T Nation

East German Strength Training Secrets?


#1

Coach, are you familiar with the strength training programs that east german throwers where doing?
They seem to be very unbalanced and a bit unconventional but they produced some awesome results.

They would press at all angles 4 times per week, squat once per week and power clean/snatch twice per week for some months. Then they would switch to benching and behind the neck press/jerk twice per week, squat once per week, power clean/snatch twice.
That’s it. No back exercises at all. How did they keep getting results and not get injured without back work to balance things out?

I understand that drugs were a major part of their success but today’s athletes are on more/better drugs and supposedly better training programs but they can’t surpass them!

What are your thoughts on this?


#2

Your affirmation of the dominance of East German throwers is just not true (at least for men). They had 2 great shot putters, Ulf Timmerman and Udo Beyer… but the US has MORE different throwers in the top 10 best shot put list of all-time. And the best one is by Randy Barnes (23.12 vs. 23.06 for Timmerman).

If you look at the list of the best throws in history (http://www.alltime-athletics.com/mshotok.htm) and count only one throw per thrower (e.g. Barnes has 2 of the best 10 throws but I only count him once). Out of the 10 best throwers of all-time you have:

6 Americans
2 Germans
1 Italian
1 Swiss

Where is the East German dominance??? It’s just a romantic notion of Germany having had a secret training program. Remember that we thought the same of their Olympic lifters… but where are they now? Why don’t you see dominant Germans in weightlifting anymore? Did they forget their secret?

And you know what the freakiest thing is? The best potential power athletes in the US are/were not even doing the shot put, they are playing football. Take the best genetics in the NFL and train them for the shot put (or Olympic lifting) from an early age and they would have likely been even better.

In fact I believe that besides drugs, the real secret of the eastern block was NOT training methods but rather the selection process of their athletes. They were master at evaluating the genetic potential of a kid and pick which sport he would excel in. And in communist nations if the state decided that you were gonna be a shot putter, you would become a shot putter, even if you really wanted to play hockey.

One last thing is that back then athletes from the eastern block were professionals supported by the state. Not the case here… in fact until recently Olympic athletes didn’t make much money and had to work full time. A friend of mine competed at the 1982 weightlifting world championships. He had the Canadian record in he clean & jerk in the 82.5kg class with 192.5kg… which was about 25kg under the world’s best… BUT he actually worked full time in a paper mill from 9 to 5 THEN from 6 to 10 he would tend to his gym and when he closed the gym at 10 he would train until 11:30… put that same guy under state support and he would have been a world champ!

And the drug thing is not true either. Back then all the drugs were pharma grade. Nowadays a lot of athletes use underground drugs which are often underdosed or not even the actual product… in fact it is one of the reason why there has been a lot of positive tests for stanozolol recently, athletes likely bought what they tought was anavar (oxandrolone) which is more effective but a lot more expensive than stanozolol but many underground labs use stanozoloil labeled as anavar. But the detection time is not the same for both.

Anyway, East German athletes were on a government sponsored drug program so they all got the best drugs. BTW most of the steroids known today were available back then. Growth hormone was also used in the 80s if you had the $$$ and a state-sponsored program did have the $$$.

I think that the big difference is that the detection time for drugs was much shorter back then. Simply put, athletes could stay on drugs a lot closer to the competitions, as such performances did not decrease as much. Today’s athletes have to stop using drugs much sooner, leading to an erosion of performances.

Take Olympic lifting for example. I remember seeing a Bulgarian weightlifter snatch and clean & jerk 15kg more than he did at the world championships a few weeks later… and he still won the gold medal. Another one clean & jerked 20kg more than he did in competition. And this is actually quite common in weightlifting. If they would have been able to keep using drugs for a month longer (or even more in some cases) they would have turned much better performances… and I think that it is one of the reasons (if not the main reason) for the sometimes superior results of athletes from the 80s.


#3

Wow, coach your posts are always a huge eye opener!

It is indeed a romantic notion of them having a secret training program.

It really sparked my interest in them when I read about Louie Simmons training for raw bench and saying about his influence from east german shotputters.
Then I saw their program and it looked really weird.

Do you think giving it a shot for a year with equal amount of back work would be a bad idea for a natty? Or it is really stupid and outdated?

Btw, how fucked up are things lately with athletes getting caught due to politics, when nowadays almost everyone knows that 99.9% of athletes (if not all of them) are on steroids…Wouldn’t it be better if they allowed controlled doping so everyone uses the same drugs and they are also legit-pharma grade so athletes don’t risk buying unknown/dangerous stuff from underground labs?


#4

Are you asking me if…

  • Doing a program designed for a specific type of athletes (shot putters… are you a shot putter?)…

  • Athletes who were selected and placed in that sport because of their genetic predisposition for strength, power and resiliency for hard physical work …

  • Who built their work capacity and structure (muscles and tendons) over years of progressively more demanding program before reaching the elite program you mentioned…

  • Who used drugs to help them recover and progress faster

… is adequate for you or if it will give you extraordinary gains? Not only that, are you asking if you can do that program but add 25-50% more work to it???

