When Sheiko and MyStrengthBook Get Together: 4 Lessons in Powerlifting Programming
The Sheiko training system was designed by Boris Sheiko, a Russian strength coach who is known for producing many world champions and world record holders. His programs are known for his high volume approach made up of mainly competition movements. I challenged myself to complete four of the most common Sheiko training programs (#29, #30, #31, and #32), which are meant to be ran as a 16-week peak. I tracked my training using MyStrengthBook to effectively analyze the 16-week training cycle and understand how it compares with traditional and alternative methods of training. I’ve included reports of the metrics that MyStrengthBook offer to aid the visualization of the concepts discussed in this article.
(As a side note: all rep maxes were set to 100 Kg/Lbs in MyStrengthBook for the purpose of this blog. Below is a summary of how each Sheiko program will be displayed in the MyStrengthBook visuals).
Below are the four important lessons I learned while training with Sheiko’s powerlifting programs:
In the past, my frequency was typically squat 2x per week, bench 2x per week and deadlift 1x per week – all of which were conducted on different training days. Most often, Sheiko programs call for squatting 4x per week over two days, bench pressing 4-5x per week over 3 days, and deadlifting 2x per week over one day. A typical training week under the Sheiko program would be:
• Day 1: Squat, Bench, Squat
• Day 2: Deadlift, Bench, Deadlift
• Day 3: Squat, Bench, Squat
Although, most of the weeks follow this basic exercise template, there were some minor variances over the 16-week training cycle, including alterations to the order of exercises or additional exercises added. However, a common theme throughout all phases was the very little accessory work was prescribed, i.e. there were high amounts of specificity and low amounts of non-powerlifting movements (we will discuss later in this article).
The initial three weeks was a shock to my system, ultimately challenging my ability to recover effectively from one workout to the next. For example, feeling beat up from my previous squat session was common and mentally challenging knowing that I had to squat twice in a single session. However, once my body adapted to this frequency of training and could recover from each workout, my Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) metric was increasing and hitting an all-time high. MRV is the maximum amount of volume that a lifter can handle within a specific timeframe (daily or weekly) while still being able to reasonably recover and benefit from.
A quick note on volume prescriptions within a training program:
There is a range of volume prescription that can be implemented within a training program, ranging from not enough volume to produce a training effect, to the minimum dose required to yield an adaptation, to volumes that are near impossible to recover from, or might not be possible to recover from within the near term. At various times throughout the year, an athlete might implement various volume prescriptions to yield a particular adaptation. In the Sheiko programs that I have completed, there were only three training days per week. Although a 3-day per week cycle does not sound difficult on the surface, the days that you do train are brutally exhausting and sessions can last up to three hours long. The 3-day template far exceeded the total amount of work I ever completed over a weekly training split, in addition to exceeding what I normally could handle on a daily basis, so it forced my body to handle more volume within a shorter time frame. Basically, when lifting volumes that are higher than what is normally completed on average, especially within a shorter time, MRV increases. Ultimately, increasing MRV allowed me to complete more work in the long run, in turn providing more opportunities to increase strength.
The following is a MyStrengthBook report called “Over/Under Baseline Volume”. This is a useful tool that allows a lifter to assess their volume levels and how they compare to their baseline. Before we dive into this analysis, baseline volume is the average volume that you are handling during a given period. The higher above this baseline you train, the harder it will be to recover; and conversely, the lower below this baseline you train, the easier it will be to recover. MyStrengthBook allows you to view this as a total (all three lifts combined) or the three primary lifts in isolation. In the example below, we can see that each block of Sheiko has a different quality, which leads into a competition peak after Sheiko #32 -- his is known as block periodization. Within this block periodization model, the spikes above my baseline (week 5, 7, 9, and 11 on the graph) were the weeks that challenged my MRV.
The Sheiko programs that I have completed are highly competition specific and have called for very little variation. Most of the protocols are strictly competition movements, apart from deadlifts which call for block deadlifts as a secondary exercise repeatedly throughout. Normally, I’ve trained with a lot of variation for all three lifts to target weaknesses or technical breakdowns. Additionally, I’ve always trained with lots of assistant exercises to aid in hypertrophy training; however, Sheiko excludes this type of work completely. As a result of performing mostly competition movements, which was such a change to my previous training style, I noticed that my technique actually started seeing improvements in areas that previously were lagging. Performing hundreds of repetitions each week, of the exact same movement, is much easier to develop patterns, learn cues and engage the proper muscles, all of which help your body to move in the most optimal and efficient way. Of course, benefits will be realized in the short term from non-specific training, but over a longer period I have noticed that competition-specific movements yield greater adaptations in technique.
Looking at the next MyStrengthBook graph “Primary & Secondary Volume Split”, the stacked bar represents the total volume achieved with the green shading represents volume accumulated from primary exercises while the grey shading represents secondary exercise volume. This monthly view allows us to look at each training block individually with bars M1-M4 displaying Sheiko #29-32 respectively. This tool visually displays how dominate primary exercises are in the Sheiko programs as the green portion of the bar represents most the total volume for each training block.
