My conviction that Alexeyev's priceless experience will not be lost was
strengthened when I saw that at the end of 1976 he conducted a trial
get-together at the Podolsk sports base to train the young heavyweights. I
won't try to describe in depth Alexevev's method (he has written about it in
his dissertation as a science degree candidate) but I'll explain the reason
for its great effectiveness.
Usually the athletes lift barbells and then immediately drop them. This takes
several seconds. According to Alexeyev's method, the sportsman finds himself under the weight for a period of two or three minutes. The entire body must sustain this prolonged effort, as the athlete completes several consecutive exercises without letting go of the equipment. [Note that this would refer to various hybrid exercises, as described in my "Supertraining"2000 book, p397, 436 Mel Siff]. The weight of the barbell is relatively light, but the varied work with it affects every muscle cell.
By the end of the two-week session, all Alexeyev's students had increased
their bodyweights as a result of muscle growth and at the same time they'd
increased their abilities. Here is what Sultan Rachmanov said: "At first I
trained in mv own way. I didn't believe that Alexeyev's advice would help me.
Now I believe ... My shoulders, my back, everything is filling up with
strength. There is this to consider. Not everything will come my way, but
I'll take the most important! (At the USSR championships in Karaganda,
Rachmanov, who up until then had not been a 400kg man, became the third prize winner with the distinguished sum of 420 kg. In the fall this athlete took
the USSR record in the snatch. And who is to know, perhaps he will be the
successor to the glory of the hero of the Munich and Montreal Olympic Games!)
Each of Alexeyev's students noted that thanks to this unusual system of
working they have acquired a good amount of self-confidence in their own
strength. Yes, and I too have noticed with what incredible ease the athletes
picked up the 160-kilo barbell in the snatch at the end of the training
The 1976 annual "Heavy Athletics" ['Tyezhelaya Atletika' in Russian or
"Weightlifting" in English Mel Siff] ran a detailed article which Alexeyev
called "The Experience of My Training.' In this first scientific
publication of the strongest athlete, the author refutes some unsound
(although they've existed for ten years) methodological concepts about how to develop strength in athletes of the heavyweight class.
He writes: "In the first years I trained according to the accepted methods.
But then, from 1966, I decided to significantly increase the size of my
training weight. This immediately brought results. By the end of 1967, I had
gained 32.5 kilograms in my triple sum total and by the end of 1968 -- 42.5
kilograms. For athletes of the superheavyweight class, the average rate of
growth had by this time significantly increased."
Vasily includes a great variety of exercises in his training. "Besides
exercises in the· snatch, jerk, or press, pull and squats, I have used many
other exercises with the barbell and weights. Bends with the barbell on the
shoulders; bends with the barbell on the shoulders while lying on the 'horse'
bracing one's hips, with the legs secured; jumps with the barbell on your
shoulders; press on crossbars with weights; bending and unbending the arms in the elbow joints; squats on one leg; throwing the bar upward and behind; and other exercises. In addition, in the first year of the time span analyzed,
these exercises consisted of, on the average, 360 lifts in the preparatory
period and 158 lifts during the competition period. In the second year,
correspondingly 841 and 506 lifts, and in the third 880 lifts a month."
[Note how different his highly varied training was from the training of elite
Bulgarian lifters. Mel Siff]
And here is the conclusion that Alexeyev drew at the end of his studies: "The
method of training I have used can be recommended to athletes of the
heavyweight class, and also to those athletes whose bodyweight does not
correspond to the height specifications. Young athletes should not inhibit
the growth of their bodyweight. They should be more courageous about entering their proper weight class ...
"One of the conditions for fast growth in the scores of future athletes of
heavyweight classes is the completion of large amounts of exercises with the
barbell and other weights. The problem is that beginning athletes of the
light or middle weight, in order to become first-class athletes, must
increase their muscle mass by approximately 25 percent. For heavyweights it's 50 percent and more. The growth of the muscle mass is directly dependent on the amount of the training loads . . .
"It is also important to note that you can achieve high scores at
competitions by decreasing to a minimum the lifting of barbells of maximum
weight in the snatch and jerk exercises, by significantly decreasing the number of lifts of the barbell with big weights."
