As many of you know, and many of you don’t, I have been coached by Boris Sheiko since I began my powerlifting career back in the fall of 2015.
Since then I have learned a lot, both under the bar and from analyzing his program for me (as well as his 2 seminars and private training session that he conducted at TPS).
I was told early in my career to “mimic those that are successful, understand why they are successful, and then once you understand the why you can tweak it to make it your own.” So that is what I did. I began mimicking his programs with my lifters.
I analyzed number of lifts as well as average intensity lifted with each of the 3 lifts. From there I calculated monthly volumes of the Big 3, squat, bench press, and deadlift. We used the Russian Strength Classification chart as a starting point to determine the monthly number of lifts as recommended by Sheiko.
This was executed with great success. I have brought a complete beginner to USAPL Raw Nationals, and have two very good lifters knocking on the door of being elite. In all there are four of my athletes that will be competing at raw nationals this year after only one competed last year. There are another four lifters that I have that have qualifying totals in the gym.
The methods that I have learned from Sheiko have yielded great success for my lifters as well as for myself. However, there were a few things that I needed to tweak along the way. For example, a couple of my lifters were working full time and attending graduate school. It is a safe assumption to say that they were stressed outside of the gym.
Knowing this I cut their volumes in training by about 100-150 lifts per month. They were completing around 800 monthly lifts instead of the recommended 900-1000 lifts. This is where I began thinking about auto-regulation and a Sheiko program.
Using RPEs (rate of perceived exertion) for powerlifting has caught on quite a bit thanks to Mike Tuchscherer of Reactive Training Systems (RTS).
Basically, you rate each set performed and determine how many lifts you could have completed beyond what was prescribed. If you could have performed more lifts you would add weight and vice versa.
The downside of this is that the lifter needs to be very honest with themselves.
Too often a lifter will downplay RPE and miss repetitions or take sets too close to failure. The closer that we get to failure the more fatigue that accumulates. I want some type of auto-regulation that takes this ability away from the lifter.
We never want to get away from our baseline for an extended period of time.
The baseline for a lifter is how much volume they can complete and still recover from it. We do not want to be too high over baseline for too long as that is how we increase our risk of overuse injuries. This could also lead to a plateau or even a decrease in performance due to being too fatigued.
Same goes for falling too far below baseline (deload would do this). We spend too much time at or below baseline and we do not stress our systems enough to force our body to get stronger. This can lead to a plateau or even a decrease in performance.
A downfall of RPEs, in my opinion, is it gives the lifter the ability to decrease weights on a training day above baseline, and they can increase weights on a recovery day. Auto-regulation is self-correcting, however, in a Sheiko program the fatigue accumulation is often front loaded to the beginning of the week.
More often than not my higher than baseline days fall on my day 1 and/or day 2. Only occasionally do they fall on day 3. Day 4 is mostly a recovery day where typically only a light deadlift variation is completed. The program is specifically structured this way for a reason. The accumulated fatigue from days 1 and 2 can make days 3 and 4 feel more difficult. However, volume is typically less and by day 1 of the following week the athlete is ready to attack the weights.
There is some magic to this setup of the program that I would not want to mess with. However, we still need to vary the loads and increase them over time. I typically do this by watching them lift and as the sets at given intensities become more sharp we progress them. For example, a lifter may perform 5 sets of 2 reps at 80% on the squats.
There will always be between 1 and 4 reps left in the tank. We never want to hit failure and we never want it to be so easy that the lifter could complete 5 more reps. The first time that they complete this it may look difficult, maybe 1-2 reps left in the tank.
However, 2 weeks later it looks much easier, say 3-4 reps left in the tank. When I see this I will then program something like 80% for 5 sets of 3, or we will increase intensity to 85% for sets of 2. All intensities within a Sheiko program fall between 68% and 72% of one rep max when we calculate all reps completed over 50%. Intensity is tightly controlled within these programs.
My thoughts were, “What if I had concrete data that tells me when I should increase an athlete’s workload instead of just my eyeballs?” This is where auto-regulation for a Sheiko program makes the most sense.
Currently I control baseline for each lifter only by training volumes. However, life outside can affect an athlete’s baseline as I have seen with the graduate school students. So this is what I have come up with after messing around with it myself for a bit.
Here is Tuchscherer’s chart that I have found to be very accurate for myself
Each lifter will rate all of their top sets based upon the RPE scale. An example for 80% squats for 5 sets of 2 reps would be as follows:
- Set 1: RPE 7
- Set 2: RPE 7
- Set 3: RPE 7
- Set 4: RPE 8
- Set 5: RPE 8
Upon reviewing this I would give the athlete 2 fatigue points for the squat. For me, the most points I accumulate on the lifts within a week is 5. After 5 points I tend to be pretty fatigued and this is generally the place where my body feels more sore and tired. This is what I will use as a starting point for all of my lifters. They can accumulate 5 points per lift per week for fatigue.
I played college soccer and then MMA for 10 years after. It may be true that I have a better adaptability to recover from training. I feel there will be a lot of individual variance with this part. However, this may be a way to help make each lifter’s baseline more appropriate to that individual. In the beginning, I will not alter training, but just collect data from my athletes.
Once I begin to see trends emerge I will then start to alter training volumes as I see fit. This may be more like the example I mentioned before in terms of progressing from 80% for sets of 2 to 80% for sets of 3. As of now I do not have intentions of altering daily intensities as the reps and intensities do not currently lead to any missed repetitions in training. This is a good sign that they are within the appropriate ranges.
Doing auto-regulation this way takes the ability away from the lifter of increasing and decreasing loads in a way that would alter the training effect of the week. Also, they do not need accurate RPEs, they only need to be able to say that this set was the same or harder than previous sets. As long as the change in perceived intensity between sets is accurate than we are good.
This should also give me insight as to how to advance training from block to block. This can also give me an insight as to how fatigued my lifters are approaching tests and competitions. This will all take some time and continual tweaking to get right, but everyone needs to start somewhere.
As I begin to accrue data I will post an update to this article. For now.
Written by: Kevin Cann