Sunday, August 23, 2015

Training Methods of American Lifters - Yakov Kutsenko (1956)

Yakov Kutsenko, Russian National Coach (1956)

The Press

Here are the outstanding points that I have noted about the way that the Americans perform the Press. A medium width grip on the bar and a relaxed holding of the bar on the chest, without any tension, are most characteristic. The grip is around one side of the bar and in most cases straight. They consider initial speed as being of great importance in the drive from the chest and they perform an abrupt movement with their arms -- the "Tear Up."

When practicing the Press they permit great inclinations of the body. It would appear that such big back-bends in practice may lead to bad habits when doing the Press in competition, but such an assumption is not borne out by what happens during the competition, for most of the Americans perform in a most technical manner. (Note by Oscar State: I cannot agree with Kutsenko here. Time and time again I have seen the Americans disqualified on their top Presses for excessive back-bend. In Munich, Vinci lost two Presses, Pete George lost one, Jim George lost two and Clyde Emrich lost two.).

Having finished the Press, Kono practiced the "Push" (a Press aided by a leg movement) with a weight of 341.5 lbs while Davis used 373.75 lbs. The Americans are very fond of doing this movement during their training. Several times before the Stockholm championships Davis pushed 373.75 lbs, Sheppard 319.5 and Kono 330.5. This exercise is most useful for the Jerk an the Press, especially in the second phase of the Press.

The Americans do a lot of bench pressing either on a horizontal bench or on an inclined one. Towards the end of his workout Kono did a Bench Press with 319.5 lbs, Sheppard with 341.5 an Davis with 374.75. They do it as follows: one lifter lies on the bench and two others place the bar on his chest (bottom start); they stand by during the movement and then remove the bar from his chest. The former holder of the world record in the Press, the Canadian Hepburn, told us in Stockholm (where he press 380.25) that the Bench Press is one of his favorite exercises. He improved on his record there and increased the Bench Press weight up to 495 lbs. There can be no doubt as to the usefulness of the Incline Bench Press, since it develops arm strength to a very great extent and allows the bar to be pressed without any slowing down in the most difficult position -- at the level of the forehead, or above the head. 

The Snatch

Having finished the Press and rested for 10 minutes, the Americans did a few short "warming up" exercises and passed on to their Snatch training. During the course of 40 to 50 minutes they did 8 to 12 sets. Here again most of them attempted systematically to approach their limits and did two repetitions in each set -- the second one being taken from the "hang" position without lowering to the floor. 

Davis considers that the force of the "second pull" (what we call "tearing up") determines the success of a Snatch. For this purpose the lifter must have great strength in the arms, back, shoulders and legs. This is the reason why, in order to increase the power of the "second pull," the lifters like to repeat the lift from the "hang," wherein they lower the bar to slightly below knee level.

Davis and Schemansky, having started the Snatch with 209.25 lbs, gradually increased it to 303. Davis attempted to Snatch this weight twice. The pulling up phase of the lift just prior to the Split was very difficult. However, his movements were quick and the Splits so low that I often noticed that he touched the floor with the knee of the rear leg. Also, during the Split the forward knee was bent quite considerably while the back leg was almost straight. The lifter did not often lose his balance.

George and Sheppard have perfected their technique in the Squat style of snatching. The same cannot be said for Kono -- he makes many mistakes in the Snatch. George and Sheppard complete the Squat quickly and during it do not lose their control over the bar (the speed of their arms makes the movement almost invisible to the eye), and they fix the bar firmly in a deep Squat, after which they get up easily. On the whole, lifters who use the Squat technique also recover easily. This is due to the fact that during their training the Americans often did deep Squats while holding the bar above their head (Overhead Squat). George performs this exercise with weights up to 297.5, Kono 308.5 and Sheppard 341.5.
At the end of the training period, Stanczyk used to Squat in the Split position while holding a 319.5 lb barbell on his chest. It has been reported that Davis did a lot of leg strengthening exercises before he made his records of 330.5 Snatch and 402.75 Jerk. For this purpose he did repetition Splits with a weight of 352.5 and Squats with 550 lbs.

During their training the American lifters are also concerned with the accuracy of their Snatches. During one training period Kono could not Snatch 275.5. With obvious annoyance he started training again with a light weight and having achieved accuracy and control he again attempted the original weight. Other of the American lifters also tuned up on small weights.

The Jerk

I received the impression that the Jerk is the favorite exercise of the Americans. We must admit that they hold the majority of the world records in the Jerk. In spite of their great exertion during the Press and Snatch, Kono, George, Stanczyk, Schemansky and Davis always finished their training with Jerks, steadily increasing the weights up to their limits. Thus, for example, lightweight George jerked up to 325, Kono up to 352.5, Schemansky (as a mid-heavy) up to 380.25. Many of them did repetition Cleans from "the hang." In this style Stanczyk cleaned 341.5, Kono 330.5 and George 286.5.

