In 2015, China held an astonishing 48 out of 135 world records. This includes records in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total across 15 weight classes and 3 different age divisions. China held more world records in 2015 than the 3 closest countries on the list combined.
Let's start off with some factors that contribute to their dominance.
They start young, prioritise technique, and their training is as high in intensity as it is in density. Before we delve into the specifics of the Chinese weightlifting system, just keep mind that China has two factors that are MASSIVELY in their favour, in contrast to the rest of the world. Firstly; their body proportions reflect that of the silicon sphere currently defining the kilogram for the rest of time — ABSOLUTE perfection! Secondly; they’ve got a population of a whopping 1.42 BBBBBILLION. And because of its enormous population, when compared with other weightlifting-heavy countries, it simply becomes more likely that a child with the optimal body proportions, a passion for weightlifting, and hard working mindset will be born in China.
Where to start?… oh yeah, recruitment process.
With their highly effective recruitment process, the Chinese start teaching kids weightlifting while in school, at the age of 10. In the southeastern province alone, Fujian, there are 2.000 - 3.000 kids training weightlifting regularly after school. Considering that Fujian has the 17th largest population out of 34 provincial-level administrative units, 2.000 - 3.000 kids is absolutely bonkers. Like in the states, where they have high schools, colleges, and universities with fully supported American football programmes, they have in China schools with fully supported weightlifting programmes. And just to be clear, weightlifting in China is nothing like it is here in western Europe, with one finger in the pooper and the other in their schnozzle, but with full-time coaches thwacking (believe it or not, it’s a word) technique from day UNO. Which leads us to the next point, technique!!!
Although weightlifting is a strength sport, strength is not the most important element in the sport of weightlifting, technique is and always will be the most important element. The Chinese system heavily relies on perfecting the technique in their younger lifters. No matter if it’s a light weight or a world record attempt, the technique of the Chinese lifters is always spot on. With the majority of the elite level lifters having 10+ years under their belts in the sport, their technique is like second nature and is what sets the Chinese apart. I'd love to go into depth about the Chinese weightlifting technique, but that a post for another time. So I'll provide you with the insight from the top-level Chinese coach MA JIANGPING instead.
Ma Jiangping pointed out the 5 fundamental cues utilised in the Chinese weightlifting technique.
1. Keep the bar close
2. Receive the bar low
3. Be fast under the bar
4. Timing is essential 5. Stability needs to be superb
PS: Notice that strength doesn't even make the list #priorities
Just take a look at these kids lifting. #jawdrop
The ideal body proportions for a weightlifter
The ideal weightlifter has short femurs and a long torso, allowing an upright posture during lifts, and their arms are short, reducing the distance the bar has to travel during the snatch and jerk.
Additionally, the short arms make it easier for the lifter to utilise a hip clean, as suppose to making contact at mid/upper thigh, which improves force production in the triple extension. For lifters with longer arms to make use of the hip clean the elbows need to bend significantly and therefore, at least to some degree, making the hip clean counterintuitive (Just to cover my arse, there are lifters who successfully use the hip clean, despite having relatively long arms)
Lu Xiajun — 9 times world record holder, 2012 olympic champion, and 4 times world champion — is a perfect example of a lifter with the perfect proportions. This picture clearly shows how his shorter femurs are advantageous for the proper position needed for the front squat/clean.
The best advise if your body proportions don’t fit that of a Chinese weightlifter
Get you some new parents, since they were the ones who provided you with the rubbish genetics you’re currently dragging along with you. Yeah, sorry about that! Not the best advise...
Russia vs. Bulgaria vs. China
In the mid-1900s the Soviet system was superior to all the others, mainly due to the fact that weightlifting was “born” in Russia, the largest member of the Soviet Union at the time, and had more weightlifters than everyone else. The Russian method is characterised as being carefully planned, involving detailed planning and complicated periodisation, a wide variety of exercises, and a high volume of training performed at lower relative loads. Conversely, the Bulgarian method is characterised as involving less planning and periodisation, hardly any exercises variation, and a high volume performed at higher relative loads.
