December 29, 2020 10 min read

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re sweating, you’ve given it your all for three solid weeks, you’ve stuck to your program exactly, but you just can’t seem to break through to a new personal record. It’s probably starting to wear on you. You’ve probably worked for months to get this far, and now it looks like maybe you’ve run out of steam. 

If you’re not ready to call it quits, and you’re truly prepared to pull out all of the stops, then the Sheiko Powerlifting Program might be right up your alley. It’s deceptive. If you take a short glance at a Shiko spreadsheet you’ll see you’re spending days at a time lifting well under your max, and your sets are pretty small.

Let that first impression go. 

This is a program all about perfecting your form, almost obsessive practice, targeting muscles auxiliary to your powerlifters, and a devious sort of intensity. If you think you’re ready to step your game up then read on. 

Collecting Russian Intel

The Sheiko program is named after the world-renowned powerlifting coach, Boris Sheiko. His results should really speak for themselves. He takes on some of the most dedicated and mind-bending powerlifters in the world. Under his tutelage, he’s molded 9 International Powerlifting Federation world champions who have collectively received 40 gold medals. Between 1999 to 2005 he led the internationally undefeated Russian powerlifting team. Over those six years, they won 7 European and world championships.

He hasn’t limited his accomplishments to coaching competitors, though. He’s the only professor of powerlifting in all of Russia, he’s published over a dozen books on the subject, along with 150 articles.

It’s not hard to see that the man is passionate and knowledgeable, so when he develops a powerlifting program that’s designed to squeeze every single iota of power out of every bead of sweat your body produces you sit down and study up.

Pillars of Power

What does the Sheiko method do differently? It’s great that the dude is a good coach and all, but how is he drawing all of that power out of those lifters? Is he just getting lucky?

There are quite a few things that set this bad boy apart from other programs.

It’s Long

The Sheiko program isn’t one where you pop into the gym for a thirty-minute session a couple of times a week. It’s a powerlifting program for people that are serious about getting results. This is for people that want to seriously bulk up and use that new muscle for more than just show and tell. You’re going to get to know these heavy weights well, you’re going to see them a lot, you might grow to resent them if you don’t come into this fully prepared for the time you’re going to be sinking into this program. You’ll be in there for a good time, and you’ll be in there for a long time.

Man Powerlifting

It’s Granular

There are nearly a million different Sheiko training templates out there. You’ve got one for beginners, one for ramping up your weight, you’ve got one for a pared down version of the Sheiko program, one for advanced lifters, one for intermediate lifters and there are permutations of every single version that allow for different loads. It’s a surprisingly versatile training plan, planning for experience, and adjusting the amount of volume accordingly.

It’s a little daunting at first. Just know that since this is so intense, you’re probably going to be a beginner. There’s no shame in starting at the beginning, especially if you want to build good habits and maximize your potential. Selecting the version of the Sheiko that suits your individual needs when you first start is going to affect your higher intensity workouts positively later down the line. 

Spreadsheets aside, the Sheiko methodology is all about fine tuning your form. It asks you to gain intimate knowledge of all of the lifts you’re going to be attempting on competition day. It’s like practicing tricky parts in a piece of music. You’re going to be slowing down and really moving through every single motion with a fine-tooth comb.

It’s Not Easy

You know that bodybuilding isn’t for the faint of heart. You started doing this because it’s something you’re passionate about. Maybe you’ve got something to prove, maybe it’s just about the pride you feel when you’re mastering the weights. Whatever it is, you’ve overcome a rather steep hurdle to get this far.

The Sheiko powerlifting program is just like powerlifting. It’s going to surprise you the first week, it may not be anything like the training you’re already used to, and that’s okay. You’ve most likely adjusted to beginner discomfort before, and you’ll do it again when you throw your hat into this ring.

