Founders of St. Petersburg Scientific Pedagogical School of Athleticism

Founders of St. Petersburg Scientific Pedagogical School of Athleticism


G.P. Vinogradov, professor, Dr.Hab.
Lesgaft National State University of Physical Culture, Sport and Health, St. Petersburg
N.A. Murzakhanov, Master of Sport of International Class
V.A. Dorofeev
National University of mineral resources (Mining University), St. Petersburg

Key words: athleticism, weightlifting, resistance exercises, strength training.

The origin of domestic athleticism is associated with St. Petersburg. Under the leadership of Dr. V.F. Kraevsky a circle of fans of weightlifting was opened on the 10th of August 1885. The first all-Russia weightlifting championship in the absolute weight category was held in April 1897 in St. Petersburg Mikhailovsky Manege. The winner was G. Meyer from St. Petersburg. Guido Meyer from Russified Germans is a legendary figure. In the Russian championship he surpassed the results of the first Olympic champions in weightlifting of the previous year. Moreover, he trained successfully as a boxer under the guidance of legendary E.I. Lustallo. In 1899 Russia he became the all-round champion in boxing. He left the ring undefeated. In the 20-s of the last century he worked in the university, shared his rich training and sports experience with students.

The purpose of the study was to analyze the stages and the contribution of the St. Petersburg scientific-pedagogical school in the development of athleticism in Russia.

Sports achievements in weightlifting had a solid scientific and methodological basis. In St. Petersburg a series of methodological manuals relating to the exercises with different kinds of weights were issued: baron M. Kister “Muscle building with weights” (St. Petersburg, 1893), V.F. Kraevsky “Development of physical strength without kettlebells and by means of kettlebells” (St. Petersburg, 1900), E. Sandow “Strength and how to obtain it” (St. Petersburg, 1900), Prof. Harrison “Development of strength and muscle building using weights” (St. Petersburg, 1902), M. Kloss “Resistance exercises” (St. Petersburg, 1903). Continuing the insight into the methodological thought of that time, the courage of some authors, who recommended resistance exercises for both men and women, should be noted (F.I. Olshanik “Resistance exercises for men and women”, Moscow, 1905).

A special place is taken by the V.F. Kraevsky’s opinion about resistance exercises. Kraevsky was born on July 29, 1841 in Warsaw in a family of Polish hereditary nobles. In 1865 he graduated from the medical department of the University of Warsaw. In the seventies of the XIX century V.F. Kraevsky repeatedly travelled abroad for 2-4 years. During these trips abroad he studied how physical education was organized in various countries (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Italy, Spain etc.).

As a versatile scientist, he had in-depth knowledge in the field of medicine, psychology, history of physical education, methodology of physical exercises. In the early 80s of the XIX century Europe was keen on strength exercises. Different tournaments were held in various counties, such as Germany, Austria, Great Britain, and Denmark. Athletes and wrestlers appeared on the circus stages of many Russian cities. According to the memoirs of George Hackenschmidt, V.F. Kraevsky was highly sympathetic person and regularly saw many poor patients for free. In his home he was hospitable with the best athletes of the world who came to St. Petersburg. He supported his disciples financially. V.F. Kraevsky had an extraordinary gift of psychological influence on the minds and wills of the people associated with him, and sometimes it seemed mystical. His mere presence inspired athletes with confidence in success and gave them a burst of energy.

In the late ХIХ century V.F. Kraevsky wrote two works, “Catechism of health. Rules for those doing sports”, and “Development of physical strength without kettlebells and by means of kettlebells”. In these works V.F. Kraevsky developed a series of guidelines which so far have not lost their value. Among those are: mandatory medical monitoring of the state of athletes’ health, regular training sessions and consistent load increase, versatility of physical development, health strengthening, body tempering, hygienic rules, in particular strict day schedule. He paid a particular attention to therapeutic gymnastics and offered his “scheme of medical-gymnastic techniques”. This scheme was accompanied by detailed explanations for its implementation. In particular, V.F. Kraevsky knew well Swedish gymnastics and marked its therapeutic value. He was introduced to the Gustav Zehnder’s devices for therapeutic exercises available in St. Petersburg and gave them a good review. V.F. Kraevsky knew the works of P.F. Lesgaft and supported his desire to find the most efficient and consistent methodology for using physical exercises. In this regard V.F. Kraevsky wrote, “…Swedish gymnastics is still lacking a strong scientific basis. Experiments with this aim are carried out by our professor Lesgaft who applies in his system particular principles of anatomy and physiology of motor organs and searches for a reasonable transition from simple exercises to complicated ones” (Development of physical strength without kettlebells and by means of kettlebells, 1900, p. 29). V.F. Kraevsky emphasized that “The theory of heredity is not merely a name… When we develop our physical strength, of course, systematically and rationally, we are the parents of strong and healthy children” (ibid., p.5). His name has gone down in the history of domestic sport. V.F. Kraevsky’s scientific and methodological ideas are still relevant and widely cited in modern textbooks and manuals on weightlifting, bodybuilding and wrestling. Annual competitions in weight lifting and Greco-Roman wrestling named “Prize of V.F. Kraevsky” are held in St. Petersburg, where new stars of athleticism are found.

