Charles Poliquin’s Accumulation / Intensification Training System!


Charles Poliquin was one of the world’s greatest strength coaches. He popularized many new training methods including the accumulation / intensification training system.

If you want to learn Charles Poliquin’s favorite training periodization system then this article is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Dopamine-Dominant Training
  • Part 2: Acetyl-Choline Dominant Training
  • Part 3: Balanced Profile Training

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use Charles Poliquin’s accumulation / intensification system to build muscle mass and strength.

The accumulation / intensification system is a way of organizing your workouts where you alternate between training routines to build muscle and training routines to build strength.

Charles Poliquin used the accumulation / intensification periodization model with most of his athletes because he believed it was the fastest way to build size and strength.

Alternating back and forth between these different phases of training helps you to avoid training plateaus and make faster long-term progress.

Charles uses accumulation phases to help you build muscle mass, lose body fat and increase your overall work capacity. Here are some of the key characteristics for accumulation phases:

Accumulation Phases

  • Factor #1: More exercises
  • Factor #2: Higher reps
  • Factor #3: More time under tension
  • Factor #4: Shorter rest periods

Accumulation phases are basically bodybuilding-style workouts. You use lots of exercises, high rep ranges and short rest periods.

Charles often uses techniques like supersets, tri-sets and giant sets during his accumulation phases to extend the time under tension of the sets to build even more muscle mass.

Charles Poliquin’s intensification phases are completely different. Check it out:

Intensification Phases

  • Factor #1: Fewer exercises
  • Factor #2: Lower reps
  • Factor #3: Less time under tension
  • Factor #4: Longer rest periods

Charles uses intensification phases to build maximal strength. During this phase you are just trying to maintain your current level of muscle mass. You get stronger because your central nervous system becomes more efficient at recruiting muscle fibers and performing the exercise. 

Charles says the accumulation / intensification system is one of the best ways to train. However, Charles says you can get even better results by customizing your routines based on your neurotransmitter profile.

There are four main neurotransmitters in the human brain:

  • Neurotransmitter #1: Dopamine
  • Neurotransmitter #2: Acetyl-choline
  • Neurotransmitter #3: GABA
  • Neurotransmitter #4: Serotonin

Charles says that the ratios of these different neurotransmitters determines the type of training routines that you will respond best to.

Charles uses the accumulation / intensification system with all of his athletes. However, some athletes need longer accumulation phases and shorter intensification phases while other athletes need the opposite

. The best way to figure this out is with neurotransmitter based program design. Check it out:

Charles says that understanding your own neurotransmitter profile is the key to designing optimal accumulation and intensification phases and getting the most out of your workouts.

In Charles’ experience most people who are passionate about strength training have one of three neurotransmitter profiles. Check it out:

3 Types Of Neurotransmitter Profiles For Athletes

  • Type #1: Dopamine-dominant
  • Type #2: Acetyl-choline dominant
  • Type #3: Balanced profiles

Charles says that almost all of his athletes fall into one of these 3 categories.

If you are GABA-dominant or serotonin-dominant then you probably aren’t interested in strength training anyways.

In this rest of this article I will show you exactly how to design your accumulation / intensification phases depending on whether you are dominant in dopamine, acetyl-choline or have a more balanced neurotransmitter profile.

Part 1: Dopamine-Dominant Accumulation / Intensification Phases

Charles Poliquin says that pure dopamine-dominant individuals make up about 8% of athletes. These individuals have a ton of fast-twitch muscle fibers and respond best to sets in the 1-8 rep range.

These guys respond very quickly to training routines and need lots of variation in order to make long-term progress. In fact a pure dopamine-dominant individual should never perform the same workout twice in a row!

Instead they get their best results cycling through 2-4 different workouts per muscle group.

These guys still get great results using Charles Poliquin’s accumulation / intensification system. However, you have to be more creative with how you structure the workouts.

Here are 3 awesome exercise rotation strategies for the dopamine-dominant individual:

3 Ways For Captain Dopamine To Cycle His Workouts

  • Option #1: Rotate through 2 different workouts per body part
  • Option #2: Rotate through 3 different workouts per body part
  • Option #3: Rotate through 4 different workouts per body part

Let’s take a closer look at all three of these options.

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #1: Rotate Through 2 Different Workouts Per Body Part

The first strategy is very simple: you rotate through 2 different workouts for each body part. This strategy is very popular with powerlifters and other strength athletes because it helps you avoid training plateaus.

Many strength athletes find if they perform the same workout over and over they actually go backwards and get weaker. However, when they rotate through 2 similar but slightly different workouts they suddenly make progress.

