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Chinese Weightlifting

Find out secrets about Chinese weightlifting methods, training, program, diet, bodybuilding, recovery and much more.

We spoke to Yatin Parasher, a 25 year old Canadian Weightlifter, who competes provincially and nationally. He got the opportunity to go to China through his coach. Coach Jianping Ma was leading a delegation of athletes to China and he happened to get a spot. He says “I think i got lucky with the timing and i am very thankful to him for letting me have the opportunity.” Since he started weightlifting 3 years ago he’d always watched the Chinese weightlifters and wondered about their training so when the opportunity came, he was more than happy to take it. Yatin expresses, “I wanted to learn their ways and why the Chinese are so dominant.”

From looking back at your experience in China, what do you think the main reasons why they are so successful at weightlifting in relevance to their training?

I believe the Chinese dominance is multi-faceted. They are successful for many reasons, they recruit early, provide support and proper development to the athlete. Lastly, the weak is weeded out by putting athletes through years of rigorous and HARD training. Winning Chinese nationals is seen as great prestige because the athletes know if they win Nationally, they can easily win at an international venue because Chinese nationals are very competitive. I believe with proper recruitment, training and a lot of competition they are able to achieve the results.

We know the Chinese weightlifters train at high intensity, how long usually are there rest periods between each lift or pull etc?
Rest periods are surprisingly short between sets and reps. A lot of it is done by athletes feel so there is no set amount of rest. The girls tend to rest a bit less 1-2 mins and even less on the warmup sets. Up to 2 mins rest was mostly at 85-90%+ plus. Once again it was all dependant on the athlete. In general though rest was short  around 60-90 secs, this was much different than what you might read in western strength books. Personally, my training has improved vastly with shorter rest periods. A lot of western science says 3-5 min between heavy sets but that was unheard of in China even with heavy squats or pulls.

To lift big you have to be strong and the chinese have strong legs, could you give an example of a typical squat session or leg strength session and was there any thing you picked up on technique (also you thoughts on how they have got to the point they are so strong that they can squat like 3x there BW)?
Squatting varied depending on athlete weakness. The intermediate athlete squatted 3-4 sessions/week and the advanced would squat more if needed. Most common rep scheme was x3, they did 3 rep up until they couldn’t then a few extra 2 rep squats. Back and front squat was alternated between days. Chinese weren’t opposed to high squats and sometimes even did 8-10 rep ranges if that is what the athlete needed at the time. The technique was every simple, keep the torso as upright as possible. Chinese aren’t overly concerned with weight transfer or knees caving in  as long as the torso didn’t break position. As far as how they are able to achieve 3x bdwt squats?  Years and Years of practice, Most of the athletes i met were 18-25 years of age and almost all of them had started weightlifting when they were 8-10 years old.

Were there any different methods you picked up from the way the chinese programme their training compared to the way you programme your training?
My training had a very Chinese weightlifting influence so i did not change too much about my training, The week structure was very similar but i did add a lot of accessory and bodybuilding work to my training. That was one thing that the Chinese did different from my training. Tons of Western coaches talk about not doing any endurance work, no extra work needed aside from the lifts and squats. The Chinese don’t believe that, they went on morning jogs, they did all the bodybuilding work post training and basically they broke down each movement into segments and trained it. Anything and Everything to fix athletes weakness was part of the training.

How often a week would they practice each lift?
They alternated lifts everyday. Most advanced lifters did 8 sessions/week and each day was dedicated to one lifts. Friday was the only day they would consider doing both lifts but even then it wasn’t a every friday thing. Once again pulls and squats were alternated.

From your experience of training with them, what was the hardest thing you really struggled to adjust to?

The hardest part was just showing up to evening training after morning sessions, I had a hard time adjusting to the training volume these athletes go through. The Chinese themselves don’t advice most lifters to follow their program unless weightlifting is their job. For Chinese athletes their sport is their job and they become accustomed to training over the years but someone who has a job or isn’t a full-time athlete it is very hard to train with the intensity and volume the Chinese train with.

What was there nutrition like, what type of foods did they eat, how many meals did they have a day and were there any cheat meal days?

Nutrition was something i assumed to be very strict for these athlete but it turned out to be complete opposite of that. The athletes ate 3 times a day. Majority of the meals consisted of rice, fish and vegetables. The athletes indulged in drinking and smoking as their cheat on days they were “happy”, which was once a week or so. They did not binge drink or anything just a few beers and a couple cigarettes to either celebrate end of week or a great training session etc… Overall nutrition was nothing special but the coaches did advocate high protein, carb and low fat diet.