Peter Franzevich Lesgaft, outstanding scientist, teacher and anatomist, is the author of the fundamental ideas in the sphere of physical education, which are still relevant. In his work “Guidance on physical education of schoolchildren” P.F. Lesgaft considered, among other issues, the methodological aspects of resistance exercises. It seems rather interesting to compare the views of the scientist formulated over a hundred years ago with the modern concepts of scientific thought on resistance training techniques.

For example, P.F. Lesgaft divided all weights used in the school physical education practice into three groups: 1) own body weight; 2) resistance of another person; 3) various weights. It should be noted that this classification is still relevant today. Perhaps, in the practice of targeted strength training more attention is paid to the use of different weights and own body weight.

When using body weight for children’s physical development, P.F. Lesgaft noted that throwing is the best for the development of arm muscles, and running and jumping - for the development of leg muscles, as well as various games and martial arts.

P.F. Lesgaft noticed the optimal development of all physical qualities, and noted that different exercises should be applied for arm and leg muscles. He recommended using quick and agile actions for the development of arm muscles, denying the use of such a power exercise as walking on hands. The scientist considered that dances had a negative effect on the development of leg muscles. He noted that “if one develops speed and agility in legs, for example using some dances, this leads to a reduction in strength of joints; the joints gain various nuances and modifications of motions but at the expense of their distinctness and strength. It becomes impossible to stand firmly on a solid support and to walk with a firm even step...” (P.F. Lesgaft, “Guidance on physical education of schoolchildren”, P. 1, p. 283). Then P.F. Lesgaft exemplified an acrobat known as a “snake-man” who could not stand firmly for a long time as his body was extremely flexible. The scientist described this phenomenon as follows: “He was as good in mobility and as bad in strength, for the lack of which he compensated by muscular strength always accompanied with relatively large waste of energy” (ibid.).

When training with partner’s resistance P.F. Lesgaft pointed to the following methodological features: firstly, for paired exercises one should choose partners who have approximately the same physical strength; secondly, the training should be started from simple forms of martial arts, gradually moving on to more complex ones (in this case the criteria of complexity should be regarded as the levels of dexterity and strength); thirdly, a physically weaker partner should be more active, whereas stronger one has only to resist his efforts; and finally, fourthly, the resistance should be increased gradually.

The section dedicated to the exercises with various weights is the most interesting in respect to the contemporary development of strength sports. At the very beginning of this section P.F. Lesgaft complains that “the inconveniences encountered in the exercises with a resistance of another person could be eliminated if the resistance in the form of weight could be adjusted, and which could be gradually increased; but it is almost impossible due to technical difficulties” (P. 1, p.286). Collapsible weights and dumbbells had not yet been invented at the beginning of the 20th century. Athletes used non-separable weights and dumbbells, the so-called “bulldog dumbbells”. Their weights were changed by pouring sand or shot into the hollow balls. One can find an interesting description of dumbbells (by the way, P.F. Lesgaft called them weights for some reasons) “...the weights usually consist of two balls connected by a crossbeam or handle; they are made mostly of cast iron lacquered against rust, and the handle is covered with leather in order not to get one’s hands dirty” (P. 2, p.7).

In general, particularly refined descriptions of gymnastic tools were common for that time. For comparison, “father of Russian weightlifting” V.F. Kraevsky preferred barbells for training, noting that “exercises with dumbbells activate all body muscles, but they are still inferior to barbells. Apart from barbells ensuring overall development of muscles of arms, legs and torso, and at the same time they look much nicer than dumbbells” (1900, p.43).

