I have loved sports my entire life; they were an outlet for me to get away from a verbally and physically abusive home. Sports taught me how to harness my aggression and my negative feelings in a positive manner. Over time, sports taught me to let go of some of those feelings, as they were negative weights holding me back.

I played college soccer and found mixed martial arts a few years later. I did not find powerlifting until I was 32 years old and needed a competitive outlet. I fell into powerlifting by accident. Honestly, I didn't even know what it was before that.

When I started, I was 5'11" and 170 pounds. A solid build for an MMA fighter at 155 pounds, but not necessarily the prototypical powerlifter. I couldn't even squat 300 pounds when I first started, but I truly fell in love with it because the people who introduced me to it made it fun.

I signed up for a meet before I even squatted with a bar on my back; I like to compete and will not back down from a challenge. At the same time, my path crossed with the legendary Russian powerlifting coach, Boris Sheiko.

The Seminar That Started It All

Boris Sheiko did his first seminar in America at the gym where I worked. His methods made a lot of sense to me. I have an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in this field, and at that time, I had been coaching for over ten years. Some of that time was spent in a Division 1 weight room. So how he presented his methods also made sense to me in how I practiced in other sports.

Being the all-or-nothing type of person I am, I decided to reach out to him for guidance. Sheiko helped me construct a plan working up to my first competition, and then I would continue to work with him for the next three years.

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I am an average powerlifter these days, but back then, I was starting from the very bottom. At my first competition, I weighed in at 195 pounds, hit my first 315 lb squat, benched 275 pounds, and pulled 460 pounds. I was pumped at the time to hit that 315 pounds; it truly put me on cloud nine.

I learned his system and messed around with coaching it with an intern at the gym, who was also a friend. Later, I added three more friends to do it with me and a fourth that came into the gym about a year later.

Using Sheiko's methods, these five lifters qualified and competed at USAPL nationals. The first nationals were in 2016, where one of my lifters competed in the first primetime session and finished in fifth place but easily qualified for the Arnold. Unfortunately, my inexperience in coaching cost her a third-place finish.

The other four lifters would compete at USAPL nationals in 2017. One out of the four qualified for the Arnold. This early success made me think there was some magic to what Sheiko put together. But, like anything in this sport, it worked until it didn't.

At this point, I decided to start coaching people to make money. For the next few years, we would see some significant progress as a group, but the progress for the ones that have been with me the longest was starting to stall.

I was that guy you all know too well, the d-bag saying that Westside doesn't work for raw lifting because that is what the Internet told me to say. It wasn't until Sheiko came to America a second time and met with Louie that I would change my tune.

Great Minds Think Alike

After Sheiko met with Louie, he came to the gym where I was working for another seminar. I asked him about it, and his answer made me realize how narrow-minded I had become. He said that powerlifting is a big enough world for many different methods, that Louie focused on strength first, and that he (Sheiko) focused on technique first.

I realized that we needed to make some adjustments to our programs for them to work better for the lifters that I coached. Sheiko coached national and international level Russian powerlifters. Very different from the American amateurs that I was coaching.

We increased the intensity, and as we increased the intensity, we got stronger. In the typical American way, this convinced me that intensity was the key. More is always better, right? Of course, all I had to do was look at the history of the sport and realize that the lifters that came before already figured this stuff out, but I continued to be fooled by moral victories.

We ended up swinging the pendulum hard to the intensity side. Again, it worked until it didn't. We got stronger but slower, and more people got hurt. I was at a crossroads here and really questioned if I should be doing this. I felt like an idiot.

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I decided to reread my old texts from grad school and study the history of the sport. I read about the max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort methods in Science and Practices of Strength Training and the skill acquisition textbooks. My goal was to find a way to focus on technique and strength. Modern skill acquisition theories combine all aspects of training, and I figured this could help my ideas.

I ended up talking to Dr. Keith Davids a few times. He is one of the leading researchers in the field of skill acquisition. He co-authored a book about the constraints-led approach to developing skills. I also ended up talking to Louie on the phone a few times. One time, I had to cut him off after 90 minutes because I was running incredibly late for an appointment.

I decided to do all singles in training for a year. I wanted to experience it and see what it felt like. However, I needed a longer period to truly commit to it. So I went out to Westside in the fall of 2020 and lifted with Louie and his crew for a weekend. I ended up doing dynamic effort work with over 100% of my best that he made me do a set of 10 with, but after that, he was very generous with his time and knowledge. I learned a lot this weekend, mainly about GPP work, but also about powerlifting history and training. I watched him coach up other visitors as well, which was eye-opening too.

