“What do I have to do to get a World Champion to put her hands on me?”
That was the question I posed to Yasha Kahn, head translator and Master of Ceremonies at the Tatiana Kashirina seminar organized by former USAW Board Member and the de facto face of USA weightlifting, Mike Graber. The extraordinary Ms Kashirina was guiding a fellow seminar attendee into proper position as we all went through a basic snatch progression. I imagined—nay, hoped—that there must be some advantage to that touch, like the laying on of hands by a faith healer. Potential benefits aside, it’s not every day that you have a three-time World Champion (2010, 2013, 2014), Olympic silver medalist (2012), and multiple world record holder putting her hands on you. At least not in my circle. If a preternaturally gifted athlete and her coach are offering tactile feedback, I say take it.
Fortunately it didn’t take long for me to require Tatiana’s gentle manipulations. The moment I took hold of the barbell for a snatch she was pushing me slightly, telling me to keep my hips down off the floor and my shoulders over the barbell a little longer. Not wanting that to be the end of our fleeting encounter, I promptly did a number of things incorrectly, requiring her to make more corrections. By the third or fourth time I think she’d figured me out, and decided to wander to a more capable student…
The practical portion of the seminar was the final part of the day, and it lasted for some two hours—well past the allotted time. During this period the participants were split into two groups. One group started under the guidance of Tatiana while the other worked under her coach, Vladimir Krasnov. Everyone began with the snatch, which meant starting with no-touch snatches (which they referred to as muscle snatches with squat). A number of points were emphasized on this movement: start position, hips not coming up too soon, standing up completely (i.e., full extension of the body) before turning the bar over, keeping the elbows high, and so on. First this was done with PVC, then with the bar. When everyone had satisfactorily executed this movement we continued to a classic snatch, where similar points were emphasized. Contact between the bar and the body (roughly at the hips) was stressed, although in the form of upward movement, and not—as some people argue—via aggressive horizontal slamming of the hips into the barbell. Starting and landing in the same plane was also important, and both Tatiana and her coach corrected jumping forward or backward. When a lifter had done a weight in a capable fashion—and it should be stressed that these were all relatively light weights, based off our individual abilities—we would be told to add weight or begin doing working sets (doubles or singles).
Following the snatch progression the coaches switched groups, so that everyone had experience with both Russians, and began a similar program with the clean and jerk. Only in the clean and jerk the preliminary movement was clean with pause above the knee (Tatiana or Vlad would clap to indicate you should continue), a front squat, and a jerk (generally, 2+1+2). After a few rounds of this the weight increased, and those interested in going heavier were able to do so—but only if Tatiana or her coach gave you the nod after the completion of a lift. No nod, no increase. I got the nod just long enough to get to about 90%, at which point not only did I not get the post-lift nod, I got the coach making a big “X” with his hands, accompanied by the shaking of his head. I’m hoping that this combination of gestures in Russian means “you are an amazing lifter, and I would like to personally invite you to my gym.” [Vlad: if so, I’m ready.]
All this came on the heels of introductory remarks by Mike Graber, an explanation by Tatiana’s coach—via Yasha translating—of her training, an extended Q and A session with both coach and athlete, and a training session by Tatiana (during which time there were more questions and more answers). Among the many, many points covered:
* Tatiana’s coach generally doesn’t plan her training beyond the current week. There is some broad variation and limits on weights depending on where she is in a training cycle, but otherwise the weights are determined on a day-by-day basis via extensive communication between athlete and coach. There are typically two weights that serve as a rough guide for the day’s training: a weight that is just heavy enough for Tatiana to feel out technique and a heavier weight that is the day’s top attempt. As an example, for the training session that day Tatiana worked to 80 kilos in the clean and jerk for four doubles and then up to 160 kilos for a single. These numbers (and associated reps) can and are changed based on feel.
* Nearly every workout for Tatiana begins with a muscle snatch variant. On this day’s training it was of the type seen here; on other days it might not include the squat.
* Tatiana and her coach could not remember the last time she missed a lift in training. Clearly, the communication is going well w/r/t/ weight selection.
* Tatiana doesn’t taper (in the traditional sense) before a competition. Vlad explained that with Tatiana they discovered that her results suffered in competition with a taper, so they continue to train heavy up to the competition. Two days before the 2014 Worlds (where she did 155 and 193) she clean and jerked 180 kilos; one day prior to the competition she snatched 150.
* She began lifting at 11 years old and has been with her coach since the start. She reached the highest levels of sporting achievement in Russia (Merited Master of Sport) before she was even old enough to officially receive the honor (I think you had to be 17, and she was something like 14 when this happened).
* The coach stressed that what Tatiana does and what works for her does not work for all other athletes. Many athletes on the national team train very differently (more planned weights, longer term planning, tapers, etc.). He also stressed that variations extend to technique, and certain athletes (e.g., Yurik Vardanian) make unconventional techniques work, or make deviations work.
* Proper warmup and recovery (via regular sauna and massage) was stressed. Before lifting Tatiana’s coach rubbed capsaicin on her knees and shoulders and lower back; she then spent 15-20 minutes warming up and stretching before touching the barbell. There was another cream, as well; some sort of Russian anti-inflammatory or something for joint issues. I’m currently bathing in it thrice daily in the hopes that it will work its secret Soviet magic on me…
Tatiana’s training that day consisted of muscle squat snatch, classic snatch, clean and jerk, hang clean pulls, and squats. Despite her travel, the seminar, and the competition the next day, this was very similar to a “regular” training session.
Later that evening I had the good fortune to join Tatiana and associated crew for dinner in downtown Columbus. Yasha once again served as translator, aided by Dan Gorelik, while Mike Graber drank beers and shouted “You are so beautiful” in Russian across the table. Tatiana’s meal of steak and potatoes was representative of what she eats while in Russia, as she has to work to maintain bodyweight (they aim for around 110 kilos, knowing she will lose a few kilos prior to a competition). Throughout the dinner she and her coach continued to answer questions. At one point I had Yasha ask Vlad what—if anything—he looks for in an athlete as a means of evaluating potential. Without hesitation he answered: “Work ethic.”
Work ethic?! That doesn’t sound like something that aligns well with the spirit of the Expo, which would rather sell you something than ask for work. Also I’m pretty sure ethics are forbidden in the Expo floor. But more on that to come…
To be continued!