What I Have Learned About Programming from Sheiko

Written by: Kevin Cann

When people find out that I have been working with Sheiko for a while, there are often two responses. The first is “I tried that and it did not work for me.” The next is “I ran a Sheiko program for 8 weeks and I got way stronger.”

The Sheiko programs that you find online are programs that were written for specific individuals. The exercises to work on weaknesses, the volume, and the intensities were selected for a specific individual. This is why it may or may not work for you. What worked for that person may be too much volume for you, or the intensities are too high for you to perfect technique.

Another common mistake is that people will add pounds to their maxes. The maxes used are your best lifts, not any more. There was a period of time where Sheiko actually dropped my training max in the squat to work below where the technical failures were occurring.

With that said, technique is the number one thing. You can only beat physics for so long. Every repetition performed from 50% of 1 RM to 100% of 1 RM should look the same. You can see good results on a program that does not focus on perfecting technique, but could you have lifted even more weight if that was a focal point?

My program during a prep cycle is made up of roughly 20% comp lifts, 60% competition lift variations, and 20% general physical preparedness (gpp). As the comp nears the competition, lifts increase to make up all of the lifts during the taper, roughly 17-22 days from competition.

The competition lifts are the squat, bench press with pause on the chest, and the deadlift. There are many competition lift variations. These would include any of the lifts with a pause (for the bench a longer pause is used). I have paused in many different positions in both the squat and the deadlift. I have also completed those lifts with multiple pauses. This is all based upon the technical flaws that I show under heavier weights.

The GPP is very specific to the sport of powerlifting. Exercises for the pecs, triceps, front delts, abs, and low back make up the main focus of GPP work. Repetitions for these exercises range from 6 to 10 with 4 to 5 sets being performed. Very rarely there will be medial delt, bicep, and lat work. The reason for this are the former muscle groups play an important role in lifting more weight in the big 3 lifts as a raw powerlifter. The latter muscle groups do not play a large role.

Wait. The lats do not play a major role in squatting, benching, and pulling more? That is not entirely true. Of all the lifts, the lats may play the largest role in the deadlift. They shorten moment arms by getting the hips closer to the bar and by pulling the bar closer to the lifter’s center of gravity. This decreases lumbar and hip extension forces required by the lifter.

The lats and glutes are connected to each other via the thoracolumbar fascia. The harder we flex our lats, the more we can utilize our glutes. This connection of the lats onto the thoracolumbar fascia might signify that the lats play an important stabilization role under heavier loads. Dr. McGill’s research has shown the lats to be important stabilizers under heavier weights.

The way we get the lats tight in the deadlift is thinking of pulling the bar apart as we pull it into our shins hard. The problem with adding in more lat work is that strength is specific to joint angle. Doing a bunch of pulldowns and pullups are working your lats in a completely different manner than when you deadlift. For one, the arms are by our sides on a deadlift and overhead for the other two exercises.

Also, the lats are not a prime mover in the deadlift. They are a stabilizer and the hip extensors and erectors are the prime movers. Also, the weight is very different. I deadlift 2.5x my bodyweight. The load is nowhere near what my lats will be under when I deadlift.

A straight arm pulldown would be more appropriate here, as that is action the lats, but again the weight is very different. This is where competition lift variations become very important. I do a lot of deadlifting just to the knees, pausing deadlifts at the knees, deadlift plus deadlift below the knees (bar is locked out and then lowered as low as possible to the ground without touching and locked out again from that position), and deadlifting with bands.

Competition lift variations allow me to work my lats within the movement under appropriate loads. This also allows me to work on the necessary technique of the lifts. Unlike the deadlift, the bench press requires far less work from the lats.

The popularity of working the lats for the bench press must have come from geared lifting. Your lats have to be strong to pull that bar down into the sweet spot of the shirt. However, for a raw lifter the lats may help stabilize the descent of the bar. You are not missing a bench press because your lats are weak. Upon pressing, your lats actually need to shut off to allow your pecs and front delts to fire. To improve the bench it makes more sense to work the pecs, front delts, and triceps than the lats.

The more time that you can spend on working on specific parts of the sport, the better off you will be. I have not pushed a prowler, dragged a sled, or performed any other non-specific GPP work since I started powerlifting.

I train 4 days per week and perform over 200 competition lifts, or their variations, a week. Within these lifts there has to be enough volume to pack on muscle size, and enough intensity to develop my nervous system to handle heavier weights. I bench 3-4 times per week and I squat and deadlift 2 times per week. Sometimes I will have double sessions on a given day. This means I may start squatting, followed by bench, and then returning to squats after.

One day for each lift tends to be lighter and more technique work, while the other tends to be a little heavier. With this amount of volume, managing fatigue becomes very important. My heavier bench work tends to use the Slingshot and 1 board presses, I deadlift off of blocks to feel more weight in that lift, and I occasionally squat at 80% and rarely 85%.

Bar weight is not the only way to make exercises more difficult. Our body does not know how much weight is on the bar, it only knows how much effort it must put in. When bands and chains are programmed into my training, my top work sets are at 70-75% for upwards of 4 reps and 5 sets. This is a higher percentage of bar weight than you would see with classic Westside Barbell speed work.

What we are looking for is the lifter to move with max intent to develop the nervous system to move heavier weights. The bands and chains allow for weight to deload during the more difficult parts of the lifts, and overloads the easier parts. This helps keep our joints fresh, as well as allowing us to recover easier to come back and train. Basically, it tricks your nervous system into thinking the weight is heavier than what it is. The Slingshot and board press also allow heavier weights to be handled frequently without max stress being placed on the shoulder joint. On days that I use these variations there is a lot of pec work programmed on top of it.

The second session of the lift also makes the weight feel heavier than what it is. I may perform some pause squats, bench press after, and come back to squats at 80% for 4-5 sets of 2. At this point 80% feels much heavier than 80%. This increases the intensity of the exercise without increasing bar weight. Again, this develops the appropriate qualities, while limiting the stress on our bodies. The pauses also increase the intensity of the exercise without increasing bar weight.

This last year of working with one of the greatest powerlifting coaches that the sport has known has been quite a big learning experience for me. Not all education can be taught in the classroom. Sometimes you have to get out there and experience how these things work. I have a ton more to learn and I look forward to my time learning under the bar.

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