Sheiko training is, at its core, a methodological approach to strength training that emphasizes the value of motor efficiency through muscle memory training. In other words, the main idea behind the powerlifting training method is to increase volume while reducing load in order to focus on perfecting your form and increasing coordination.
Many of the insane strength gains seen while following the plan can be attributed to the sharp increase in neuromuscular conditioning, described in detail here. Furthermore, meta-analysis has shown high levels of frequency produce more strength than a lower frequency approach with higher intensity (lifting heavier less often). While science is still unsure of whether high frequencies are also better for building muscle mass, it would make sense as strength and muscle are highly correlated especially in natural athletes who do not take performance-enhancing drugs.
All in all, there’s a reason Boris Sheiko is one of the most widely-known and respected powerlifting coaches in the history of strength sports
What Exactly is the Sheiko Program?
The Boris Sheiko program isn’t actually a program at all – at least it wasn’t originally. The separate numbered Sheiko programs came from Boris Sheiko’s book and were provided there as examples as opposed to recommendations. This is because they were designed for specific athletes.
But taking a step back, who is Boris Sheiko?
A famous Russian powerlifting coach, Boris led his athletes to victory across multiple international and world stages. Collectively, his students have amassed dozens of medals, championship placings, and records. While training these athletes, he began to develop a series of routines based around the powerlifters he was coaching 1-on-1. Over time, however, these personalized routines leaked to the public.
The examples were then later translated into English and began circulating online as routines. Boris later embraced the idea and started to help with generalizing the programs for a broader audience. While the programs now appeal to a much larger audience, it is still recommended that each plan be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. This is common sense in the realm of strength training—your weaknesses and deficiencies will almost surely be different than someone else’s.
Note: if you haven’t already, be sure to review the 3 charts that break down sticking points and weaknesses in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
As explained, the numbered workout programs that are now circulating are actually just examples of specific programs he employed for individual athletes he was coaching at the time. This means the Russian powerlifting workout routines aren’t really meant to be used as a cookie-cutter approach to optimizing strength-training. Despite this fact, they have seen use as copy-and-paste workout program for general strength purposes.
The original powerlifting training regimen was custom-tailored for each athlete and made considerations for their individual strengths and weaknesses as well as their specific body composition. The origin of the Sheiko workout comes from programs that weren’t designed as general strength training routines.
However, that doesn’t mean the programs and, more importantly, the ideas behind them can’t be put to use by all lifters seeking to maximize their strength and muscle progress.
Quite the contrary, the framework created by Boris provides an excellent foundation for training that can be used as a highly-optimized template for designing your own personal training routine. Knowing how to adjust the plan for your individual needs turns the plan from good to beastly.
When just getting started on Sheiko, however, using the pre-made programs provides a good starting point for later individualization of the routine. If nothing else, you will see how your numbers are impacted after a few weeks of focusing on form and avoiding excess muscular fatigue in the course of your workouts.
While the philosophy and general approach of these programs can be very useful for beginners, there are other novice programs out there better-suited for those just getting started in the world of strength training.
Boris makes a point to mention that all plans should be adjusted throughout training sessions and over the course of time. Simply put, the creator of the Sheiko template recommends you constantly evolve your own routines in order to account for your individual needs and how they can change over time.
Luckily, using the resources on Physiqz you can learn to do this yourself! Alternatively, powerlifting coaching is extremely reasonable from a value perspective—even if only used for a short amount of time—and can save months of wasted time spent on an under-optimized training plan.
Russian Training: Competition Oriented
If you aren’t already aware, the Sheiko training style is intended for competition-minded lifters who specifically want to increase their performance in the three core lifts of professional powerlifting: bench press, squat, and deadlift.
The emphasis on these specific lifts is evidenced by the use of double sessions where you both start and end your workout with the same lift. “Splitting” the volume of the lifts into two separate “parts” further encourages the core principal of the Sheiko approach: quality over quantity.
Because of the competition-minded focus, most of the Sheiko programs are designed to help lifters peak and compete on the final week of the routine. The programs include loading and de-loading phases (periodization) that intelligently alter volume and intensity to produce the highest possible gain in strength and size. In simplest terms, it primes your body for optimal results during the training phase, and optimal results when it matters: stepping onto the platform on meet day.
As such, these routines are, by their very nature, tailored specifically for more intermediate and advanced lifters. Of course, that isn’t to say hobbyists can’t learn from and make use of them—although it is likely overkill. If one thing can be made clear, it’s that Sheiko training isn’t easy at all. On the contrary, it is highly effective.
If you are willing and want to put in the extra effort, you will reap the rewards of increased strength and muscle. But it’s not for the faint of heart.
