Charles Poliquin Program Design: The Ultimate Guide!


Charles Poliquin Program Design

Charles Poliquin was the greatest strength coach of all time. He coached Olympic athletes from 22 different sports as well as countless professional athletes. Charles was absolutely obsessed with optimizing his clients’ training programs. If you truly want to learn strength training program design then you must learn Charles Poliquin program design!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Reading A Training Program
  • Part 2: Exercise Selection
  • Part 3: Sets And Reps
  • Part 4: Tempo
  • Part 5: Rest Intervals
  • Part 6: Methods And Modes Of Contraction
  • Part 7: The Strength Curve
  • Part 8: Optimal Training Frequency
  • Part 9: Training For Structural Balance
  • Part 10: Neurotransmitter Based Program Design
  • Part 11: Accumulation And Intensification Phases
  • Part 12: Training For Relative Strength
  • Part 13: Training For Absolute Strength
  • Part 14: Training For Functional Hypertrophy
  • Part 15: Training For Absolute Hypertrophy

There are many questions that must be asked when designing a training program. 

For example:

  • Which exercises should I use?
  • How many sets and reps should I perform?
  • Which tempos should I use on my exercises?
  • How long should I rest between sets?
  • Should I focus on concentric, eccentric, or isometric muscular contractions?
  • Etc.

The list of questions that you have to ask yourself before designing a training program is absolutely staggering. Many trainees choose to ignore some of these variables in their own strength training programs.

For example, it is extremely rare for most trainees to put any thought into their exercise tempos or rest intervals between sets. This is a huge mistake.

A much better approach is to learn how to manipulate all of the different variables in a training program. If you can do this then you will be able to achieve your hypertrophy goals and strength goals faster than you ever imagined possible.

Learning the art and science of strength training program design is hard work but well worth the effort.

If you learn the ins and outs of Charles Poliquin’s training principles then you will be fully equipped with the knowledge you need to write your own training programs for a lifetime.

Thank you Charles Poliquin for sharing your gift with the world. I never had the chance to meet you but I consider you to be one of my greatest mentors. You have forever changed the direction of my life.

I hope this article honors your legacy for many years to come. Rest in peace Charles…

Part 1: Reading A Training Program

If there was a course titled “Strength Training Program Design 101” then learning how to read a training program would be the first topic discussed.

After all, what could be more simple than reading a training program? As you are about to see reading a properly written training program is slightly more challenging than it sounds at first.

Here is a sample training routine that I want you to read:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

This is how Charles Poliquin might write out a training routine for the lower body. The unique thing about this routine is ALL of the loading parameters are clearly defined.

For example, with this routine you immediately know the following information:

  • Exactly what exercises you are performing
  • What order to perform them in
  • The contraction types you are using (concentric vs isometric vs eccentric)
  • The sets and reps for each exercise
  • The tempo for each exercise
  • The rest intervals taken following every set

Charles was the first strength coach in the world to define all of the loading parameters in his workouts in this manner. 

Don’t worry, we are going to go through each part of this routine so that you understand exactly what you are looking at.

The first thing you may notice are the symbols used before every exercise:

  • A1:
  • A2:
  • B1:
  • B2:

These symbols tell you the order you will perform all of your exercises. There are some very simple rules to follow here.

First of all, you are to perform all of your sets for the “A” exercises before moving on to sets for the “B” exercises. If there were any “C” exercises then you would perform all of your sets for the “B” exercises before moving onto the “C” exercises. This would go on for as many different letters are provided in the routine.

For most routines you simply perform all of your sets for one exercise before moving onto the next exercise.

For example, picture the most stereotypical chest workout in the world: 4 sets of bench press, 4 sets of incline bench press, 4 sets of dumbbell presses, and 4 sets of cable crossovers.

In this example you would simply perform all 4 sets of one chest exercise before moving onto the next one. However, if you are familiar with Charles’ work then you probably know he likes to alternate sets for antagonistic body parts.

In our sample lower body routine you are supposed to alternate back and forth between sets of squats and leg curls. The only way to provide clear instructions on how to do this is to use the “A1/A2” naming system.

The next thing you should see when reading the routine is the choice of exercises. For example:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat)
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in)
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs)
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back)

It is extremely important when writing down the exercise to be very specific with what the exercise actually is. If you just write “back squat,” then it is very difficult to understand what you are trying to do.

Are you supposed to use a close stance, moderate stance, or wide stance? Do you want the heels to be flat or elevated? If they are elevated, how high should the elevation be?

The same thing is true for leg curls. Imagine someone just writes “leg curls” on a routine. Should these be done lying, kneeling, or sitting? Should the feet be plantarflexed or dorsiflexed throughout the movement? Should the feet be pointing straight ahead, or pointing in or out?

All of these slight variations can significantly impact overall training effect of the exercise. For example, it is possible to shift emphasis onto different heads of the hamstrings muscle just by changing your foot orientation on leg curls.

I will talk more about exercise selection in part 2 of this article. For now you just need to understand that all of the parameters of an exercise (stance, grip etc.) must be clearly defined in any training routine.

The next thing you may notice is different numbers being multiplied together. For example:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 4 x 8-10
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10

These numbers reference the number of sets and reps that you are supposed to perform. The key thing to remember is that the number of sets ALWAYS comes before the number of reps!

For example, in our routine you are to perform 4 sets of squats for between 6-8 reps per set. If a routine was written as “10 x 3” then you would perform 10 sets of 3 reps for that exercise.

After the number of sets and reps comes the tempo prescription for each exercise. For example:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2

Charles Poliquin was the first person to introduce a 4-digit code representing the tempo of an exercise. This 4-digit code is now widely used by the world’s best strength coaches to manipulate exercise tempo within a training routine.

Let’s take a look at the tempo used for the A1 exercise:

3/1/X/0

The first digit represents the eccentric tempo that you should use. In our example this is represented by the digit “3.” This means that you should lower your weight over 3 seconds before initiating the concentric phase. 

The second digit tells you how long you should pause for in the stretched position. In our example you would pause for 1 second in the stretched position.

Of course if the second digit were a “0” then you would not pause in the bottom position at all. Instead you would immediately initiate the concentric range once you complete the eccentric portion of the rep.

The third number refers to the speed of the concentric portion of the rep. In our example there is an “X” in this slot. This tells you that you should perform the concentric range in an explosive manner and accelerate all the way to lockout. 

The fourth number tells you how long you should pause in the shortened position. In our example you would pause for 0 seconds in the shortened position.

Essentially you would initiate the eccentric range as soon as you complete the concentric range. If there were a “1” or a “2” in the fourth digit slot then you would pause for 1 or 2 seconds in the contracted position before lowering the weight back down again.

The last component of our Charles Poliquin-style routine is the rest interval. For example:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

After each set you simply rest for a specified amount of time before performing the next set. In our example you would perform a set of back squats, rest 90 seconds, perform a set of leg curls, rest 90 seconds, then perform another set of back squats etc.

Optimal rest periods can range from no rest between sets to as long as 5 minutes rest between sets. This will be covered in more detail in part 5 of this article.

That was a lot of information! Let’s take one more look at the complete lower body training routine:

  • A1: Back Squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking DB lunge (alternating legs), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

At this point you should understand exactly how to read this routine. If you are still having any trouble reading the workout then I highly recommend you re-read part one of this article.

If you want to learn Charles Poliquin’s unique take on strength training program design and to start designing your own results-producing workouts then you need to have this information down cold.

Now is where things really get interesting: we’re going to take a detailed examination of each of the loading parameters including exercise selection, sets, reps, tempo, and rest intervals.