To put the intensity differences into perspective, the Russians only performed approximately 400 lifts higher than 90% over the course of a year, while the Bulgarians, however, did anywhere between 1.400 and 4.000 lifts above 90%. WOWSERS!
So, what makes the Chinese method so good? The Chinese, as clever as they are, more or less combined the Soviet and Bulgarian systems into one, which makes their training methodology based on high volume, high intensity, and a wide variety of exercises.
Before digging into the training method, keep this in minds. Most lifters on the national team live on training camps most of the time. On these camps, where everything revolves around weightlifting — obviously — they're provided with the best coaches China has to offer, training programmes made specifically for their needs, excellent training and recovery facilities, food, etc. etc. This, among other things, allows them to focus on their training without any distractions, hence the reasons why the elite are able to tolerate the high volume/intensity training.
To be able to cope with all the volume, the Chinese tend to have a high frequency of training, with anywhere from 8 - 10 sessions a week. This lets them get most of the lighter barbell/technique work in the morning, along with with some accessory work, and the heavier work in the evenings, again with some accessory work.
Unlike the Bulgarian method, where there is close to no periodisation involved, the Chinese have different phases of training. Different phases have different emphasis. For example, the longer an athlete has until competition the higher the emphasis will be on general training, higher rep ranges, and more conditioning. Closer to competition phase the emphasis changes towards greater specificity, meaning more lifts that replicate the snatch and clean and jerk, lower rep ranges, and less volume and conditioning.
Although there are different phases of training, some higher in volume and low in intensity, and vice versa, what sets their method apart is their general high level of volume no matter the training phase. Although the volume is said to be "low", that only means it's low relative to when it's high. Because the Chinese lifters have been training for 10+ years, with considerably high volume throughout, their tolerance for high volume is superior to that of the average person. So when the Chinese do a low volume training phase, it's very likely that the volume they're doing will still be much higher than the average weightlifter in western Europe would do. With that being said, the majority of the volume comes from accessory work, being bodybuilding style training — hence the reason they all look like bodybuilders, with the additional massive quadriceps. Following a barbell workout, it's not unusual to spend the next 90 minutes or so on accessory work. This can be anything from pull-ups, push-ups, handstand push-ups, leg raises, back extensions, shoulder press, rowing variations, dips, and many more. (Here is a video of Chinese lifters doing a variety of accessory movements)
In the western part of the world, these types of exercises are mostly, if not only, used early in a training program. But for the Chinese they're done the whole time, including at the competition training hall. The only difference will be the quantity. Obviously, there will be a higher
quantity of accessory work earlier in the program versus later on, but it'll never fully neglected.
Now, although the volume will be considerably high throughout all phases don't think that intensity doesn't follow suit. Because it does. It's common that close to max snatches, clean and jerks, squats, and their derivatives are done on a weekly basis. (Just watch this if you're sceptical). But again, like with volume, how high and often they do maximum lifts changes from phase to phase. Take a look at some of the videos in the training hall to see their training when intensity is at its highest.
Last paragraph, promise
So, is it possible for anyone to train like the Chinese? Yes, of course it's possible. But is it recommended? probably not. Unless you've been exposed to the same level of technical mastery and high volume since the age of 10, this method would likely result in more negative outcomes than it would positive ones. Since the volume is so high, in comparison to what the average person is used to, the only way accumulate the same toleration for the volume would be by starting at a young age and slowly build it up through the years. As for the Chinese weightlifting technique, although not discussed in this article, it's entirely possible to imitate it, but keep in mind that the reason their technique looks so flawless is due to it being tailored to their body proportions. So, although the technique could be imitated, that does not mean that it is the most optimal technique for everyone.
That concludes my knowledge about the Chinese system. If you found this article interesting give it a like, if you know something about the Chinese system that wasn't included please drop a comment, and lastly, if you know someone who would benefit from reading this article please share it.