The Sheiko Program Emphasizes Quality Over Quantity
The Sheiko powerlifting routine takes the idea of “training to failure” and flips it completely upside down.
In any sport, a core tenant preached is that “practice makes perfect.” Why, then, wouldn’t the same apply to lifting weights? Clearly, it does—and the Sheiko plan makes this obvious.
By emphasizing the quality of each repetition instead of the quantity of repetitions in total, the lifter is able to become highly-skilled at each lift. If you have never bench pressed more than once or twice a week—prepare yourself. You will be blown away how simply improving form can lead to such great improvements in strength and form and thereby muscle.
Instead of bringing your muscles to fatigue, the focus is instead placed on retaining optimal form throughout every single rep of your workout. Boris recommends that you “leave enough in the tank” for another rep or two after most sets. After all, this isn’t endurance training – it’s competitive powerlifting training.
In simplest terms, there are three main ways to get stronger (not including taking PEDs):
- Gain weight
- Gain muscle
- Improve form
Knowing this, increasing your one-rep-max simply comes down to gaining muscle and improving form. This is a large oversimplification as gaining weight only helps to a certain extend based on supportive tissue and also affects form due to biomechanical alterations. Regardless of these nuances, massive improvements to strength in a short period of time are almost always a result of an improvement in form. And as described above, changing your form even slightly in a positive manner can lead to drastic improvements in your 1RM across all three lifts.
The assertion is that 1RMs will see noticeable improvements through increasing not only strength, but also coordination. But this also is another simplification, as strength is coordination—more clearly defined as the ability to produce maximal force against a certain oppressor. Clearly, in the world of strength sports, strength requires much more than brutality—it requires a high level of proficiency in neuromuscular coordination. On a physiological level, this is how well (and how strongly) your body is able to send neuro-electric impulses that contract your muscles.
Knowing this, the Sheiko program promotes high-volume across many repetitions that encourages muscle memory to develop for optimal movement patterns (proper form). The end result is the ability to more effectively recruit strength when the time comes to really turn it on and lift heavy weights.
As you might expect, this approach involves much lighter working sets than most other programs. Lifts are performed at low percentages in order to ensure ideal form is maintained at all times and muscle fatigue is kept to a minimum.
The program also utilizes partial repetition exercises intended to maximize performance at each stage of the lift. This method is extremely potent for increasing deadlift strength through segmentation. Boris is a proponent of technique and believes it’s never too late to fix yours, especially if you don’t suffer from any major training injuries (making sure to perform the lower-body mobility exercises is mandatory if you don’t want to eventually end up a crippled gym reject who didn’t take the time to stretch and stay mobile).
Explained earlier, these plans are designed for those who are serious about lifting weights. Don’t get the wrong idea and think these programs are easy because of the relatively lighter loads. Even though the intensity (weight used) is kept low, the volume (amount of sets and repetitions completed) is incredibly high.
Each lifting session will last at least 1.5-2 hours and the majority of the time will be spent performing only 1 or 2 lifts. If you are looking for something “fun” and “easy” this isn’t it. Worth repeating a fourth time, this program works extremely well but is only intended to be used by true strength athletes—those looking to do whatever possible to become the absolute strongest and most muscular.
Coaching and Group Training
Boris strongly believes in utilizing group training with a coach, especially where novices are concerned. This allows for each member in the group to attempt the motion while the group observes and then the coach can provide insight on errors that may have been made – which the rest of the group can learn to avoid for themselves.
While coaching can obviously be quite effective, it may not be an option for you. If that is the case, it doesn’t mean group training is completely out of the question.
Working alongside a group of friends can provide motivation as well as insight into possible fixes for form, whether it’s your form or someone else’s. Teaching proper form (as long as you know what proper form is) can positively impact your own learning process. Additionally, having someone there to spot your mistakes (or just to spot you in general) will further aid your progress and help you to avoid injury.
Group training can also be a great source of motivation for those days when you aren’t quite feeling it. Training with friends can foster mutual accountability when your internal motivation may be in the dumps. If you have ever trained with a good partner or group of teammates, you know firsthand how powerful the atmosphere of camaraderie and encouragement (and sometimes banter) can be.
While these plans are intended to be done with a coach, they can be followed successfully without one. There is a lot to learn from Boris’ teachings even if you can’t follow the exact protocols and recommendations he prescribes.
Boris Sheiko’s General Advice
Boris Sheiko has spent most of his life lifting and training world-class lifters, and has a lot of valuable information that he’s given out over the years at various events, seminars, competitions, and conferences as well as during normal face-to-face coaching. Some of these gold nuggets are distilled below for the benefit of powerlifters and casual lifters alike.
