Earlier this year, we attended the Boris Sheiko seminar – here’s our podcast summarising his wisdom. 

For those that don’t know, Boris Sheiko is the coach of the Russian National powerlifting team, producing 38, 18 and 4 gold silver and bronze medals at World Championships.

Aside from the technical information learned, covered in the podcast, we observed three interesting patterns at the seminar.

 #1 Special snowflake syndrome

Our slogan is ‘Simple rules, dramatic results’ for a reason

One of the biggest things holding people back with their training progress is ‘special snowflake syndrome’, the belief that someone is more advanced than they think, and require a highly complicated, ultra-customised program. Usually because of a story they’ve told themselves, that they’re above the basics.

 

Special-snowflake-syndrome is just a clever form of bogdown – where the basics are avoided, (perceived as hard and boring), while the main focus is on the fiddly stuff that only world-class Russian lifters should be worrying about. Boris covered some of the more specific customisations used to overcome plateaus and manage fatigue with full-time athletes, which stimulated the majority of the questions from the audience, pushing for further depth.

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Neither myself nor Jonny felt like our training variables were so dialled in to make such tweaks relevant.

I can’t think of any competitive powerlifters from our client base for whom the variables are so tightly controlled either. (By contrast, my question was ‘what do you suggest for upper-back rounding in the deadlift’. The answer was ‘do seated good mornings’.

 

Those probing for massive detail were also not particularly advanced lifters, certainly not for that level of depth.
I suspect it comes from a place of searching for some secret tactic that’s just GOT to be hidden somewhere amongst the details. Or even better, if I immerse myself in the details, I must be a hot-shot advanced lifter. Nobody wanna be a basic-bitch.
I’m highlighting this for a reason – it’s human nature: we’re all looking to minimise effort. We know the answer deep down, that success lies in the repeated application of the basics. But we don’t like that answer, so we hope there’s something else. The one weird trick.
  • It’s hopping between the leucine-enriched hourly undulating occlusion training programs, but there’s no sign of progressive overload.
  • It’s buying a fitbit to track calorie expenditure and heart rate variability, but not tracking intake.
 

Lesson to be learned: Cultivate beginners mind, take things back to basics. What would you tell a beginner? Are you doing those things? The moment we think of ourselves as too advanced to be worrying about the basics, is the moment we get complacent.

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 #2 ‘Yes but..’ rationalising away the advice

The next half was a technique workshop. What struck me was that people were volunteering to show their technique to Boris, where he offered an advice or cue that was frequently met with defensiveness or a nonsense reason why they’re going to continue doing what they’re doing instead.

Boris questioned somebody’s bench press grip width. The response: ‘but I’ve always done it this width’.
Boris said ‘just because we have have always done something this way doesn’t mean it is the right way’ 

LISTEN MAN. BORIS BLOODY SHEIKO is telling you that your grip is too narrow. He’s not come here to argue with you. He cranks out gold-medallists. What more do you want?

Something we need to be clear on when asking for advice, is are we prepared to receive it? Or are we just asking for advice because it’s there and sort of feels productive?

Seeking advice for entertainment is fine, but nothing’s going to improve if it’s not received graciously and acted upon.

Lesson learned: Assuming the advice is solicited, good quality and well-intentioned, then you have the freedom to either take it and move forward, or to say either say ‘that’s nice’ and merely use it to thicken the story of why you’re not progressing.

 

Oh, he also referred to Jonny’s deadlift as ‘too best’:

 #3 The demonstration effect: Big Boris is watching

 

Initially, Boris corrected a few simple common errors (such as allowing the bar coming away from the body, hips being too high or too low, being too forward over the bar).
He told people to try not to repeat the mistakes he had corrected, so we wouldn’t spend an hour going over the same things.
A few were surprised to receive only minor corrections or be told their form was good enough; even the best technique didn’t earn much adulation.
It almost seemed a bit underwhelming, but on reflection, are we lying to ourselves?
Propane coach Harrison pointed out: How many reps do we do like that in training?
In front of a crowd, Boris Sheiko watching, making sure we don’t repeat simple mistakes others have, bracing ourselves for incoming criticism.
Everyone’s form was on point.
  • That’s not how we lift on the fifth work set of a hard session.
  • That’s not how we lift when we’re in a hurry and its ‘just a warmup’.
  • Maybe if Boris was watching over us the whole time, every rep would be the same.
  • Maybe we’re lying to ourselves because our technique is good enough, we just don’t pay the due diligence into using it for every set and every rep.
  • Maybe when we try we do get it right – and when we are slack, the bad habits start creeping in.
  • Perhaps our problem is with the focus, care and attention we put into each rep, not our knowledge.
  • With this in mind, its less surprising that there were no huge revelations or epiphanies. What’s going to be better for your squat, the magical cue to get your hips in the perfect position, or to ditch the slap-dash setup
  • That’s why we’re always coming back to structure,* accountability, and objectivity* as three driving forces behind your progress.
  • We’re always learning from our coaches, but what really moves us forward is the care we’re made to take, the consistent application **of the basics**.
 
Lesson learned: Dance like nobody is watching, but lift like Boris is watching.

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