I don't doubt that in the near future the mining engineer Vasily Alexeyev
will successfully conclude his graduate study as a correspondence student in
the Institute of Physical Culture and will become a graduate in pedagogical
He will probably change his qualifications because he already considers
himself outside weightlifting. He will become a coach. A good one! But for
the moment, Alexeyev is thinking about his third victory at the Olympic
I asked the champion how he was able in 18 years of training to "grow" more
than 70 kilograms of muscle?
"Earlier I didn't lift less than 20 tons. More often the daily load was 25 to
30 tons. What's more, these aren't the same tons that our 'boys' lift today.
You have to multiply their tons by two or three; that's the factor of
difficulty which I applied in my exercises. If necessary, I would even now be
ready to lift 40 tons in one training session ...
"Besides, speaking about the physical make-up of heavyweights, some experts feel that the ability to get high scores should be combined with the
development of a trim figure. I have departed from this quite a bit. What is
the weakest part of a person's constitution? You don't know? In my opinion,
the part of the spine at the waist. And I constantly reinforce it by growing
a 'corset' with my muscles [If this sounds familiar, then think of Louie
Simmons and his powerlifters who advocate much the same. Mel Siff]. Yes, we superheavyweights are not too pretty to look at, but our body makeup is expedient for picking up record barbells."
"I'll have time to work on my figure when I retire from weightlifting,"
Vasily said, smiling. "For the moment, I do and will continue to do only that
which makes me stronger. I notice some talented athletes spend more time
building their muscles for the sake of form and that this muscular
development impedes their ability to lift maximum weights. They aren't too
concerned with their ability to defend the honor of Soviet sports abroad.
What is the sense of their beautiful figures?!"
"My task for the future is quite clear," explains Alexeyev. "It is to create
in Ryazan, where I have settled, a center for weightlifting. To get some
coaches and help them. I'll develop a method for each different age group --
from the beginning to maturity. I've tried out everything on myself ...
Maybe, I'll invite some boys with potential to Ryazan, boys who don't have
coaches or suitable conditions for training. I don't mean this would be to
lure them away. We are still behind in many weight classes. I would like to
work, and I have no profit motive ...
"For the time being I still want to win and set records. I love this
occupation. I respect weightlifting. It teaches you to master the art and at
the necessary moment to organize yourself. It's because I feel so 'in love'
with the barbell that I gave it the best years of my life. For me sport is
life. Hemingway put it well when he wrote: 'Sport teaches you to win
honestly. Sport teaches you to lose with dignity. In a word, sport teaches
[Unfortunately, far too many athletes today, especially in pro sports, don't
seem to believe Hemingway! Mel Siff]
"There is no point in denying that for the athlete, as for the artist,
recognition is a necessity. A good artist controls his public. The athlete
first causes his public to be amazed, then to worry about their idol, and
finally to love him for his skill, his strength, and his courage. One wants
to startle the world with something incredible. Then they recognize you. For
this it is worth working like a dog. Especially since in our time, it becomes
more and more difficult to surprise anybody ...
"When I joined the weightlifting section, there were no sharp definitions
between the methods of training. I was not used to training mechanically and
I didn't like this. I began to think for myself, how to organize an effective
system of training. I knew from my own experience that, with stubborn effort,
one can do anything. I didn't spare myself. I worked with maximum weights,
analyzed my situation, and again began training. I invented many things
myself. For example, I began to work a great deal with the barbell in water. I searched and experimented...and here is the result. I made my way from 500 to 600 kilograms in three years. >From then on I wanted to be first ...