As you might imagine Charles has some very opinionated stances on each of these loading parameters. I have done my best to communicate Charles’ opinions on these topics rather than my own.

Part 2: Exercise Selection

the advantages and disadvantages of eccentric training

One of the most basic questions that you have to ask yourself when designing a training routine is the following:

“Which exercises should I use?”

There were at least 2 major principles that Charles used to determine which exercises to use in his athletes’ training programs:

  1. There is no perfect exercise!
  2. Prioritize the most bang-for-your-buck exercises!

Let’s examine each of these points in turn.

Principle #1: There Is No Perfect Exercise!

Charles Poliquin was a firm believer in the idea that there is no one single “best” exercise for each body part. If you want to achieve optimal long-term results then you have to vary your exercises at predetermined time intervals.

Of course this does not mean that everyone should change their exercises every single workout! This strategy has certainly worked well for the Westside Barbell powerlifting team but most trainees will make suboptimal results this way.

Instead a better approach is to vary your exercises every 3-6 workouts. After 3-6 workouts your body will become “bored” of whatever exercises you are performing and it is time to move on to new ones.

I don’t care how good a particular exercise is, it will only work for so long. After 3-6 workouts it is time to move onto a new set of exercises and start progressing on them. 

For example, here is how Charles might rotate upper back exercises for one of his athletes:

  • Workouts 1-4: Wide overhand grip pull ups
  • Workouts 5-8: Narrow supinated grip chin ups
  • Workouts 9-12: Sternum pull ups
  • Workouts 13-16: Lean-away chin ups on rings

Many people have their “favourite” exercises that they like to perform for certain exercises.

On the one hand it is a very good idea to learn through trial and error which exercises work best for your body. On the other hand you have to be careful about not overdoing your favourite exercises.

After all, every exercise emphasizes a different portion of the motor unit pool within a muscle. One of the best ways to recruit new motor units and stimulate progress is to try new exercises that challenge your body.

Principle #2: Prioritize The Most Bang-For-Your-Buck Exercises!

It is true that there is no single perfect exercise for any body part. However, that does NOT mean that all exercises are created equal!

As a general rule of thumb the most effective exercises are the ones that recruit the most motor units within your muscles. You will get faster results if you focus the majority of your training around the big, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, chin ups, presses, rows, and dips.

This does not mean that isolation exercises are bad. Far from it! However, the big compound movements should always form the foundation of your programming.

Of course Charles had some very opinionated stances on which exercises were the best for training the various body parts. We will briefly cover all of them here.

Exercise Selection: Chest

There were several training principles that Charles really believed in when it came to training the chest. 

The first one is perhaps the most important: as a general rule of thumb, dumbbell presses are a superior exercise to barbell presses. Regardless of whether you are training for muscular size or strength you will get more out of a set of 30 degree incline dumbbell presses for 8 reps than you will a set of 30 degree incline barbell presses for 8 reps.

Dumbbells allow for a much greater range of motion than barbells and put a significantly greater stretch on the pecs, as well as the other supporting muscles such as the deltoids, the coracobrachialis etc.

This does not mean that barbells are useless for the chest. Far from it! For example, then can be very useful when training in lower rep ranges or when using accommodating resistance such as bands and chains.

However, as a general rule of thumb you should focus on dumbbells at least as often as you do barbells when training the chest. As Charles used to say, “dumbbells are the foundation of strength.”

Most people stick to the flat and slight incline variations when training the chest. This is another major mistake that Charles avoided with his trainees.

In reality the chest can contract at nearly all pressing angles from decline angles to high incline angles. The bodybuilding yogi Ben Pakulski does an outstanding job of explaining this in the following video:

It should not come as a surprise that Ben Pakulski consulted with Charles Poliquin throughout his bodybuilding career. Charles correctly identified that most people never perform anything more than a 30 degree incline for their pressing movements because they are lifting with their ego.

Most people are incredibly weak at high-incline movements and want to protect their pride. This is the wrong attitude to have if you want to make progress!

Instead you should relish at the chance to try new exercises and tap into new motor unit pools with novel exercises. These high incline presses are also very important for optimal structural balance levels. More on this in part 9 of this article. 

Overall Charles was of the opinion that v-bar dips were the single most bang-for-your-buck chest exercise that you could perform. You can click right here to watch the 700 pound bench presser James Strickland give a perfect demonstration of dips.

The key to making this exercise work for you is to lean your torso forward during the movement and to use a full range of motion.

Charles believed that you should go so low that your upper forearms should come into contact with your upper arms in the bottom position!

He used to place a piece of paper in between the forearms and upper arms of his athletes to make sure they were going deep enough. If the piece of paper stayed put then they were going deep enough. If not then they had to go deeper!

The deep stretch is one of the keys to getting the most out of this exercise. As Charles used to say, “the muscle that is stretched the most is recruited the most.”

Finally there is one last contribution that Charles made to program design for the chest. Charles taught the world the optimal way to perform dumbbell flys. You can click right here for a great video of Poliquin style flyes.

This technique places the absolute maximum stretch onto your pecs.

One of the keys is to externally rotate your hands in the bottom position of the exercise. The pecs are actually internal rotators of the shoulders so they are only maximally stretched when placed into external rotation.

Believe me, your pecs will be on fire if you perform this exercise correctly!

Charles would warn his athletes that this is an exercise that you had to very carefully warm up for. He also warned his athletes to be fairly conservative with the weight that you use.

If you can bench press 300 pounds with a shoulder-width grip then the most weight you should use is a pair of 30 pound dumbbells for 8 reps. Charles believed that if you could use relatively more weight than this then you weren’t training, you were cheating! 

Exercise Selection: Shoulders

In Charles’ experience the shoulders are one of the most poorly trained muscle groups. Most people almost entirely neglect overhead presses from their training routines.

If they do have the wherewithal to perform some overhead presses they are given a half-assed effort at the end of their shoulder or upper body routines. This is a huge mistake!

Overhead pressing strength plays a critical role in your long-term shoulder health. In fact, Charles found that the number one factor correlating to shoulder pain in a strength training population was insufficient time spent training the overhead press.

Of course overhead pressing strength is a massive topic. I will cover it in more detail in part 9 of this article when we discuss upper body structural balance norms.

There are three major overhead pressing variations that Charles liked to use in his routines. The dumbbell overhead press, the barbell military press, and the behind the neck press. Here are some good training videos if you are not familiar with these exercises:

Once again Charles favors dumbbells when possible as they do a superior job of recruiting the motor units of the deltoids, triceps, and traps. The dumbbells also allow for a more natural movement pattern which is important for long-term shoulder health.

Charles also frequently programmed barbell overhead presses and was quite fond of the behind the neck press. This exercise has been the subject of a massive misinformation campaign in recent years. It has been labeled everything from dangerous to a shoulder wrecker and a rotator cuff tear waiting to happen!

In reality Charles used the behind the neck press extensively to strengthen the upper bodies of his athletes and to improve his athletes’ shoulder health.

The behind the neck press has been shown by EMG studies to hit all three heads of the deltoids harder than traditional military presses. In fact, it is hard to think of another exercise that improves shoulder health as much as the behind the neck press.

If you know what you are doing you can even safely perform this exercise in the 1-3 rep range. 

Of course Charles did not only perform overhead presses for the deltoids. He also relied heavily on various incline pressing movements and upper back movements to develop the shoulders.

