Sheiko Novice Routine (Beginner Program)
The novice routine is 6 weeks long and intended to be used as a general strength and physical fitness program. Boris Sheiko actually crafted the beginner plan as a complete unit, unlike many of the other Sheiko variations which are more of a hodgepodge created from examples in Boris' book.
Sheiko created this for those very new to strength training and teenagers. It serves as preparation for harder training later on and does an excellent job of focusing on exercises that are highly effective.
That's not to say this program is only intended for children or young adults, but it is definitely designed to be used by someone new to the world of strength. Like many of the other variations, the novice program is comprised of three days of lifting per week (typically Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
Broken down, there isn't much that's complicated about it:
And that's one of the beauties.
It is free of excessive accessory exercises and useless frill. It focuses on the compound movements that matter and gets the job done. You may have noticed there are no percentages for the lifts, however.
This is done on purpose.
As a beginner you have full access to 'noob gains' which is a not-so-scientific way to refer to the phenomenon of increased results when starting out. As you begin to lift weights, your body will adapt rapidly, gaining both strength and muscle in a very, very short amount of time. During this period, it does not make much sense to prescribe hard numbers that are set in stone.
Instead, you should aim to use an RPE scale depending on which week of the plan you are in. The general idea is to progress in difficulty as the plan goes on, with week 5 being typically the most difficult followed by a deload on week 6.
- Week 1: RPE 7
- Week 2: RPE 7.5
- Week 3: RPE 8
- Week 4: RPE 8.5
- Week 5: RPE 9
- Week 6: RPE 6
As you complete each training session, it is also highly recommended to record the RPE of each set for easy reference and to better determine the weight for next time.
Boris' also makes the assumption that there will be some kind of trainer or coach. For most lifters out there, this simply isn't pragmatic (though online coaching has starting to grow tremendously).
If no coach is present, the lifter is left to regulate their own weights using an RPE scale explained above. Alternatively, a simpler and less effective (though reasonable) rule of thumb when is to make sure each rep of every set is completed with good form and confidence—weight that is challenging but not too difficult to complete with proper form.
Boris doesn't recommend lifting to failure, so you should moderate your intensity from set to set accordingly. Over time, the RPE scale will become second nature. Trust in the process and focus on incremental improvements while keeping solid records in the form of a training journal.
Overview of the Routine
If you are familiar with other plans for beginners, you may have noticed that this one involves quite a lot of complexity and variation compared to most. When compared with a plan like Starting Strength, it is much more complex.
With that said, this complexity is focused around intelligent periodization and not mindlessly adding exercises. While a method like Starting Strength may be easier and simpler to follow, you are leaving strength and muscle on the table. This is truly an optimized plan for those just getting started and want to progress as fast as humanly possible—literally.
As you may have noticed, Mondays and Fridays tend to place focus on the bench press and squat variations while Wednesdays are geared towards deadlifts, variations of the deadlift, and accessory movements with a general emphasis on shoulders and triceps as well. This approach of deadlifting only once per week with increased squat and bench press volume is very effective for beginners.
How Sheiko's Novice Program is Different
The overall emphasis of this program is clearly general fitness in addition to preparation for more serious strength training. An important periodization concept in the development of successful athletes is variation.
Variation helps to improve general physical preparedness (GPP) which has a high carry-over in many athletic and coordination-related aspects. As an athlete is just beginning their training career, GPP and variation are critical for healthy muscular development and movement patterns. As an athlete becomes more advanced, however, more and more specific forms of training are required to truly excel.
It is why you can make serious improvements in the gym with a novice routine such as this at first, but over time require a more advanced plan to reach more elite levels of strength.
Boris has even included a rather broad recommendation alongside the lifting: 'Play Sports' at the end of every Friday's workout. While not everyone may have an athletic endeavor to undertake, the message is clear: athleticism plays a crucial role in the early development of an elite-level athlete.
Taking a deeper look, the program completely disregards overhead presses and seems to neglect the upper back a fair bit in contrast to more typical programming seen in the US and western Europe. The reason for this is simple: Boris is a powerlifting coach and focus never shifts away from bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting.
Another way Boris' program varies from other routines is the amount of variety. Every training session provides a different flavor: the lifts themselves or the overall volume of each workout.
Speaking of volume, there is a notable increase of overall volume from the first week to the last. This is probably to prepare the athlete for the rather large volume of the more advanced plans. Interestingly, Boris' novice routine doesn't involve much of the actual core powerlifting movements in terms of volume. Described in detail earlier, this is because new trainees see great carry-over and overall development from higher variation.
That said, each day does incorporate at the very least a variation of a core lift. Many of the exercises are not strictly powerlifting movements and are included to encourage hypertrophy and overall muscular development.
However, the lack of specificity in regard to powerlifting movements creates a situation where the novice spends only a small portion of their time actually performing the bench press, squat, or deadlift in their original form. This could serve to slow the progression of form on the three core lifts from simply not practicing the main compound exercises enough.
However, it is still a wise idea for true beginners who have no baseline of strength and coordination. In addition to this strong focus placed on general physical fitness, it helps to ease the athlete into becoming accustomed to larger amounts of volume found in intermediate plans.
And because of this, Sheiko's novice routine is truly optimized for those starting out or getting back into lifting after a long time away. It may be especially effective for younger athletes in their early teens.
Because there are only three days of training per week, there is ample time to recover from session to session as long as the lifter is getting enough sleep and eating within the confines of a proper powerlifting diet. With that said, don't forget that the overall volume in all of Boris' workout plans is quite high compared to other popular workout routines.
Having such high volumes, especially for novices who haven't yet learned to read their body signals, can lead to overtraining and injury if form is not maintained. Bottom line: if you are starting out and want to use this plan, make sure to perfect your form—there are lots of free online resources available for learning the proper form on each and every exercise.
Novice Sheiko Routine: Closing Points
Boris' emphasis on general physical fitness and coordination makes a lot of sense for those new to strength training and young athletes. However, its lack of emphasis on the actual core lifts (bench press, squat, deadlift) makes it a less-than-ideal beginner's program for those specifically interested in powerlifting training. Two alternatives include ICF and Greyskull LP.
There are several conclusions that can be drawn:
- High variety and low specificity towards the powerlifting 'big three' makes it a great general strength and mass program, and less of a 'powerlifting plan'
- The need for auto-regulation using RPE makes it less-than-ideal for novice trainees who don't have a coach
- The high volume and plentiful amount of varied secondary exercises encourages hypertrophy and symmetrical muscular development
- The compound movement variations can be easier to perform and encourage a more healthy learning curve
- The high variety provides a strong defense against possible training injuries that can be common in an untrained individual
Bottom line: if you want to prepare yourself for a powerlifting plan in the future, while focusing on building a solid foundation on strength and muscle now, this plan is a great choice.
* Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise.
Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition.
You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Muscle & Mirth / Garage Gym Powerlifting and its affiliates from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown.