Deception of big numbers

Aspiring gireviks have for ever been inspired by monsterous numbers displayed by champions. Few days ago someone posted the video of Denisov making a new world record, 116 reps for long cycle with 32 kg bells. The numbers are without doubt impressive, however some math may reveal something we might miss.

Denisov’s bodyweight is around 110-115 kg. The weight of the bells he lifted – 64 kg – represents about 60% of his bodyweight. On the other hand, for someone in the weight category under 65 kg it would represent 100% of bodyweight. The latter athlete will produce fewer repetitions with this load and his achievements will not be as impressive as Denisov’s. And this illustrates a major drawback of GS.

I don’t remember if it was Rudnev or Lopatin who said that light and heavy gireviks are in fact involved in somewhat different sports, even though it is still GS, just because the load/bodyweight ratios are so different. If Rudnev did 116 reps in LC with two 20 kg bells I doubt if anyone would gave it another look, even though lifting that weight is similar to Denisov lifting two red bells. There have been calls for changing the weight of the bells in GS according to weight category, however so far nobody has been interested. It is probably more because of the traditional nature of this sport. Sumo, strongman lifting and – to some extent heavyweight armwrestling – are similar in this respect.

Big guys will always be the most impressive in sports where size matters. However doing some math can be useful, especially for those of us in the Masters and Veterans category. The age makes us more fragile. The ability to recover from training and heal from injuries goes down, and more care should be taken in order to stay injury free and avoid overtraining. Sure, there are role models like Fuglev and Louie Simmonds, but is it wise to model ourselves on these guys? Do you have the luxury of planning your life around training? Do you actually want to turn into the full time sport professional?

I think it was WKC/AKC that several years ago who suggested smaller bells for older athletes. When this proposal has been first published I was critical of it. After all, a sport is a sport, and rankings should follow its origin, Mother Russia. Now, recovering from sore back I admit that my reaction was somewhat cavalier. As we age it makes sense to loosen up and not try and chase superhuman achievements, in physical sense. High volume AND intensity will eventually catch you. It’s ok to push yourself when you’re 18 and don’t have full time job, family, kids and myriads of other worries. It is entirely different when you hit your forties.

I mentioned it before on these pages and now am convinced more than ever before: intensity – both in terms of the weight of the bells and the duration of the set - should be used with care and infrequently. Vast majority of coaches on Russian sites recommend lifting lighter bells for higher reps as the staple of training, and virtually all GS programs I have come across use 10 minute sets once every 5 – 10 sessions, the rest is variation of technical drills, tempo, volume and GPP.

There is another point that is applicable to every athlete: the deception of specificity of training. It is believed that in order to do jerks better you should do more jerks. While this is true to a point, it also has drawbacks. Doing only one lift causes muscular imbalance that may lead to vulnerabilities. Most GS lifts tend to develop mostly posterior chain and neglect anterior muscles (not my idea). In order to avoid imbalances all-round GPP is very important.

In the book on Block Training Verkhoshansky conducted a very interesting experiment that lasted three years. One group of middle distance runners were trained the traditional way. Experimental group ran half as much as controls, but also did assistance drills: plyometrics, strength exercises, intervals and so on, structured into overlapping blocks. At the end of every year competition times of the experimental group were better. It seems to makes sense for GS as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised doing more pushups, pull-ups, running and other drills would improve GS numbers. Technique-specific drills are also important: overhead and rack squats, static holds, partial presses, bumps, swings and so on.


Brett said...

Great post and interesting stuff. I am a newcomer to GS and am learning all I can via various blogs. I'm 41 also. Looking forward to reading more on your blog.

Girevik_X said...

Great post Eugene. I'm 46 and I have a 4-year plan to hit WKC MS numbers for 90 kg weight class. I started with the lowest rank (IV) and have been steadily climbing up the levels in longcycle and biathlon, making rank III last November. I'm working on rank II in longcycle, and will then switch to biathlon after. I'm in no hurry to make rank, and with my extended plan, hope to ward off injury and overtraining.

I realize trainees tend to move quickly through the lower ranks and more slowly through the upper ranks, which is why I'm setting my sights 4 years down the road.

Thanks again for your interesting insights and interpretations of Russian GS literature.

Happy 2011!