I get asked quite frequently about my opinions on the powerlifting programming of the Eastern Europeans. Now keep in mind this comes from an “average” (at best!) powerlifter, so these are just some observations of mine. Take it for what it’s worth.
From what I’ve seen, the Eastern block powerlifters are masters of high volume/high intensity training. Some great examples lay in the “Smolov” squat workout, or Boris Sheiko’s programs where the competition lifts are often practiced multiple times within the same workout. This mix of high volume and high intensity led to some pretty freaky numbers, especially within the Junior and Open divisions. These lifters also tend to be technical masters – very efficient on the platform. This comes from repeatedly performing the competitive lifts with heavy weights. When they get to a competition, it’s business as usual.
In contrast, it seems as though many of the American lifters are slower to mature and develop. Is it due to a slower, less aggressive approach? I think so. I also think this is why we have some amazing Masters level lifters, with the US quiet frequently dominating at Masters level events. Guys like Brad Gillingham, Greg Simmons, Ray Benemerito, and even ladies like Harriet Hall are crazy strong into their 40’s and 50’s.
The question then becomes, what are you willing to do to get to the top? When do you want to get there? And how much do you care about the long-term health of your body?
For me, personally, I’d rather take a slower approach and be as strong as possible for as long as possible. Peaking in my 20’s and then spending the rest of my life trying to “relive the glory” doesn’t sound appealing to me. I’d rather be strong and healthy well into my 40’s and 50’s so I can enjoy time with my kids, enjoy the latter stages of life, etc. Being beat up and hurt because I was reckless in my youth just doesn’t sound fun.
Please understand that I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other – only giving you my thoughts and feelings on the topic. I’ve never been in a situation where I was an elite level powerlifter, so maybe if I was my feelings would be different.
Here’s what it comes down to – If time is of the essence and your body can tolerate the workload, Eastern European powerlifting schemes can be a holy grail. You’ll work your ass off and pay your dues, but you’ll be rewarded with some awesome gains.
If you’re interested in a slower, more gradual approach, a more “Americanized” powerlifting program would be in your best interests. Take your time, build some consistent size and strength, and in a few years you’ll be a menace on the platform.
I’ll finish this off with a roughly plagiarized quote from Brad Gillingham to summarize my point:
“If you start benching at age 20 with a 200 pound raw bench press, even if you only add 10 pounds per year you’ll be benching 400 by the time you’re 40.”
And that’s nothing to scoff at!