Shi Zhiyong REACT
Is Shi Zhiyong better than Lü Xiaojun?
Before we answer that question, we need to understand immediately how Chinese weightlifters actually train. We need to understand their presence in the training hall. I’ve been around the Chinese Weightlifting team multiple times.
One of my most memorable experiences was at the 2019 world championships. We are about to walk in and it is the U.S. team and the Chinese team. Lü Xiaojun is standing right to my right. Pyrros Dimas is yelling at me to be ready to come in because all the Chinese weightlifters are going to come in and take over the platforms. Pyrros starts to pull me in and Lü Xiaojun just comes over and pushes me out of the way. Lü Xiaojun is just jacked. He is freakishly strong. He is totally jacked.
Where does this come from? I weight 240 lbs and this dude was able to move me without effort; I also didn’t want to start anything. But his tremendous strength goes back to how Chinese weightlifters train. They do really, really heavy pulls all the time. They do heavy squats two to three times a week. They have phenomenal mobility, and even in the training hall, you can see all the bodybuilding and accessory work they do. They also recovery really well coupled with severe stretching. Their programming is extremely challenging.
This brings us to Shi Zhiyoung. This is a guy who has gone through various stages in his career, at one point, in 2014, he was severely injured with back issues. The crazy part is that he came back within a year and won the world title in 2015.
That takes us right into him breaking world records, taking international titles, and never actually losing in international competition. As we deepen our understanding of Shi Zhiyong as a 73-kilo lifter who currently has the world record in the snatch at 169 kilos. It is out of this world type of strength the man demonstrates.
In the picture above, he just smashes 166 kilos. We need to be aware of how precise his movement is. We can notice how his feet slide, similar to Lü Xiaojun. He has amazing shoulder mobility and ankle mobility. He is one of those lifters whose tibias look longer or as long as his femur. This is not normal and leads to a unique pull. Regardless, the principles of the pull are the same: keep the bar tight, keep a flat-footed position, work through that long grounded finish, and get under the bar.
Going back to the Chinese weightlifting training with a lot of bodybuilding, shoulder strength work, and a lot of upper body strength work. Shi Zhiyong is straight awesome. Like, remember that time he power cleaned 190 kilos at the world championships?!? The guy is incredible. This laugh always makes me laugh cause it is ridiculous how incredible it is.
One thing we can take away from examining this lift is that Shi Zhiyong’s feet aren’t jumping all over the place. His ground contact is so long and his feet barely move. There is just slight plantar flexion to get to the catch. This is something that American weightlifters and coaches need to understand and start to take away from an incredible athlete like Shi Zhiyong. Point is, let’s stop jumping our feet.
Shi Zhiyong does have a little wider pulling stance. I think that is partially due to his tibias. At this point, I think his world record in the clean and jerk was 197 kilos.
Now a lot of this information I have gotten around Shi Zhiyong comes from Squat Jerk Journalist and even just some videos randomly found on YouTube. It goes back to Shi Zhiyong being a young, freak athlete struggling through the Chinese system because it is so grueling. Like not being able to train for multiple months early on because of a back injury, only to use that fuel to lead into a world title in 2015 and then an Olympic title in 2016. It is important to acknowledge the struggles he has had. Shi Zhiyong doesn’t stop there either, he goes on to win even more world championships.
The Chinese are particular about the bodybuilding movements they select and train. Shi Zhiyong transitioned from the 69-kilo weight class to the 73-kilo weight class and just deals with the crazy stress of meaning a world champ, Olympic champ, Chinese weightlifter.
Another one of those things the Chinese love to focus on is the chest position. They never want to get the chest too far behind the bar and always keep the chest up in the pull of the snatch and the clean, and the chest up in the dip and drive of the jerk, focusing on that super vertical position.
Shi Zhiyong takes over world record attempts in training. But what makes Shi Zhiyong great all the time? How freakish of an athlete is Shi Zhiyong? There is a lot of things that go into that mix.
Shi Zhiyong is a guy who might be 5’5” and looks like he can easily dunk a basketball. Do people realize what weightlifting can do for them as far as dunking is concerned?!