One of the most physically challenging training protocols that Sheiko calls for is ‘fatigue sets’. An example of a training day with fatigued sets would be:
Sheiko #30 Week 3, Day 1:
10 sets of Squats
9 sets of Bench
Fatigue sets: 6 more sets of Squats
Fatigue sets: 7 more sets of Bench
In attempt to explain the theory behind fatigued sets, I’ll use the zone of relative intensity metric to help. Zone of relative intensity is a metric that estimates how close you are working to fatigue on a set that is made up of particular rep range and intensity (% of 1RM). Essentially, it allows us to measure the expected exertion that an athlete should have to produce to perform a set. Since the zone of relative intensity is derived from the relationship of a bar load intensity relative to the number of reps being performed, it makes it easy to compare sets with various training variables amongst each other. For example, a set such as 90% x 1 rep would require a similar level of exertion (effort) as a set of 80% x 5 reps; these sets would both fall under the ‘heavy’ zone of relative intensity.
In MyStrengthBook we define the zones as Deload, Light, Medium, Heavy and Max. In Sheiko, the fatigued sets that are prescribed are typically 5-10% less intensity than the top set of the initial sets, but are performed at a higher rep range. Ultimately, by programming fatigued sets such as the ones commonly prescribed in Sheiko, the athlete can accumulate incremental volume at a similar zone of relative intensity while using a lower absolute bar load (intensity). The training effect is that an athlete’s volume tolerance is being challenged without having to use higher bar loads, or technically speaking, higher peak intensities. As mentioned previously, Sheiko’s training methodology is extremely high volume and medium intensity – achieved from the use of fatigued sets. The next visual shown clearly displays this training methodology for us.
Another useful tool that MyStrengthBook offers is the “Baseline Volume & Relative Intensity” report. This report is used to analyze volume accumulation performed under each zone of relative intensity. This graph will measure how much total volume is accumulated and calculates the percentage split on which intensity zones the volume was accumulated (Deload, Light, Medium, Heavy, Max).
The first graph below displays the four Sheiko training blocks in sequence from #29-32. For each training block, most of the volume is performed in the ‘medium’ intensity zone (yellow), around 40% for each block of training. In fact, the percentage spit among each zones of relative intensity remain static for each training block even though the total volume accumulated differ for each.
The next graph shows the same MyStrengthBook ‘Baseline Volume & Relative Intensity’ report, however, is displayed in a weekly view. This added granularity allows for a more in depth analysis of each week of Sheiko. It’s interesting to see that there is more volatility over the individual weeks of Sheiko with respect to the percentage of volume accumulated in each zone of relative intensity, compared to the static percentages we see averaged for each training block. Ultimately, Sheiko designed these programs to have weeks that accumulate more volume in certain zones than others, but overall balanced out to be a ‘medium’ intensity focused training cycle.
The 16-week training program is meant to be completed as a peak for a competition. The four training phases prescribe 90% during each block, and include a test day on week 12 to attempt 100%-105% (Sheiko #32, Week 1, Day 2). The program follows a periodization model that begins with medium intensity in the first phase, and as you progress towards week 16 you are hitting higher intensities of 90-105% more frequently. Handling higher peak intensities regularly over the 16 weeks has allowed me to become comfortable with these loads and overcome some technical breakdown. Most lifters have a breaking point where their form falls apart after a certain intensity. Familiarizing yourself with how these intensities feel regularly builds confidence and yields significant results when testing 1RMs. Another effect with this type of training was that each week after hitting these peak intensity sets, my recovery time to a readiness state reduced. Compared with other powerlifting programs, Sheiko’s programmed average intensity, where the majority of volume is accumulated, is relatively lower. This is because the volume levels are much higher than other programs and simply could not be achieved at a high intensity. The idea with Sheiko is that you are lifting heavier top sets frequently, but prioritizing more volume at moderate intensities throughout the training cycle (~70-80%).
Using the “Volume and Intensity” report from MyStrengthBook we can see that for all 16 weeks to accumulate the total volume (green bar), the average intensity was ~70% (yellow line), with the peak intensity hitting ~85% weekly (black line).
In conclusion, the 16-week peaking block from Sheiko is a program designed for intermediate or advanced powerlifters. A beginner lifter simply could not handle the work load prescribed in this program without risk of injury or simply over training. Sheiko programs are not cut out for everyone and with lack of variation, extremely high volume and little room for autoregulation, I would suggest not train strictly under this method for any longer than this 16-week block at one time. The laws of diminishing returns suggest that at some point the energy and time invested into completing these programs will at some point exceeds the returns (gains) that are realized. In other words, training at too high levels of volume will at some point get the best of you, regardless of your experience.
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