P.F. Lesgaft emphasized the importance of good nutrition when doing strength exercises, indicating that “this must be taken into account, especially in municipal and national schools, where we have to deal with weak and emaciated children, and not plan these exercises if it is impossible to increase the food amount or replace vegetable food with animal one; in general, these exercises should be practiced with very gradually and in series, always taking into account pupils’ individual qualities and features” (P. 2, p.2). It should be noted that, according to leading athletes and professionals, the value of right nutrition in modern athleticism is over 70 percent of success.

P.F. Lesgaft paid attention to pupils’ knowledge of technique and the role of each exercise. Elementary moves should be applied during initial resistance training sessions. The weight of dumbbells should be about 200 g for each arm. The number of repetitions is five, with the rate of 40 motions per minute. The load can be increased in the following ways: more repetitions, higher rate, or increased weight. The number of repetitions should not exceed 10 in order “not to be tired by the monotony”. The weights should be increased by 50 g. The training session has to be divided into two or three groups in respect to the individual level of physical development, to provide loads feasible for all pupils. Otherwise, resistance exercise will be exhausting for some children. The maximum weights should not exceed 5 kg for each arm.

One is to change to more complicated exercises gradually in accordance with the following methodological conditions: “1) in immediate change from the motion in one joint to corresponding uniform motions in another one; 2) in serial fulfillment of all the movements of each individual joint; 3) in uniform and diverse movements in various joints of the same or different sides at the same time, and finally 4) in uniform and diverse movements in various joints of the same or different sides of body” (P. 2, p.8).

In addition to the exercises with dumbbells, P.F. Lesgaft recommended to use other types of weights such as wooden or metal sticks, light and heavy clubs and various block devices. The main methodological requirement was that “in all these types of exercises the type and weight of the load should be continuously changed, so that in any case the exercises would not turn into routine techniques, but the athlete could learn to consciously control his actions and fulfill them with varying efforts and duration” (P. 2, p.15-16). In addition to the weights mentioned above, other weights can be used as well (stones, spherical bodies of different weight, etc.); it is important to ensure that the child could choose the weight and optimal rate of exercise himself.

The names of the leading scientists of Lesgaft Institute, such as Mikhail Timofeevich Luk'yanov, Alexander Ivanovich Falameev and Nikolay Sergeevich Ippolitov are associated with the most remarkable events in the world of weightlifting during the 50-80s of the ХХ century both in our country and abroad.

The academic discipline “Weightlifting” was introduced into the curriculum of P.F. Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture in 1925. This year is considered to be the year of origin of the weightlifting department. Boris Pavlovich Adamovich, who used to be one of the strongest weightlifters of Belorussia, was the first head of the department. There was a lack of teachers, so senior students Yu. Duganov and M. Luk'yanov were engaged in conducting training classes. Later on, they became leading specialists in the sphere of weightlifting.

A system research work was launched at the department. The country's first children’s sport school of weightlifting was opened in our city at the end of 1947 under the leadership of Honored Master of Sports of the USSR N.I. Koshelev. Students of the department had teaching practice on the basis of this school. In 1961 the world first study guide “Weightlifting for young men” (M.T. Luk’yanov and A.I. Falameev) was published, which was translated into many languages. This book is still relevant.

This period of time was the most successful in the sphere of elite sport. Winners of the Great Patriotic War won in sport too. Yu. Duganov in 1953 won the European Championship, was a repeated champion of the USSR. The winner of the first Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR was A. Falameev, repeated champion and record holder of the country. At that time it was more difficult to win the Championship of the USSR than the World Championship or Olympic Games. The athletes from Leningrad won two Olympic gold medals. F.F. Bogdanovsky won Olympic gold in 1956 and B.S. Selizki - in 1968. Honored Coaches of the USSR N.I. Koshelev and A.A. Elizarov and Honored Coaches of the RSFSR A.I. Falameev and Yu.V. Duganov were responsible for such good results.

Mikhail Timofeevich Luk’yanov is an Honorary Master of Sport of the USSR in weightlifting, an associate professor, and a referee of the international category. He is a patriarch of P.F. Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture. For a long time he was the head of the department of wrestling and martial arts of P.F. Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture, where hundreds of masters of sports, as well as champions and world record holders, Olympic champions were trained. Later on graduates of the department became Honored Coaches of the USSR and the RSFSR. He was a member of the Presidium of the Leningrad Weightlifting Federation for many decades. He got many government awards. He has a unique collection of weightlifting badges. At the end of the 70s he was a leading expert on weightlifting training in Indonesia. Therefore, many of his students, both men and especially women, became champions and prize winners of the Asian Games and World Championships.

The fundamental work (study guide) of M.T. Luk’yanov created in collaboration with A.I. Falameev named “Weightlifting for young men” (240 pages, with illustrations and tables) was the first textbook in the world, where many details of training novice weightlifters were elucidated.

M.T. Luk’yanov with his analytical mind tended to obtain definite specific parameters in his researches. In P.F. Lesgaft Institute of Physical Culture he guided the comprehensive analysis of the technique of classic and auxiliary resistance exercises among athletes of various skill levels.

The findings were presented in the paper “Biomechanical features of resistance exercises” published in the yearbook “Weightlifting” (M.T. Luk’yanov, 1972).

After graduating the second special school of Air Force in Leningrad in the age of 17 Alexander Ivanovich Falameev volunteered to defend the Motherland. He was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd degree, the medals “For Military Merit”, “For Labor” and other awards. A.I. Falameev is among those who won the Great Patriotic War and became a national champion in weightlifting in the postwar period. He is a repeated record holder of the country, bronze medalist of the USSR (1954), and the champion of the USSR (1955).

A.I. Falameev had been a coach of the Leningrad weightlifting team for more than 20 years, and was one of the coaches of the USSR national team. He had been the chairman of the Weightlifting Federation of Leningrad for more than a quarter century (1958-1984). He is one of the organizers of the first in the world (1952) children’s weightlifting sports school, where 12-14 year old boys trained. Earlier young men were allowed to be engaged in weightlifting only from the age of 18 or 19 years. He was clearly ahead of his time and sought for self-knowledge. He had been faithfully working at P.F. Lesgaft Institute for more than a quarter century. He provided scientific and methodological assistance to specialists and athletes from various countries, worked as a coach and a teacher in Burma. A.I. Falameev is an associate professor, an Honorary Master of Sport of the USSR in weightlifting, an Honored Coach of the USSR, a referee of the international category in weightlifting; he was elected four times to the Technical Committee of the European Federation of weightlifters (1971-1987), and he is an honorary president of the Weightlifting Federation of St. Petersburg.

He has published more than 150 works, including chapters in the textbook, manuals, training programs, lectures and research papers. The publications are relevant up to date. The study guides include: “Weightlifting for young men” (1969, co-authored with M.T. Luk’yanov), “Methodological instructions for weightlifting” (1977), “Management of sport training of weightlifters” (1979), “The strategy and tactics in weightlifting. Selection of adolescents for weightlifting training sessions” (1979, co-authored with Yu.S. Kovalev), “Technique of classical exercises” (1983), chapters in the textbook “Weightlifting and teaching methods” (1986).

In the work “Management of sports training of weightlifters” the following topical problems of planning of the training load and organization of sports training are considered: planning requirements, structure of training process, sports training as a long-term process, load planning, variability of sports training, load planning before competitions.

One of the few studies in the theory and methodology of weightlifting deals with the strategy and tactics of this sport. The words of academician V.M. Glushkov are quoted in the introduction: “Any attempt to subdue the development of science only to production tasks can be very bad for the development of the production itself... The nature of requests for science is changing with the development of technology. The technology requires solving more and more abstract problems.” A.I. Falameev states that “materials on the strategy and tactics in weightlifting sport are lacking in the scientific, methodological and educational literature. The theoretical fundamentals of this very important part of weightlifter’s training have not been revealed. The strategy and tactics of a weightlifter at competitions are poorly studied and, consequently, insufficiently covered in the literature. Therefore, the coach-teacher is not able to find practical advices, tips, best methods and techniques of strategic and tactical training in the published literature.” A.I. Falameev notes that “similar to the strategy, individual and team tactics are distinguished. The individual tactics includes mental effect on a sports opponent and his associates (friends, team members, coaches), obscuring own fitness, intentions; appropriate actions for a specific situation and facilitating the implementation of the general strategic plan. Certainly, the psychological impact on the opponent should be according to the rules of sports ethics and standards of behavior. One selects particular methods in the athlete’s behavior, specifies the bar weight for the first set in a snatch and after this exercise plans subsequent ones, taking into account the information received about the main competitors, and the situation at the time of competition. The psychological impact on an opponent must also take place during the competition between sets.