[Note that lifting weights against various opposing media such as elastic
bands and chains, a la Westside - and, in this case, lifting against water
resistance (which is variable) - can be a useful supplementary form of
training. Mel Siff]
"At 28 I set my first record, having had a solid physical preparation. I ran,
jumped, played volleyball -- with first-class sports strength. At the age of
12, I began to train with homemade barbells. They are still to be found in my
mother's yard. All of them weigh more than two tons. I didn't think of any
records. I always respected strength in people and I wanted to have it
myself. What boy doesn't want to be strong and skillful? I'm sure there isn't
"Isn't the cultivation of one's physical abilities detrimental to the
development of the mind?", I once asked Alexeyev and showed him a quotation
from the magazine "Bicyclist", which was published in St Petersburg in the
last century. "To make a man an athlete and at the same time a man of
learning is simply impossible. In order to regulate the body in accordance
with physiological law it is necessary for the physical work to be in reverse
proportion to the intellectual work. Only in view of these circumstances,
instead of opposition, can one achieve the desired balance. . .
"There is some truth in this," agreed Vasily, "I have known from my own
experience how difficult it is to read even entertaining literature after a
hard training session. I can never sit too long in one place. It's torture
for me. I absolutely must move. Therefore it`s not easy for us to study. And
yet all Soviet athletes get a higher education. But they lay certain claims
on us. Some would like to see the big sportsman as a well-rounded
intellectual. But this doesn't happen in reality. Take any scholar, dig a bit
and you will find that in many things he is an ignoramus."
"Do you think about leaving sports?"
"I clearly understand that I won't be around forever. But I still have the
desire to compete and compete. Even though I soon will be 36 and age in
sports is critical, I have outlasted and I think I will still outlast some of
the younger 'old men' who don't know how to compete. I've outlived Patera,
Dube, Reding, and Mang..."
"Our youth is now coming up"
"Whom do you have in mind?"
"Enaldiev, Rachmanov . . . "
"What kind of youth is this? -- they are about 30. It's me who is young and
coming up. But you can't make comparisons with me. I am no worse now than I was in 1970, when I was 28 years old."
"And yet is there a reason to remain on the competing platform? After all,
your remaining in sports keeps you from making progress in the industrial
"Sometimes I worry about this. When I was just a Master of Sports, they
offered me a choice -- rather, they advised me to 'drop' my barbells because
my absences from work (while at the contests) interfered with my job. At the
factory I worked with zeal and at the Kotlas paper works, they appreciated
me. They wanted me to become a technical expert. But I wanted to achieve
great things in sports and I refused the tempting offer. I found work which
allowed me to spend more time with the barbells. I was not wrong in my
choice. I don't regret anything. Even though, of course, I've missed some
things. I imagine that if I had not gotten so passionately involved in
sports, I might have had more success at the factory where they also
appreciated me. My principle is to work honestly.''
It is difficult to approach Alexeyev. But in rare moments of frankness, it's
a real pleasure to chat with him and listen to him. He has a tendency to be
too stern and at times he is somewhat unfair to our friend, the journalist.
But it seems he can't be any other way.
Once a famous pilot and hero of the Soviet Union, Georgi Mosolov, talking
about heroic deeds, wrote: "The strength of the muscles, as if blending with
the strength of the will, makes for a third strength, the strength that helps
sportsmen set phenomenal world records. That is the very strength people find in themselves, people who have crossed a limit that until then had been
The Russian giant has passed that boundary 80 times! Sometimes he fought for victory (in spite of himself) and won. In these moments Vasily Alexeyev was saved by the main component--the third strength--the indomitable will.
Dr Siff Notes:
Here is the next installment on the intriguing Russian behemoth, Vasily
Alexeyev. I cannot recall who sent it to me or from which reference it came,
so, if anyone does know, please let me know, so that we can provide full
acknowledgements for this fascinating tale.
ALEXEYEV- THE BEST AT EVERYTHING (continued)
William O. Johnson
...... He went on. "There are two categories of performer in my sport.
First: those who view competitions as tortures. Second: those who see
competitions as great celebrations. I am in the middle of those two. For some
performers there is a psychological problem. As the weight is greater, the
more the mind makes the weight seem to be. But we are from the U.S.S.R., and
such a psychological situation is no problem. During Shakespeare's times it
was said,'What must be cannot be avoided.' That is how it is when I lift. To
successfully lift the weight cannot be avoided. I experience the tortures und
the celebration. But I lift as well as I lift because it cannot be avoided.