Although he did not rely heavily on shoulder isolation exercises he did introduce a superior exercise for training the lateral head of the deltoids to the fitness community. This exercise is the Poliquin lateral raise. For example:

The Poliquin lateral raise is really a form of eccentric training! By bending your elbows during the concentric range you are making the weight feel lighter in your hands. Then by extending your arms you are making the weight feel heavier during the eccentric range.

This is an awesome way to hit your side delts with some heavy weights but without having to resort to “cheating” reps which do very little to actually stimulate the target muscle.

The world-class powerlifting and bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant is also a big fan of this exercise.

Exercise Selection: Triceps

The triceps are quite a complex muscle group to train. First of all the triceps are composed of three separate muscle heads. You must understand which exercises target which heads of the triceps to maximally stimulate this muscle group.

The other fact that makes triceps training rather tricky is that the triceps respond best to a health mix of both compound and isolation exercises.

In terms of compound exercises for the triceps Charles Poliquin believed that upright dips reigned supreme. You can click right here to watch Jim Stoppani give a perfect demonstration of parallel bar tricep dips:

EMG studies have shown that dips recruit all three heads of the triceps (the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head) better than other compound pressing exercises.

The combination of heavy loads and a deep stretch in the bottom position makes tricep dips a powerful exercise in your triceps-training arsenal.

As an added bonus it is very practical to perform various eccentric training protocols on tricep dips without needing a spotter. 

The other major compound exercises for the triceps are the shoulder-width bench press, the decline shoulder-width bench press, and the reverse grip bench press. Charles was still quite fond of all of these exercises and considered them to be among the best triceps exercises you could perform. 

In terms of isolation exercises Charles thought that flat and decline extension variations tended to work best. Flat extensions (skull crushers etc.) tend to work the long head and lateral head of the triceps equally.

On the other hand decline extensions primarily target the lateral head but they also hit the medial head quite hard.

Towards the end of his career Charles was of the opinion that the decline ez-bar extension with chains was THE single best overall triceps exercise you could perform. For example:

The chains perfectly match the ascending strength curve of the triceps to overload the triceps throughout the entire range of motion. Of course overhead triceps extensions and even overhead pressing variations are also of value.

Charles was fond of these exercises for targeting the long head of the triceps.

However, when pressed for time, Charles found that the best triceps exercises were dips, flat and decline barbell pressing exercises, and flat and decline isolation exercises.

Exercise Selection: Back

Our discussion of back exercises will be limited to exercises such as pull ups and rows. Although the various deadlifting exercises work the upper back quite hard Charles always had his clients perform these posterior-chain-dominant exercises on their lower body days.

Charles might be one of the biggest proponents of chin ups and pull ups in the fitness community.

Most bodybuilders and powerlifters are content to perform various pull down exercises instead. However, Charles understands that pull ups and chin ups are simply superior exercises that are far better at recruiting motor units in the upper back.

In fact, Charles believed that the fastest way to differentiate a good strength coach from a poor one was to see if they could get a female client to perform 12 chin ups within 12 weeks.

If they could pull this off then Charles believed the coach had a baseline level of competence. If they could not achieve this then they were useless in his eyes as a strength coach!

There are many different variations of chin ups and pull ups that you can perform. The most obvious variations would be the overhand, underhand, and neutral grip variations. Here are some good video demonstrations:

These variations are equally effective but work different portions of the lats. For example, the wide overhand grip pull ups are best for working the superior fibers of the latissimus dorsi as well as the teres major.

On the other hand the narrow neutral grip pull ups are best for working the inferior fibers of the lats. Charles used all three of these grips (and many variations of them!) in his athletes’ training programs.

Of course Charles was also fond of some more advanced pull up and chin up variations. Here are three of Charles Poliquin’s favorite advanced pull up exercise variations (with sample training videos):

Sternum pull ups are one of the most advanced and mechanically challenging pull up variations. They were a favourite of the legendary bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda and absolutely smoke the entire upper back.

The start of the movement is just like a regular wide overhand grip pull up. However, the mid-range portion of the movement resembles a pullover and the end-range resembles a row!

This exercises smokes not only the lats but also the scapular retractors such as the mid / lower traps and rhomboids. It is almost impossible to have scapular retractors that are too strong so it is a good idea to include this exercise in your own programming!

Subscapularis pull ups are another interesting pull up variation. The concentric portion of the movement resembles a wide pronated grip pull up.

However, once your upper chest reaches the bar you begin pushing yourself away from the bar! Once your arms are extended you then lower yourself down to the starting position.

The athletes chest should touch the bar at the end of the concentric range but otherwise this is a picture-perfect demonstration.

The subscapularis is one of the four rotator cuff muscles. It is actually over-developed in most trainees due to an over-reliance on horizontal pressing exercises such as the bench press.

This has been my experience both as a strength coach and as a physical therapist.

However, the subscapularis should be trained aggressively once proper structural balance has been achieved. The subscapularis pull up is probably the single best exercise you can perform for this muscle group.

Many years ago there was a study on elite powerlifters. They found that strength in the subscapularis muscle was strongly correlated with performance in the bench press. Food for thought!

The last “specialty” pull up variation that I want to cover is the lean-away chin up on rings.

The execution of this movement is actually quite similar to the subscapularis pull up. The primary difference is that you are using a neutral grip on rings rather than a wide pronated grip. This has the effect of shifting emphasis away from the subscapularis muscle and onto the scapular retractors!

Charles frequently used this unique pull up variation to improve the upper body health and strength of his athletes.

Of course Charles was wise enough to balance out his athletes’ pull up exercises with plenty of rowing exercises. As a general rule of thumb Charles recommends you perform one set of rows for every set of pull ups that you perform.

One of the drawbacks of pull ups is that they can lead to rounded shoulders if overused. This may sound surprising to some of you. Let me explain. One of the functions of the lats is actually to internally rotate the shoulders.

If you strongly emphasize the lats in your training without also training the scapular retractors then you run the risk of developing rounded shoulders and a whole bunch of other shoulder problems.

The solution to this problem is not to skip pull ups! Rather, the solution is to include a healthy amount of rows targeting the scapular retractors.

Charles recommends against many of the so-called “mass-building” rowing movements such as the barbell row, t-bar row, and cable row.

For the record this is one of the few times that I strongly disagree with Charles. My own experience coaching hundreds of trainees, as well as the experience of some of the world’s most respected strength coaches such as Josh Bryant and Chad Wesley Smith has convinced me that these heavy rowing exercises deserve a place in your training.

I should add that Charles does have a good reason for avoiding these exercises: they work the posterior chain just as hard as they do the upper back! Instead Charles prefers to focus on rowing exercises that really isolate the upper back.

Charles Poliquin’s 3 favourite rowing exercises are the following:

Each of these exercises allow you to get an excellent contraction of the scapular retractors.

Charles was particularly fond of the seated cable rope face pulls (as am I). If you perform this exercise correctly you are actually externally rotating the arms in the fully contracted position.

This means you are thoroughly working the external rotators of the humerus (rotator cuff muscles) as well as the scapular retractors. This makes the seated cable rope face pull one of the most bang-for-your-buck exercises that you can do for training the upper body.

Exercise Selection: Elbow Flexors

When most people think of curling exercises they automatically think of the biceps brachii muscle. However, when Charles thought of curling exercises he automatically thought of the elbow flexors!

In reality there is a world of difference between training the biceps and training the elbow flexors. If you want to maximize the strength and size of your upper arms then I suggest you follow Charles’ lead and start thinking in terms of training the elbow flexors, not the biceps!

There are actually four separate muscles that flex the elbow: the biceps brachii, the brachialis, the brachioradialis, and the pronator teres. If you only train the biceps brachii then you are neglecting three of the muscles that flex the elbow!