Boris believes top-level competitors can only perform at their true maximum potential about twice a year. Keeping that in mind, he recommends planning out your entire year around two or three events that are most important to you. Boris breaks up competitive lifters into three broad categories: beginner, intermediate and elite.
- Beginners will compete about six to seven times a year at the city and regional levels.
- Intermediates compete around four to five times a year at regional and national levels.
- The elite will compete two or three times a year at national and international levels.
Once you have created a rough schedule of next year’s competitions, the following step is to pencil in some more details that involve splitting up the available training time and selecting specific plans which are comprised of two basic phases:
- The preparation block involving higher workload and lifts that target technique improvement
- The competitive block which consists of lower workloads and focuses on high specificity in the competitive lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift)
The preparation block should be between 4-16 weeks long with the competitive block lasting 4-6 weeks total.
Experience Level – Beginner
Boris considers beginners to be “straight off the street” without any previous lifting experience and recommends programming for them that is broken down into two categories:
- 70% general assistance
- 30% general fitness
He also says that beginners should train three times a week and focus on exercises that improve technique. In order to accomplish this, Boris believes novices need to do a high volume of lifts with 5-6 reps per set.
He suggests using the same weight but increasing volume incrementally during the first month in order to fully learn proper form. In the second month of training, he advises adding 5kg each week. He also says beginners should be performing about 500-600 lifts per month.
Experience Level – Intermediate
Boris considers a lifter to be intermediate if they have been training for about 18 months and have competed in a handful of competitions. He recommends programming for intermediates to consist of 40% strength development and 60% competition-specific preparation.
Sheiko suggests intermediate level competitors should use exercises that improve technique with a high volume of lifts. Programming should be individualized to address individuals’ unique weaknesses and needs. Additionally, intensity is based off of a percentage of 1RM for intermediate lifters as opposed to the strictly auto-regulated intensity found in the novice plans.
An intermediate’s training week (also referred to as microcycle) consists of three to four sessions per week.
Experience Level – Elite
Boris considers competitors on national teams to be elite. He advises that elite athlete programming should consist of 80% lift-specific training and 20% general training. At this level of skill and strength the focus is on fixing even the smallest deficiencies and perfecting every technical aspect of form.
According to Sheiko, elite competitors should perform roughly 300-350 lifts each month. This is less than the intermediate programs and the reason is simple: the weights used are much heavier and therefore produce a much more taxing training load requiring more recovery.
An elite athlete’s training week, according to Boris, is much different than a week planned out for less skilled lifters.
- Monday involves both morning and afternoon sessions
- Tuesday is comprised of an afternoon session
- Wednesday involves both morning and afternoon sessions
- Thursday is comprised of active rest
- Friday also consists of two training sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon
- Saturday includes only one workout in the morning followed by a massage and time in the sauna
- Sunday is a full rest day
Once again, this is for “elite” athletes that are national team members and at the top of their game.
Sheiko Training Program: Structure
Taking a step back, the programs available for use today have evolved from the example routines that were first outlined in Boris’ book and vary widely. With that said, most of the programs have a 3-day structure (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) with a focus on the core three lifts throughout each training week.
The programs are enormous, unwieldy beasts from a visual representation perspective. To better condense and make sense of the plans, it is best to view them in an excel spreadsheet. One can be found here.
Though it’s a lot of information to take in at first, each day is relatively simple. While the excel sheet listed above is “view only,” the percentage of 1RM is provided for each set so that you can do the math to find the appropriate weight yourself. Alternatively, you can download the sheet and adjust the values on the first page.
It is also worth noting there are various apps available for mobile devices including an official Sheiko app available for purchase. While all of the information is available for free in this article, the official app is pretty detailed and handy if you are a fan of using mobile apps and technology while training. If you are, you should absolutely check out velocity based training as well—a new wave of technology in strength sports that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
At this point, you have probably run into a glaring question:
Which Sheiko program should you use?
Determining which program to use requires comparing your total (sum of bench press, squat, and deadlift) to the National United Sports Powerlifting Classification chart (converted here to pounds):
By using the generalized chart above, the appropriate skill-level bracket for each lifter can be determined. This then decides which plan should be used (and how many days per week include training).
The highest classifications are reserved for truly elite strength athletes:
- MSIC (Master of Sport, International Class)
- MS (Master of Sport)
- CMS (Candidate for Master of Sport)
Mentioned earlier, Sheiko typically revolves around a 3-day training split. However, the more advanced programs include four and even five days of training. The reason for this is simple: as you become more and more advanced, making strength and muscular adaptations becomes increasingly harder requiring more and more volume to make progress.
