East German Strength Training Secrets?

Your affirmation of the dominance of East German throwers is just not true (at least for men). They had 2 great shot putters, Ulf Timmerman and Udo Beyer… but the US has MORE different throwers in the top 10 best shot put list of all-time. And the best one is by Randy Barnes (23.12 vs. 23.06 for Timmerman).

If you look at the list of the best throws in history (http://www.alltime-athletics.com/mshotok.htm) and count only one throw per thrower (e.g. Barnes has 2 of the best 10 throws but I only count him once). Out of the 10 best throwers of all-time you have:

6 Americans
2 Germans
1 Italian
1 Swiss

Where is the East German dominance??? It’s just a romantic notion of Germany having had a secret training program. Remember that we thought the same of their Olympic lifters… but where are they now? Why don’t you see dominant Germans in weightlifting anymore? Did they forget their secret?

And you know what the freakiest thing is? The best potential power athletes in the US are/were not even doing the shot put, they are playing football. Take the best genetics in the NFL and train them for the shot put (or Olympic lifting) from an early age and they would have likely been even better.

In fact I believe that besides drugs, the real secret of the eastern block was NOT training methods but rather the selection process of their athletes. They were master at evaluating the genetic potential of a kid and pick which sport he would excel in. And in communist nations if the state decided that you were gonna be a shot putter, you would become a shot putter, even if you really wanted to play hockey.

One last thing is that back then athletes from the eastern block were professionals supported by the state. Not the case here… in fact until recently Olympic athletes didn’t make much money and had to work full time. A friend of mine competed at the 1982 weightlifting world championships. He had the Canadian record in he clean & jerk in the 82.5kg class with 192.5kg… which was about 25kg under the world’s best… BUT he actually worked full time in a paper mill from 9 to 5 THEN from 6 to 10 he would tend to his gym and when he closed the gym at 10 he would train until 11:30… put that same guy under state support and he would have been a world champ!

And the drug thing is not true either. Back then all the drugs were pharma grade. Nowadays a lot of athletes use underground drugs which are often underdosed or not even the actual product… in fact it is one of the reason why there has been a lot of positive tests for stanozolol recently, athletes likely bought what they tought was anavar (oxandrolone) which is more effective but a lot more expensive than stanozolol but many underground labs use stanozoloil labeled as anavar. But the detection time is not the same for both.

Anyway, East German athletes were on a government sponsored drug program so they all got the best drugs. BTW most of the steroids known today were available back then. Growth hormone was also used in the 80s if you had the $$$ and a state-sponsored program did have the $$$.

I think that the big difference is that the detection time for drugs was much shorter back then. Simply put, athletes could stay on drugs a lot closer to the competitions, as such performances did not decrease as much. Today’s athletes have to stop using drugs much sooner, leading to an erosion of performances.

Take Olympic lifting for example. I remember seeing a Bulgarian weightlifter snatch and clean & jerk 15kg more than he did at the world championships a few weeks later… and he still won the gold medal. Another one clean & jerked 20kg more than he did in competition. And this is actually quite common in weightlifting. If they would have been able to keep using drugs for a month longer (or even more in some cases) they would have turned much better performances… and I think that it is one of the reasons (if not the main reason) for the sometimes superior results of athletes from the 80s.

This is a thing I often see in strength training… people get seduced by a concept instead of convinced by an idea. By that I mean that the thought of doing a « secret program » or the program used by XYZ champion appeals tour desire to « follow the leader » or feel like we are doing something special.

Furthermore when we are struggling to make progress we WANT TO BELIEVE that its simply because we haven’t found the right answer, the magic program that will unlock out potential. Well such a thing doesn’t exist. And provided that you are training hard and eating properly if you aren’t progressing as fast as some others the answer is more likely in your genetics than in your program. BUT we want to believe that somewhere a program we haven’t tried holds all the answers… and the more different, or unorthodox a program is the more we tend to believe that its what we are looking for. Why? Because we already tried most « normal » programs and didn’t gain like we thought we should… so our brain assumes that if there is a secret then it must be drastically different from everything we already tried.

This was, I believe, the original appeal of Westside. You will notice that it has pretty much fallen out of favor among most powerlifting circles…. even some of their former biggest proponents have come out to criticize it.

People prefer the idea of following a special « secret » (or famous) program rather than using a program based on science and most importantly on addressing your own weaknesses.

Will the program work? Maybe. Any program based on challenging your physical capacities without exceeding your capacity to recover can work to some extent… at least in the short or medium term. Doesn’t mean that it will be optimal though.

I certainly don’t see it as anything extraordinary and I do not expect that you would get anywhere near the same rate of improvement as the athletes did (for the reasons mentioned above).

I believe that the program will not work any better than any other strength-based program. And if it does give you slightly better results at first it would be mostly because of the mental effect of feeling like you are on some sort of secret program. That feeling drastically increase motivation and makes you train harder, leading to better progress (until you body can no longer handle the workload).

I wrote something a while ago: the only secret to progression is training hard. An average program done all-out will give better results than the best program done half-assed. So anything that makes you train harder will give you enhanced results for a while.





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