Written by Kevin Cann
I typically write scientific nutrition articles, but I am deciding to break away from that to share some experiences I have had lately. Many people might not know that I am a strength coach. I am actually the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Total Performance Sports in Everett, MA, just outside of Boston.
Twice TPS has been voted one of America’s top 20 gyms in Men’s Health for good reason. We have everything any powerlifter or strongman could ever want. We have monolifts, competition bench presses, turf space, stones, tires, and more. This alone should make you want to pickup heavy things.
For me it was the combination of the gym I work at and over the course of the last few months I have met some of the most influential people in the powerlifting world. In February “Dr. Squat” (Fred Hatfield) and Josh Bryant came to TPS to give a free seminar.
Meeting Hatfield in person was a truly amazing experience. I pictured the first guy to squat 1,000lbs to be a massive human being in stature. Instead he was a jacked old guy, who just happened to be pretty damn smart as well.
It was great hearing his training principles, but even better hearing him tell the story of how he got to squatting 1,000lbs. The hard work, dedication, and belief in himself to accomplish something that everyone thought was impossible. This alone made me want to run upstairs in the gym and start lifting heavy objects.
After the seminar we all went out for dinner. I got to sit around and have a few beers with Dr. Squat. This was cool in its own right. He told me stories about his time in Russia doing work with Verkoshansky. Coaches everywhere love quoting Super Training. These guys lived it.
It reinforced what I already knew, that I can read all the textbooks I want, but it will never compare to experiencing the real thing. However, hearing this from Hatfield REALLY made it sink in. Any young coaches out there reading this I encourage you to seek out the best in the field and learn everything you can from them. This goes far and beyond what you can learn in a textbook.
The following Monday after the seminar I decided to jump into a powerlifting program. My boss, and owner of TPS, Murph wrote the program and coached me through the movements. Murph has 25 years of experience in the field and was mentored by Fred Hatfield.
I learned a lot about the sport from programming to coaching and performing the lifts. I enjoyed the hard work being put in by the group of us training. It was as much of a team effort as it was an individual effort.
In June Boris Sheiko and Mikhail Koklyaev came to TPS to give their first seminar on American soil. If you are unfamiliar with this Russian duo they are the equivalent of Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan for powerlifting. I was looking forward to this from the second that I heard it was a possibility.
The day of the seminar I arrived about an hour early to make sure that everything was set up and ready to go. As excited as I was for the seminar, I was unsure of what to expect. Sheiko does not speak any English and the seminar had to be spoken to us from a translator.
Upon arriving I brought some waters to the area of the gym where Sheiko and Koklyaev were. Upon entering the room I felt like I walked in on a scene from Rocky IV. Sheiko was sitting in a chair with a jacket that read “Russia” across the back while the largest human being I have ever been face to face with was performing air squats as if there was 1,000lbs on his back.
Unlike Dr. Hatfield, Mikhail Koklyaev was HUGE. I guess you would have to be to be an 8-time world champion strongman and have a raw total of over 2,200lbs. Walking into that room my first impression was that these guys are pretty serious all of the time.
Everyone piled into the room for the start of the seminar. The attendance was capped at a low number so that the hands on portion would be worthwhile. This time Sheiko was standing facing the everyone. He was wearing a t-shirt that read “I Love Training People.” Still to this day I do not know if he was wearing that shirt to be funny, but it was awesome none of the less.
Boris Sheiko looks like he would be your favorite grandparent. He stands maybe 5’5” tall, had a belly coming out past his sweats, and the same white New Balance sneakers that every person over 60 wears. Whether in Russia or the United States all older individuals get a pair of those shoes I guess.
The first part of the seminar lasted roughly 3 and a half hours. Sheiko and Koklyaev talked about the program’s set up and how they plan a lifter’s training year. I had heard of Sheiko’s stuff and the high volume of training, but hearing him explain it cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had regarding the program.
The first misconception that I had was that it was for advanced lifters and basically lifters on steroids. I mean, how could one person handle that amount of volume without being on something? This is not the case. Sheiko writes individual programs for all of his athletes and the volume is different for all of them.
I looked up a few programs online afterwards and the number of lifts per prep cycle fluctuated from 900 to 1,900 lifts in a 4 week cycle. Sheiko went on to explain that these numbers are adjusted for each athlete. The idea is to track the data and strengthen each lifter’s weaknesses. As the lifter matures in training age volume can be added.
The philosophy behind Sheiko’s programs is that technique should look the same whether your lifting 50% of 1RM or performing a max effort lift. This really struck a chord with me. With all of my athletes and clients I stress the importance of technique over and over again. This piece of it makes it a good choice for a beginning lifter in my opinion as long as the volume is at appropriate levels.
The number of lifts in the prep cycle is high, but average intensity hovers around 70%. This gives the athlete a manageable weight to perfect technique, but still enough to get stronger as top sets are performed between 75% and 85%.
I also liked how sport specific his programs are. In the 10 years of coaching I have coached athletes of all ages from middle school to Division 1 college athletics. Having a sports background myself, I firmly believe you get better at a sport by practicing it. For powerlifters the competition lifts are their sport. Without going into great detail about the programs as this will take a lot of words, let’s just say I fell in love with the idea of running a Sheiko program.
After the lecture we broke for lunch and came back an hour later. The next hour we watched Koklyaev warm-up and lift. As someone just starting my journey into powerlifting this was a really important thing for me to see. Not Koklyaev’s crazy squat pyramid, but to see his squat not look perfect every rep. It was important for me to see that even he was still working on things with the squat and it probably will never look perfect. This definitely made me feel better about how my lifts were looking.
After Koklyaev did some “light” training it was time for everyone else to lift and get coached by Sheiko and Koklyaev. As a coach this was incredible to watch. I got to basically shadow the greatest lifting coach in the world. Hearing their cues and watching them get people into the right positions was amazing.
I have a master’s degree in kinesiology and arguably got more from watching Sheiko and Koklyaev coach then I did through school. Now, I feel having formal education in the field is an important part, but so is that practical experience. The combination of education and experience can really be a game changer for a coach. This experience definitely enhanced my coaching abilities as well as my lifting abilities.
The seminar was scheduled to run from 9am to 2pm. However, it did not end up finishing up until 6pm. They spent as much time as they could coaching people and answering questions. Both Skeiko and Koklyaev were extremely friendly and truly passionate about what they do. They truly taught me a ton in one day and inspired me, along with Hatfield and Murph, to make a full go at powerlifting.
I decided to run a Sheiko based program. I decided to implement it using some of Mike Tuscherer’s RTS principles. I converted all of the top set percentages into RPEs (information on RPEs can be found at reactivetrainingsystems.com) and use them to calculate fatigue percents and to make sure I am not overworking.
I am loving the program so far. It is a lot of work and a lot of volume, but the RPEs are allowing me to manage my weight and volume from week to week. Week 3 day 1 was the first day that I actually hit all of my top weights without having to adjust so I am getting acclimated to the volume. Weights are feeling lighter and my technique is feeling better. Sheiko’s people have been very helpful throughout the process in pointing me in the right direction with program design and asking questions.
When I was eating dinner with Fred Hatfield I was envious that he got to hang around so many great people in the field of strength sports. Looking back upon my experiences I have done the same thing. I have met and learned from some of the best strength coaches and athletes in the field in just a short time period of working at TPS. How could I not be excited to lift weights in this scenario?
P.S. if anyone wants to know more about Sheiko’s program please leave a comment. If there are enough people interested I will write a few articles regarding my understanding of his programs.