Interview with Victor Shenkin
USSR Olympic Weightlifting Coach
Dr. James Stoxen DC
National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal
Victor Shenkin is the Head Coach of the 1988 Soviet Olympic Team, General Secretary of the USSR Weightlifting Federation, Chairman of the Russian Powerlifting Federation, Chairman of the Soviet Committee of the IFBB and Chairman of the Russian Strongman Team. In this interview conducted in Montreal, Canada, Dr. James Stoxen asked him about the structure of the Athletic Sports Program of the USSR Ministry of Sports.
Dr. Stoxen: First of all, Victor, I would like to congratulate you and your team on your recent first-place showing in the 22nd Olympiad Games in Seoul, Korea. It’s quite amazing you managed to win six gold, two silver and one bronze medals.
Before I came down to do this interview, I spoke with quite a few strength coaches and coaches of various weightlifting squads and teams to get an idea of what they’d like me to ask you. Most of the requests for information were directed toward answering questions which may help explain why you’ve had this tremendous success in the sport of weightlifting, various other inquiries about your sports schooling and your programs with the youth and training of your athletes to create super achievers in sports.
First, I’d like to ask you, Victor, at what age do you begin training your athletes in weightlifting activities such as olympic-style lifting?
Victor Shenkin: Boys are permitted to begin weight training at age 10
Dr. Stoxen: What kind of training activities do you start your young lifters on in their adolescent era of strength training?
Victor Shenkin: The young athlete begins his training using the bar without any weights. He is taught the technique of the lift first. The technique and speed development is the most important lesson for a young lifter.
The most important advice I can give to young lifters, or lifters of any age bracket, is to train at the same speed as the event you’re going to perform. This has been the secret of the Soviet training for many years now. I believe this is the reason for our success because weightlifting Olympic lifting is a speed sport. To provide speed is to provide momentum for the lifts.
Dr. Stoxen: What age to you begin applying the weights? As know, the skeletal system does not fully mature until late teens or early 20s. The full maturation period of the skeletal system is very important, because the growth plates are still soft; we still have some cartilage centers that have to solidify in the younger years.
Victor Shenkin:We do begin with weights at age 10.
Dr. Stoxen: What weight does a 10-year-old lifter expect to lift?
Victor Shenkin: Some larger 10-year-olds are able to jerk 70-kg weight.
Dr. Stoxen: What age do you begin your heavy training?
Victor Shenkin: That usually depends on how gifted the athlete is. However, we begin our heavy training sessions at some point between the ages of 14 and 17.
Dr. Stoxen: I understand you have some special sports schools in the Soviet Union. What do these sports schools consist of?
Victor Shenkin: In the Soviet Union, we have two levels of sports schools. There are 13 Junior Sports Schools that are fully subsidized by the government, which cater primarily to athletics. These are considered private schools. The students not only study sports but they sleep and eat and train full time at the school. There are other sports schools called Senior Sports Schools which are funded partly by the government and partly by the nation’s factories. The athletes perform their job duties during the day and then after work, the athletes train. There are 50 such Senior Sports Schools. The 13 Junior Sports Schools are designed mainly for the highly gifted athletes in the Soviet Union.
Dr. Stoxen: Do you make your primary selection of athletes from or the thirteen Junior Sports Schools when preparing a team for the Olympics?
Victor Shenkin: The USSR Ministry of Sports makes you from its selections both the Junior and Senior Sports Schools. Our private sports schools usually have the superior athletes. Before the athletes are allowed to be admitted into this Junior Sports School, they are first evaluated by their doctor, coaches and trainers to determine whether they are gifted enough to be allowed to participate in the Junior Sports School System.
Dr. Stoxen: How are these schools staffed as far as your teachers, coaches or trainers or doctors, ect.?
Victor Shenkin: Each school is well provided with coaches, teachers, doctors, massage therapists, ect. They employ approximately 600 full-time sports coaches in these facilities. Some of the finest trainers in the Soviet Union go to these sports schools and train our athletes for Olympic competition.
Dr. Stoxen:How did you select your Olympic Weightlifting Team?
Victor Shenkin: We made our selection for the USSR Weightlifting Team bases on results from our National Competitions.
Dr. Stoxen: When you selected the official members of the USSR Weightlifting Team, what course of training did you follow after the selection?
Victor Shenkin: We followed a 10-month, high-intensity training regimen. We have our athletes perform approximately 10 exercises in this training regimen. The three primary exercises consist of the snatch, the jerk and the squat.
Dr. Stoxen: Tell me, Victor, what is the secret of your success with this particular weightlifting team you brought to Seoul?
Victor Shenkin: The most important thing, as I had mentioned earlier with training a superior athlete, is to train within the speed of competition.