Practice Makes Perfect

When you get into the specifics of the Sheiko Powerlifting program, you’ll see a week chock-full of single sets and low reps at varying weights. This approach is as much about maximizing the amount of tension you exert on your muscles as it is about familiarizing you with the motions you’ll be making when you’re trying to max out. You want to practice how you play, right? This nearly obsessive focus on reps and perfecting your form means that when it’s time to go for a new max you won’t have to fiddle and fuss with the placement of your hands or worry about whether or not your feet are set just right. You’ll be going in confident that you’re as prepared as possible when the weights hit the bar.

Supplements

And we don’t just mean these. The Sheiko program constantly carves out room for supplemental exercise. Under the Sheiko program, there are three categories of supplementary exercises.

First off, there’s Supplementary General Physical Preparation. This is anything meant to keep you generally in tip-top shape. Think stretches to maintain your flexibility as you pack on all of that dense tight muscle or aerobic exercise to develop your energy systems to ensure you’re getting all of the oxygen to your body you need for competition. 

Developmental Special Preparatory Exercises like building your triceps so you have an even steadier bench press or good mornings for keeping your back limber and strong. Development Special Preparatory Exercises are there to provide support in every possible avenue. Your deadlifting is about more than just your quads, and when you’re increasing your overall strength you’re more able to more efficiently utilize that strength and tackle your lifts from literally every angle. 

Supplementary Special Preparatory Exercises are exercises that are similar to your competition lifts, but not so close that you’re just repeating the exact same form, grip, and tempo. Adjusting your grip or form even slightly will target more specific areas. This specificity is important because covering your bases with supplementary exercises will, no question, improve your lifting capacity.   

Down to Brass Tacks

Enough preamble. You probably want to know what this looks like. There are so many versions to pick from, so we’ll study the first week of the beginner program. This is where you’re, more likely than not, going to start anyway.

The Sheiko program has you lifting loads well below your maximum. Each set you’ll add on slightly more weight. This is all about familiarizing you with the weights, near-obsessive specificity, fine tuning your form without overtraining your body, and taking full advantage of hypertrophy.

Monday:

  • Squats: 50% max weight 5x1, 60% 5x1, 70% 4x4
  • 2 Bench Press: 50% 5x1, 60% 4x1, 70% 3x1, 75% 3x4
  • 3 Pec Flyes: 65% 8x4
  • 4 Standing Good Mornings: 75% 4x5

Wednesday: 

  • 1 Deadlift to Knees: 50% 3x1, 60% 3x1, 70% 3x1, 75% 2x4
  • 2 Incline Bench Rows: 85% 3x5
  • 3 Seated Rows: 65% 8x5
  • 4 Deadlift from Boxes: 55% 3x1, 65% 3x1, 75% 3x1 85% 2x3
  • 5 Incline Sit-ups: 10x3

Friday:

  • 1 Squat: 50% 5x1, 60% 4x1, 70% 3x1, 75% 3x4
  • 2 Bench Press: 50% 5x1, 60% 4x1, 70% 3x1, 80% 2x4
  • 3 Push-ups: 8x4
  • 4 Skull Crushers:70% 6x4
  • 5 Sitting Good Morning: 75% 5x5

Let’s break this down: if we look at Monday in isolation, this would be… intense, but nothing impossible to accomplish. The hurdle comes for the amount of repetition you’re getting in. By the end of your first day, you’ll have completed 24 bench presses That kind of work tends to add up. The goal here is to get all of your reps in, not work yourself to failure. Getting all of your reps in while ratcheting up the weight over the course of your workout is a clever combination of strength training and encouraging muscle growth.

You’ll also notice that there are no leg days to skip. Every single day you go in you’re aiming for a full-body workout. This is spreading your efforts all over your body. You don’t run the risk of overtraining. The Russian Classification Chart compares your weight class to your raw cumulative weightlifting ability and places you into a class based on that. 