Here is how Charles Poliquin likes to use this system with his world-class athletes:

Phase #1: Accumulation

  • Workout #1: Routine “A” (sets of 5-8 reps)
  • Workout #2: Routine “B” (sets of 5-8 reps)
  • Workout #3: Routine “A” (sets of 5-8 reps)
  • Workout #4: Routine “B” (sets of 5-8 reps)

Phase #2: Intensification

  • Workout #5: Routine “X” (sets of 1-4 reps)
  • Workout #6: Routine “Y” (sets of 1-4 reps)
  • Workout #7: Routine “X” (sets of 1-4 reps)
  • Workout #8: Routine “Y” (sets of 1-4 reps)

For the first 4 workouts you rotate through 2 different accumulation routines. These routines would use similar rep ranges but feature different exercises. For example you could use front squats for one workout and back squats for the next workout.

For the last 4 workouts you rotate through 2 different intensification routines. Again the exercises are different but the rep ranges are the same.

Charles sometimes uses very long intensification phases with his dopamine-dominant athletes. For example:

Phase #1: Accumulation

  • Workout #1: Routine X
  • Workout #2: Routine Y

Phase #2: Intensification

  • Workout #3: Routine A
  • Workout #4: Routine B
  • Workout #5: Routine A
  • Workout #6: Routine B
  • Workout #7: Routine A
  • Workout #8: Routine B
  • Workout #9: Routine A
  • Workout #10: Routine B

For this program the accumulation phase lasts 2 workouts and the intensification phase lasts 8 workouts. This is a great system to use if you respond well to lower-rep training protocols.

Here are a few great intensification programs you can use with this system:

If you are a dopamine-dominant athlete then alternating between 2 similar but slightly different workouts in your accumulation and intensification phases is a great way to train.

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #2: Rotate Through 3 Different Workouts Per Body Part

Another awesome strategy is to rotate through 3 completely different workouts per body part. Charles says this strategy works best for individuals who need more variety in their workouts to avoid plateaus.

One of Charles Poliquin’s favorite strategies is to use high reps in the first workout, medium reps in the second workout and low reps in the third workout.

For example here is one of Charles Poliquin’s favorite ways to use a 3-way workout rotation to improve your squat: 

3 Way Squat Rotation

  • Workout #1: Back squat, 5 sets of 8, 8, 8, 10, 12 reps
  • Workout #2: Front squat, 6 sets of 5-7 reps
  • Workout #3: Front squat (heels elevated), 6 sets of 2-3 reps

This is a very simple but effective way to organize your squat workouts if you are a dopamine-dominant athlete.

Charles Poliquin also likes to use more advanced training methods with his more advanced athletes. After all, the stronger you are the more complex your training program needs to be in order to continue making progress. Check it out:

3 Way Functional Hypertrophy Rotation

  • Workout #1: The 4+2 Method 
  • Workout #2: The 5 To 8 Method
  • Workout #3: The 3 Then 1 Method

The 4+2 method, the 5 to 8 method and the 3 then 1 method are there of Charles Poliquin’s favorite functional hypertrophy programs.

I first learned about them in Charles’ interview on the under the bar podcast. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin On The Under The Bar Podcast

Charles starts talking about these 3 training methods at the 39 minute mark. Charles says that you could rotate through these three programs for about 9 workouts total and then perform a short accumulation phase using higher reps to give your central nervous system a break. 

Dopamine Dominant Strategy #3: Rotate Through 4 Different Workouts Per Body Part

There is one more way Charles Poliquin likes to structure your accumulation / intensification phases for his dopamine-dominant athletes: he rotates through 4 different workouts per body part.

Actually this is the exact strategy that Charles used with the Olympic gold medalist Adam Nelson. Adam increased his incline bench press by over 100 pounds in 6 months using this approach while training with Charles!

Here is the exact program that Adam Nelson used to peak his strength on the incline bench press for the Olympic games. Check it out:

Adam Nelson Incline Bench Press Program

  • Workout #1: Incline dumbbell presses, 5 x 6-8
  • Workout #2: Incline pin press (chest level), 5 x 4-6
  • Workout #3: Incline bench press with chains, 7 x (2, 2, 2, 4, 4, 6, 6)
  • Workout #4: Thick bar incline bench press, 9 x (3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1)

Adam is rotating through 4 different workouts using very high, high, low and very low reps. After the 4th workout Adam repeats the entire cycle using slightly heavier weights.

This is an unbelievably effective way to cycle through accumulation and intensification phases for an advanced dopamine-dominant athlete.

Part 2: Acetyl-Choline Dominant Accumulation / Intensification Phases

Charles Poliquin says that acetyl-choline dominant athletes need lots of variety in their workouts in order to make progress. These guys need to use lots of different training methods and rep ranges or they get bored with their workouts.

Acetyl-choline dominant athletes also need to use frequent deloads in order to recover.

