The Ma Strength weightlifting camp took place from July 15 – 29 at the Ma Jiang Training Base in Fuzhou, China. Twenty-two attendees from the United States, Australia, Brazil, England, France, and Russia took part in this unique experience. Some participants were veterans of the Ma Strength camp but all were new to training at the Ma Jiang National Training Base.
The Ma Jiang base provided attendees with the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to train like a Chinese professional athlete. Camp participants lived their life for 2 weeks by training on the same schedule with the athletes, residing on campus, eating with the athletes, partaking in educational seminars, and using recovery methods.
The Base – Serene and Serious
The Ma Jiang Training Base is set on top of a mountain in Southern China. Designed to be free of distraction, the lush, green beauty of the mountains and the view overlooking the city was only enhanced by the campus with its tranquil fountains and ponds. At night, one could hear the music of cicadas in concert with the vocalizations of the bullfrogs.
Yet even with the lovely surroundings, the mission of the base is ever present as signs and banners decorate the stone paths with pictures of China’s weightlifting champions. Even the lights on campus highlight the Olympic lifts – a charming and inspirational touch – but a constant reminder of the task at hand. A large weightlifting statue sits outside the training hall as well as a stone statue honoring strongman training as the precursor to Olympic lifting. And at the center of the base sits a large boulder with the character for ‘overcome’ carved within it. These paths all led to the training hall which contains Olympic rings placed on a gold plate that shines gold at the start of each day. This is where the work and magic happened.
The main training facility consists of a large training hall with 20 platforms equipped each equipped with a full set of weights and a large stage for competition and massage. Behind the main room is a smaller training room with another 15 platforms and supplementary strength training equipment. The walls of the training hall are decorated with banners with the words perseverance, faith, responsibility, and fight – to help inspire and motivate.
The training schedule consisted of training twice a day on most days with morning and afternoon sessions. Training focused not only on the lifts but many accessory exercises such as hang snatches, snatch pulls, snatch deadlifts, push press, push jerk, front and back squats as well as other muscle building exercises. Camp participants also engaged in supplementary technique sessions in order to maximize the quality of their lifting. The camp participants were coached by 5 Chinese coaches whom rotated among the groups during the camp. The coaches helped the athletes improve their technique by focusing on quality and consistency.
Camp attendees trained on the same schedule as the Chinese athletes, many of whom currently compete at the world level as youth, juniors, and seniors. Elite level feats include Liang Chenxi (69kg) hang snatching 167kg and CJing 200kg, Zhao Yong Chao (85kg Jr. World Champion) power jerking 200kg, Gao Yimei (44kg Youth World Champion) squatting near triple bodyweight, among others.
Accommodations and Food
The entire base is self-contained, so camp participants stayed on campus in the same dorm as athletes who have medaled in competition. Rooms were furnished with private showers and bathrooms, air conditioning, but no TVs and very limited access to the internet. This is on purpose to minimize distractions in order to help athletes focus on their training as well as rest and recover.
Additionally, camp attendees ate buffet-style with the coaches and athletes at the onsite dining hall. All food is strictly controlled to be safe and clean. Breakfast consisted of hard-boiled and scrambled eggs, congee, fish, soybeans, and rotating vegetable dishes ranging from cauliflower, mushrooms and greens such as bok choy. Whole milk and yogurt drinks were also available. Main entrees at lunch and dinner ranged from different types of fish, shrimp, eggs, beef and pork. Unique offerings included chicken feet and liver. White rice was a staple at lunch and dinner as well the vegetable dishes offered at breakfast along with squash. Fruit was offered as some of the meals and included watermelon, apples, bananas, lychee, and dragon fruit.
All Chinese coaches were champions in their day and/or produced champions of their own and imparted their knowledge through various seminars held during the two weeks. We had Coach Gao, the former head women’s coach for the Chinese Army Team, discuss gender differences in training. Coach Wang, a former snatch record holder, discuss the importance of strength training for the snatch and how he was to modify his training due to an injury in order to snatch a record in competition. The Ma Strength Team provided seminars on programming for various levels of athletes as well as an introduction to Chinese weightlifting technique. Participants also received a rare lecture by Ma Jiang’s head coach, Chen Wenbin on weightlifting history and strength. In addition to seminars, camp attendees were able to combine science and experience by having their lifting analyzed using special 3D motion capture software by one of China’s top weightlifting sports scientists.
Rest, Recovery and Recreation
Participants learned that training is only half of the equation, and were encouraged to recover as quickly as possible in order to maintain high quality in their training sessions. Therefore, participants used the showers, cold bath tubs, and swimming pool attached to the main training hall after their training. Additionally they were encouraged to use a separate facility with a full scale basketball court, tennis court, bodybuilding weight room, and volleyball court for active recovery and recreation with the Chinese athletes. Naps were also encouraged throughout the day to help recover from the intense training schedule and the team doctor offered acupuncture and cupping to participants during office hours at night. During off days, participants engaged in offsite recovery activities which included shopping, site seeing, and hiking.
When camp participants were asked what their favorite part of the camp was or what was their most memorable experience, answers included walking into the training hall for the first time, getting a thumbs up or fist bump from a tough coach, or getting to know the other participants while sitting on the steps outside the dining hall after mealtimes. It is these moments that made for an unforgettable trip and memories that will last forever. Participants were bonded by their love of weightlifting, their desire to learn, and their drive to improve.
We at Ma Strength thank the attendees for their dedication, open-mindedness, humility, and positivity. We look forward next year’s camp! In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Youtube pages to see different types of media documenting the camp and to stay up to date for upcoming Ma Strength events! If you are interested in learning Chinese weightlifting methods in your area, please use our contact page to get the conversation started.
Featured image is courtesy of Brent Blakely, a student of Chinese weightlifting and participant at the 2015 camp