Boris Sheiko is the man behind the Juggernaut that is the Russian National Powerlifting Team. He was gracious enough to grant me an interview. If you don’t know who Mr. Sheiko is, you haven’t spent enough time in the powerlifting world. His lifters win European and World Championships in larger numbers and more frequently than those of any other coach in the world that I’m aware of – by a very broad margin.
1. Mr. Sheiko, I think a lot of people are familiar with your training programs, but their knowledge about your background is a little hazy. How did you get into powerlifting, and how did you come to be the coach of the Russian national team?
I was born in Moscow. My family moved to Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine), the native city of my father. After school I entered to the Institute of Physical Culture in Kiev at the Department of Weightlifting. Many of the best coaches in Ukraine studied at this institute. Immediately after graduation I moved to do military service in Kazakhstan for one year.
From 1975 to 1996 I lived and worked in Kazakhstan. In the period from 1975 to 1989 I was a coach in weightlifting. From 1981 to 1989 I was a senior coach of the junior weightlifting team of Kazakhstan. From 1984 to 1986 I worked with the junior weightlifting team of the USSR.
In 1989, my student Alexey Sivokon (two-time weightlifting bronze medalist of the USSR among youths under 18 years old) took part in his first powerlifting competition, which also happened to be Kazakhstan’s first Powerlifting Cup. In 1990 we switched to powerlifting due in part to his outstanding performance. In 1991 I became the head coach of Kazakhstan’s powerlifting teams.
I moved to Russia in January in 1997 at the invitation of the Republic of Bashkortostan’s Powerlifting Federation. In 1998 I was elected as a head coach of the men’s national team of Russia.
Athletes I’ve coached since have won 36 gold, 17 silver and 3 bronze medals at the World Championships of Powerlifting, plus 2 gold medals, 1 silver, and 1 bronze at the World Games.
Since 2002, in parallel with the coaching job, I have been working in the Institute of Physical Culture as a Professor. I currently teach in the Weightlifting and Wrestling Department. I have also written more than 140 articles and 12 books on the topic of powerlifting.
2. Russia manages to consistently churn out some of the best lifters in the world. How are talented lifters identified, and at what age do they typically start training for powerlifting? What other factors do you think contribute to Russia’s dominance in the sport?
In Russia there are many children’s sports schools (“ДЮСШ”) which have several sport sections, including one for powerlifting. Powerlifting coaches gather children 10-13 years old into a group under their supervision. Students are screened and placed into appropriate groups. Groups of beginners should consist of at least 12 students, otherwise the coach will not get a salary. At higher skill levels the group size decreases. For example, in a group of more developed students (“ГСС”) there should be six athletes for 1st class and three for CMS. In groups with high sports skill (“ГВСМ”) the groups consist of two students (MS or MSIC). The coach (“ДЮСШ”) expects this advancement to take place over 4-6 years, having started as a beginner.
In Russia all sports are divided into the Olympic and non-Olympic sports. In Olympic sports the financing is several times higher than in non-Olympic sports. Currently, the world champions of powerlifting don’t get any salary or compensation from the Ministry of Sports of Russia. It does, however, sponsor the trip to the world and European championships for the men’s team.
Despite financial difficulties and some very harsh training conditions, Russian athletes are leaders at the world and European championships because we have many talented trainers. The coaches apply the best training systems in the world, which they have often created themselves. It is almost impossible to get to the Russian national team without a coach. We have lifters without coaches but in most cases their technical and physical levels are much lower than the levels of athletes who train with coaches.
A coach in Russia is also more than just a coach. The coach deals with the training process, finances, even the private lives of their athletes as well as their psychology, academic habits, and many others fields. Sometimes the athlete consults with coaches more often than with their parents.
3. Since I know it’s a question on everyone’s mind, let’s get it out of the way early: Steroids. Several high-profile Russian lifters have tested positive for performance enhancing drug use in the IPF. It’s no secret that lifters use drugs at all levels of drug tested competition. In your experience, how many top lifters in IPF affiliates around the world are truly drug free, and how many just manage to pass drug tests?
It is necessary to note that in all European and world championships, Russian athletes pass doping control tests more often than athletes from other countries simply because they are the leaders at the world and European championships and are, therefore, tested in larger numbers. In my experience, this creates hope in others that they will not be caught if they use steroids. So I applaud the decision by the IPF to check not only champions and record holders, but also others as well. Yet even when a doping test is “positive” the athlete and coach will assure you that it is not true; that he’s as clean as a baby’s tear. They might blame a rival who put steroids in the bottle or in his food. There is another popular excuse – steroids were in the sports supplements.