Dr. Stoxen: Victor, many coaches, athletes and trainers have asked to question your training regimen. The daily training of an Olympic athlete in your country is one of high intensity. How do you explain the fact the athlete is able to get through repeated high-intensity sessions when most other lifters find it very difficult to maintain a similar program? Why is it that the USSR lifters can follow this program and not sustain injury or fatigue?
Victor Shenkin: Our Olympic team does perform a high-intensity training regimen during these last 10 months of the our training session. However, the reason we can get through such a high-intensity training regimen is the athletes are very close supervision from their coaches and continuous psychological support to their lifting and training regimes. Our Olympic team consists of 20 to 25 athletes, two full-time massage therapists and a traveling physician. At each place they travel within the Soviet Union or overseas, there are special sports medicine teams that follow the team. They provide for a very close monitoring of the athletes and very close monitoring of their training and their attitudes as far as the psychological aspects of training and physical exertion.
Dr. Stoxen: Victor, would you please describe the function of the medical team?
Victor Shenkin: The sports medicine team performs much scientific research and study. Each athlete must pass an extensive medical testing six times per year. These tests are of the blood, urine, EKGs, pulmonary testing, et cetera. We take the values of these tests and compare and contrast over the six testing periods. These tests are performed by Dr. Victor Lobodaev. He is the physician for our USSR weightlifting team and is considered to be a general practitioner. If he sees problems with the athlete that he cannot correct himself, he refers the athlete to other doctors who are members of the sports medicine team. For example, when he sees problems with tension, he consults with a sports psychologist; when he sees problems with muscular involvement or joint involvement that he himself cannot correct, he refers the athlete to an alternate medic or coach of that specialty We place most of our emphasis on confidence and reduction of tension. Each athlete is seen on an individual basis for these problems and they are corrected by individual doctors that specialize in these fields.
Dr. Stoxen:I know you’re the General Secretary of the USSR Weightlifting Federation and the Coach of the National Team. Is there another coach?
Victor Shenkin: Yes, Dr. Alexia Medvedjev. He was a super heavyweight world champion and he is the other coach of our team.
Dr. Stoxen: What other coaches work with the Olympic team?
Victor Shenkin: We usually have seven full-time coaches. All the athletes have their own coach who they have trained with in order to get them to this particular point in the national ranking. When an athlete becomes an official member of the Olympic Team, his coach is invited to the Olympic training sessions. This is how we receive our best exchange of information for the enhancement of the National Team effort. In this regard, we have a large compilation of coaches who can exchange information and provide the best quality training for our athletes on the Olympic Team.
Dr. Stoxen: Victor, what is your opinion or stand regarding the use of anabolic steroids?
Victor Shenkin: If we find out the athlete is using steroids, then there will be no more training.
Dr. Stoxen: It is hard for me to understand how an athlete can follow this extremely high-intensity training and still have time to earn a living. How is that so? How do the athletes receive their compensation?
Victor Shenkin: Well, Dr. Stoxen, before glasnost, we were forbidden to discuss this compensation. Now, we are no longer forbidden to discuss compensation of our athletes. The USSR Ministry of Sports has a special budget to pay athletes. The athlete lives very well. They have much prestige in our country and we are very proud of them.
Dr. Stoxen: Do you foresee an enhancement of relations between the USSR Weightlifting team and the USA Weightlifting Team? How can the USA Weightlifting Team? How can the USA Weightlifting Team and the USSR Weightlifting Team have a better dialog between them?
Victor Shenkin: I am very open to this idea. I would be very willing to accept any of the USA Weightlifters into the Soviet Union. They are very welcome to train with me for any period of time. We would be happy to provide any assistance to coaches of USA Weightlifting Team and the athletes to enhance the quality of the lifter, the coaches’ and trainers’ knowledge. This, I think would be very beneficial to the sport of weightlifting. We would be more than happy to accept a team from the USA to train with the coaches of the Soviet Union. We will try to provide them with as much knowledge of our technique as possible.
Dr. Stoxen: Victor, as far as the Olympic Championships in Seoul, what kind of medical and coaching staff did you maintain in the Olympic Village?
Victor Shenkin: Well, Dr. Stoxen, we maintained a staff of approximately 10 doctors in the Olympic Village and our various coaches and trainers. Outside the Village, we maintained a medical of approximately 60 other medical doctors and medical personnel for follow-up on our athletes. We also maintained a large body of coaches outside of the Olympic Training Center to provide some assistance to our athletes in our competition. We feel that having this extra group of doctors and coaches was helpful in providing our athletes with the best quality health care and coaching available for this most important Olympic event.
Dr. Stoxen: Victor, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to interview with you. I’m sure the information you’ve provided is very helpful to our coaches, trainers and sports medicine personnel in the United States.