Now fast-forwarding to 2020 and 2021, Shi Zhiyong preps for the Asian Games, and as he goes out, he feels absolutely horrible. He is missing 120, 130, and 140 kilos in the back. Sometimes, people will notice that Chinese weightlifters will catch lifts and just drop them. Shi Zhiyong has come out and admits to actually missing these lifts, not getting them into the slot. Complaining to his coaches that he is struggling to breathe, something is going on, and goes out and snatches a world record in Uzbekistan. He goes ahead and clean and jerks really well and wins it all. This is around May. Then prepping for the Olympics, he completely wrecked his hamstring.
So after missing nearly every warm-up attempt in the back leading into the platform lifts at the Asian Championships, Shi Zhiyong goes out on his third attempt and hits a world record at 169 kilos through being super focused. Every prior lift, he is putting his hands on his knees, struggling to recover, and feeling like crap. Still, Shi Zhiyong goes out and breaks the snatch world record. This shows what type of competitor Shi Zhiyong is.
Shi Zhiyong’s upper body finish is amazing, as well as his footwork.
Now, Shi Zhiyong misses training for 15 to 20 days leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. But what is crazy, and this is where volume base training comes into play, having consistent technique comes into play, and the muscle memory argument comes into play. Someone like Shi Zhiyong, who has been through struggles in the past knows there is light at the end of the tunnel if he does the right thing. And that is exactly what ends up happening. He goes to Tokyo and completely owns it.
Defending his Olympic title is a big moment. Defending his Olympic title will make Shi Zhiyong a two-time Olympic champ. He does this. He is a two-time Olympic champ. At this point, Lü Xiaojun only has one Olympic title (he gets his second in Tokyo as well). Being a two-time Olympic champ puts Shi Zhiyong on a pedestal.
Shi Zhiyong has had like 12 international competitions and has never lost. Lasha can’t say that. Pyrros can’t say that. Yuri Vardanian can’t say that. The reason I believe Shi Zhiyong is able to do this is that he knows how to handle adversity from the back injury early in his career. In addition, Shi Zhiyong knows how to bring it at the right time, understanding all the technique work, all the bodybuilding work, and all the strength work has paid off so that if he is hurt at a bad time is that there is no need to go into panic mode, let the body recover, and then immediately provide the stimulus when able to get it back to that point.
In Tokyo, Shi Zhiyong’s first snatch attempt was at 158 kilos. Think about this: he had hurt his hamstring, likely not have taken anywhere near this weight in training. On his third attempt, he smashes 166 kilos, going three for three in the snatch. He looks absolutely phenomenal with everything being super crisp. He wins the snatch by 10 kilos!!!
One thing I want to point out, during his first attempt at 188 kilos he needed to do a double bounce out of the hole before smacking the jerk. The crazy thing about this lift is that Shi Zhiyong’s last warm-up in the back was 160 kilos. He made a nearly 30-kilo jump from the last warm-up to the platform! The clean isn’t the best, but Shi Zhiyong delivers and basically locks up the competition.
On his second attempt in the clean and jerk, Shi Zhiyong smacks the jerk and is a little forward in the jerk, but because of the upper-body work, he makes the lift. Chinese weightlifting coaches always discuss the importance of a strong upper body.
From there, he takes 198 and solidifies himself as the greatest of all time, maybe outside of Naim, in my opinion. Breaking the clean and jerk record, the total world record, and wins his second Olympics. Shi Zhiyong then starts screaming, “IS THERE NO ONE ELSE!?!!!?!!”
I’m interested, as we get closer to Paris if Shi Zhiyong can continue to defend his world titles, taking this momentum into Paris. I believe if he wins gold for the third time in Paris, Shi Zhiyong will go down as the greatest Chinese weightlifter of all time. Shi Zhiyong is better than Lü Xiaojun. Shi Zhiyong has dealt with a phenomenal amount of adversity and continues to progress.
As a weightlifting crowd, we can take away from Shi Zhiyong that weightlifters deal with a lot of struggles, both physically and mentally. Weightlifting is a hard and grueling sport. We can also learn that we need to do some bodybuilding stuff, some heavy strength work (pulls, squats), and understand technique (hold that good posture, chest up, and don’t jump the feet, slide them). Once we can execute everything based upon our strength, we can imprint technique into the nervous system to continue to have success long-term, especially after an injury.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.