"I am asked to make many speeches in the Soviet Union. I am very much at ease
and I say to crowds,'O.K, what topic do you like me to talk about?' They ask
me to tell my biography, how I got to be a great sportsman, and they ask my
impression of my last competition. Of course, I have nearly always won the
last competition, so my impressions are always happy, proud. I say I have
become a great champion because of my love of hard work and my great striving
to reach the target of winning."
When I asked whether he considered his victories some sort of proof of the
U.S.S.R.'s superiority over the U.S., Alexeyev replied, "I have always had to
win because I respect my people and I display my country's success by
winning. As to whether we would prove the Soviet way better than the American
in the competitions of weightlifting - such a target was never put before
It was about 11:45 in the morning, another translucent autumn day in
Alexeyev's courtyard. Young Dmitri was kicking his soccer ball, the Doberman
puppy scrambling wildly after it. The boy's school hours were in the
afternoon. His brother attended morning classes--there are double sessions in
Shakhty. Suddenly the door of Alexeyev's house banged open and the great man
stepped out. He was dressed in electric-blue sweat pants, Adidas sneakers, a
thin apple-green T shirt. In his right hand he carried a bulging Adidas bag
and looked not unlike a gigantic commuter bound for his train. And Vasili
Alexeyev was indeed on his way to work. He strode about 25 mighty paces, and
there he was at his office, chairman of the board, to say nothing of king of
In those 25 paces from his back door to the bar, the weights and the rubber
mats laid by the brick wall, everything in Alexeyev's existence as premier
sports hero of the Soviet Union and strongest man in the world was on
display. He moved with a powerful swagger across the courtyard bricks. His
massive arms kept rhythm with the steady pump of his great thighs and his
head swayed--gently, arrogantly--with each stride. He radiated absolute peace
and self-assurance. His face was composed in the benign, even saintly,
self-confident expression of an old-fashioned king absolutely certain of his
divine right to reign. There might have been music, The Hallelujah Chorus
perhaps, but it was not necessary.
At the weightlifting area he unzipped the bag to take out a package of talcum
powder and a white leather girdle which he strapped beneath his belly to
diminish the immense strain on his stomach muscles when he hoists the
weights. The weights, the great discs of iron, were stacked along the garden
wall. He studied them, then picked up one weighing 25 kilos (55 pounds) andd
fitted it on one end of the bar. He got a similar disc on the other end and
began to work. Next he progressed to 65 kilos (143 pounds). He dusted his
hands with talcum, spat into his palms, bent and gripped the bar. With a
horrible gasp and grunt he yanked it to shoulder level, paused, then raised
it, in triumph, it seemed, above his head. He held it there for a moment,
then let it fall to the mats with an explosive crash. In the soft morning,
with his Shakhtinka roses budding nearby and the leaves of the grapevines
rustling on the garden wall, with the chirping of the birds in his trees and
the civilized sound of trolley cars in the distance, the savage clangor of
the falling weight was as unnerving as a grenade blast at one's feet.
Alexeyev lifted the 65 kilos three or four times as a warmup. He rested for a
moment, leaning on a padded gymnastic horse. He said nothing. He seemed to be
concentrating very hard, as though slipping into some kind of trance
necessary to the superhuman feats he performed so regularly. Dmitri and the
puppy scampered by his feet. and Alexeyev emerged from his trance to inquire,
"Have you done all your lessons?" Offended, the boy replied that of course he
had. Alexeyev added more weight and lifted something over 250 pounds. He
seemed about to burst when he hoisted the bar above his head. His belly
strained against the leather girdle. He dropped the weight with the same
hideous crash. He lifted it again and let it fall. Then, panting, he leaned
again against the horse. Once more he seemed to be entering a quasi-mystical
state of concentration, which it seemed wise not to interrupt. But then he
looked at me and said, "Ask me something."
Well, all right. Could he explain his training technique? He said, "The
difference between my methodics and others is great. What is mainly different
is that I train more often and I lift more weights than others. I never know
when I will train. Sometimes deep in the night, sometimes in the morning.
Sometimes several times a day, sometimes not at all. I never repeat myself.
Only I understand what is right for me. I have never had a coach. I know my
own possibilities bestly. No coach knows them. Coaches grow old and they have
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