Written by Team Juggernaut
Boris Sheiko is perhaps the greatest powerlifting coach of all time. We’re delighted to share this interview with him.
If you’d like to learn firsthand from the best, don’t forget to snag your spot for the Russian Strength Seminar with Coach Sheiko and Mikhail Koklyaev.
What is the importance of GPP in the Russian way of training? How do Russian children become very fit when they are younger, and how do they maintain this fitness as they get older and choose an athletic specialty? I think Western lifters need to understand how much better the GPP is for Russian athletes, and how simply being in “better athletic shape” can help the lifter get stronger faster.
Unfortunately, I do not know about the system of preparation of powerlifters in the U.S. or even if there is one, but it seems that it differs from the Russian system.
In Russia, we have Children and Youth Sports Schools. The majority of such schools have a powerlifting section, which takes children aged 11-13 years. Coaches working in these sections have a salary and get bonuses for the achievements of their students (certain ranks or placing high at Russian/European/World Championships).
If we consider that there are 50 regions in our country in the Russian Junior Championships (IPF), it can be assumed that the amount of people involved in powerlifting is significant.
I agree with you as far as GPP that a novice should be given plenty of GPP to develop the necessary muscle qualities. I think that you will agree with me that the first and main task of a coach for novice athletes is to create a foundation upon which to lay the competitive movements. Usually, during the very first month of the training (three sessions per week), I plan for the students to study just one competitive movement and add another 4-5 exercises for the development of power, speed-strength, endurance, and flexibility. Agility is also developed through participation in team sports (football, basketball, volleyball) twice per week. In the second month of training, they learn two movements: time is spent reinforcing the pervious one and learning a new movement. So it turns out that novices working on the competitive exercises also develop power qualities in parallel.
Overall, the athletes in the first few years do a lot of GPP (in terms of number of lifts).
Many Russian strength coaches in Olympic weightlifting will say that volume will only take a lifter so far. In other words, as the lifter is starting as a Class III lifter in order to become a Class II lifter, he has to do more volume. In order for a Class II lifter to become a Class I lifter, he has to do even more volume. In order for a Class I lifter to become a CMS lifter, he needs to do even more volume. The Russian system of building strength is based around adding more and more volume over time to the lifter’s program. However, many Russian strength coaches have discovered that at some point, the volume for a lifter cannot increase any more and that the INTENSITY of the lifts needs to go up. I would like you to talk about this in relation to some of your higher students such as Furazhkin, Sivokon, Belyaev, Abramova, Podtynnyy, etc. Were these great athletes able to build strength on really high volumes of work; or did you have to lower their volume at some point and increase their intensity?
It is impossible to increase volume constantly with no limit. It means we have to increase something else, and that’s usually the intensity. Up to a point, you can get away with increasing both volume and intensity. For example, a beginner may perform 500 competitive lifts and special preparatory exercises in one month at 50-60% average intensity. Later on, that same athlete as a more advanced lifter could average 1,000 competitive lifts and special preparatory exercises at 67-69%. However, both volume and intensity cannot rise together indefinitely. At some point, you have to raise one and lower the other.
Many coaches in powerlifting try to create a foundation with the help of large volumes. They plan 5-12 lifts per set. With so many lifts, the intensity would not be more than 70-75%. If one also factors in warm-up weights between 50-60%, that means overall intensity per week or month will be no more than 63-65%. As a result, the body adapts to low-intensity work, which has a different nature than competition requirements. Despite a foundation built upon large volumes, the desired effect is not achieved.
It was shown a long time ago that competition results increase with increases of intensity. Results are maximized in those cases when you have an optimal ratio between competition and special exercise lifts and when you have a certain number of lifts of medium, large, submaximal, and maximal weights. Likewise, there is an optimal balance between volume and intensity. A. Vorobiev (1989) showed that a large load is the most efficient means to enhance the athletic performance of athletes. Furthermore, large loads only give a positive effect in cases when they alternate with small and medium loads, i.e. when a lifter has the conditions necessary for recovery after hard workouts. Medium load workouts are needed in order to maintain results at a certain level and low intensity workouts should be applied after hard and average ones. They help the body to recover, and it causes a sharp increase of operability.
The coach must take into account and keep in mind all the main factors and indicators of training: selection of exercises; volume; intensity; load variation; number of lifts of medium, large, submaximal, and maximal weights; mode of muscle activity, etc. On top of that, the needs of high-level athletes are very individual.