The team tactics provides for the mental impact on athletes and coaches of the opponent’s team; masking the readiness of own team and its individual members, veiling the distribution of the team by weight categories, coaches and weightlifters’ plans both before and during competition. It includes false actions and intentions of coaches and athletes, and intentional misleading information to others (about athletes’ weight, bar weight for the first and subsequent sets, possible refusal of contest and any further attempts for various reasons, etc.), which do not violate the common standards of behavior and are acceptable to achieve victory in competitions. In this regard, it is of great importance for a coach and an athlete to be able to monitor the competition, to perceive fast and interpret properly the information acquired during competitions, predict opponents’ actions and find the best options for tactical decisions. The individual and team tactics are closely linked. The individual tactics in a team competition depends on the interests of the team; it is completely subordinated to the team strategy and provides for the fulfillment of general strategic plans” (A.I. Falameev, Yu.S. Kovalev, 1979).

In his research Nikolay Sergeevich Ippolitov focused on the issues of children’s and youth weightlifting. He is an Honorary Master of Sports in weightlifting, an associate professor, a Ph.D., an Honorary Member of the Weightlifting Federation of St. Petersburg, and a referee of the international category in weightlifting. He is a Champion of Leningrad in 1955 and multiple prize winner of the city and the region. In 1957 he was the fifth in the championship of the USSR. He graduated from the department of physical education of A.I. Herzen State Leningrad Pedagogical Institute in 1960. In 1975 he defended his Ph.D. thesis. He worked as a coach and a teacher in Algeria from 1981 to 1985. He headed the children’s sports school of the Olympic reserve in Tiarlevo (Leningrad region) in 1992-1995. He was repeatedly elected a chairman of the board of the coaching council and a chairman of the board of referees of the Leningrad Weightlifting Federation, a vice-president of the Weightlifting Federation of St. Petersburg, and a member of the Presidium of Federation of Weightlifting of Russia. He participated in refereeing many international competitions, including the XXII Olympic Games, the Goodwill Games-94. He picked up government awards.

The results of long-term theoretical and practical studies were summarized in his Ph.D. thesis “Investigation of the prognostic importance of speed-strength and strength qualities of adolescents in the selection for weightlifting classes” (supervisor – Ph.D., associate professor M.A. Godik, scientific advisor – M.T. Luk’yanov; official opponents: Dr.Med., professor N.V. Zimkin, and Ph.D. A.V. Chernyak. The core institution – Belarusian State Institute of Physical Culture). The thesis was successfully defended on October 9, 1975 at the meeting of the specialized Academic Council of P.F. Lesgaft State Twice Ordered Institute of Physical Culture.

The purpose of this work was to study the experimental methodology for assessing the speed-strength and strength abilities of young weightlifters and develop recommendations for selection of adolescents for weightlifting classes. Proceeding from the literature analysis and multiple pedagogical observations, the assumptions were made that the original level of speed-strength and strength qualities and the rate of their increase are the main criteria for assessing the prospects of adolescents when selecting for weightlifting classes.

After the two year long training significant correlation coefficients between the increments in a snatch and the increments in the following tests, such as standing long jump, standing vertical jump, throwing a padded ball, triple jump, force of wrist flexors, force of extensors of the forearms, hip, shin, force of foot plantar flexor and clean pull, arm, hip and shin circumferences, were revealed. The improvement in the clean and jerk correlated with the increases in the following tests: squats with a bar, force of forearm flexors and extensors, shin extensors, foot plantar flexor, trapezius muscle flexor, hip and shin circumferences.

Conclusion. The brilliant ideas noted in the works by P.F. Lesgaft, V.F. Kraevsky, M.T. Luk'yanov, A.I. Falameev, N.S. Ippolitov serve as a solid scientific and methodological basis for modern researches of athleticism for students, master's students, postgraduates and doctoral students, both domestic and foreign.


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  2. Harrison. Development of strength and muscle building using weights / Harrison. – St. Petersburg: Publishing House of F.I. Mityurnikov, 1902. – 132 P.
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  9. St. Petersburg - the homeland of domestic athleticism: international collection of research papers / Collected research works. / Ed. by G.P. Vinogradov. - St. Petersburg: Lesgafta SPbSAPC, 2004. – 153 P.: illustr.
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