Was there anything in particular you noticed or learnt about the technique they used for any of the lifts?
Lifting technique was very similar to what i was already taught but the Chinese advocate a very straight bar path, they like to have shoulders over the bar and torso upright on the catch. The one thing that helped me greatly was the idea of relaxing your arms during the first pull and firing straight up once past the hip. The Chinese focus greatly on tempo of the lift and do not like choppy and inconsistent movement. So any deviation from perfect was corrected constantly.

The amount of weight they lift over there head is often mind-blowing, what exercises did they do to help with shoulder strength and flexibility to cope with this amount of weight?

For shoulder strength they did pressing mostly, almost always 3 reps/set. Strict press once a week, push press once a week and of course jerks. They also did dumbbell single arm presses as accessory and handstand pushups. The accessory was always done high reps 8-10 reps 4-5 sets. The flexibility was i believe achieved over the years since they start so young but they do focus a lot on stretching, rolling and hanging to help shoulders.

Did you ever see them doing any strength and conditioning work for there hamstrings?
Not much Hamstring work. They did RDLs from the deficit sometimes but thats about it. I didn’t notice nor did they talk too much about much hamstring focus. Back extensions were used too but not in a way to elicit much hamstrings but it was still a major part of post training work.

There was a guy you mentioned (77kg next big thing) how did his training differ from the rest of the guys at the camp?
The 77kg guy was travelling from the north and had a different coach. His training was very different from the sport university athletes. His coach did a lot of positional work, Tons of hang snatches, blocks and jerk dip/quarter squats. He did a lot of accessory work too but majority of it was done with isometric holds. For instance, He never did back extension reps like the rest of them, he did holds with 40-50kg. He only spent 1 session/lift doing full lifts and rest of the sessions were always hang or block work. He squatted 3 times a week but alternated between quarter squat and leg press every other session. His coach focussed a lot on bodybuilding work and physique. His ideology was bigger muscle meant more strength potential.

Most of the Chinese have great physiques and are well built, what was there programming like for post bodybuilding training and did they keep the exercises relevant to there main session?
Yes all the bodybuilding work was relevant to lifting. Shoulders, Back, Abs, Legs were the big focus for post-training work. They did 2 exercises after each session usually always 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps depending on exercise. Hand stand pushups and abs were usually done to failure.

How did the volume and intensity differ during each session or exercise, for example did they do stuff which had high intensity low volume or high volume, low intensity etc?
The intensity was different everyday. (Please see below for training week split).

Could you explain their recovery system and did any of it work for you whilst you were there?
Recovery was the biggest focus for the Chinese. They did everything: massage, rolling, walking on each others backs and suctions cups. They were in bed at 10-10:30 everyday because sleep was very important. They drank all kinds of herbal teas  to help recuperate. Personally, suction cups have been great for me. I bought a set and still use it all the time.

What was the best thing you learnt during your journey which has benefitted your training or performance since your visit?
My best lesson from the trip was just the realization how much hard work goes into becoming a high level weightlifter. I try to always remember that because it keeps things in perspective for me and i don’t get too down on myself if i have a bad lifting day. These athletes have given their whole life to the sport so i always tell myself that i shouldn’t expect to be a great lifter overnight, you have to put in the time.

Could you explain there philosophies and the importance on absolute strength and speed strength?
They talked a lot about the concept of absolute over speed strength and the verdict was you need to have both. Speed is very important for the sport they said but in order to get the speed for the weights you just have to be strong. That was one reason why they didn’t care about the speed of their squats and pulls, as long as it was heavy it was good. The lifts on the other hand had to be fast.

Iv’e never seen the Chinese do kettlebell swings, do they use this equipment?
No kettlebells in the halls that I was present in.

Was there any cardio training involved during your visit?
Yes they went morning jogs and did some sprint training mornings or Thursdays.

A typical Chinese Weightlifting training week split.

Monday Morning:
Power Clean + 3 Push Press
Heavy Back Squat – 3 reps
Accessory WorkEvening:
Clean + 2 Jerks – Going into heavy (90%)
Clean Pulls 3 reps, 5-6 sets (110%-115%)
Accessory Work
Tuesday Morning:
Muscle Snatch, 2 reps
Front Squat, 3 reps
Press, 3-5 reps
Accessory WorkEvening:
Snatch, 2reps (80%-85%)
Snatch Pull 3 reps, (110%-115%)
Snatch Accessory, Hangs or complex.
Accessory Work
Wednesday Clean & Jerk (80%)
Clean Pulls 2-3 reps
Jerk Dips
Thursday Accessory Work or unrelated activity.
Friday Max Day – Heavy lifting for both lifts. Depending on the phase they may focus more on the one for weight and do one lighter.
Saturday Power Clean + Push Press
Clean Pull
Heavy Back Squat, 3-5 reps
Sunday Rest Day