I would like to discuss yearly programming now. Many American powerlifters, once they discover a “Sheiko Routine” will do the routine for the prescribed 8 or 9 weeks and then they will go to something different. How do you set up a yearly training plan for powerlifting? I understand that yearly plans differ between the achievement level of the athlete and the dates of the competitions the athlete will participate in.
The yearly training plan should be very detailed and concrete. When planning a load for the entire year, it should be based on the number and importance of competitions in which the athlete will participate. If the athlete is taking part in 3-4 competitions, one must select the two where high results are the most important, since the athlete cannot perform equally well in all competitions. Competition results are planned in advance for each event, regardless of the athlete’s rank.
At the same time, yearly planning is an approximate plan. It is impossible to predict the condition of the athlete at a particular stage of preparation with high accuracy. So the yearly plan should be adjusted during the year depending on athlete’s state.
Suppose your best results are 300, 200, and 300 for an 800 kg total. You are going to compete at three competitions during the year: February, June, and September. Choose the main event where you need to show the best results. Let’s say it is the competition in February. That leaves you with two competitions left. Of the remaining two, September’s competition is more important. We now have our most important events. So now you have two options how to compete in June. First option: There is no cutting weight at all (2-3 kg over is allowed). Lift as much as you can. Second option: There is no deload period. The athlete should lift around 90% in every lift. Here is the plan so far:
February 310, 205, and 305 = 820kg
June first option: 310, 207.5, and 307.5 = 825kg
Second option: 280, 190, and 275 = 745kg
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.
First option: When you lift heavier weights (in a heavier weight class), you can get used to them. The next time in September (when you cut weight), you will have a chance to show the same results. Your mind will be prepared for these weights. The disadvantage is that you lift heavy weights in every competition during the year. Second option: You have more time to prepare for the third competition due to the absence of a deload period for the second preparation. For the June competition week, you lift 75% 1 set x 1 rep in each movement. The disadvantage concerns your psychological state. Every athlete wants to lift as much as he can at any competition. If the coach lets him to do it, the athlete will almost certainly get injured. Therefore, restrict yourself to only 90% and no more.
Finally, we are left with the last competition in September. Here, you plan to show your maximum results and improve them if possible. What about rest after competitions? February: One week of active rest (running, walking, team sports, swimming, etc.). June: There is no time to rest. If the competition is on Sunday, the next Wednesday is the first workout with 70% weights, not more. Friday is 75%, Monday is 80%, and the preparation continues to focus on the next competition. September: Following your last competition, you should have 10 days of active rest.
Which country is producing the best powerlifters? I don’t care about stipulations such as drug-free, drug-tested, non-drug tested. I would like to simply know which country is producing THE STRONGEST POWERLIFTERS in the world. Why is this country producing the strongest powerlifters? Is it their training methodology? Is it because they have a big population and more athletes to draw from? Is it their culture – what emphasis or importance their country places on strength sports? I am looking for EVERY SINGLE ASPECT as to why the strongest country is producing the powerlifters that it is.
It is difficult to say which country produces the strongest lifters. There are numerous federations, each with many divisions in the world. If we consider the IPF and high-level athletes out of this federation (Belyaev, Pozdeev, Sarychev, Koklyaev, Malanichev, etc.), I can say that Russia produces the strongest lifters. And there are several reasons why. Here are a few of them:
- We have old traditions of strength and a great heritage of Soviet weightlifting. Many athletes crossed over to powerlifting in our country in order to continue competing in their veteran years. Other athletes crossed over to powerlifting because of the huge population of Soviet weightlifters. The chances of notable achievements for any one athlete were exceptionally small.
- We have a culture revolving around strength in Russia. Strength earns you a lot of respect here. At the same time, it is shameful to be weak in Russia.
- Russians are very competitive by nature. If we set a goal, we do everything we can to reach it. Second place is a disaster. We will say, “Next year I must win and I will train harder than ever to make it happen.”
- All sports in Russia have the qualification system: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Class, CMS, MS, MSIC, ZMS. It has great significance for the athletes. For some athletes, the most important goal in their lives is to reach MSIC or even ZMS.
- At the very beginnings of powerlifting in Russia, we had a severe economic crisis (when USSR was destroyed). Powerlifting became an attractive sport in part because it is undemanding in terms of equipment: just a barbell, plates, bench, and rack. Also, international competitions were a good opportunity for Russian athletes to see the world.
