Wednesday, June 7, 2023

History and Development of Weightlifting in China, Part Two - Ma Jianping


The Chinese weightlifting team is currently the most successful in the world. Of the 564 gold medals awarded by the IWF in World Weightlifting Championships, Chinese weightlifters won 58.9% of these gold medals. (Yang 2013)

Note: refer to Part One for bibliography. Not always the easiest material to round up, but who don't love a challenge! 

At the Olympic level, Chinese weightlifters won 29 gold medals, 12 silver medals, and 8 bronze medals. In addition to this success, Chinese weightlifters have made other significant contributions to pushing the level of achievement in weightlifting. From 1907 to 2012, the Sr. and Jr. World records for men and women were broken 4420 times by weightlifters from 53 countries, and during this period, Chinese weightlifters accounted for 21.7% of these records. Given this rise over previously dominant teams such as Russia/Soviet Union and Bulgaria, it is important to learn from the Chinese experience. 

The reason behind the Chinese weightlifting team's success is in part due to an organized system of athlete selection. Elite weightlifting is a combination of both genetic talent and acquired training. Athlete selection pertains to finding talented athletes from an early age as they progress through the path toward elite performance. 

Their initial selection process assesses children using standard criteria along with visual inspection. Because the children scouted have not gone through weightlifting training, the guidelines are flexible to avoid missing potential talent. The later selection includes providing basic weightlifting training to observe their potential. Candidates who move onward undergo longer and more specialized training to monitor their performance, with the top candidates going forward to one of the hundreds of city schools where almost 10,000 children participate in amateur weight training. Within six years, on average, they graduate to one of China's 39 reserve weightlifting bases, and the best athletes graduate to one of China's 8 national weightlifting bases. Due to team quotas, other highly-talented but nonselected weightlifters graduate to one of China's 101 reserve weightlifting bases to maintain a strong pool of athletes ready to fill in spots for outgoing athletes. (Li and Liu 2013). 

Although many people believe that this method of early selection is the sole reason behind China's success, experience shows that merely recruiting athletes at an early age is insufficient for success. While this method allows recruiters to select talented individuals early on and provide them with the training to succeed in competition, even the most gifted athletes can get bored or burned out, despite having these initial training conditions. 

Other athletes can work hard but still have short careers due to injury. Therefore, the key to maximizing an athlete's talent is to implement a system of organized training, which is what China has done. 

In the 1960's, the founders of Chinese weightlifting believed that the first step in implementing an organized system is to have a universal concept of technique. Therefore, they combined art with biomechanics to develop a unique philosophical approach to weightlifting technique that is easier for coaches to teach and for athletes to learn than other systems. 

Their philosophy consists of 5 words: 

"Close" means that the athlete and barbell should remain close to each other so that the athlete can maintain balance through an entire pull.

"Fast" means the barbell's speed must be fast. 

"Low" means the athlete must catch the barbell as low as possible.

"Timing" means the lift must achieve a specific rhythm to reduce stress on the body. 

"Balance" means the athlete must catch the barbell in the most stable position. 

With these 5 Words, coaches can guide an athlete to perform a perfect lift without overwhelming the athlete's thought process. 

The biomechanical basis underlying these 5 Words comes from 3 gravity principles: "equal magnitude, simultaneous, and opposite direction." These principles imply the horizontal forces produced by the joints must have equal magnitude. These forces must also occur simultaneously. Some joints produce forward forces while others produce backward forces, so "opposite directions" means that these joints must exert horizontal force in their respective directions. These 3 gravity principles inform how to lift the most weight most efficiently while minimizing the risk of injury. They form the foundation underlying the 5 Words, which then inform the movements needed to teach technique and organize training. 

Armed with a solid technical understanding, the founders of modern Chinese weightlifting then sought to create a way of training for athletes to consistently implement the 3 gravity principles and 5 Words at the highest intensity. 

They formed 7 training systems focusing on Athletic, Technical, Mental, Tactical, Recovery, Intellectual, and Mentality training. 

Athletic Training aims to improve the body's functions to improve the athlete's ability to endure training loads. 

Technique Training seeks to build an accurate and stable technical style to maximize lifting capacity. 

Psychological Training helps athletes learn how to develop and adjust their mental condition to prepare better for training and competition. 

Tactical Training teaches athletes to utilize methods to maximize their ability while limiting the opponent's strong point and obtain victory. 

Recovery Training aims to speed the body's adaptation, recover their working capability and prevent injury or disease. 

Intellectual Training educates athletes on basic exercise theory and weightlifting to improve the athlete's self-consciousness during training and accelerate the improvement of weightlifting techniques. 

Mentality Training develops and adjusts an athlete's motivation to keep them interested in training and competition. 

That's a fair amount to unpack . . . we will continue from here in Part Three. 

This . . . here . . .  
344 Olympic Weightlifting exercises used by Chinese weightlifters:

Enjoy Your Lifting!      



  1. Great post! That list of sources alone is a goldmine.

  2. Loving this series, so much material here. Thanks for slogging through for our benefit.

    1. Hey, no worries . . . it's for my benefit too and it doesn't take much longer to type it out than it does to read it.


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