Tip: Lifters Were Stronger 30 Years Ago

The numbers prove that old-time training methods work the best. Here's what you need to know.

Matt Foreman, competitive Olympic weightlifter and author, was at the Olympic trials having a conversation with a young lifter who's been hoisting up some pretty big weights at the national level. Then the rookie lifter said something to Matt that wasn't, at least on the surface, all that controversial:

"You can't train the same way everybody used to back in the old days. Weightlifting has evolved."

At first, Matt didn't know how he felt about that, but then, a few minutes later, clarity set in. What the kid said was wrong, flat-out wrong, and he could prove it with numbers.

Matt, like everybody else in the sport of Olympic lifting, knew that the sport had changed all its bodyweight classes a couple of times over the last 25 years. All the old records from the old weight classes were zapped out of existence, expunged, erased, by what amounted to a few accounting tricks. New records were started in the new weight classes.

The thing is, Matt noticed, all those old world records, the ones that were set about 30 years ago and were erased? None of them have been surpassed by the new, supposedly evolved weightlifters. Take a look at some of the old records and compare them with the new:

  • Alexander Varbanov: 215.5 kg clean & jerk, 75 kg class.
  • Current world record: 214 kg in the 77 kg class.
  • Blagoi Blagoev: 195.5 kg snatch, 90 kg class.
  • Current world record: 188 kg in the 94 kg class.
  • Asen Zlatev: 225 kg clean & jerk, 82.5 kg class.
  • Current world record: 220 kg in the 85 kg class.
  • Naim Suleymanoglu: 190 kg clean & jerk, 60 kg class.
  • Current world record: 183 kg in the 62 kg class.
  • Leonid Taranenko: 266 kg clean & jerk, super heavyweight class.
  • Current world record: 263 kg in the 105 and over class.

The list goes on, but the point Foreman makes is that these old records were achieved through old lifting methods, the very same ones that supposedly don't work anymore.

Foreman knows what the arguments might be: "Drugs? Let's not go there. The top lifters in the world were taking drugs 30 years ago, and the top lifters are taking drugs now. That part of the discussion is a wash."

And he's not buying the bit about what impact the upheaval of the communist bloc countries had on Olympic lifting, either: "I know the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc changed a lot about weightlifting, but it's all the same now as it was back then. Only the names have changed. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Iran are simply the newer versions of Bulgaria, the USSR, East Germany, and China."

Anatoli Khrapaty
Anatoli Khrapaty

The numbers are undeniable. Despite newer, supposedly better training methods, the old records from 30 years ago remain. The "proto homonid" weightlifters did what they did through standard linear progression training, using uncomplicated methods that have been around since the first guy in a leopard skin tunic decided to pick up something heavy.

But yet it's human nature to continually seek out the new. We all do it, regardless of whether we're in Olympic lifting, powerlifting, or bodybuilding. But, as Matt Foreman says, "...it behooves all of you to think a little differently than the current weightlifting culture often thinks. Newer doesn't necessarily equal better."

T Nation's archives are filled with training methods, some new, some old, and some a mixture of new and old. But all of them are based on the same principle that's the basis of the linear progression training Matt Foreman spoke about, which is to be better – or stronger – than you were yesterday.

And while strength isn't the most important aspect of bodybuilding, it's certainly a component, and the "old time" method of essentially doing 3 sets of 5 reps (powerlifting) or 4 sets of 8 reps (bodybuilding) and slapping on 2, 5, or 10 more pounds the next week has been working for an awful long time.

Think twice before you throw it out, or at the very least remember that the never-ending chase of the new and presumably exciting often leaves you paradoxically stuck in the past, physique and strength-wise.

  1. Foreman, Matt, "Modern Weightlifting Methods Are Not Better Than Old Ones & There Are Numbers to Prove It," Catalyst Athletics, April, 2017.