By Gayle Hatch

Men’s Head Coach 2004 US Olympic Weightlifting Team


Since this is the 20th anniversary of my meeting with Angel Spassov, I thought I might mention a few things about that meeting. When Angel visited the United States in August of 1989, I had the pleasure of spending several days with him. The USWF Southern Regional Training Center in Baton Rouge was his last stop before going back to Bulgaria. In addition to my attending his lectures, Angel and I stayed up to the early hours of the morning talking weightlifting. Spassov was affiliated with the Bulgarian Higher Institute for Physical Education and Sports Instruction. Since 1980 he had worked with approximately 760 coaches from 52 countries. I had used the Soviet style of perodization and had become very successful with it. I went into our conversation with an open mind so that I could make my program even more successful. During our conversation, Angel spoke quite a bit about Ivan Abadjiev, the famous Bulgarian National Coach. Arguments could be made that Abadjiev is the greatest weightlifting coach ever. I made a strong point to Angel that I did not and would not use steroids or other performance enhancing drugs in my program. Angel applauded my stance against steroids and said I could modify the Bulgarian system just as I had modified the Soviet system and get great results.

Following are a few key points from the Spassov meetings that made an impact on my program:

Teaching Weightlifting Technique – Bulgarian model

I start by teaching a beginner the back squat first because it is the number one strength building exercise and it is the fundamental position for weightlifting.

The front squat is taught next. This exercise develops strength and balance in the receiving position for the clean. The full movement of the clean pull from the floor is taught next followed by the power clean and then the squat clean. The split jerk is taught next using a stick or light bar only. Once the lifter has learned the proper foot work for the split jerk, the full clean & jerk is taught. Next the snatch pull from the floor is taught first. The power snatch is then taught followed by the overhead squat. The lifter then learns the squat snatch. The lifts are considered learned when the lifter has the timing and movement correct. Remember never sacrifice good technique for additional weight.

I use this method 95% of the time, but I would like to point out that if I have a particular beginner who has problems with this method because of one reason or another, I will quickly switch to a different sequence of teaching. The athlete may respond better if he is taught the lifts in parts from top to bottom before learning the full movement. The Bulgarians believe there is no scientific evidence that teaching the lifts in parts is better than teaching technique using the full lift. A good coach should know both methods of teaching technique.


Number of exercises – I still use 16-19 exercises in my training systems as Abadjiev did prior to 1986. When I met Angel in 1989, Abadjiev was using just 5 exercises, snatch, power snatch, clean and jerk, power clean and front squat. These exercises were done using single repetitions up to maximum. After my discussion with Spassov, I was convinced that since I would not use steroids in my program I would have to go in a different direction. I was convinced that Spassov’s suggestion that a lifter should work up to his max for the day (not his best ever) in the snatch and clean & jerk with no more than 2 or 3 attempts at this weight. Then coming back down to 80% and performing another segment of heavy doubles and sometimes triples back to max – 10 kg is needed for strength development.


Sessions – In Baton Rouge, I cannot have 3 effective training sessions a day. My athletes work or go to school, but I do have two very effective workout sessions per day. The sessions are not split into morning and evening, but we have two sessions in the afternoon. There is a 30 minute break between the A session and the B session. An elite lifter will have 8 sessions per week. I find having both sessions closer together has a positive effect on the all around conditioning of the athlete.


Cycle – I use both 3 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week in a monthly cycle. Sometimes I use 2 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week, and then repeated with 2 heavy weeks followed by an unloading week. This would be a 6 week cycle. I use a lower volume and intensity in the unloading week than the Bulgarians do. This is a must if you are training your athletes without steroids.


Squats - I did not drop back squats from my program but substituted one day of high box step-ups in place of a day of back squats. Sometimes I also do front squats and back squats together.


Clean Jerks (not clean & jerks) – Angel Spassov introduced me to this exercise in 1989. It is an excellent exercise to develop core strength and teach the athlete to finish his leg drive.


Advice for Young Coaches from Coach Gayle Hatch - It is a long hard road to reach the top and become a Head Olympic Team Coach or head coach of other International Teams. I am proud to be in three weightlifting halls of fame, the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame, US Masters Hall of Fame and the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame. The answer is to stay in the eye of the storm. Teach and motivate your athletes like winners. The Gayle Hatch Weightlifting Team has won 51 men’s National Championships and has had members represented on 4 US Olympic Teams, 12 men’s World Teams and 21 men’s Junior World Teams. Our current top lifter is Matt Bruce who has just made his third World Team and is in pursuit of the 2012 Olympic Team. Young coaches should try new approaches until they can find a system that works for them. Talk to coaches who consistently have lifters in the top 10 ranking.  Visit their training centers and observe their style of coaching. If you pick up just one thing then it will be worth your trip. In my case, I picked up a lot of positive information from Angel Spassov.

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