Written by: Kevin Cann
After seeing a hard workout you may want to complain and want others to pity you for the work you have to do.
Your mom will pity you.
Your girl will pity you.
I may pity you, but your competition will not pity you. They will step on you, walk over you and spit on you. –Boris Sheiko
After I wrote my last article I received numerous emails and messages asking me to go deeper into the Sheiko programming. A quick caveat before I get into my understanding of the program. I am by no means an expert on how Boris writes his program. This is my understanding of his methods that I came about from attending his seminar, asking those that have gone through his program questions, and asking others that are in communication with Boris a lot of questions. I have also analyzed quite a few of his programs to gather data and see examples. With that said here we go.
Boris breaks his programs into two distinct parts. There is a preparatory period followed by a competition period. The prep period is lower intensity and higher volume while the comp period is the opposite, higher intensity and lower volume.
Boris believes that the more monotonous the training load, the more frequent that the body gets used to them. Load variability is one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of keeping strength gains moving in the right direction.
Volume is dictated by the athlete. Amongst Sheiko’s athletes there is a wide range of the number of lifts completed in a 4 week period. From the programs I have seen they can range anywhere from 900 lifts to 1,900 lifts. All the programs are based on the needs of the athlete and the current abilities of the athlete. These elite athletes train anywhere from 4-8 times per week (some do a morning session and then an evening session).
The first step in writing a program is determining the number of lifts. Boris has some recommendations for each level of training. A beginner would start around 700 lifts for the month. A beginner should set it up to train 3 days per week, with 1 of the days just purely focused on technique for the lifts for the first month. Total number of competitive lifts should be between 350-450 lifts with the rest coming from exercises that build GPP (general physical preparedness) and help work on weaknesses.
A beginner program for months 2-4 should see an increase in the number of lifts. General recommendation here is between 450 and 550 competitive lifts in a month with an average intensity of 50%-60% of 1RM. At this stage there should be 2 competitive lifts per week and 1 lift just for technique. For example, this athlete may squat, bench, and deadlift to the knees to work on the starting position of the pull. Many beginners will have the hips pop up first without the bar breaking the floor. This teaches them how to build tension and use the body as one unit. GPP exercises continue in this period.
Sheiko believes every rep should look the exact same whether you are lifting 50% of 1RM or 100% of 1 RM. This is why the intensity is kept low in the beginning and there is such a focus on technique. One of the ways Sheiko teaches the squat for those having difficulty is having them squat in front of a wall. This teaches the “driving the knees out” and also teaches the athlete how to engage their back muscles to drive into the bar. He recommends doing 4 sets of these wall squats every day until desired technique is reached.
Intermediate lifters will see a rise in volume and intensity. Sheiko recommends 600-750 competition lifts in a 4 week prep period with an average intensity of 60-65% of 1RM. GPP exercises are reduced slightly to accommodate the increase in volume of the lifts. More advanced lifters might do 800-1300 competitive lifts with an average intensity of 67-69% of 1RM. Sheiko does not give recommendations for elite lifters as there is a huge difference in individual recovery and tolerance at that level.
Reading this you may be thinking that these are really low intensities. Boris counts everything from 50% and higher into those averages. He believes if most other programs included these sets the average intensities would be similar. These intensities are chosen because technique changes can be made from rep to rep in a set because it is a weight the athlete can easily manage.
Boris does not want reps missed in training. You do not get stronger from missing reps. The lower weight also gives the athlete confidence due to continued success and moving weights easily. The next step in writing the program is figuring out how to get all of those lifts in.
Volume is broken up on a week to week basis. A small volume week would be 20% or less of all of the lifts, medium is 21% to 30%, large is 31%-40%, and max is 41% or greater. Another way you can figure out the size of the volume for the week is by taking the total number of lifts for the month and dividing it by the training sessions. For example, if you have 800 lifts in a month and are training 3 days per week, divide 800 by 12 and that is your medium volume. Plus 10% of that is high and 10% less would be small.
Sheiko then breaks the week into variants. There are 1 week and 2 week variants in his programs. The first digit dictates the week with the highest amount of volume. If there is a second digit that is the other week with a higher volume. For example, a variant of 1-2 would mean week 1 has the highest volume and week 2 has the second highest volume. A 4-2 variant would mean that week 4 has the highest and week 2 has the second highest number of lifts.
If we are doing 700 lifts and are on a 3-1 variant it may look like this:
Week 1: 28% 196 lifts
Week 2: 15% 105 lifts
Week 3: 35% 245 lifts
Week 4: 22% 154 lifts
The above is the variant I am running. I like the idea of going high low from week to week. However, after my meet in October I will mess around with other variants to see what works best for me.
When discussing the Sheiko program with others that have done it, some of the concerns were in the amount of volume. To counter this I decided to use Mike Tuscherer’s RPE system with fatigue percents. Tuscherer has a chart that correlates each RPE with a percent of 1RM.
The idea of using RPEs is when we use a percentage our body does not know how much weight is on the bar. It is basically perceived effort to actually lift the weight. In a nutshell the RPEs work like this:
RPE 10- Max effort
RPE 9: 1-2 reps left in the tank
RPE 8: 2-3 reps
RPE 7: speed work
After writing my program I went through and added in the appropriate RPE with each top set. This then can be used in a couple of different ways. If you get up to a top set and it is supposed to be an RPE 7 and it feels like an 8 or 9 you can drop the weight to get into the correct range.
The other way, and the way I am using it for myself, is if the top set should be a 7 but ends in an 8 or 9 I calculate the accumulated fatigue. For example, if the RPE 7 is 77% on the chart and the 9 is 82% I accumulated 5% fatigue. Tuscherer recommends each movement be kept below 30% for total recovery. I basically use it as more of a monitoring tool.
If fatigue gets too high I will focus on technique for that movement instead of hitting my numbers. For example, if I hit close to 30% fatigue on the deadlift I may decide to pull to the knees and off of blocks with manageable weight. This helps me recover, but also helps me get better at my sport by focusing on technique.
I am currently wrapping up week 6 of the program right now and I am truly loving it. My technique has come a long way on my bench and deadlift. Had a few issues with the squat, but got back on track last week due to the 61 lifts with lower intensity. As I continue to progress I will keep everyone updated. Not only in the weight room, but my understanding of the program. Please ask questions in the comments as this can be a way for all of us to learn more.