Out of all the elbow flexors the brachialis is the one that is neglected the most. This is quite understandable as the brachialis is primarily trained when you use a pronated grip.

Most people avoid pronated-grip curls for the same reason they avoid overhead presses: they can’t use as much weight on these exercises!

I recommend you swallow your pride and start performing targeted exercises for your brachialis, even if these exercises aren’t as satisfying to your ego. Any curling exercise with the palms facing down will work the brachialis but Charles was especially fond of the Zottman curl (as am I). 

Here are some great training videos for different types of zottman curls:

The basic idea behind a zottman curl is that you supinate your hands during the concentric range and pronate your hands during the eccentric range. You are stronger with a supinated grip than you are with a pronated grip.

In layman’s terms this means that you are eccentrically overloading the brachialis muscle with zottman curls! Actually all 4 of the elbow flexors are thoroughly stimulated with zottman curls. Charles was a big fan of this exercise and for good reason: it produces results!

When it comes to training the biceps brachii there were two “families” of exercises that Charles used most often: incline curls and preacher curls. Here are some excellent video demonstrations for these exercises:

Incline curls and preacher curls have been shown by EMG studies to recruit far more motor units in the biceps brachii than the so-called “mass-building” exercises such as standing barbell curls.

Incline curls are best for recruiting the long head of the biceps while preacher curls are best for recruiting the short head of the biceps.

If you are pressed for time then I recommend you follow Charles’ lead and make incline curls and preacher curls the cornerstones of your biceps training game plan!

Exercise Selection: Quadriceps

When it comes to training the quadriceps absolutely nothing beats full front squats and full back squats. Charles was a real stickler on form when it comes to these exercises.

Charles believed that you should squat so low that your hamstrings fully cover your calves in the bottom position. He also liked to say that your ass should leave a stain on the gym floor! 

Here is a great demonstration of back squats performed to Charles’ preferred depth:

And here is a good example of deep front squats:

Squatting this deep is the ONLY way to fully recruit the vastus medialis muscle. The vastus medialis (or VMO) is the teardrop shaped quadriceps muscle located on the inside of the knee joint.

The vastus medialis plays an absolutely critical role in your overall knee health and your performance on exercises such as the squat and deadlift. Of course there are some other exercises that Charles used to train the VMO and the quadriceps.

Charles was a big proponent of split squats. These are different from the “Bulgarian split squats” that everyone else performs. In reality “Bulgarian split squats” are nothing more than a stationary lunge!

In reality a split squat is performed such that the hamstrings on your front leg COMPLETELY cover your calves! This is critical for achieving a full stretch on the quadriceps and maximally recruiting the VMO.

You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the front foot elevated split squat.

Notice that you cannot see daylight between the trainees calves and hamstrings in the front position. This is how Charles had his athletes perform split squats!

Of course Charles also had his clients use a variety of lunges to supplement their squat training. One of the more challenging lunges that Charles used (and that you probably haven’t heard of!) is the drop lunge. The idea is to stand on a 2-4 inch tall platform and step down to the level ground while performing your lunges.

You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the drop lunge.

This variation has the bonus of eccentrically training your quadriceps muscles. Your quads are forced to work much harder to decelerate the front limb as it makes contact with the ground.

Of course a discussion of Charles Poliquin’s favorite quadriceps exercises would not be complete without mentioning the Peterson step up.  You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the Petersen step up.

If someone tries to tell you that you cannot preferentially target the VMO with specific exercises then should probably walk away. At best they are misinformed.

In reality the Peterson step up is one of the best exercises for targeting the VMO. When you perform quadriceps exercises with your weight on the ball of your foot you actually “turn on” and preferentially activate the VMO.

This makes it easier to activate this muscle during more complex movements such as split squats, lunges, and squats.

Charles has gone so far as to say that if there is one exercise he knows about that has made him a lot of money it is the Peterson step up. He has every single one of his athletes start with this exercise. It doesn’t matter if they are already Olympic gold medal winners. Everyone starts with this exercise according to Charles!

Exercise Selection: Hamstrings

The hamstrings remind me of the triceps in that they are a very complex muscle group to train. The hamstrings have two primary functions: flexing the knee and extending the hips. For optimal long-term results it is necessary to train both of these functions of the hamstrings.

The best exercises to train the knee flexion function of the hamstrings is the leg curl. The various leg curl machines are the only machines that Charles uses with his athletes.  Unlike most machines leg curls do actually provide some carryover to athletic performance. 

One of the biggest mistakes that most people make when programming leg curls into their routines is failing to include enough variety in their leg curl exercise selection.

There are actually 9 different leg curl variations that you can perform on 1 leg curl machine.

First of all there are three different ways you can point your toes:

  1. Toes pointing in
  2. Toes pointing straight ahead
  3. Toes pointing out

The different foot orientations are used to target different portions of the hamstrings muscle. When you point your toes in you are targeting the semimembraneous. When your toes are pointing straight ahead you are targeting the semitendinosus. Finally when your toes are pointing out you are targeting the biceps femoris.

For optimal results you want to rotate between these different orientations to evenly develop the hamstrings muscles.

Of course if your lateral or medial hamstrings muscles are weak from months or years of improper programming then you would want to fix this relative strength deficit before using too much variety in terms of foot orientation.\

There are also three different ways you can dorsiflex or plantar flex your toes:

  1. Plantarflexed (toes pointing away from your shins)
  2. Dorsiflexed (toes pointing towards your shins)
  3. Dorsiflexed on the concentric range and plantarflexed on the eccentric range

The last method is known as the “Poliquin method” on leg curls. It allows you to eccentrically overload the hamstrings as you are actually stronger on leg curls with your feet dorsiflexed than you are with then plantarflexed.

This has to do with the gastrocnemius contributing towards knee flexion when your toes are dorsiflexed but not when they are plantarflexed. For example:

Back to my main point there are (3) x (3) = 9 different variations of leg curls you can use per leg curl machine. Most gyms have a lying, kneeling, and sitting leg curl machine so this gives you (3) x (3) x (3) = 27 different leg curl variations to choose from! 

Of course the hamstrings do more than just flex the knee. They are also heavily involved with extending the hips! The best exercises to train the hip extension function of the hamstrings are as follows:

  • Deadlifts
  • Good mornings
  • Back extensions
  • Reverse hyperextensions

I have covered these exercises quite extensively in this article. Charles was particularly fond of deadlifts as they are one of the most bang-for-your-buck exercises that you can perform.

It may surprise you to hear that outside of the occasional powerlifting client Charles did not have his clients perform conventional or sumo deadlifts very often!

Instead Charles believed the two most bang-for-your-buck deadlifting variations for building big, strong hamstrings were deficit snatch grip deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts. Here are some great training videos for these exercises:

  1. Deficit snatch grip deadlifts
  2. Romanian deadlifts

Deficit snatch grip deadlifts/ are an absolutely brutal exercise. They combine the range of motion of a deep back squat with the low center of mass of a deadlift. Charles believed that this was THE single most bang-for-your-buck exercise that you could perform in the gym.

They works unbelievably well for both strength and size gains. In fact, Charles has said that if he was being sent to jail and could only perform one exercise to pack on muscle so he could avoid being another man’s girlfriend it would be the deficit snatch grip deadlift!

The other major deadlifting variation that Charles used in his client’s programming is the Romanian deadlift (or stiff-legged deadlift). 

This exercise places an absolutely enormous stretch on the hamstrings muscles. Make sure that you go as low as your flexibility allows in order to maximize the stretch on the hamstrings.