During the Olympic Games an interesting episode took place. Kono, competing as a lightweight, tried to Clean 341.5. This was much too ambitious. He could not recover with such a weight and lost his balance. Wanting to show his control over the weight, he did not lower it back to the floor but tried to Clean it a second time, from the "hang." It must be said that this was not beyond the bounds of possibility for him. In Leningrad he did this successfully with 374.75.

Success in the Snatch and Jerk is greatly assisted by a very important movement -- cleaning a bar without foot movement and using only a slight dip. By preforming this exercise systematically the Americans develop a strong pull. George cleans in this way with 297.5, Kono 319.5, Sheppard 341.5 and Schemansky 369.25 lbs.

The Americans seem to understand that a lifter who cannot Jerk a weight which he can clean pays dearly for this weakness. For this reason they do their training is such a way as to guarantee to Jerk every weight cleaned. George, Kono, Schemansky and Sheppard are all able to Jerk 20 to 30 lbs more than they can Clean. George jerks from the shoulders with 396, Kono 407 and Schemansky 450.

The Continental Jerk

During the 1954 championships in Vienna, Schemansky demonstrated the "Continental Jerk" before spectators and competitors. There he jerked 440 lbs. Anderson uses this method every week in order to Clean 450 which he then hoists over his head by means of a Jerk-Press.

Paul Anderson's Continental Belt Variation:

In the Continental Jerk, in contrast to the Olympic Jerk, the bar is brought to the chest in two movements.The lifter first raises the bar to his waist and rests it on a strong leather belt; then with a strong effort with his legs he pulls the bar to his chest, while going down into a Clean position. All the other positions -- the start, initial pull, the Split Clean or Squat Clean, the Jerk from the shoulders -- are all similar to those employed in the Olympic Jerk. To call the "Continental Jerk" a circus trick would be to underestimate its importance. Schemansky told me that such a lift is one of the main reasons for success in the three Olympic lifts. By lifting such an enormous weight (much greater than can be used in the Olympic Jerk) to the waist, splitting low when taking it onto the chest, getting up with it, holding it on the chest, jerking it and fixing it -- enormous muscular strength is developed in the legs, back and arms. The mental and willpower factor is also of great importance -- courage and the habit of lifting great weights as well as getting accustomed to great tension are all developed.

Continental Cleans for Overhead Confidence:

The Continental Clean and Jerk, by Jim Halliday: 

Tommy Kono's Training Methods

Kono was 1952 lightweight Olympic champion, 1953 middleweight world champion, 1954 light-heavyweight world champion. In October last year (1955) as a light-heavyweight he totaled in Vienna 958.75 lbs while weighing only 172. This goes to show that with a further increase in bodyweight Kono might be able to lift even greater weights. 

 His physique is far from typical for a weightlifter. He is slightly built and looks more like a gymnast or swimmer. As a result of systematic, cleverly planned training Kono has reached heights in weightlifting which no one else of his bodyweight has so far been able to attain.

The belief still persists that in weightlifting only a man who is suitably built can meet with success. People who still believe this forget about the art of increasing strength correctly and about the constant corollary [something that naturally follows or results from another thing] of success -- technique and last, but not least, about the importance of a strong will and determination. Just like the Merited Master of Sport N. Shatov, the Egyptian S. Couda, the English heavyweight R. Walker, Kono has shown the great importance of willpower qualities, which he has learned to master to perfection during the decisive moments of a contest. As we well know, masses of muscle are not always indicative of the measure of strength or skill of the lifter.

Kono competed for the first time in 1946 in California. He was then not quite 17 years old. Before that he played basketball, did acrobatics and track and field athletics, in particular devoting his attention to the high jump. Before the Olympic Games Kono had already gained the reputation of a good weightlifter. His performances in Helsinki attracted great attention. He had bad luck at that start of the competition. He had difficulty in pressing 231.25. However, his result in the Snatch exceeded the world record which the Egyptian Shams held for 13 years -- Kono snatched 259. Also, during the Jerk he lifted 308.5 without any noticeable difficulty. Kono won the title of Olympic champion.

After that the young sportsman continued to develop quickly -- his muscles grew stronger, his strength increased and his bodyweight increased far above the lightweight category. To stay in that weight class would have meant reducing his weight artificially, hindering the further increase of strength and harming his health for a certainty. Kono chose the other option and the better way around the problem. He went up into the next class. 

This year weightlifting followers in Moscow and Leningrad greeted their guests the American weightlifters, among them Tommy Kono who lifted as a middleweight. Rainy, cold weather prevented him and the other weightlifters from demonstrating their best results. Behind the scenes he constantly wrapped himself in blankets, covered his head with towels and massaged his body with embrocation. 

Johnny Terpak, who can speak Ukrainian well, said to me then, "Tommy likes warmth. Even our warmup massage does not help him. He likes to warm up well and attaches to this great importance, believing that warmth produces better condition for the working muscles which are extended to the limit." 

