tea I felt fine and we continued our talk about diet.
Here at the center everything is cooked fresh, no preservatives, no sweets, no fried food, nothing but whole grains and fresh vegetables and meats. I asked him about supplements and he said the center didn’t supply them for the lifters. If the athletes wanted amino acids, creatine etc… they were responsible for it themselves. I am sure there was again a lot of information lost in translation, but these are things I am sure of from our conversations.
The city of St. Petersburg funds the facility and pays for the food, the cooks on site, housing and upkeep of the facility (grounds, building etc..). Plus they pay for him as a coach and one assistant. According to Vladislav, the paid assistant coach is a past champion of the USSR – one that I remember seeing pictures of in some of the old Strength and Health magazines in the 1970’s. I couldn’t understand his name and he didn’t give me his card like Vladislav.
Vladislav then took me to a different part of the building that was equipped with balance boards, med balls, jump ropes, plyo boxes, and something that I have never seen before. With the help of an electrical engineer, Vladislav devised a piece of equipment that their lifters use before their first session of training – and after their last. During our tour, Vladislav continually spoke about the importance of keeping the body relaxed. He constantly talked about the importance of relaxing the arms and not over-gripping the bar. These comments are nothing new to me, but he pointed this out several times. Vladislav showed me this piece of equipment that he has come up with that I will call the “muscle stimulator”. This piece of equipment supposedly sends electrical impulses and vibrates at different intensities, which promotes relaxation after training and stimulates the nerve synapses to some degree before training. I actually laid down on it. It resembled a sit up board except the feet are at the bottom and the head is at the top. I didn’t stay on it very long, but I did feel different levels of vibration. The muscle stimulator was made of what looked treated pine. It was wired to a 220 volt outlet in the wall, which is the standard European outlet. The board had different attachments that would contour to different body types (these were the translator's exact words). Also there was a pulley attached at the top that was used to move the body up and down during this – for a lack of a better word – treatment. Vladislav was very proud of this muscle stimulator, as he claimed it is very beneficial for warm up and relaxation after training.
The first thing the athletes did were jumping exercises. They performed broad jumps, box jumps and another exercise that was foreign to me as a coach. They performed this exercise using the clean grip with straps. The bar was placed in the high hang position. The torso was straight, knees bent, flat feet and long relaxed arms. Out of this position they performed a jump just using the legs with no bend in the waist. As soon as they landed they jumped again and cleaned the bar. They did several of these warm up sets before the actual program began. The first exercise of the day was the Squat clean. They were in the second week of doing Squat cleans, but these were performed while standing on a 4 inch wooden platform atop the regular platform, so the athlete had to pull much farther during the lift. I can remember pictures of Vasily Alexseev lifting with smaller plates to make the pull harder, but I have never seen lifting off of a mini platform on of top the regular one. These mini platforms were probably 3 feet by 3 feet. Just big enough so the athletes could move their feet during the lift. They didn’t do any jerks after the cleans, this was only used during the pulling movements. They did at least 10 sets of these. Starting out with sets of 3 and finishing with doubles. The next exercise was the Front squat and Jerk combinations. They did 8 sets and lowered the reps as the intensity went up. They started doing 3 squats and 2 jerks and ended up with a single front squat and a single jerk. The last barbell exercise in the morning session was 5 sets of 3 reps in the front squat finishing at 80%. These were followed by several core movements with Med Balls, Hyperextensions, and one that I had seen in a health club once. The lifter got into push up position and one of the other athletes put a bumper plate on top of his hips. They had to hold this position for around one minute. They did several sets of this core movement.
Session 2 started with some stretching and the same jumping exercises they did in the earlier session. They then moved to the jumping movement with the barbell, but with a Snatch grip in the high hip position with straps. Jump shrug and as soon as the feet hit the ground they jumped and pulled under the bar. Just like in the earlier session these barbell jumps were done for several sets. After this extensive warm up, they started to do the Squat snatch while standing on the mini platforms. I watched them do set after set for doubles. They did snatches for at least 45 to 50 minutes. When the snatches were finished they moved on to back squats for sets of 5. They then moved on to Snatch balance for 3’s with light weights . Half the group finished up with bench presses that according to the coach were done once every 2 weeks. The other group did good mornings for speed. After the lifters finished with the barbell work they finished off the last session with the same core exercises they did earlier in the day! I did see Yuri Myshkovets clean 180 kgs off the mini platform at the body weight of 80 kilos. I also witnessed a 77 kilo junior clean and jerk 182 and a 50 kilo boy (maybe 15 years old) clean and jerk 110 kilos. According to Vladislav these kids were all hand picked. I don’t know about their process in doing this, but it obviously was working.
This group trains 3 days a week and twice a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday they do active rest. This coach has a different philosophy about active rest from any that I have ever heard. They have a choice in the morning and in the evenings on what activity they want to be involved in . The 4 choices are Golf, Badminton, Ping Pong and Tennis. Believe it or not these are the choices the coach said. I admit that I was shocked to hear this, but Vladislav told me that he believes in having fun. He believes in variety and he believes in competition not only on the platform, but during the active rest games they play. He says these games are good for the mind and it helps keep his lifters hungry to lift. The last thing that I thought was interesting and I would never have expected was that the training hall was full of music. He simply said that the young lifters liked music during training sessions. It wasn’t to loud so the coaches couldn’t critique and coach the lifts, but it was definitely there.
It was a great experience for me as a coach and an American to have witnessed these training sessions and to have heard the coaches' training philosophy. Coach Krylov and his staff were great and opened up to me like I was one of them. Before I left the OTC an older man approached me and told me that he had been coaching weightlifting for 45 years in the Ukraine and Russia. He said to me that we are all brothers in this sport! I was very impressed with the Russian people. They were kind, helpful and very passionate about Olympic weightlifting! It was a great experience for me!
Head Coach, Team Houston