As Charles used to say, “the muscle that is stretched the most is recruited the most!”

Part 3: Sets And Reps

The topics of sets and reps are very closely related so we will be discussing them here together. Charles was of the opinion that the number of reps that you perform in your routine is one of the most important decisions that you have to make.

Actually Charles went so far as to say that “the rep is the mother of all loading parameters.”

He says this because the number of reps that you perform in a routine influences all of the other decisions you have to make regarding the other training variables.

For example, the number of reps you perform automatically limits which exercises you can perform. If you are performing a 1-rep max for the triceps then it would not make any sense to select a lying triceps extension as you would be setting yourself up for injury.

Likewise if you decide that you want to perform 10 reps per set for the quads then you cannot choose the front squat.

As a general rule of thumb you should not perform more than 6 reps per set on the front squat because your scapular retractors will tap out isometrically before your quads are fully worked.

The number of reps that you perform also dictates the number of sets that you can or should perform. As a general rule of thumb the number of reps you perform and the number of sets you perform are inversely related.

If you are performing sets of 1-3 reps then it is possible to perform as many as 8-12 total sets per exercise. This is especially true if you perform antagonistic supersets as Charles recommended.

On the other hand if you are performing sets of 15-25 reps then it would be wise to limit yourself to 3 sets per exercise.

Of course there are some other generalizations we can make about rep ranges. As a general rule of thumb there are four major training goals a strength athlete or bodybuilder might have:

  1. Relative strength
  2. Absolute strength
  3. Functional hypertrophy
  4. Absolute hypertrophy

Let’s examine each of these training goals in turn.

Relative strength refers to your strength to bodyweight ratio. Powerlifters and other athletes competing in weight classes are primarily concerned with their relative strength.

They would be quite disappointed if they had to gain 20 pounds to boost their bench press by 20 pounds, for example.

When training for relative strength you should generally perform 6-12 sets of 1-5 reps per exercise. The low rep ranges are necessary to limit unnecessary and unwanted gains in muscle mass. 

Absolute strength refers to strength regardless of bodyweight. Powerlifters and strongman competitors competing in the super heavyweight categories are mostly training for absolute strength.

Charles recommends you perform 4-12 sets of 1-8 reps when training for absolute hypertrophy. Because muscle mass increases are welcome and even desired for these athletes the acceptable range of repetitions increases. 

Functional hypertrophy refers to the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Bodybuilders and strength athletes alike are interested in hypertrophying the fast-twitch muscle fibers as these are the ones with the greatest potential for growth.

Charles recommends you perform 4-6 sets of 4-8 reps when training for functional hypertrophy. 

Finally absolute hypertrophy simply refers to how big your muscles are. Bodybuilders are interested in absolute hypertrophy for obvious reasons. Charles tends to like 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps when training for absolute hypertrophy.

Of course some bodybuilders will grow best on somewhat lower rep ranges. These numbers are a useful generalization for most trainees.

In parts 12-15 of this article we will take a much more detailed examination of some of the most effective set / rep schemes for these different training goals.

Part 4: Tempo

Charles believed that if you wanted to get results as quickly as possible that you had to manipulate the tempo of every exercise that you perform. On every single one of his athletes’ routines the tempo for every exercise was clearly defined.

Actually Charles treated exercise tempo just like any other loading parameter such as sets, reps etc. There is no perfect rep range or exercise but one way to get faster results is to vary them. One of the many reasons Charles got such superior results for his athletes was he varied their exercise tempos every 2-4 weeks on average.

Eccentric Tempo

One of Charles’ more controversial ideas with regards to exercise tempos is his use of very slow eccentric reps. He commonly used anything from a 1-5 second lowering phase for most of his athletes’ exercises.

Sometimes he would use an 8-10 second lowering phase during accentuated eccentric training! Most trainees don’t control their eccentric tempos at all and instead pretty much drop the weight to the bottom position.

In Charles’ opinion this was a huge mistake. He figured out as far back as 1982 that more motor units were recruited during the eccentric phase of a repetition and that for optimal results you should lower the weight more slowly than you lift them.

It only took the scientific literature 34 years to prove Charles right! You can click right here to listen to Charles Poliquin discussing this topic in a podcast interview with Marc Bell, the owner of Super Training.

Pauses In The Stretched Position

Of course Charles did more than manipulate how fast you lower loads. He was also quite fond of inserting isometric pauses in the stretched and/or shortened positions of various exercises.

For example, Charles borrowed the idea of taking taking long isometric pauses in the stretched position of squats from Olympic weightlifting superstar Dmitry Klokov.

Charles used to refer to a squat performed on a 7/6/X/0 tempo a “Klokov squat.” If you read part 1 of this article then you would know that a squat performed on a 7/6/X/0 tempo includes a 7-second lowering phase and a 6 second pause in the bottom position.

No, this is not an exaggeration! For example here is one of Wolfgang Unsoeld’s athletes giving a perfect demonstration of a Klokov squat:

Normally Klokov squats are performed for multiple sets of single repetitions. The long pause in the stretched position is fantastic for eliminating the stretch reflex and forcing your legs to work much harder out of the hole. These are also great for improving eccentric strength levels and your exercise technique.

Concentric tempos

The third digit tells you how quickly you should perform the concentric range of the rep. More often than not Charles had his athletes perform explosive concentric contractions that were symbolized by an “X” in place of the third digit.

As Josh Bryant has repeatedly said explosive concentric contractions are key for maximizing motor unit recruitment and promoting long-term strength gains. Of course it is your intent to move the bar as quickly as possible that matters most.

If you are performing a 1-rep max on the bench press the bar is likely to move somewhat slow. After all, the weight is extremely heavy!

However if you try to move the weight quickly (even if it is moving slowly) you will still tap into the high-threshold motor units just fine.

Of course there were times where Charles would strategically use a slower concentric tempo on various exercises. One of the advantages of slower concentric tempos is the average force production over the entire concentric range is somewhat higher.

Charles often used a 5/0/5/0 tempo on the back squat to improve lower body structural balance and eliminate weak points within the lift. You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of this exercise.

If you have never performed a squat on a 5/0/5/0 tempo then you have no idea how hard this can be!

Of course this type of tempo would be used at the beginning of a training cycle to correct structural imbalances in the lower body kinetic chain rather than to peak his athletes’ strength on the squat.

Pauses In The Shortened Position

Charles was also a fan of inserting pauses in the shortened position of certain exercises. For example, one of his absolute favourite training methods for boosting relative strength was cluster sets.

Charles’ version of cluster sets has you perform 5 sets of 5 repetitions with 15-second pauses taken in between each repetition.

These short intra-set pauses let your muscles partially recover between reps and dramatically increase the quality of the training stimulus on the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Here is an absolutely perfect demonstration of Poliquin style cluster sets on the bench press:

Of course a full 15-second pause in the shortened position between reps is not always necessary. A pause as short as 1-3 seconds can also be very useful for increasing recruitment of the high-threshold motor units.

Of course you should not pause in the stretched position on all of your reps! It is just another tool in your toolbox that should be rotated in and out of your programming as necessary.

Part 5: Rest Intervals

Charles was absolutely determined to find the optimal rest intervals between exercises. He eventually hired someone to perform advanced statistical analysis on his athletes’ training logs to figure out the optimal rest interval times for various rep ranges.

As a general rule of thumb Charles preferred for his athletes to alternate between exercises for antagonistic body parts. For example, his athlete may perform a set of incline bench presses, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set of chin ups, rest 1-2 minutes, and then perform another set of bench presses.