This class is more like a ratio than a single number on a scale, so unless you’re already pretty dang strong, you’re probably going to end up in Class III. That’s because anything above class III is considered a “Rated Lifter.” Rated lifters on this chart are folks that are ready to compete on a national level. It’s not a slight against you. It’s just another measure of the intensity of the program. You’re welcome to integrate it into your current routine, but be realistic about it when you do. Don’t expect to kick down the door and lift with the big dogs.

You’re probably the type to be lifting pretty regularly, so you know that hubris leads to injury, so you might not need the reminder.

Avoid Failure

Now, we don’t mean for you to shy away from pushing yourself. The Sheiko program is about keeping tension on your muscles. You’re trying to build muscle and strength which means you want to get through all of your reps because this program is all about breaking your body down and building it back up. The high volume you can get in the means more microtrauma your muscles will be enduring. Microtrauma means your body will send out signals to repair and beef up your muscles.

If you’re failing out of your final sets, then you might need to deload and build your way back up. It’s easy to think that you’re going to plow through your sets because you’re lifting so far below your rep max, but remember the total volume and variety is key to this program, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you can’t get through them all.

Take Rest Days Seriously

Rest is just as important as working out. You’re never going to beat your old rep max if you don’t get any stronger. Working out without resting is a waste of your time. If you’re looking at a powerlifting program, you probably understand that, but it bears repeating. 

Your strength comes from your muscles. Your muscles break down when you work out, and that stress only pays off when you take care of your body.

Make sure you’re eating. Make sure you’re eating well, though. You are what you eat. Even more so when you’re working out. You know exactly what parts of your body are going to need repair, and you know that you’re adding more of that body part during your rest days. So load up on proteins, get your carbs ready so you have the energy to burn on the grueling challenge ahead. Stretch when you’re done. Take a warm bath. Keep your blood flowing, and your body limber, and you’ll be crushing it in no time.

Two men powerlifting

Get a Partner

A training program like this is all about your form and your dedication. A good partner will help motivate you. You’ll be spotting each other, keeping each other top of your meal prep. You’ll build a rapport and you’ll always have built-in guidance.

A mirror can only help so much. If you’ve got an attentive and honest partner, then your form will never suffer. A partner also helps with individualization. If your partner catches a problem point for you, they’ll be able to call it out, and you can adjust early rather than making up for months of mistakes.

Because the sessions in the program-as-written are so long, you’re probably going to want the company. Company also means you can rest a little bit between sets. You’ll stay more hydrated with a partner. You’ll stay motivated with a partner, and you’ll find more success because you won’t tap out, and you’ll be doing the work honestly and effectively from start to finish.

Don’t Give Up

The average intensity of this training cycle is much higher than a lot of other programs, but that’s by design. You’re breaking down your entire body and building it back up stronger every week. This is going to get you past any peaking block you’re struggling with, because of how methodically this process will be chipping away at your weakness.

Remember what we said about having a partner? Staying motivated during this program is paramount. Don’t get in there and waste your time by tapping out. You’re only really benefitting from this if you make it all the way through every day. You’re not going to crest anymore mountains if you don’t make it to the end of the week every single week.

Don't Skip the Supplements

The supplements in this program are just as important as the program itself. Those bodyweight exercises sprinkled throughout are strengthening auxiliary muscles that come into play when you’re doing your heavier lifts. Your body is constantly using muscles in tandem to get things done, so you might as well take advantage of that and push yourself as far as you can.

Sheiko It Up

If you’re serious about your powerlifting or you feel like you’ve hit a wall, then this might be the program you dig you out of that ditch. It’s intense, especially when you’re just starting out. You’re probably going to feel like a novice regardless of how long you’ve been training. It demands a lot of you, and you’re probably going to be fundamentally reassessing your approach to the gym by the time you’re done.

Sometimes you need to approach things holistically, and it’s easy to overlook small aspects when you have a five hundred pound goal looming over you. The Shiko Powerlifting Program grinds your powerlifting program into dust and meticulously combs over the granules leaving you with something intense and effective.

Push through this program. There’s almost no way in hell you’ll come out the other side of all of these training sessions unchanged.


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