There’s something about us weightlifters. Most of us will look at several lifters and dissect what we consider to be optimal technique. Some of us prefer the Chinese way of lifting – smooth, precise and elegant. Some of us, perhaps the more aggressive, stomp and powerful movements of the Russians and North Koreans. Whatever your preference, there is no doubt in my mind that we all appreciate amazing technique when we see it (like damn, look at that extension!), whatever country it may have originated from.

I have been weightlifting for 5 years having started at 18. During this time I’ve been lucky enough to visit a Chinese weightlifting school twice, learning things along the way that I hope to share with other recreational lifters. If you are a weightlifter, strength sports enthusiast or just a recreational gym-goer, I’m sure there’s something in this article that you can use for your training goals!

During my stay in China, I learnt and stayed with Coach Pang. Coach Pang was part of the Olympic Squad in his time, selected as one of the top 3 in the 62kg weightclass. He was in direct competition with Shi Zhi Yong as the 62kg Olympic represent. He boasts a 140 snatch and 180 clean and jerk (a WR at the time), a 240kg back squat, 220kg front squat and a 200kg clean. He currently coaches youths from 12-18 in a sports school in China’s south. As a coach he is brutally honest with his assessment (he laughed when I said my best snatch was 75kg), attentive and hands on. His weightlifting IQ is what you’d expect from an Olympic level lifter. In this article I’ll share with you the three best concepts he taught me that have helped in my training.

1. Strength Trumps All

Surprise! Despite stories of technique being drilled into the kids from quite an early age (more on that later), the most important part of weightlifting from Coach Pang’s point of view is absolute strength. In his words he says ‘Technique is important, but no point if you haven’t got the strength for it. If you have strength but lesser technique that’s fine, but if you have technique but no strength than what’s the point? It’s called weightlifting for a reason.’ He commented that no matter what weight class you’re in, you have to have at least a 200kg back squat if you want to be a good weightlifter (speaking about males).

To train strength, Coach Pang recommends alternating between the back and front squat 3x a week. There is no planning – simply hit a daily max and go back down to 85-90% for 6-10 sets of 3. It is grueling but it works. I saw 15 year olds routinely front squat 150-160kg with relative ease. This same concept applies to pulling.

2. Technique is Individual

Coach Pang believes that every athlete has their own, individual technique that is most suitable for them. When I asked him about hip cleaning, or high thigh cleaning, hip brushing and hip bashing, his response was unsurprisingly philosophical. ‘Use whatever is your greatest strength.’ He says however, ideally the best weightlifters are able to use everything. Calves, quads, hips, lower back, upper back (yes, this is involved in the pulling motion), traps, arms can ALL be used to propel the barbell upwards to complete the lift. ‘It’s not just about the legs. Weightlifting is using all the strength in your body. All of it.’

To develop his lifter’s technique, he’ll have them practice in front of a mirror for 30 minutes at the end of each session. The focus is to play with the bar. Snatch with a hip hinge, snatch with a tall chest, he doesn’t care. Just play. Whatever you feel is easiest, most comfortable and ‘relaxed,’ is your ideal technique. Play.

3. Feeling the Movement

Continuing on with the philosophical talk, Coach Pang believes that you must feel the movement. The best weightlifters can lift off feeling. To illustrate my point, have you ever performed a snatch or clean and jerk from start to finish that just happened the moment you began off the floor? You don’t really know what happened but it felt smooth, controlled and precise. This is what his lifters train, except they are able to replicate this feeling on a daily basis.

How do you coach this? This is where it gets tricky – in China they use a lot of manual guidance (physically pushing and pulling you into positions). They quite literally ‘give’ the feeling to you. But, if you mainly train by yourself like me, then you might have to record lots of your sets, analyse your mistakes, then grab an empty bar and practice. Focus on simple cues, no more than 2 from start to finish. For example, the cue I use is ‘bar to hip’ and ‘deng tui’ (which as I understand it means PUNCH YOUR TOES!).

4. Summary

This was just a small glimpse of what I learnt about Chinese weightlifting, but three of the most helpful concepts I’ve applied to my own training. In summary:

  • You must be strong for weightlifting.
  • Develop your own technique. Spend time in front of a mirror and play.
  • Feel your movements. Remember that feeling. Repeat.

In future posts I will explore the technical aspects of the lifts themselves, namely the snatch, clean and jerk, squat variations, ‘fa li la’ (popularized as the panda pull), pulls and preferred bodybuilding methods.