The programs are typically 16 weeks long and are intended to be used with your current 1RM for the duration of the program. At the end of the program, you should ideally set new personal records that you would then use as your 1RM next time.
With that said, you should always use 97% of your true 1RM as your training 1RM. This reduction in weight will ensure consistent progress and greatly reduce the risk of improper periodization and a mediocre training cycle. For example, if your 1RM on squats is 315 pounds, you should use 305 pounds (97% of 315).
The general rundown is simple:
- Beginners should stick with the novice routine
- Sportsman (anyone ranked below Class I) should follow one of the 3-day programs
- Class 1 and CMS should pick a plan that includes training 3-4 days a week
- MS and MSIC training is based on specific needs and recovery, but generally 4-5 days a week are recommended.
Compared to other powerlifting and powerbuilding routines, this may seem like a pretty light workload regarding total number of days per week. However, Sheiko programs have a huge emphasis on volume and include a numbers of reps that is nothing short of titanic—all meant to be performed to competition standards. This forces your body to quickly adapt and improve neural efficiency, maximizing your strength in the shortest amount of time possible.
Selections of the different examples provided in Boris Sheiko’s book have been taken and reorganized for the purpose of creating cookie-cutter exercise programs intended for mass consumption. These variations are reviewed in full below.
In this article you fill find:
- The beginner routine
- Two intermediate routines—a 3-month plan and a 4-month plan
- Practical advice for following advanced MS, MSIC, and CMS plans
Sheiko Novice Routine (Beginner Program)
The novice routine is 6 weeks long and intended to be used as a general strength and physical fitness program. Boris Sheiko actually crafted the beginner plan as a complete unit, unlike many of the other Sheiko variations which are more of a hodgepodge created from examples in Boris’ book.
Sheiko created this for those very new to strength training and teenagers. It serves as preparation for harder training later on and does an excellent job of focusing on exercises that are highly effective.
That’s not to say this program is only intended for children or young adults, but it is definitely designed to be used by someone new to the world of strength. Like many of the other variations, the novice program is comprised of three days of lifting per week (typically Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
Broken down, there isn’t much that’s complicated about it:
And that’s one of the beauties.
It is free of excessive accessory exercises and useless frill. It focuses on the compound movements that matter and gets the job done. You may have noticed there are no percentages for the lifts, however.
This is done on purpose.
As a beginner you have full access to “noob gains” which is a not-so-scientific way to refer to the phenomenon of increased results when starting out. As you begin to lift weights, your body will adapt rapidly, gaining both strength and muscle in a very, very short amount of time. During this period, it does not make much sense to prescribe hard numbers that are set in stone.
Instead, you should aim to use an RPE scale depending on which week of the plan you are in. The general idea is to progress in difficulty as the plan goes on, with week 5 being typically the most difficult followed by a deload on week 6.
- Week 1: RPE 7
- Week 2: RPE 7.5
- Week 3: RPE 8
- Week 4: RPE 8.5
- Week 5: RPE 9
- Week 6: RPE 6
If you aren’t familiar with how RPE works, we have described it in detail here and have also included a conversion chart from percentages within the bench press program for easily switching between the two. As you complete each training session, it is also highly recommended to record the RPE of each set for easy reference and to better determine the weight for next time.
Boris’ also makes the assumption that there will be some kind of trainer or coach. For most lifters out there, this simply isn’t pragmatic (though online coaching has starting to grow tremendously).
If no coach is present, the lifter is left to regulate their own weights using an RPE scale explained above. Alternatively, a simpler and less effective (though reasonable) rule of thumb when is to make sure each rep of every set is completed with good form and confidence—weight that is challenging but not too difficult to complete with proper form.
Boris doesn’t recommend lifting to failure, so you should moderate your intensity from set to set accordingly. Over time, the RPE scale will become second nature. Trust in the process and focus on incremental improvements while keeping solid records in the form of a training journal.
Overview of the Routine
If you are familiar with other plans for beginners, you may have noticed that this one involves quite a lot of complexity and variation compared to most. When compared with a plan like Starting Strength, it is much more complex.
With that said, this complexity is focused around intelligent periodization and not mindlessly adding exercises. While a method like Starting Strength may be easier and simpler to follow, you are leaving strength and muscle on the table. This is truly an optimized plan for those just getting started and want to progress as fast as humanly possible—literally.
As you may have noticed, Mondays and Fridays tend to place focus on the bench press and squat variations while Wednesdays are geared towards deadlifts, variations of the deadlift, and accessory movements with a general emphasis on shoulders and triceps as well. This approach of deadlifting only once per week with increased squat and bench press volume is very effective for beginners.