With a greater understanding of heavy singles to go along with what I learned from Sheiko and Louie's ideas of building strength, I had a decent idea of how to accomplish what I was attempting to accomplish.

Combining Methods Worked Wonders

Sheiko was a mastermind of load variability. Days, weeks, and months were broken into high, medium, and low-stress training. As a result, the average number of lifts and average intensity always stayed relatively stable.

Louie was a master of load variability in other ways. He just looked at it from a force output equation. He separated his training days by 72 hours to allow for optimal recovery. A training day requiring 72 hours for recovery in a Sheiko program would be a high-stress training day.

So I decided to start programming training in a way where we utilized Sheiko load variability ideas with Louie's max effort and dynamic/submaximal effort work. The GPP stuff is very similar to how Louie lays it out. I tend to give beginners to intermediates higher sub-max work than dynamic effort work. I have found that they need to be a bit stronger to display effort dynamically. With that said, a small volume still has loads recommended by Louie for dynamic work.

In old Powerlifting USA articles, Louie talked about using the same exercise for two weeks. Beginner to intermediate lifters can keep the same exercise for a bit longer than a more advanced lifter. They also need more submaximal rep work to build volume and muscle mass.

I decided on week 1 that the lifter would perform a max effort lift of a given variation that works on a weakness of theirs. They are instructed to make this a second attempt intensity. This helps develop some awareness under the bar. The following week, the lifter will do sub-max reps based on the number they just hit in the same variation.


For example, let's say the lifter was doing a Safety Squat Bar Box Squat with Bands. In week 1, they work up to a second attempt intensity. In week 2, they might get 70% of week 1 for a 5x5; in week 3, they are to beat week 1 by 5 pounds. Week 3 is a good gauge for their decision-making process during week 1. This helps to build training skills.

Typically a lifter will improve their skill in this lift and be able to hit 5 pounds more with slightly better technical application. This also helps to keep decision-making in check, as just maxing out with a substantial amount of technical breakdown is probably not the best. We are looking for optimal strain for the lifter we have.

As the lifter improves in ranking and skill within the sport, we start giving more max effort exposures. These will alternate similarly to Westside, but we will use blocks with more sub-max volume for recovery purposes and when attempting to develop a new skill. It is an excellent way to bring in load variability, so the lifter does not get used to a given routine.

We also add in weeks of only three training days, where we will perform the competition lifts at 80% for four to five sets of two to three reps. One lift is still performed each day. This was the weight that Sheiko said you could start to see how maximal weights would look. This is a great assessment tool and a nice way to increase competition lift exposure.

WATCH: #170 Kevin Cann | Precision Powerlifting Systems, Boston's StrongCast, Sheiko

The competition lifts make up about 20% of our volume, just like they did in a Sheiko program. They are just done between 70% and 80% of 1RM for sets that would be considered very low RPE. This is an excellent way to cut volume and allow for proper recovery. As a result, GPP stays high in these weeks.

We will also rotate our rep work of the lifts and their variations week to week, much like Sheiko would. For example, Louie will run three-week pendulum waves, whereas Sheiko waves high, medium, and low-stress training days a bit differently.

If we have a day 1 max effort lift that is a tester or close in proximity to the main lift, we will use lighter weights and/or volumes on day 3 to decrease the recovery cost. Since day 1 will be an extreme day for stress, we want day 3 to be small to medium, but we can keep GPP high as those exercises allow for faster recovery.

If we have a day 1 max effort lift that has a lot of variety, that typically drops the absolute load number down to around 85% of our comp best or less, day three will be a bit higher in that 70% to 80% range and the top end of the volume for that intensity. Lifters can adjust this day based on overall recovery as well. With jobs and external stress, recovery can be difficult, especially drug-free.

The Results Speak For Themselves

Since we started implementing this and adjusting it as we learned more and more, we have had three open national champions, one national runner-up, a couple more top 5 finishes, and eight American Records in the USPA and the USAPL. In addition, it brought a lifter from a 600 lb raw squat to an 800 lb raw squat and a handful of 700 lb deadlifts.

Overall, working with Sheiko only elevated my understanding of training and conjugate periodization. So I would love for others to try these methods out and give feedback, both good and bad, so we can learn more and continue to get stronger.

That's why we're all here anyway, isn't it?

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Kevin is the head coach and owner of Precision Powerlifting Systems, a competitive powerlifting team based out of Boston, MA. They have had three open national champions, a national runner-up, and four other top-5 finishes at nationals since their inception in 2015. He has been a coach since 2005 and has trained athletes of all levels, including his time as an intern at Harvard University. He holds an undergraduate degree in health and wellness and a graduate degree in kinesiology, the science of human movement. Kevin was a student of Sheiko from 2015 to 2018.