After a refreshing nap at the fabulous Hotel Tempo and a bit of
getting lost in wandering around Bucharest’s Lipscani area—more about the city later—we loaded up the Dacia-cum-Renault and set out for Dinamo Sports Complex. There was some concern over whether we’d manage to find the place, as we had an address but no contact information for anyone who was actually at the gym. Furthermore, Bucharest isn’t exactly Council Bluffs, and driving through the city is almost as harrowing as driving in Turkey. Adherence to traffic laws is minimal, at best, and the concept of lanes is something wholly foreign to Romanian drivers. As far as I can tell a lane is simply where your car happens to be at any particular moment: somewhere in the street, on a tram line, the sidewalk, a tree. Anywhere you can wedge the old Dacia, really. This sort of logic is probably convenient if you happen to find yourself in an accident, I suppose, since any doubt as to whether you were in a proper lane is quickly dispelled—ipso facto—by your car’s presence. “Of course I was in a lane, officer. My car was there, wasn’t it?”
Anyways… fortunately it wasn’t hard to find the Dinamo sports complex. It’s such a significant part of the city that it was even marked out on the tourist map provided by our hotel, which also featured the locations of various museums, city parks, and ads for about 42 different “erotic massage services”. (Possible Romanian recovery secret?)
No, finding Dinamo wasn’t hard. Finding where to go once inside the enormous, sprawling complex that is Dinamo was the hard part. The parking attendant was an affable fellow, although he spoke not a word of English, and the only thing either of us had mastered in Romanian by that point was asking whether the person spoke English. (Vorbiţi engleză? No? Well shit…)
As best I can gather, the Dinamo club in Bucharest has historical links to the Dynamo Sports Club created in 1923 in the Soviet Union. Whether the Bucharest club is that old is unclear to me, although a stroll around the grounds—which we did for about 30 minutes while trying to find the weightlifting gym—certainly gives the impression of the old Eastern Bloc stereotypes. The vast sports complex is presently a mix of old and new: stadia, piles of dirt and rubble, structures long abandoned and falling into decay, and new construction sites. Interspersed among this are occasional signs of—to my Western eyes, at least—Soviet iconography, like the triumphant bronzes of men forever frozen in acts of athleticism. Classicism through the lens of Communism, like some modern Discobolus.
In all it feels very much like a microcosm of the city itself.
Eventually, through some combination of itinerant wandering, helpful strangers, and luck, we drifted near our goal. I will let a brief photo-essay, without much commentary, provide some sense of the final leg of our pilgrimage to the Dinamo weightlifting gym.
This was the real deal, I thought, as we settled into the place. Legitimate Eastern Bloc feel. Some barbells, stacks of plates, a Slavic-influenced language, chipped paint, and not a single goddamn machine in sight. A gym whose purpose is so clearly and singularly weightlifting. Sure, it’s not the prettiest gym in the world, and the platforms are a bit uneven, and the showers look like something out of a horror film, but c’mon! You’re not here to look pretty and smell good. You’re here to lift weights!
At least that’s what the others were there for. The atmosphere in the gym was excellent: serious but congenial, with periods of talking interspersed with absolute respect and silence for heavy lifts. All the athletes were friendly, and despite the language barrier they made every effort to speak with us as best they could. For our part, Mike Cerbus served as the cultural ambassador and handed out USA-themed t-shirts.
I threw a few token snatches around and then cornered Mr Calancea into talking to me and discussing training programs. When I asked him about the training they used he actually offered to write out a strength/power program, all in English. Naturally I said yes.
But when he got about halfway down the sheet of paper—still only on day one of the program—he began to shoot me concerned looks. He would write one of the lifts down along with percentages and reps, and then he would stare at me, assessing, thinking. I soon grasped his concern.
“Valeriu, listen,” I said, “this isn’t for me. I’m certainly not doing this crazy shit! I just want to know.”
He smiled. “Ah, okay.” He nodded, as if confirming that yes, this was not for me. This seemed to put him at ease, now that he knew I wouldn’t be giving the program some sort of suicidal effort.
A little background on Calancea: he started lifting at age 11, in his home city of Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. After graduating high school in 1999, he moved to Romania at the encouragement of weightlifting legend Nicu Vlad (of Romanian Deadlift fame, allegedly). In Romania Calancea trained with Vlad at the latter’s home gym (in Galaţi, I believe). In 2003 Calancea, still under the tutelage of Vlad, won the World Championships in the 85-kilo class with lifts of 167.5 and 215 for a 382.5 total. Other major accomplishments include Silver and Gold at the European Championships (2005 and 2007, respectively) and Bronze at the 2010 Worlds in Antalya. His best training lifts: Snatch – 180; Clean and jerk – 230; back squat – 280; front squat – 250; clean – 240; power snatch – 150; power clean – 200. Note the ratio of squat numbers to classic lifts. I know that people are often obsessed with pumping up squat numbers, but—as others have pointed out in various places on the interwebz (also this article, by the same author)—there is little evidence to suggest a monster squat is needed for big lifts in the biathlon.
The program Calancea wrote out, in its basics, is built around nine training sessions per week. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday have morning and night sessions; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday have only one session. Every single session—all nine—has a squat component, front or back, although never more than 5 reps or 3 sets. Morning sessions are only two exercises. The second session on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is composed of four exercises, largely devoted to the classic lifts or variants. Throughout the week are lots of deadlifts, of both the clean and snatch variety. In short: lots of heavy lifting.*
Monday AM: Front Squat, Clean deadlift / PM: Snatch, Clean and jerk, Clean pull, Squat
Tuesday: Front squat, Clean, Snatch deadlift
Wednesday AM: Front Squat, Clean deadlift / PM: Snatch, Clean, Jerks, Squat
Thursday: Drop snatch, Squat
Friday AM: Front squat, Clean deadlift / PM: Snatch, Clean and jerk, Clean pull, Squat
Saturday: Squat, Snatch from knee, Power clean and jerk
Not so bad, right? Right. Now I see why they need all those erotic massages for recovery…
Keep in mind this is their strength/power program. I also took a look at their technique program, but after Calancea so generously spent the better part of his evening writing down the power routine I felt I’d be overstepping my welcome to ask for him to write anything else. Plus I’m pretty sure I’d already committed some major faux pas earlier, when I started asking about what his stipend had been and how often he actually went to school while training (once a month, apparently). Thus I had to make do with taking a picture of the sheet of paper on which the technique program was written. As soon as my Romanian improves I’ll get this out to the world.
So far I’ve translated the days of the week and all the numbers. It’s slow going, but hopes remain high. I also translated “Sauna”, and I’m confident that’s at least one portion of the program that I can follow.
Still to come: something else…
* Anybody interested in seeing the program in its entirety is welcome to contact me for details. All credit—and many, many thanks—go to Valeriu Calancea.