How Sheiko’s Novice Program is Different
The overall emphasis of this program is clearly general fitness in addition to preparation for more serious strength training. An important periodization concept in the development of successful athletes is variation.
Variation helps to improve general physical preparedness (GPP) which has a high carry-over in many athletic and coordination-related aspects. As an athlete is just beginning their training career, GPP and variation are critical for healthy muscular development and movement patterns. As an athlete becomes more advanced, however, more and more specific forms of training are required to truly excel.
It is why you can make serious improvements in the gym with a novice routine such as this at first, but over time require a more advanced plan to reach more elite levels of strength.
Boris has even included a rather broad recommendation alongside the lifting: “Play Sports” at the end of every Friday’s workout. While not everyone may have an athletic endeavor to undertake, the message is clear: athleticism plays a crucial role in the early development of an elite-level athlete.
Taking a deeper look, the program completely disregards overhead presses and seems to neglect the upper back a fair bit in contrast to more typical programming seen in the US and western Europe. The reason for this is simple: Boris is a powerlifting coach and focus never shifts away from bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting.
Another way Boris’ program varies from other routines is the amount of variety. Every training session provides a different flavor: the lifts themselves or the overall volume of each workout.
Speaking of volume, there is a notable increase of overall volume from the first week to the last. This is probably to prepare the athlete for the rather large volume of the more advanced plans. Interestingly, Boris’ novice routine doesn’t involve much of the actual core powerlifting movements in terms of volume. Described in detail earlier, this is because new trainees see great carry-over and overall development from higher variation.
That said, each day does incorporate at the very least a variation of a core lift. Many of the exercises are not strictly powerlifting movements and are included to encourage hypertrophy and overall muscular development.
However, the lack of specificity in regard to powerlifting movements creates a situation where the novice spends only a small portion of their time actually performing the bench press, squat, or deadlift in their original form. This could serve to slow the progression of form on the three core lifts from simply not practicing the main compound exercises enough.
However, it is still a wise idea for true beginners who have no baseline of strength and coordination. In addition to this strong focus placed on general physical fitness, it helps to ease the athlete into becoming accustomed to larger amounts of volume found in intermediate plans.
And because of this, Sheiko’s novice routine is truly optimized for those starting out or getting back into lifting after a long time away. It may be especially effective for younger athletes in their early teens.
Because there are only three days of training per week, there is ample time to recover from session to session as long as the lifter is getting enough sleep and eating within the confines of a proper powerlifting diet. With that said, don’t forget that the overall volume in all of Boris’ workout plans is quite high compared to other popular workout routines.
Having such high volumes, especially for novices who haven’t yet learned to read their body signals, can lead to overtraining and injury if form is not maintained. Bottom line: if you are starting out and want to use this plan, make sure to perfect your form—there are lots of free online resources available for learning the proper form on each and every exercise.
Novice Sheiko Routine: Closing Points
Boris’ emphasis on general physical fitness and coordination makes a lot of sense for those new to strength training and young athletes. However, its lack of emphasis on the actual core lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift) makes it a less-than-ideal beginner’s program for those specifically interested in powerlifting training. Two alternatives include ICF and Greyskull LP.
There are several conclusions that can be drawn:
- High variety and low specificity towards the powerlifting “big three” makes it a great general strength and mass program, and less of a “powerlifting plan”
- The need for auto-regulation using RPE makes it less-than-ideal for novice trainees who don’t have a coach
- The high volume and plentiful amount of varied secondary exercises encourages hypertrophy and symmetrical muscular development
- The compound movement variations can be easier to perform and encourage a more healthy learning curve
- The high variety provides a strong defense against possible training injuries that can be common in an untrained individual
Bottom line: if you want to prepare yourself for a powerlifting plan in the future, while focusing on building a solid foundation on strength and muscle now, this plan is a great choice.
Next up are the variations (plans) for intermediate lifters.
Sheiko 29, 30, 31, 32 (Sportsman Class Program)
Mentioned several times so far, the program revolves around high volumes and the difficulty of each plan is determined in large part by the total number of sets completed. While the actual programs are all listed in the excel sheet above, here is a by-the-numbers breakdown of the three core lifts for each week of the 16-week program designed for those in the Sportsman Class:
A detailed overview of lifts involved in the program from PLTW.
This “sportsman” 16-week program consists of four separate blocks of four-week routines commonly referred to as 29, 30, 31, and 32. These blocks are intended to be followed in sequence as designed to prepare the lifter for competition at the end of the 16-week cycle. Note that you don’t have to compete to reap the benefits—you would simply deload and restart the plan again after setting new personal records in each lift.