If you are training with traditional straight sets and using antagonistic supersets then Charles recommends the following rest intervals:

  • 1 rep = 120 seconds rest
  • 2-3 reps = 100 seconds rest
  • 4-6 reps = 90 seconds rest
  • 7-9 reps = 75 seconds rest
  • 10-12 reps = 60 seconds rest
  • 13-15 reps = 45 seconds rest
  • 16+ reps = 30 seconds rest

According to Charles’ data these exact rest intervals between sets for antagonistic body parts will give you optimal results. One of the more interesting findings of Charles’ data is that there is actually a “sweet spot” in terms of rest periods between sets.

For example, let’s say you are performing sets of 3 reps and are resting 100 seconds between sets as Charles recommends.

If you rest less than 100 seconds between sets then your performance will be compromised as yur muscles will not be fully recovered. However, your performance will also decrease if you rest longer than 100 seconds!

Charles believed that this was due to the concept of post-tetanic facilitation.

That is if you perform a powerful muscular contraction and then wait a precise amount of time you will be able to produce even more force on the subsequent contraction.

However, there are precise time intervals where this is valid. If you rest too long or too short then the benefits gained from the post-tetanic facilitation will be dampened.

If you are going to use the above rest intervals then I highly recommend you wear a traditional stopwatch to the gym. I have all of my training clients use a $10 stopwatch and time their rest intervals between sets.

There are some training protocols where this is not necessary (particularly low volume / high intensity bodybuilding programs). However, the vast majority of trainees will get better results by adhering to strict rest intervals between sets.

Of course the above rest intervals are valid only for “straight sets.” There are instances where rest intervals can be much shorter or longer than this.

Any time you use training methods such as drop sets, super sets, giant sets etc. the optimal rest intervals change. Actually Charles was a big fan of these methods for building muscular hypertrophy.

For example, here is Charles coaching a bodybuilding client through a tri-set for the elbow flexors: 

Typically for these hypertrophy training methods you will rest only 10 seconds between exercises for the same body part.

For example, if you are doing a tri-set you would rest for 10 seconds between the first and second exercises and for 10 seconds between the second and third exercises. You would then rest for 2-3 minutes before repeating the circuit or performing a set for the antagonistic body part.

In some extreme cases such as with supramaximal eccentric training even longer rest intervals may be warranted. In such cases Charles recommended you rest 5-6 minutes between sets for the same body part.

If you are performing supra-maximal eccentric sets for antagonistic body parts then Charles recommends you rest 2-3 minutes between sets.

Part 6: Methods And Modes Of Contraction

Charles Poliquin was a big fan of varying the method and mode of contraction in his athletes’ routines. Actually this was one of his trade secrets that he used to get superior results for his athletes time and time again. 

The term “mode of contraction” refers to the three different types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric
  • Eccentric
  • Isometric

Most people primarily focus on training protocols that overload the concentric range of an exercise.

There is nothing wrong with performing sets in this manner but if you never overload the muscles eccentrically or isometrically then you are probably getting suboptimal results. This is true regardless of how hard you think you train!

Here were Charles’ recommendations for how much time should be spent training each of these contraction types:

  • Concentric contractions = 70% of your sets
  • Eccentric contractions = 20% of your sets
  • Isometric contractions = 10% of your sets

These were general guidelines. Some of Charles’ athletes such as the triple jumper Dwight Philips spent as much as 50% of their training time improving their eccentric strength!

On the other hand the shot putter Adam Nelson performed very little eccentric work while working with Charles Poliquin. The demands of their respective sports were wildly different and required emphasis on different contraction types.

My recommendation for you is to start focusing more on eccentric and isometric contractions in your own training. Bodybuilders and strongmen stand to benefit enormously from eccentric training protocols performed periodically throughout the year.

Powerlifters on the other hand should focus on improving their eccentric strength primarily in the offseason and focus on maximizing their concentric strength as their competitions approach.

The term “method of contraction” refers to the specific training strategies that you use to overload these different contraction types.

In this section I would like to share with you a couple of Charles’ favourite strategies for overloading his athletes’ muscles isometrically and eccentrically:

Let’s take a closer look at each of these training methods.

Isometronics

There are 2 kinds of isometric reps: overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics. Overcoming isometrics involve pushing against an immovable object. For example, pressing a barbell into a set of safety pins as hard as you can would be an overcoming isometric. Yielding isometrics involve preventing an external force from moving you.

If you hold the top position of a dumbbell lateral raise for as long as you can you are performing a yielding isometric rep.

As a general rule of thumb overcoming isometrics are better for building raw strength while yielding isometrics are better for building muscular hypertrophy.

Charles Poliquin’s favourite overcoming isometrics training method was called “isometronics.”  Isometronics are really a combination of a partial range of motion reps and full-bore overcoming isometric contractions.

Let’s take a look at Olympic gold medalist Adam Nelson demonstrating an isometronics set before we discuss this training method any further:

If you watch the video closely you will see Adam performing 6 partial range of motion reps. At the end of the sixth rep he presses into the pins as hard as he can for 8 seconds.

Do not be mistaken, he is not merely holding the barbell against the top set of pins. He is literally trying to break them in half!

After completing this 8-second overcoming isometric contraction Adam attempts one final partial range of motion rep.

To summarize an isometronics set looks like this:

  1. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps
  2. At the end of the 6th rep you press as hard as you can into the top pin for 8 seconds
  3. At the end of the isometric rep you lower the barbell back down and attempt one final partial range of motion rep

During a full isometronics workout you will be performing sets designed to overload the bottom-position, mid-position, and top-position of the strength curve. Here is the basic format for the workout:

  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the bottom position of the exercise
  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the mid-range position of the exercise
  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the top-range position of the exercise
  • Perform 1 full range of motion set for the exercise

In my experience a well-designed isometronics routine is one of the best ways to blast through a strength plateau in the bench press. 

Here is a full upper body workout that you may want to try:

Upper body

  • A1: Bench press bottom-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Sternum pull up, 3 x 4, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press mid-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Sternum pull up, 3 x 4, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press top-position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated rope cable row, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Seated rope cable row, 1 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an isometronics set as described above. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps. At the end of the 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 8 seconds.

**Finally lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep. If you can complete the final partial range of motion rep then slightly increase the load for your next set.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise D1, exercise D2, exercise E1, exercise E2.

Isometronics is an incredibly effective training method. Of course there are also some drawbacks to this training method. 

For one it can place a severe toll on the central nervous system and can be rather difficult to recover from. You may want to consider alternating between an isometronics upper body workout and a more traditional upper body workout to help manage your central nervous system fatigue.

For a more detailed discussion of the ins and outs of isometronics I recommend you check out the following article:

Isometronics: The Ultimate Guide!

Everything you could ever want to know about how to get the most out of the isometronics training method is in that article.

Supra-Maximal Eccentric Reps

Charles Poliquin was also a big fan of using various eccentric training protocols with his elite level athletes. Accentuated eccentric training is probably the single best training method for helping intermediate to advanced trainees to blast through strength and size plateaus.

One of the more effective eccentric training protocols involves performing several singles with supra-maximal loads.

As a general rule of thumb you will need to use weight releasers or some other specialized equipment to perform these supra-maximal reps. If you are interested in eccentric training then they are well worth the investment.

For this lower body routine you are going to perform 7-8 supra-maximal singles on both the back squat and the seated leg curl. For the back squat sets you are going to use weight releasers to overload the eccentric range.