One of Charles’ favorite strategies is to perform a 3-workout accumulation or intensification phase with a deload on the 3rd workout. He still has his athletes train heavy on the third workout but he dramatically reduces the training volume. Check it out:

How To Deload An Acetyl-Choline Dominant Lifter

  • Workout #1: 100% training volume
  • Workout #2: 80% training volume
  • Workout #3: 20% training volume

This reduction in training volume gives their bodies a chance to recover from the previous 2 workouts while still stimulating strength gains.

This reminds me of Jim Wendler’s “I’m not doing jack sh*t!” deload strategy where he hits his main exercise for the day and skips all of his accessory work. Whatever you want to call it, this strategy works very well for many athletes.

Here is how an acetyl-choline dominant lifter might periodize their workouts using the accumulation / intensification system:

Phase #1: Accumulation

  • Workout #1: Routine “A”, 6-12 reps (100% Volume)
  • Workout #2: Routine “A”, 6-12 reps (80% Volume)
  • Workout #3: Routine “A”, 6-12 reps (20% Volume)

Phase #2: Intensification

  • Workout #4: Routine “B”, 1-5 reps (100% Volume)
  • Workout #5: Routine “B”, 1-5 reps (80% Volume)
  • Workout #6: Routine “B”, 1-5 reps (20% Volume)

This would be a great way for acetyl-choline dominant lifters to periodize their workouts if their main goal was to get stronger.

If Charles Poliquin was working with a bodybuilder then he would of course use higher rep ranges. For a bodybuilder the intensification phases might use sets of 4-8 reps per set and the accumulation phases might use sets of 8-25 reps per set!

The key with acetyl-choline dominant athletes is to change the rep ranges every few workouts.

One of Charles’ favorite strategies for these trainees is to actually change the rep range every single workout! Charles calls this the 4% solution. Check it out:

The 4% Solution For Acetyl-Choline Dominant Lifters

  • Workout #1: Routine “A”, 6-8 Reps 
  • Workout #2: Routine “A”, 5-7 Reps 
  • Workout #3: Routine “A”, 4-6 Reps 
  • Workout #4: Routine “A”, 6-8 Reps 
  • Workout #5: Routine “A”, 5-7 Reps
  • Workout #6: Routine “A”, 4-6 Reps

With the 4% solution you actually decrease the rep ranges in a 3-workout wave. Then you bump the rep ranges back up and repeat the process.

Charles says that the average trainee should be about 2% stronger every time they repeat a workout.

With the 4% solution the average trainee can actually lift 4% more weight per workout because they are using slightly lower rep ranges. This extra variation in rep ranges is very beneficial for acetyl-choline dominant athletes.

They can use the 4% solution during accumulation phases AND intensification phases!

Another one of Charles Poliquin’s crazy ideas is to incorporate concentric-only workouts, concentric / eccentric workouts and eccentric-only workouts in a 3-workout wave. Check it out:

Eccentric Training Cycle

Workout #1

  • Perform 4 sets of 6-8 regular reps.

Workout #2

  • Perform 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps plus 2-3 eccentric-only reps. Perform 4-6 reps just shy of failure, then *increase* the weight on the bar by 5-20% and perform 2-3 eccentric-only reps with an 8-second lowering phase.

Workout #3

  • Perform 4-6 sets of 4-6 eccentric-only reps. Use a tool like weight releasers to overload the negative phase of the lift. Use a 10-second lowering phase on every rep.  

Workout #4

  • Perform 4 sets of 6-8 regular reps.

Workout #5

  • Perform 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps plus 2-3 eccentric-only reps. Perform 4-6 reps just shy of failure, then *increase* the weight on the bar by 5-20% and perform 2-3 eccentric-only reps with an 8-second lowering phase.

Workout #6

  • Perform 4-6 sets of 4-6 eccentric-only reps. Use a tool like weight releasers to overload the negative phase of the lift. Use a 10-second lowering phase on every rep.  

Charles Poliquin says that you use the same exercise for all 6 workouts. However, in order to prevent your body from getting bored of your routine you incorporate eccentric training methods in the 2nd and 3rd workouts.

Workout #1 is more of an accumulation workout, workout #2 is somewhere in between and workout #3 is an intensification workout.

This strategy works very well for the acetyl-choline dominant athlete.

Part 3: Balanced Profile Training

Charles Poliquin says that a large percentage of his trainees have a balanced neurotransmitter profile. This means that they have equal amounts of dopamine, acetyl-choline, GABA and serotonin.

These athletes need less variation in their programs than dopamine-dominant or acetyl-choline dominant athletes.

Charles Poliquin says they can use the same routine up to 4-8 times in a row and still make progress. These athletes respond well to higher rep ranges and can recover from very high volume workouts.

Charles says that one of the best strategies for these athletes is to fluctuate the overall training volume from one workout to the next. Check it out: 

How To Train A Balanced Profile Trainee

  • Workout #1: 60% Volume
  • Workout #2: 80% Volume
  • Workout #3: 100% Volume
  • Workout #4: 40% Volume

Charles doesn’t use this volume fluctuation strategy to deload his athletes the same way he does his acetyl-choline dominant athletes. Instead ramps up the volume to extremely high levels and then tapers them down to more moderate levels.

Here is one example of a high-volume accumulation phase workout that Charles would use with a bodybuilder who wanted bigger arms. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin High-Volume Arm Routine

Circuit #1

  • A1: Preacher one-arm Zottman curl, 4 x 8-10, 4/0/1/0, 45 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying ez-bar triceps extensions (to forehead), 4 x 8-10, 2/2/1/0, 45 seconds rest

Circuit #2

  • B1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0**, 45 seconds rest
  • B2: V-bar dips (upright torso), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 45 seconds rest

Circuit #3

  • C1: 60 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: 30 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C4: 15 degree incline DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C5: Flat DB extensions, 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest
  • C6: 30 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C7: 45 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C8: 60 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C9: 75 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C10: Seated DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x AMRAP****, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest

**Insert a 2-second pause at 45 degrees elbow flexion on the concentric portion of each rep. In other words, lift the weight a quarter of the way up, pause for 2 seconds, then finish the rep.

****Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight you used for exercise C1 or C6.

Talk about a high-volume arm workout! This is actually one of the last routines that Charles Poliquin wrote. For this routine you perform three different bicep / tricep circuits.

The first two circuits are very normal looking if you are familiar with Charles’ routines. The third circuit features 2 mechanical advantage drop sets for the arms: one for the biceps and one for the triceps.

If you perform this entire workout then you will perform 46 total sets for your biceps and triceps!

Here is another high-volume arm workout that Charles Poliquin wrote for Milos Sarcev – the quintessential balanced profile athlete. Check it out:

The Milos Sarcev Accumulation Phase Arm Workout

Tri-Set #1

  • A1: Standing ez-bar curls (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 5-7, 3/2/1/0, no rest
  • A2: Seated DB hammer curls, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/2/0, no rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 15-20, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest

Tri-Set #2

  • B1: Lying barbell triceps extensions (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/2/1/0, no rest
  • B2: Lying barbell triceps extensions (to chin), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, no rest
  • B3: Bench press (shoulder width grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/2/1/0, 2 minutes rest

Tri-Set #3

  • C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 4-6, 4/0/1/0, no rest
  • C2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, no rest
  • C3: 45 degree incline DB curl (elbows out / supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest

Tri-Set #4

  • D1: Cable pushdowns (close / pronated grip), 3 x 8-10, 4/0/1/0, no rest
  • D2: Cable pushdowns (medium / pronated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, no rest
  • D3: Cable pushdowns (medium / reverse grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest

This workout features 36 total sets for your biceps and triceps! Once again this is an absolutely massive amount of volume.

Now let’s look at a sample intensification phase routine that a balanced profile trainee could use. Check it out:

Balanced Trainee Intensification Phase Lower Body Routine

  • A1: Safety squat bar squat with chains, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / toes pointed in), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Reverse band hack squat, 5 x 5, 5/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B2: Glute ham raise, 5 x 5, 5/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Front foot elevated DB step up, 5 x 5, 2/1/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • C2: 90 degree back extension, 5 x 5, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest

Individuals with a balanced neurotransmitter profile have to be careful about not performing too many low-rep sets. They quickly burn out when they perform too many sets in the 1-3 rep range.

If a balanced profile trainee wants to build strength or functional hypertrophy then a great choice is the classic 5 x 5 set / rep scheme. You just pick an exercise and perform 5 sets of 5 reps with it.

Charles sometimes had his athletes perform 3 exercises per body part using this scheme if he thought they could benefit from 15 hard sets per body part in a single workout.

There are tons of different ways to design accumulation and intensification phases for balanced profile trainees but if you keep the reps high and the training volume even higher then you are on the right track!

Conclusion

The accumulation / intensification periodization model is one of the best ways to train. This model lets you build muscle mass and strength at the same time, helps you avoid training plateaus and keeps your training physically and mentally stimulating.

Charles Poliquin says that you can make even faster progress by combining the accumulation / intensification model with something called neurotransmitter based program design.

If you are serious about taking your training to the next level then you have to give Charles Poliquin’s system a shot. I am always shocked at how accurate the “Braverman Assessment” is whenever I train a new client.

Here is a great quote by Benjamin Hardy, the author of Willpower Doesn’t Work to pump you up even more:

“You are responsible for shaping and choosing your environments. They will ultimately shape the person you become and the destiny you have.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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