The four blocks each serve a specific purpose:
- Sheiko 29: Preparation Block with Medium Volume – Medium Intensity
- Sheiko 30: Accumulation Block with High Volume – Medium Intensity
- Sheiko 31: Transmutation Block with Medium Volume – High Intensity
- Sheiko 32: Peaking Block with Low Volume – Highest Intensity
The first month is designed to prepare the lifter to properly adapt to high-volume, low-intensity training. It primes the body to handle copious amounts of volume involved in the Sheiko routine that isn’t found in much lower volume programs such as the Texas Method and the Juggernaut Method. While the overall volume is high, the intensity is on the low side with an average of just 68% for the entire month.
The second block involves a notable increase in volume while the overall intensity is kept relatively the same. While the overall volume for the 4-week block is high, volume is adjusted from microcycle to microcycle (week to week), alternating between higher and lower volume weeks to prevent overtraining and encourage adaptations.
Weeks 1 and 3 see large volume increases, but weeks 2 and 4 provide a much-needed repose from volume. The overall volume of this block is very high, and the average intensity is roughly 70%.
The third block of the program involves lifts over the 90% threshold of intensity. This month serves to transition lifters from extremely high volumes and low intensities towards competition peak levels that require absolute strength and maximal intensity.
This means the intensity is raised again, but volume is reduced and returns to a much more manageable level while an emphasis is placed on lifting much heavier weights. As this happens you will also begin to recover, as studies have shown volume is the largest determinant of fatigue, not intensity or frequency.
The fourth and final block of the “29-32 program” is designed for peaking and includes a low volume of sets and reps, but the highest intensity of all blocks. As you reduce overall volume significantly and begin to recover while increasing intensity, your body will start to supercomensate and develop a new, higher level of strength. This is designed to either prepare you for competition, or allow you to hit new personal records in the gym before restarting the program (or selecting a different one).
The last two weeks essentially behave as a deload with the intent for you to compete or set new bench press, squat, and deadlift records on the fourth and final week.
Sheiko 29-32: Final Thoughts
As you can probably tell, these “versions” (29, 30, 31, and 32) of the Sheiko training program were clearly designed with the specific purpose of preparing an athlete for competition through the use of periodization principles first noted by Soviet scientist L.P Matveyev after studying why some Russian athletes performed well during the 1952 and 1956 Olympics while others performed poorly. What he discovered would become known as sports periodization and go on to be widely published by PhD. Tudor Bompa who is now regarded as the father of sports periodization.
The goal is simple: to increase work capacity and performance in each of the three lifts, while slowly decreasing volume to encourage recovery and a supercomensatory phase, topped off by a deload to ensure maximal strength on week 16.
Because of this (and already stated earlier but worth noting again), this program is not intended for beginners or general strength trainees.
The Sheiko 29-32 program is unnecessarily complicated for novices. Furthermore, it actually slowly progress by increasing weight at a much slower rate than necessary for beginners. New lifters should embrace their “noob gains” in order to progress more quickly and discover their actual 1RM values as they develop the basics of each lift. Once noob gains are exhausted, however, a program like this (that includes intelligent periodization) is required to continue making progress.
If you are a competitive powerlifter and have a solid level of training experience under your belt, the Sheiko 29-32 program will serve you quite well and it is recommended that you, at the very least, adopt some of the core ideas into your routines. If you are experiencing form issues in particular, the Sheiko program serves as an excellent “reset” by placing focus on perfecting form through high volume of repetitions. This also goes for those working to fix muscular imbalances and deficiencies.
While the workouts are longer, changing to a plan consisting of just 3 days a week with ample rest time between each high-volume workout may be to your liking. Overall, it is recommended for intermediate to advanced lifters who have, but not for beginners or people who aren’t interested specifically in getting stronger in the big three.
Sheiko 37, 30, 32 (Sportsman Class Program)
Sheiko 37 is another routine used in conjunction with 30 and 32. A Google spreadsheet available for download can be found here. Simply input your lift maxes and the excel calculations will do the rest.
It also has some interesting graphs that help put the plan’s periodization into visual perspective. It allows one to see the breakdown of volume and intensity for each lift as training progresses. Taking a close look at the graphs it is clear to see the pattern: volume starts high and slowly decreases over time as intensity increases.
Mentioned previously, many of the cookie-cutter “numbered” programs are actually just a mash-up of different examples floating around online and in books. Regardless, they all work to accomplish the goal of building strength with the added aim of peaking at the end of the program.
You have likely noticed this “version” of the program (37, 30, 32) utilizes two blocks from the previous option (29, 30, 31, 32). The most obvious difference is the use of only three training blocks compared with four (making the entire training cycle a month shorter). Additionally, it has a different starting block: #37.