On the other hand you are going to use the 2/1 method to overload the eccentric range on leg curls. The 2/1 method is rather simple: you lift the weight with 2 legs and lower it using only 1.

One of the most common questions I receive with this type of accentuated eccentrics routine is how much weight you should use for the eccentric sets.

For the squats I recommend you load the barbell with 70% of your 1-rep max. For your top sets you should use anywhere from 17-35% extra load on each of the weight releasers. This will bring the total weight on the eccentric range to between 104-140% of your regular 1-rep max.

I recommend you start closer to 104% and only increase the weights if you can lower the loads using a true 10-second negative phase. As long as you can lower the weights over 10 seconds then you can continue to bump up the amount of weight on the weight releasers.

Here is the routine:

Lower body

  • A1: Back squat with weight releasers** (medium stance / heels flat), 7-8 x 1, 10/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated leg curl 2/1 method**** (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 7-8 x 1, 10/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Load the bar with 70% of your 1-rep max. Each weight releaser should represent an additional 17-35% of your 1-rep max. The total weight during the eccentric range will be 104-140% of your 1-rep max. The exact loads you use on the weight releasers depend on your eccentric strength levels.

****Use a load that represents 104-140% of your 1-rep max. Lift the load with 2 legs and then lower it back down using only 1 leg. The exact weight you use will depend on your eccentric strength levels.

Here are the workout videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1.

If you are ready for it you can expect some of the fastest strength gains of your entire life on this routine. I should warn you that there are a couple of requirements that you MUST meet before attempting this routine:

  1. You have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience under your belt
  2. You have extensive experience with less demanding forms of eccentric training protocols

If you do not meet BOTH of these requirements then you have NO business doing this routine! Trust me, it is for your own good. Attempting this routine before you are ready for it can result in serious injury to your musculoskeletal system.

If you want to learn more about eccentric training then I highly recommend the following 2 articles:

Part 7: The Strength Curve

Charles Poliquin was a huge believer in overloading different parts of the strength curve of a muscle or an exercise. Of course this begs the question: what the heck is a strength curve?

A strength curve is a mathematical model explaining the amount of force that your muscles can produce at different joint angles.

There are three positions in the strength curve for every muscle group:

  • The stretched position
  • The mid-range position
  • The shortened position

The stretched position usually refers to the bottom position of an exercise where your muscles are maximally stretched. The shortened position, on the other hand, refers to the top position where your muscles are maximally contracted.

Charles believed that for optimal results you had to select exercises that would overload all three points in the strength curve.

For example, you should utilize exercises that overload the stretched, mid-range, and shortened positions of the strength curve.

This does not mean that you have to select exercises that overload all three points in the strength curve for every workout. However, you should make sure that you are overloading different areas in your long-term programming and from one routine to the next.

Let’s use the biceps as an example.

One of the best exercises you can use to overload the stretched position of the biceps is the preacher curl. For example:

Many people avoid the bottom position of preacher curls because it is the hardest portion of the movement.

However, it is also the most beneficial! Larry Scott used to emphasize the bottom position of preacher curls on his way to building one of the best pairs of arms the bodybuilding world has ever seen.

Exercises that overload the mid-range of the strength curve include standing barbell and ez-bar curls. For example:

These exercises are hardest right at the middle of the movement where your forearms are parallel to the ground.

Finally exercises that overload the shortened position of the strength curve include incline dumbbell curls and spider curls. For example:

If you overload different points in the strength curve over time you will make much faster overall progress. Your joints will also be much healthier!

Part 8: Optimal Training Frequency

Charles Poliquin believed that optimal training frequency is a highly individual and varies enormously from one person to the next. Notice I said optimal training frequency, not maximal training frequency.

The training frequency that you should use is the one that allows you to make the fastest overall progress.

In Charles experience training frequency is the one training variable most influenced by genetic differences between individuals.

In other words, whether you respond best to a high, medium, or low training frequency is largely determined by who your parents are.

Eric Lilliebridge and Stan Efferding have gotten their best results training only twice per week. On the other hand it seems like John Broz has achieved outstanding results for both himself and his clients using a training frequency resembling the last 4 digits of your credit card! 

Charles’ overall philosophy regarding training frequency is actually pretty straightforward: go to the gym, train hard, and come back when you are stronger.

According to Charles there is no point in repeating a workout if you cannot beat your previous performance. Every time you repeat a workout you should be 1-3% stronger than you were last time. For example, you might add an extra 1-3% to the bar on each exercise or perform another rep.

However, there is no point in repeating a workout if you cannot make progress.

If you are not able to progress by 1-3% from one workout to the next then you are probably doing something wrong. Maybe your training frequency is not optimal for you or maybe something else in your program needs adjusting. 

Of course Charles did favor some training splits over others. He had about 70% of his athletes train body parts once every 5 days using what I call the “Poliquin splits.”

For example, here is one of Charles’ go-to splits for his athletes:

  • Day 1: Chest / Back 
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Arms / Shoulders
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat!

Here is another variation of the Poliquin splits that Charles frequently used:

  • Day 1: Chest / Elbow Flexors
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Back / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat!

Charles had everyone from Olympic shot putters and wrestlers to bodybuilders and powerlifters use some variation of the above once-every-five-days training split. 

One of the big advantages of these splits is that they allow you to train antagonistic body parts together in the same workout. As discussed earlier antagonistic supersets have many advantages when performed correctly:

  • Increased motor unit recruitment
  • Decreased fatigue accumulation during the workout
  • Increased training density

The world-class strength coach Josh Bryant backs up all of these statements in his book “Bench Press: The Science.”

It is a shame that so few people even consider training body parts once every 5 days. Most people only consider the “high-frequency” camp of training body parts at least twice per week or the “low-frequency” camp of training body parts no more than once per week.

With the above “Poliquin-splits” the training frequency is high enough per body part that productive workouts add up rather quickly. However, there is also enough rest between workouts that you can train extremely hard without having to worry about being recovered in time for the next workout.

Another training split that Charles used reasonably often with his athletes is a 4 days per week upper body / lower body split.

For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

This split also allows you to train antagonistic body parts together and is quite effective for strength athletes.

Whichever training split or training frequency you decide to use there are a couple of things that you must remember:

  1. Optimal training frequency is highly dependent on genetic factors. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
  2. There is no point in repeating a workout if you cannot make progress. If your training frequency is appropriate for you then you should be able to progress by 1-3% from one workout to the next on any given routine.

If you want to learn more about optimal training frequency then I highly recommend the following article:

The Best Training Frequency For Strength Gains!

I go into much more detail about the advantages and disadvantages of high, low, and moderate training frequencies and who should use them. 

Part 9: Training For Structural Balance

Structural balance is another one of those topics that Charles Poliquin pioneered. The concept of structural balance could be summarized in one sentence:

“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”

Powerlifting guru Louie Simmons made this observation many years ago. There is always one or more muscle groups that are limiting athletic performance. When you strengthen these weak links the entire chain becomes stronger and your progress shoots through the roof.

Of course Charles took this idea of identifying weak links to a whole new level. He used advanced statistical analysis on all of his athletes to identify optimal strength ratios between different key exercises.

The results of this analysis were revolutionary: Charles identified the optimal strength ratios between different exercises that all athletes should strive for.

