Last December I decided it was time to get more focused on this ultra running thing. I signed up with a coach and cut out all my extraneous activities; no Ultimate Frisbee, no squash, the bare minimum of fitness classes, no strength training (I still did stability work). The plan worked and I had my most successful season of racing ultras so far. 4th at Diez Vista 50km, 3rd at Blackfoot 50M, 2nd at Sinister 7 100M and a spectacular sufferfest at Fat Dog 120M.
One side effect of this focused training was weight loss. I think I’m already lean enough so it wasn’t purposeful, but from December to August I lost 10lbs. I knew the weight loss was primarily from losing muscle mass and I promised myself I would gain it back once the racing season was over.
Some co-workers of mine mentioned a strength training program devleoped by Sheiko. Sheiko is a world renowned powerlifting coach and I was intrigued. The program emphasizes high volume, low rep training. During the course of a workout you will do 15-30 sets of squat, bench or deadlifts and the amount you lift is based on a percentage of your 1RM (the maximum amount you can lift in one rep). Most lifts are in the 60-80% range, occasionally reaching as high as 90%.
The workouts are incredibly inefficient, consistently taking an hour or longer. On top of that, you need to monopolize the squat rack or the bench press almost the entire time. If you do Sheiko, you won’t be making any friends at the gym.
Despite these obvious drawbacks I was still very curious, so I committed to the program.
In late August I tested my 1RMs:
Squat – 155lbs
Deadlift – 155lbs
Bench – 90lbs
I also added in chin ups. I could do 1 very ugly chin up.
The Sheiko program is divided into 4 consecutive phases titled #29,30,31 and 32, each phase is 1 month long. #29 is a preparatory phase, designed to get your body used to the volume of lifting. None of the lifts are particularly heavy, you just do a lot of them. I expected my body to be sore and tired from all the lifting. I was fully prepared for the soreness to negatively effect my running, but that’s not what happened. Instead, my running felt more powerful and fluid than ever before. After finishing #29 I retested my 1RMs
Squat – 165lbs
Deadlift – 165lbs
Bench – 105lbs
Chin Ups – 2 (I had been using the assisted chin up machine to build up my strength)
#30 is much like #29, except the lifts get a little heavier. The increase in intensity is noticeable and it took a couple of workouts for me to adapt. I also changed up my chin up routine, so now I was doing 5×5 negatives instead of using the assisted chin up. I missed 2 weeks worth of legs during this phase because I cut my knee open during a trail run and I didn’t want to risk ripping out the stitches. During the 2 weeks off from deadlifts and squats I worked on balance, hopping, and shallow single-leg squats. When I got back to lifting it didn’t seem like I’d missed much, I just needed a little extra warm-up to coax the range of motion back into my knee.
Squat – 175lbs
Deadlift – 175lbs
Bench – 115lbs
Chin Ups – 5
#31 had lower volume and heavier lifts. I found I could do the workouts in an hour or less, which was a welcome change. I could feel myself getting stronger throughout the month. I increased my chin ups to 6-8 x 5. I felt good and it was exciting.
Squat – 190lbs
Deadlift – 190lbs
Bench – 125lbs
Chin Ups – 7
#32 is basically a max strength test followed by a 3 week taper which leads up to the final powerlifting competition. Three weeks is a long time to taper and most of the workouts in this phase felt kind of useless. I also applied the taper philosophy to my chin ups, only doing 3 sets instead of 5. I tried to trust the process, but in the end the retest was as disappointing as the workouts.
Squat – 195lbs
Deadlift – 195lbs
Bench – 125lbs
Chin Ups – 7
I enjoyed the focus that this program required. I feel my strength gains were very good, especially considering that I was also running 80-110km/wk for most of the program. My squat and deadlift increased 26%, bench improved 39%, and my chin ups improved 700%. My running on all surfaces feels way stronger than ever before. I didn’t think that strength was a limiting for my runs, but evidently it was.
The drawbacks for Sheiko are many, but in my opinion they were worth it. The program is time consuming, monotonous and requires specific equipment. I also found that I needed to eat a lot, you won’t be able to successfully complete the Sheiko program on a calorie restricted diet.
I think I will repeat Sheiko in the fall, but I will exclude the 3 week taper. Tapers don’t work for me when I run, and I don’t think they work for me with strength training either. In the meantime, I am transitioning over to more bodyweight training. I am learning to walk on my hands and increasing my hip mobility. You can find this new program here:
If you’re interested in learning more about Sheiko, this is an article worth reading. The article also includes a link to the full Sheiko spreadsheet.