Block 37 is a preparatory block similar to 29, but with a higher level of overall volume and a lower average intensity. While both of the training blocks improve work capacity and prime your body for increasingly heavier loads, number 37 really lays on the volume thick with a total of 1110 reps over the course of training compared to “only” 981 reps found in Sheiko 29.
This amount of volume will absolutely shred you to pieces if you’re a novice who is accustomed to high workloads. If you are new to lifting or maybe have taken a bit of a hiatus, completing a plan with this much volume is not recommended for the reasons listed earlier: less-than-ideal progress and a higher chance of injury from overuse and recovery issues.
Recovery and DOMS
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be common when completing this training method. DOMS is a symptom that accompanies many forms of intense exercise, and is experienced consistently in the realm of strength sports and lifting weights. The negative side effects of stiffness, tenderness and reduced muscle strength are caused from muscular damage at the microscopic level as muscles fibers literally tear throughout the course of heavy exercise.
Tearing your muscles may sound extreme or even worrisome, but it’s actually a positive thing because it is a direct indicator that your body underwent enough of a training stimulus to breakdown and adapt (by building lean body mass and developing strength). In simple terms, the fibers respond to the brutal beating by repairing themselves and becoming stronger than before. During this time, strength levels can drop significantly. Keep this in mind throughout the course of the training method—your strength and abilities will increase significantly at the end when volume decreases and recovery increases. In short, trust in the process and know that it works—extremely well.
With all of that said, just because you may have a workout or even series of workouts that do not produce DOMS, that does not mean you aren’t progressing. It simply means you did not undergo enough stimulus and muscular trauma to cause soreness. It is very common for advanced lifters to get sore much less often—they are simply much more adapted to the muscular trauma caused from lifting weights.
Bottom line: getting sore is great, but if you aren’t getting sore that’s perfectly fine as long as you are following the program and staying consistent.
Like any effective coach, Boris Sheiko is an advocate of training safely; that’s one of the main reasons why he encourages training with the supervision of a coach. When this isn’t possible, you must be able to adjust and modify your program from day-to-day depending on your given performance level. The practice of lending attention to how you “feel” on any given day is a common trait found among different eastern European training methods.
The Bulgarian method, for example, is built around this concept as lifters must alter their weights each training session depending on the subjective variable of how strong or weak they feel. Bulgarian training shares many similarities with that of the Russians which is to be expected given the geographic closeness.
In fact, Boris says he analyzes each week of training twice. First, he analyzes the written program for the next week by comparing it to the volume and intensity of previous weeks and then he follows up with an analysis that takes into account how the lifter actually performed during the previous week.
If you do not have a coach, this simply means:
- Use a lifting journal to record the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for every lift completed
- At the conclusion of the week, review your numbers and adjust volume accordingly
- If you found that many of your sets were remarkably difficult, especially during the initial phases of training (during the preparatory blocks—29 and 37), reduce the overall volume for next week
- If you found it to be extremely easy, then consider increasing volume or switching to a harder plan (MSIC, MS, CMS) but be advised that the plan is supposed to feel easy from the onset and increase in difficulty as the weeks progress.
Simply put, if you found yourself lagging and having difficulty, you should reduce the workload for the next week. Conversely, if you found it to be a breeze, step up the volume or intensity a bit to fit how you’re feeling. If you do decide to increase volume or intensity, do so slowly and incrementally.
It can be easy to get caught up in the pursuit of making gains and become oblivious to obvious red flags. While the Sheiko method is designed to be challenging, it isn’t supposed to be painful or injury-inducing. A large aspect of being an intermediate or advanced lifter is simply being mature enough to understand when to back off. Anyone can train hard, but very few can do so in a mature and intelligent fashion that makes sure progress stays and injuries never surface.
You will lose much, much more time to even moderate injuries than you will lose from simply taking some time off for a deload or a complete vacation from lifting. Dr. Mike Israetel, who holds a doctorate in sport physiology from East Tennessee State University and is a leader of Renaissance Periodization, has repeatedly touted the benefits of taking 1-2 two-week periods off from lifting throughout the year to fully recover and keep injuries away.
While DOMS can be a nice excuse to couch surf all day, active recovery can be much more beneficial. Sometimes this can be as simple as going for a short walk, or as Boris recommends, taking a few light laps in the pool and then spending time in the sauna.
As with anything in the realm of strength sports, experiment to find what you respond to best. You may even choose to complete light accessory exercises or other forms of resistance training as well if you feel your body can handle it. However, always make changes slowly and incrementally to better understand how your body responds and adapts.