In Leningrad Kono performed with great success. He established a world record in the press (292) in the middleweight class and totaled 931, which exceeded the world record by 33 lbs. wing to the rules this could not be an official record, because for acceptance of a record, lifters from three different countries must be present.

From a few conversations and shared training sessions with Kono I am able to answer some training queries. During the train journey on our return from Leningrad I had a friendly discussion with Kono. The Americans, as well as our own lifters, had not yet cooled down from the excitement of the recent heated and tense contest and conversed animatedly far into the night. Kono told me:

"Many people will find it hard to believe that there are no secrets nor nothing sensational about my training. Like any other champions, my success is simply the result of very hard work and the great desire to accomplish great feats in sport. If you want to be a world champion or if you want to get as near as possible to his height, you must not just sit around and hope that success will come to you. You have to spend a lot of time in training with this purpose in mind."

In recent times Kono trained most often on his own and less frequently with his friends. He told me that he spends less time now on training at other sports for he does not have enough time for it all. He pays greatest attention to barbell exercises which are compulsory for anyone who wants to get high results. 

During the week he has 3 to 4 basic training sessions devoted to the Olympic lifts, during which he does a large number of sets (30-40) and uses heavy weights (often 95% of his top limits). During his free days he either rests completely or goes swimming, performs jumps or plays games. He has most days off when he gets tired after heavy and strenuous strength exercises. Occasionally during his rest days, Kono does some pressing. After a championship he reduces the weights he uses and devotes his entire attention to the accuracy of his technique on the three lifts. To compensate for this he increases the number of assistance exercises (such as the Bench Press, cleaning from the hang, Deep Knee Bends, etc.), because these exercises increase muscle power and he does them frequently with heavy weights. A month or six weeks before an important contest Kono increases the weights in the three lifts and does them at every training session. At the same time he does his assistance exercises with limit weights, but decreases the number of repetition.

Kono pays great attention during each training period to the performance of the Press. He does not believe in lots of repetitions from the shoulders in one set. When he is in good training he does the Press first with a light weight, then he quickly repeats it with a medium weight (75-80% of his limit) and presses the bar only once.

Like all the other American lifters, Kono makes full use of assistance exercises. In order to increase the strength of the drive from the shoulders in the Press, he likes to do bench pressing and considers it very useful. In Stockholm after training Kono bench pressed 330 lbs (his best is 352.5). In successive training sessions he does the Press with a narrow grip, with a wide grip, from behind the neck and, in particular, likes to Press on an inclined bench, when he increases the angle up to 50 or 60 degrees.

Kono often presses dumbbells in lying, standing or sitting positions. He is capable of pressing two dumbbells of 110 lbs each, 10 times in succession; he can do 20 hand pressups with his feet resting against the wall.

His Snatches and Cleans are done in the Squat style. After snatching 295 in god style for his Olympic lightweight record, Kono was unable to repeat to repeat this lift with such perfection. Although is results in the Snatch have improved (rather significantly when compared with the Press and Jerk) up to 275.5 (Note by Oscar State: 281 in Munich), Kono's technique still suffers from mistakes -- his steadiness and the accuracy of his Squat style cannot be depended on and Kono himself admits that it is "temperamental." He explains his rather weak result in the Snatch as being due to increased training on the Press. In the near future he intends to devote more time to training on the Snatch and will attempt to exceed 286 lbs. Watching Duganov's record which the latter set up at the Leningrad match by lifting 292 lbs, Kono warmly congratulated him: "That was a beautiful Snatch. I can learn a lot from that. I'm sure if Duganov would train me I could also make it," he said with enthusiasm.

Yuri Duganov

Kono has also been successful in the Jerk. His assured performance of this lift has brought him victory on more than one occasion. Like other lifters who use the Squat style, Kono pays great attention to the strength of his legs. He does Squats during almost every training session.

During his training at Stockholm he squatted with weights on the chest of 330, 374 and 396 lbs. When demonstrating the ordinary Squat in 1953 the barbell weighed 460. He then did 15 repetitions with 352. To help his recovery in the Squat-style Snatch Kono does repetition squats while holding 308.5 overhead. One can now understand why he almost never experiences any difficulties in recovering from his low squat position in the Clean.

In order to strengthen his pull Kono often snatches with one hand, either from the floor or from supports, using various weights up to 170 lbs. He does high pulls with narrow and wide grips, lots of snatching and cleaning from the hang.

During individual training sessions he devotes particular attention to the Jerk from the shoulders. He does it from stands and with the bar handed in. He once jerked in his way 407.75. Another movement he does to help both his Press and his Jerk is the Push-Jerk. When doing this he does not Split but only bends his knees slightly. It is his favorite exercise and he has done 352.5.

Having become familiar with the main characteristics of Kono's training routines I come to the conclusion that on the whole he devotes little attention to the development of speed. The main object of his training is a continuous increase in strength by means of assistance exercises. Kono is capable of concentrating all his attention and willpower on the performance of a lift.

The ABC's of Weightlifting, by Tommy Kono:

Step Up and Shake it Off, by Tommy Kono:

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