Because if that’s what you are asking, Read the 4 points above an tell me if you want to ask the question again :slight_smile:

This is a thing I often see in strength training… people get seduced by a concept instead of convinced by an idea. By that I mean that the thought of doing a “secret program” or the program used by XYZ champion appeals tour desire to “follow the leader” or feel like we are doing something special.

Furthermore when we are struggling to make progress we WANT TO BELIEVE that its simply because we haven’t found the right answer, the magic program that will unlock out potential. Well such a thing doesn’t exist. And provided that you are training hard and eating properly if you aren’t progressing as fast as some others the answer is more likely in your genetics than in your program. BUT we want to believe that somewhere a program we haven’t tried holds all the answers… and the more different, or unorthodox a program is the more we tend to believe that its what we are looking for. Why? Because we already tried most “normal” programs and didn’t gain like we thought we should… so our brain assumes that if there is a secret then it must be drastically different from everything we already tried.

This was, I believe, the original appeal of Westside. You will notice that it has pretty much fallen out of favor among most powerlifting circles… even some of their former biggest proponents have come out to criticize it.

People prefer the idea of following a special “secret” (or famous) program rather than using a program based on science and most importantly on addressing your own weaknesses.

Will the program work? Maybe. Any program based on challenging your physical capacities without exceeding your capacity to recover can work to some extent… at least in the short or medium term. Doesn’t mean that it will be optimal though.

I certainly don’t see it as anything extraordinary and I do not expect that you would get anywhere near the same rate of improvement as the athletes did (for the reasons mentioned above).

I believe that the program will not work any better than any other strength-based program. And if it does give you slightly better results at first it would be mostly because of the mental effect of feeling like you are on some sort of secret program. That feeling drastically increase motivation and makes you train harder, leading to better progress (until you body can no longer handle the workload).

I wrote something a while ago: the only secret to progression is training hard. An average program done all-out will give better results than the best program done half-assed. So anything that makes you train harder will give you enhanced results for a while.


#5

I do not believe that 99.9% of athletes are using… I would say that the figure is likely closer to 60-70% at the elite level. Heck I do believe that even some of the world’s best are natural (there are some freaks out there).

And while the “controlled doping” argument is popular it doesn’t hold water because athletes will always look for an edge. If you are allowing some substances athletes will look for other substances , wanting to gain an advantage.

And just for the sake of image and also youth sport, it’s best to keep banning drugs even though most of us know what’s going on. When a kid reaches the elite level at 19 or so he might find out the truth and be faced with a choice. But if you make drugs “legal” in competition then kids know right from the start that they will have to use drugs and it might make many of them go that route when they are 15 or even younger.


#6

This is a great thread. Following. I have read the article on raw benching by Louie referenced above and follow the Conjugate system myself. This brings up a great discussion on “nature vs. nurture” as far as creating top level athletes. Louie has another article I believe called “World Powers” that goes into the Bulgarian method of weightlifting that was so intense, with a burnout rate so high, that only the top-level athletes with the most aptitude became successful. This could be an extreme argument for “nature” whereas Louie tried to create the ultimate training system to “nurture” the greatest potential in his lifters. Like CT said - there are physical freaks in any sport that will rise to the top regardless of the conditions around them.


#7

Yep, Dave Tate once told me that when you find a freak like that your job as a coach is just to prevent the athlete from hurting himself or doing stupid sh*t.


#8

Ed Coan was one freak to put it all together. Would have been cool to see what guys like Mark Henry would have done if not steered in other directions. If Bo Jackson never got hurt, if Doc Gooden never found the pipe … Too many of those types of guys slip through the cracks.


#9

hahaha I think it’s a bad idea to ask that question again :sweat_smile:

It is absolutely true on my part that not only because of struggling to make progress and loving training, but also because of a passion to find the greatest training methods, I was and still am driven to study human physiology in search of answers and that magic/secret formula. But the more I learn the more I understand that there are no secrets, no matter how much I want to believe there are.
In my case it’s also because I fight competitively and want to make a living out of it, so I am always in search of ways to enchance performance and find a program that will give me the fastest possible results so I can make it to the big leagues.

In the end there is only science. But the science they teach you in college and the way they teach strength training is kinda stupid.
I have learned way more reading your articles and your posts here on T-Nation, than in 2 years in college. So thanks for that also :slight_smile:


#10

I get you… I’m the same way. I think that I experimented with more different methods than any other coach! But I’ll tell you one thing: the greatest training method is training much harder than you are now and much harder than you think you should be. I learned that lesson myself when I began to train with a friend of mine who is a great coach and we began to really push each other… made more progress in the past 5 weeks than in the 3 years prior.


#11

something that might be a little overlooked a tad as far as program balance goes, is the volume of throwing these athletes achieved, 300 or 400 throws a week with a 16 pound shot is taxing, but more importantly throwing shot will trash your rear debts and upper back, those muscles have to “pull your arm back in after the throw”. if you don’t believe me go get a shot and do some nice and easy power throws, with no reverse, and do 25 of them over the course of 30 or 40 minutes and see how your upper back feels


#12

True, true, and true. I just want to chime in here and say I have looked at both these things because of my job in science and love of training/coaching. And All three things are true. CT is one of my biggest influences and I have major issues with the way science and training are taught in many ways.