Today we present some outstanding vintage documentary footage of Eastern European strength training, showing the Polish weightlifting team’s exercise regimen. During the Cold War era, Eastern European countries tended to dominate in international strength sports competitions. This video is a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into their training methods. The video reel, posted on the “Goodfoot101” Youtube channel, appears to be from the late 1970s, as it includes footage from the 1977 World Weightlifting Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. While somewhat outside the particular era generally covered here at FOUNDATIONS OF IRON, this is still a great showcase of old-school strength training.
As seen in this vintage footage, training for Olympic-style lifting involves much more than simply practicing the Olympic lifts themselves.
The team’s training featured free weight exercises such as barbell power cleans, front and back squats, push presses, and seated behind-the-neck presses; as well as weighted hyperextensions, overhead kettlebell pressing, and more. Calisthenics also had a place in their training for competitive Olympic weightlifting.
Starting at about 8 minutes into the video, the trainees make vigorous use of a large multi-station weight machine contraption, which looks very much like a Universal Gym Machine. The Universal Gym Machine dates back to the 1950s, when it was developed and marketed by the late Harold Zinkin, a regular on the original “Muscle Beach” scene and the winner of the 1941 Mr. California physique contest. On occasion, you may still encounter vintage Universal machines in older gyms or community centers, in police or fire department exercise rooms, or in a private collector’s garage. For example, an excellent specimen remains in active use at Loprinzi’s Gym, which has been in business since 1948 in Portland, OR, USA.
Reference/further reading on Harold Zinkin and the Universal Gym Machine (opens in new window/tab): http://articles.latimes.com/2004/sep/24/local/me-zinkin24
From the video above, you can see that the Polish weightlifting team’s accessory exercises on the weight machine included chest pressing and strict pull-ups as well as lat pull-downs. This is different from certain popular contemporary fitness modalities that feature high-volume Olympic-style lifting, but generally do not incorporate frequent chest exercises such as bench pressing or machine-based chest pressing, and also use swinging momentum-based pull-ups with the aim of achieving more repetitions rather than primarily engaging the back muscles. Apparently, the elite Eastern European competitive weightlifters of the 1970s found benefit in both chest exercises and back exercises. Perhaps aspiring Olympic lifters of today could also consider incorporating such upper body assistance exercises into their training programs.
Further reading on the benefits of bench pressing for Olympic lifters (opens in new window/tab): https://barbend.com/should-weightlifters-bench-press/
Further reading on the benefits of strict pull-ups for Olympic lifters (opens in new window/tab): https://barbend.com/why-weightlifters-should-do-more-pull-ups/
Be on the lookout for some fascinating vintage excerpts on Olympic lifting training, as well as coverage of weightlifting events and champions of past decades, right here at FOUNDATIONS OF IRON in the very near future!