Written by: Kevin Cann
In conversation with Murph the other day, he had asked what the point of performing a competition lift or its variation twice in one day serves. Upon answering the question, I realized there was a lot to it and many people must have the same question with the popularity of Sheiko programs in powerlifting. Performing a competition lift twice in one day is a big component of a Sheiko program.
Now, this article is 100% my interpretation of over one year of programming from Boris Sheiko. His reasoning for programming in this manner may or may not be different from my interpretation. I have had very good success with my clients utilizing this setup. Clients that range from those that just want to get into better shape as well as competitive strength athletes.
There is not much information out there that explains why Boris does his programming this way. However, he does state that it improves the technique of the competition lifts and it leads to greater strength progress. We will look at the first part of that statement first.
Technique is a priority for Boris. Every rep should look the same from 50% of 1RM up to a max single. The more reps that are in a set, the more difficult it is to maintain proper technique. Doing more sets and less reps is a way to get the same volume of training in, but with greater technique.
As we begin to perform many sets, we also begin to accumulate fatigue. Taking a break from the competition lift, performing a separate competition lift, and then coming back to the original lift allows us to recover enough to finish the volume with perfect technique.
For example, we may squat for 4 sets of 4 to begin the training session, bench press after, and then return to squats for another 4×4. This set and rep scheme works better for maintaining technique then perhaps performing 4 sets of 8. The total volume of the day will be the same, but in the 4×8 scheme there may be reps performed with less than ideal technique due to fatigue.
Splitting up the volume also allows us to work at a higher intensity for the volume. Breaking the sets down in half allows myself and my clients to work at 5%-10% more of 1RM while maintaining perfect form. When getting stronger is a goal, this is a win every time.
Also, powerlifting is a sport. We need to work on our sport to get better at it. This is the same as any sport. We need to analyze our lifts and strengthen our weak positions within those lifts. If I program a 4×8, all of the volume is done with just the lift itself, or only one variation. I am limited in what we can work on here.
However, splitting up the volume allows me to work on strengthening a weak position and then applying it to the main lift, or to work on two separate pieces of the lift. For example, let us say that an athlete has the hips rise faster than the bar out of the hole. In those sets of 8 I could keep telling the athlete to keep the chest up and hope that they make the adjustment.
The problem is that often times we are not strong enough in that position to hold technique, or we do not have the appropriate motor control. If we break it up we could start with a 4×4 of a 2 second pause on the halfway up in the squat. We then could take a break and bench and then come back squat. Upon returning to the squat we can put what we learned about staying tight out of the hole and focus on improving that in the competition lift itself. This is a much better use of the total volume in a training day in my opinion.
Some will say that you do not need variation and you should practice your sport all of the time. I do agree that we need to practice the sport. The problem with only performing competition lifts is twofold. For one, many times the lifter is not strong enough in the weak position of the lifts to maintain position under heavier loads. We need to strengthen these positions. Pauses at the weak spots work very well here.
Also, there is what is known as adaptive resistance. If we go into the gym and perform the same movement over and over, it becomes more and more difficult to improve upon technique. Our body basically settles on a way to perform the lift. Adding in variation allows learning to continue to improve on each lift. In the offseason 20% of our volume should be competition lifts and 60% should be variations.
As a meet approaches, those percentages change as we want to perform more competition lifts to maximize our technique for the meet. Once the meet is done, we go back to performing more variations to continue on working on those weak spots.
No matter who you are, you have weak spots in every lift. There are positions in every lift that we have less leverage to complete the lift than other parts. For example, just below the knees on a deadlift. We have less leverage here than any other spot of the lift. Performing reps to the knees and pauses at the knee can help strengthen that area so your deadlift can continue to progress. If we do not focus on these areas of less leverage it will be difficult for them to keep up with weight being added to the bar, and this can slow progress.
With all of that said, I am not hating on sets of 8 or more. They definitely have their place in a well laid out program. Sheiko tends to put reps of 5 or less between the larger sets to allow for recovery and technique to stay sharp. This is a way to get a high volume day in a lift without a break. This helps build work capacity.
I tend to not program deadlifts in this manner and keep those reps as 5 or less just to keep the lifter safe. The deadlift is also the toughest of the three lifts to recover from, so higher rep sets just may be too much to allow the lifter to recover and finish the set with good technique. This fatigue could also carry on into other training days.
We do not always do double sessions of competition lifts. Scheduling lighter days are important for fatigue management. There may be a whole week without a double session to allow for the athlete to recover from higher volume weeks.
Lastly, the breaking up of volume into two sessions allows us to do more volume over time. With the break in the middle, we recover enough to be able to complete maybe an extra set of volume. Over time this really adds up and can make a huge difference in our progress.