So what percentage of IPF athletes from around the world are actually clean and how many use steroids and excrete them before the competition? Nobody can answer this question. We can only go by the results of the doping tests and I think it’s a good thing to have more widespread testing.
4. Who is the best lifter you’ve ever coached? What up and coming lifters are you training now who we should watch for in the upcoming years?
My best student was Alexey Sivokon. Not because he’s my first world champion and Asia champion, but because he was industrious, disciplined, and at the competition he was an absolute fighter. He also had an amazing ability to recover. For example, during one workout, Alexey squatted for 5 sets of 3 reps at 80%. I noticed that he didn’t break parallel. I told him that if missed another rep he would repeat all sets again. Alexey did 12 sets. After that he had no problem with depth at any world or Asia championship again.
So far, my biggest student was Maxim Podtynny who weighed 120 kg. So when the general manager of the Battle of Champions, Andrey Fedoseyev, asked me to work with Kirill Sarychev, I gladly accepted his proposal. Currently Kirill is the heaviest athlete in Russia and for me, I gain invaluable experience. It is also a pleasure to work with Kirill because he is smart athlete.
5. A lot of Western lifters look at your training programs and immediately say it’s too much volume for most lifters to handle, whereas others – myself included – have used them and had great success in doing so. What do you have to say to the people who say that your training programs are too hard for the average drug free lifter with a job and a life outside of the gym?
It seems that western athletes are used to training a little and pumping a lot. For those athletes who are able to get through the first several weeks, it will become a lot easier going forward.
I am surprised as well by some programs I see from professionals in the USA. The volume at and above 85% is just too much. With confidence I can say that my athletes could never do such loads. Perhaps our approach to taking 1RM differs. Some young Russian coaches are trying to follow these recommendations though.
6. How did you go about developing your training philosophy? If you had to boil it down into a few simple bullet points, what is “Sheiko-style” training all about?
There are thousands of powerlifters training in the world but few of them become world champions. Only the most persistent, hard-working and fanatical athletes can reach the top of the mountain. Those lifters train with full dedication.
My student Sergey Mor was world champion in 1997 and 1998. In 1999 he lost to Ricks Dave by body weight. They both totaled 857.5 kg, but Sergei was 0.4kg heavier than Ricks. Sergei then trained the entire year with one thought: to beat Ricks. When he tired during a workout, I told him that I read on the Internet that Ricks was doing very well and setting new records in the gym. His fatigue immediately passed.
At the World Championships in 2001 we met Ricks Dave again. Their body weights were the same as the year before but this time Sergei won by a margin of 40kg, beating him in all three exercises.
My philosophy as a coach is to do no less than this for my athletes. The higher the skills of the athlete, the higher level of knowledge a coach should have. Once an athlete becomes more skilled and has more knowledge than the coach, results stop growing. Therefore, the coach is doomed to learn and follow all the novelties of powerlifting in the literature, magazines, and the Internet. As soon as a coach says: “I am great, I know everything,” – it is the end of his professionalism.
The most defining aspect of “Sheiko-style” is probably doing two squat, bench press, or deadlift sessions in one workout with different numbers of lifts and intensities. This has proved to work very well. For a long time I was also the only coach in Russia who did a complete analysis of every week, month and year of training. I have in my archives Alexey Sivokon’s training diaries covering his whole seven-year training period. At any specific time you can see exactly what he was doing. So thorough analysis is probably another defining characteristic of “Sheiko-style.”
7. In your experience, what common mistakes do you see lifters make in their training?
I have said many times that lifters don’t pay appropriate attention to technique. Another is cutting too much weight. It is especially unacceptable for a young athlete as it interferes with normal development. And the most common mistake is to train without a coach. If you have a coach you can reach the same results in one year that would take you 4-5 years without a coach.
8. What is the state of powerlifting in Russian like today?
There are many talented coaches in Russia which are fans of powerlfiting, and despite all the difficulties in raising high-level athletes, Russian powerlifters will continue to be leaders at the world and European championships.
If you want to learn more about Mr. Sheiko and his style of training, check out his forum here.
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