There are several measures one can take to reduce the symptoms of DOMS, but the real “cure” is simply rest. Using ice, applying pressure and compression, performing self-massages, and as a last-case resort taking NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs like ibuprofen) are all useful for dealing with painful swelling and stiffness.
Finally, there are several steps one can take to avoid more severe cases of DOMS that can be literally crippling for short periods of time; exercising the calves vigorously when they haven’t been trained regularly is one example of this—you won’t be able to walk properly.
The main key to preventing these more severe cases of DOMS is to simply increasing volume gradually over time to allow the body to properly adjust and acclimate to the changes. As you are very likely aware at this point, Sheiko programs are very high-volume and require a strong strong base of strength and overall work capacity in the realm of lifting weights. Attempting to use a plan too advanced for your current numbers or training experience is a sure-fire way to experience severe DOMS and even get injured.
Boris has made it very clear that the universal programs should be used only as a starting point from which further changes should be made to accommodate for individual needs, weaknesses, and preferences. This is just good advice that you should apply to all programs and training you do.
Just because something is written a specific way doesn’t mean you have to follow it blindly. Remember that everything was simply created by someone else, for someone else. If something isn’t working efficiently within the plan, don’t be afraid to make changes. With that said, before making any adjustments complete the plan in full as is. This will allow you to better understand what changes should be made, and more importantly why they should be made.
Sheiko 37, 30, 32: Final Thoughts
As with much of the training doctrine published by Boris, there are many similarities. The most vivid commonality is the desire to prepare athletes for competition. The 3-month plan (37-30-32) is no exception and provides a powerful alternative to the 4-month plan outlined earlier in the article.
Boris believes top-level competitors can only perform at their absolute maximum about one or two times a year, and therefore recommends planning for peak performance during the athletic events that are most important to you. This competition-centric point of view plays out naturally through the course of intelligent periodization—the body adapts best through an undulating form of training (sometimes hard, sometimes easy) and Boris’ high-volume approach very much accounts for this periodization phenomenon.
Instead of trying to peak and hit maxes year round, focus is given to what actually matters: training hard and making progress. It can be easy to get lost in the weeds and forget that if you are testing strength (going for new 1RMs), you aren’t building it.
In reality, because the programs are intended to prepare athletes for serious competition, they are meant to be done alongside the helpful mentorship of an experienced coach. If you do decide to run them without supervision, just make sure you pay attention to your body’s signals to avoid overtraining and injury. This is another reason why it’s only recommended for more advanced lifters: it takes time and experience to better understand when your body is truly fatigued and broken down vs. simply tired.
At its core, this routine is shorter variation of 29-32. As such, there is less time spent in the preparatory phases of periodization. This makes it slightly more strength-oriented as the “strength” phase makes up a larger percentage of the overall training cycle. A solid approach is to run 29-32 first and then follow up with 37-30-32. From there, they can be repeated, adjusted, or a more difficult plan can be chosen.
Advanced Sheiko Training: CMS, MS, MSIC
Truly elite lifters, as defined by the chart of totals listed earlier in the article, require an insane amount of volume to progress consistently. Such volume would absolutely destroy a more “green” lifter but provides elite strength athletes with enough of a stimulus to continue growing once simpler plans no longer work to elicit strength and muscular gains.
Taking a look at the actual programs from the excel spreadsheet, one finds that training takes place 5+ days per week. With each training session lasting multiple hours, it truly requires the commitment that only a dedicated strength athlete would be willing to put forth—and able to thrive while doing so.
Closing Thoughts on Boris Sheiko
Boris Sheiko is a world-renowned powerlifting coach with years of experience and success under his belt. His teachings are extremely valuable, and his words of training wisdom can shave off years of wasted time spent dealing with plateaus and poor progress. With that said, you should realize that even Boris recommends that whatever program you use, you should modify it so that it caters to your needs, experience level, and goals.
Sheiko programs taken as-is can be great tools if you are serious about powerlifting. However, judging Boris simply by his routines misses many of the contributions he has made to the world of weight training. His complex use of periodization provides greater insight into what it means to build a truly elite strength athlete.
Using an unconventional approach of high volume and low intensity is the most effective way to train, argues the Russian coach. He further contends science and data has consistently shown that the optimal training intensity for continued gains over the course of many months consists of weights at 69-73% of 1RM. Many other programs include weights closer to the 85% range of intensity which Boris believes is risky and less effective.
If you haven’t tried this more volume-centric training method, prepare yourself for an effective yet challenging way of approaching lifting. And the results simply speak for themselves. Russian lifters like Vlad Alkhazov and Yury Belkin absolutely dominate on the international stage.
One thing is for sure: if you’re serious about lifting and want to put in the effort, Sheiko programs can provide serious results in a short amount of time.