Mon 20 February 2017
Although you never should change a running system, after my last
successful experiment with block periodization, I tried out Sheiko's cookie
cutter programs, namely #37 followed by #31. Mainly because my girlfriend made
good progress on #37 and #30 (#31 being for people over 80kg) and was
always asking when I would finally try out Sheiko, as she was eager to know
how it would work for me.
Setting it up
The setup for Sheiko is quite simple. You get a huge spreadsheet, where you
enter your maxes for Squat, Bench and Deadlift in one sheet and then you have
one sheet for each of the programs, where you can pick from. So apparently I
lost the source to the spreadsheets, but at least the version for lighter
lifters (i.e. those under 80kg) can be found in the pinned posts of the
Sheiko forums. Or you use his app or ask someone who has the spreadsheets.
Given that I barely missed 120kg on the Bench after my last cycle (butt came
off the bench a bit), I entered 165kg, 120kg and 200kg. The Deadlift
number was conservative, as I peeked at the workouts waiting for me. Given
that I was sick when I missed 170kg on the squat, that number might also a bit
deflated, but one of the few things almost everyone agrees on is that one can
better waste one cycle going too easy, than losing momentum and running into a
wall by being greedy at the beginning of a new program.
The hardest part was really printing the sheets out, for libreoffice's weird
way of hiding the option to scale the printing selection to page size. Fuck do
I hate GUI applications.
The first time in years that my training was so complicated that I had to do
Note that the usual recommendation is to do #37, #30/#31, #32, where #32 serves
as competition preparation. However my girlfriend had to deal with quite a bit
of detraining on #32 and we figured, that at least in the first cycle one
should omit this one, as we are already going lighter than probably necessary.
Rough outline of the training sessions
Sheiko has by far the most complex loading patterns of all cookie cutter
programs out there, however, a few patterns emerge. First of all, these
programs are classical three day a week programs, with Monday and Friday
dedicated to Squat and Bench, Wednesday dedicated to Deadlift and Bench.
Characteristic is that on most of the days you perform at least one lift twice,
i.e. on the very first day, you Bench 5×3 in the top set, then you do some
squats, followed by chest flies and then you Bench again 4×6, followed by a bit
more assistance. For deadlifts you often use pulls from blocks or deficit
pulls. Furthermore, you do many sets with comparatively little weight and you
often have to change the weight, so that one is sometimes in a hurry to keep
the training session under two hours.
The specificity of the assistance work is painfully high. Good mornings, seated
good mornings, lunges, ab work and at least heavier lifters get some variety
with a few sets of leg presses in #31. Upper body assistance consists mainly
of chest flies, dips, chest flies, sometimes a little bit of triceps work,
chest flies and a set of incline bench and close grip bench here and there.
Squatting low weights can be incredibly hard
When it came to squats, #37 was absolutely horrible. The weights were just too
light. I am not sure if it was because my max was maybe deflated or because
that is actually the plan, to force one to practice good technique with weights
which are so light that the weight does not automatically enforce some kind of
technique. The first few weeks the working sets were all below my previous warm
up weights and consequently, I did not feel warmed up during the work sets or
sometimes afterwards, and this was even after my usual warmup of a few minutes
on the cardio rowing machine and some back extension.
This got better in #31, where the weights finally got appreciable. Not hard
yet, but it will be definitely get at least a little bit challenging in the
next cycle. At least my technique seemed to improve. However, I am not quite
sure how it would work out with bigger weights.
Also I found always that my hamstrings were a little bit neglected. Although
you would usually do good mornings twice a week, I have a hard time to get them
to work for the hamstrings and not the glutes. Furthermore they are more
difficult to do than Romanian Deadlifts and consequently I could not use as
much weight. This means I could not stretch them as hard as I wanted to, at
least not against at least some contraction. This problem should go away as I
practice good mornings some more, though.
Everyday is chest day
The upper body work in Sheiko is surprisingly brotastic. Well, you don't do any
targeted biceps work, but bench every session and except for two or three
sessions you always do some chest flies, topped off by the occasional set of
dips or triceps work. Given that the average serious gym goer does nothing but
bench, chest and biceps and outbenches the average powerlifting trainee, it is
not surprising that my bench felt stronger than before; even though the work
sets seemed incredibly light and where programmed about two reps lower than
what I would have thought is adequate, my bench did not take a dive and even
though it was not called for, on the last heavier bench day I could easily
establish a new PR of 120kg after the work sets.
Also the way you would bench is often annoying. Several sessions consist of
long pyramids, starting with 50% of your max for a few reps and going up for
five, seven or even more sets, hitting a few easy singles with something like
85% and then going back all the way down, this time with a few more reps. In
fact bench presses only where hard if one held the rest time quite short; even
just taking a leak and getting some new water would mean that the next set felt
as if you had just begun benching.
However, doing all those chest flies and absolutely no shoulder work was boring
as hell. In some places it seems the right thing to do, as it works as
pre-exhaustion before the next set of benches, in other places I will sub it
with more interesting work in the next cycle. Or even the occasional set of
presses, because I really miss those.
The only thing that was even more boring than the chest flies were a few sets
of push-ups in the second week. While this exercise sure has some benefit to
it, it feels utterly disrespectful to waste my precious gym time with such
equipment less bodyweight stuff. No steel, no fun.
Deadlifts took a hit
For Deadlifts I already used quite a conservative max, but to no avail. In
particular deadlifts from blocks were much harder than anticipated, and the
work before the highest work set often already drained too much energy so that
what else would have been an easy ×3@8 became an ugly ×3@10. I am not quite
sure why that is the case. My girlfriend actually had the opposite experience
and had to increase the deadlift max she entered quite early because it was
just too easy.
Notable is the complete absence of back work. Sure, some people think deadlifts
from blocks would be back work, but as far as I can tell, they target the
hamstrings, as one takes out the quads in the push from the ground. So the
hamstrings have to pull from a dead stop, which is much harder than from the
already moving weight. But this might also vary with your personal weaknesses,
but unless you are a woman, chances are that your hamstrings are the weak spot
in deadlifts, not your back. Ladies on the other hand develop their upper body
musculature slower than their lower body musculature, so that it always seems
to be a bit underdeveloped.
Conclusions and changes to the next cycle
Overall I've gotten stronger. In the bench I could realize a small PR, on the
squat I guess it needs a little bit more prep to get a PR, but it should be
there nonetheless. Only deadlifts worry me, as a few singles with 180kg in the
last deadlift session felt as hard as max lifts. In the next cycle I will run
just a pretty simple linear periodization on deadlifts and sub the deadlift
variations with Rows, RDLs or some other assistance, as I see fit.
For bench and squat I only increased the maxes for the next cycles; bench an
optimistic 5kg, squat a careful 7.5kg. The main differences will lie in the
assistance work, which I will modify along the way. Many sets of flies will be
replaced by similarly programmed presses and instead of lunges or leg presses I
will probably focus on front squats, as leg presses just hurt my knees and back
and lunges are simply annoying and have less ROM at the knee.
It is interesting to note that, except for Deadlift, all my top sets worked out
on the RPE scale as something between @6.5 to @8 and only in rare instances it
would creep up to a @9. This is about one RPE lighter than what I would
ususally do and I might try setting up the next volume block in a similar way.