Was the change from equipped lifting to raw lifting good for the sport of powerlifting? Why? Where do you see the sport going in the next 10 years?
Bench shirts made their first appearance at the world championships in 1983. The idea of creating a bench shirt belongs to John Inzer. Initially, his idea was that the bench press shirt would be a tool to avoid injuries of the chest and deltoid muscles when benching. But during training athletes, he noticed that the shirt added 5-15 kg to their results due to the stiff, elastic material, which helped to press the bar off the chest. Not everyone liked this, and so in 1984, the Executive Committee of the IPF decided to ban the use of such equipment.
But as the saying goes, once you release the genie from the bottle, it is impossible to get it back in. At a congress held on the 19th of November in 1992, a majority voted in favor of using bench shirts. From that point on, there was a rapid development of powerlifting equipment. Right now, there is intense competition in the production of powerlifting equipment between major firms such as Inzer, Titan (both USA), and Metal (Finland). This resulting “gear race” has increased the stiffness and amount of plies.
I am often asked how I feel about this, and I have always answered that I don’t like it. The Russian Powerlifting Federation had to accept equipment because it had become so common. Since we didn’t want to give our rivals a handicap, we started using gear as well.
It seems now that many athletes who use very tight gear face the problem not how to press but how to lower the bar to the chest. These athletes receive many zeros because they are not able to lower the barbell. Similarly, when squatting, there is difficulty breaking parallel due to the knee wraps’ stiffness.
All this leads to difficulty of judging.
We also have to pay attention to the financial factor. Year after year, the price of equipment steadily increases. The high cost of equipment is a significant barrier for students and young people who want to compete in powerlifting. I have seen on many occasions where someone competed in stiff new gear while someone else used old and loose gear. This has led me to think that some people who are able to spend more money will have more of an advantage in competition. In “classic powerlifting” or RAW powerlifting, all athletes compete with the same conditions. Another crucially important aspect of RAW powerlifting is that only this type of powerlifting has a chance to get into the Olympics. Maybe powerlifting will also have to say goodbye to one of the exercises – squats, for example. So maybe there will be only two exercises (as in weightlifting): the bench press and deadlift.
I see powerlifting in 10 years having two forms: RAW and multi-ply. Something else that is happening is the fragmentation of powerlifting into separate movements. Separate championships in the squat, bench press, and deadlift are not good for the overall development of powerlifting.
Your list of accomplishments in the sport of powerlifting as the coach of Russia and of many great athletes is extensive. What is your proudest moment in the sport of powerlifting?”
What can inspire feelings of pride in a coach?
Victories of his students, of course. For some coaches, it’s winning national championships; for others, winning world or continental championships. Sometimes, I fondly recall these moments. I’ve been in powerlifting for 25 years and seen many brilliant victories from my students.
For example, in 1992, the national team from the Republic of Kazakhstan took part in the Asian championships for the first time, which was held in Jamshedpur (India). It was the first championship competition in which we participated as representatives from the Republic of Kazakhstan, and not of the Kazakh SSR as part of the USSR. There was an unspoken competition among Kazakhstan’s coaches about whose athlete will be the first to win the gold in the history of our newly independent country.
In the end, the national team of the Republic of Kazakhstan had won the Asian championships. Alexei Sivokon became the first Kazakh athlete in any sport to become a champion of Asia. And in honor of this achievement, the flag of Kazakhstan was raised to the sound of the national anthem. I was certainly very proud of my student.
I am proud of the fact that fate has given me the opportunity to bring up champions of Asia, Europe, and of the world. The team of Kazakhstan, which I led, won the Asian championships four times — in 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996. Russia’s national team under my direction also won the European and World championships seven times (1999 – 2005).
Furthermore, I am proud of the fact that the Russian team had no zero results at the European or World championships during this period of time. Only one time did an injury force someone out of a competition: Victor Baranov, at the world championships in 2001, was injured during a squat.
Last, but certainly not least, I am proud of the fact that during this period of time, Russian powerlifters took only first, second, and third places at the European and World championships. Only Russians won gold medals in the World Games in 2005, with my student, Ravil Kazakov, the absolute champion.
(We would like to thank Eric Talmant for conducting this interview, and Coach Sheiko for his thorough answers)