For the purposes of this article let’s look at the upper body strength ratios:

  • Shoulder-width bench press: 100%
  • Dips: 117%
  • Shoulder-width incline bench press: 91%
  • Seated shoulder-width military press: 72%
  • Seated shoulder-width behind the neck press: 66%
  • Seated DB overhead press: 29%**
  • Shoulder-width preacher barbell curl: 46%
  • Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip): 35%
  • Lying ez-bar extensions: 40%
  • Seated DB external rotations (elbow on knee): 9.8%**
  • Unilateral unsupported trap 3 raise: 10.2%**

**The percentage represents the weight of each dumbbell. This test is performed for 8 total repetitions.

The shoulder-width bench press is considered the reference lift for every other lift. For example, you should be able to perform dips with 117% of your best shoulder-width bench press.

In Charles’ experience most trainees share a cluster of structural imbalances:

  1. Weak rotator cuff strength
  2. Weak lower trap strength
  3. Weak overhead pressing strength
  4. Weak brachialis strength

These structural imbalances are ordered in terms of importance. For example, most trainees have extremely weak rotator cuff and lower trap strength. Their overhead pressing strength and reverse curling strength are also typically quite weak.

For example, according to these strength ratios your shoulder-width behind the neck press should be exactly 66% of your shoulder-width bench press. This means that a trainee that can close-grip bench press 300 pounds should be able to close-grip behind the neck press 200 pounds.

Most trainees would come nowhere near this strength ratio! In fact, the average 300 pound bench presser would be lucky to behind the neck press 135 pounds!

The human body is extremely intelligent and can detect these improper ratios between various muscle groups. Rather than risk injury it will simply limit your performance on the bench press and various other exercises as long as the strength imbalance exists.

You therefore have a very simple choice: you can prioritize the muscle groups and lifts where you are weak and start making progress again. Or you can continue to ignore these structural imbalances and make little to no progress while you wait for your next injury. 

Charles believed in structural balance testing that he tested his athletes BEFORE writing any routines for them. He would then design his programs to strengthen the weak muscle groups as quickly as possible.

For many of his trainees that meant skipping the bench press entirely for 12+ weeks while they focused on improving their overhead press! 

Here is a 6-week program that you may want to employ if you have any of the 4 common structural imbalances identified above. I recommend you use a 4 days per week upper body / lower body split for this routine.

For example:

  • Monday: Upper Body
  • Wednesday Lower Body
  • Friday: Upper Body
  • Saturday: Lower Body

I recommend you perform the first workout for 3 weeks (or 6 total workouts) and the second workout for 3 weeks (6 total workouts). If you are a very advanced trainee then you may get better results performing each routine for 2 weeks total.

Routine #1

  • A1: Seated overhead barbell half press, 4 x 6-8, 2/1/X/1, 90 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar row, 4 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 45 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated DB external rotation, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 45 seconds rest
  • C3: 45 degree prone trap 3 raise, 3 x 5-6, 4/0/X/6, 45 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise C3.

Routine #2

  • A1: Seated behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 9 x 4/3/2**, 3/1/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide pronated grip pull up, 9 x 4/3/2**, 3/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated rope cable face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 60 seconds rest
  • C2: Unilateral unsupported trap 3 raise, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 4/3/2 wave loading protocol. Set #1 = 4 reps, set #2 = 3 reps, set #2 = 2 reps, set #4 = 4 reps etc. You can read this article for more information on wave loading.

Here are some exercise videos for the lower body workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise C2.

After performing these two routines for 3 weeks each you can expect to have significantly healthier shoulders and a bigger, stronger upper body. 

Part 10: Neurotransmitter Based Program Design

Charles Poliquin introduced or popularized a number of new and controversial training ideas. For example:

  • Manipulating tempo as a core loading parameter
  • Training for structural balance
  • Antagonistic body part supersets
  • Etc.

However, by far his most radical idea was the concept of neurotransmitter based program design.

Early on in his career Charles figured out that there are three main types of athletes:

  • Athletes who respond best to volume
  • Athletes who respond best to intensity
  • Athletes who respond best to variety

**In this context “intensity” refers to how heavy a load is relative to your 1-rep max. An athlete who responds best to intensity would respond well to lower-rep training protocols.

While this model proved useful for training his athletes Charles wasn’t satisfied with it. He wanted a system that would quickly identify exactly what type of athlete someone is and exactly the types of training methods that they would respond best to. Charles eventually came to a startling conclusion:

The single most important factor in terms of designing an athlete’s training program is the athlete’s neurotransmitter profile.

I will do my best to cover the basics of neurotransmitter based program design here. If you want a more thorough examination of Charles’ master thesis on strength training individualization then I highly recommend the following article:

Neurotransmitter Based Program Design: The Ultimate Guide!

There are four major neurotransmitters in the brain:

  • Dopamine
  • Acetyl-choline
  • GABA
  • Serotonin

Every individual has unique levels of each of these neurotransmitters. These differences in neurotransmitter levels play a huge role in the individual’s personality and the types of training protocols they will respond best to.

Charles spent many years trying to find the best way to measure these neurotransmitters in the brain. However, the most reliable test to this day remains a personality test called the Braverman Assessment as developed by Dr. Braverman himself.

You can take the test right here – it will only take you about 15 minutes to complete.

Charles Poliquin scores this test a little differently from Dr. Braverman. If you score at least 50 in any one section then you have an extreme dominance in that neurotransmitter. If you score at least 40 in any one section then you have a slight dominance in that neurotransmitter.

Note: it is possible to have a slight dominance in more than one neurotransmitter.

Finally you have a balanced neurotransmitter profile if you score between 30-40 on all sections.

In Charles’ experience most trainees who are interested in lifting weights have one of three neurotransmitter profiles: 

  • Dopamine-dominant
  • Acetyl-choline dominant
  • Balanced neurotransmitter profile

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

Dopamine-Dominant

Dopamine dominant individuals tend to be highly extroverted and have explosive personalities. These lifters have an extremely high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers and respond well to lower-rep training protocols.

For example, the typical dopamine-dominant lifter typically gets great results using sets in the 1-3 rep range when training for strength and sets in the 4-8 rep range when training for hypertrophy.

These may seem like pretty low rep ranges but these gifted individuals rapidly burn out if they perform too many sets above 8 reps.

Acetyl-Choline Dominant

Acetyl-choline dominant lifters tend to be highly creative and witty individuals. They respond best when there is plenty of variety included in their training programs. They need variety both in terms of the rep ranges they perform and in terms of the training methods they use.

As a general rule of thumb acetyl-choline dominant lifters get their best results using sets in the 2-5 rep range when training for strength and in the 6-12 rep range when training for size.

Acetyl-choline dominant lifters tend to push themselves extremely hard on all of their sets and are therefore always at risk of burning out. These guys need frequent deloads in their long-term programming in order to make optimal training progress.

Balanced Neurotransmitter Profile

Individuals with a more balanced neurotransmitter profile tend to have a larger percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers. They respond extremely well to higher-volume bodybuilding style protocols but quickly burn out when they do too many sets below 5 reps.

As a general rule of thumb these trainees get their best strength gains using 4-8 reps per set and their best size gains using 8-20 reps per set.

Athletes with balanced neurotransmitter profiles typically make better bodybuilders than strength athletes although there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Chad Wesley Smith is a great example of a strength athlete who has more of a balanced neurotransmitter profile.

These guys get awesome results when they use training techniques that extend the total time under tension of the set.

Part 11: Accumulation And Intensification Phases

It is absolutely critical that you periodize your workouts if you want to get the most out of your training. Periodization simply refers to how you organize your training so that you can progress over the long term.

There are many different viable forms of periodization:

  • Linear periodization
  • Conjugate periodization
  • Dual-factor periodization
  • Block periodization
  • Etc.

However, the form of periodization that Charles found to be most effective is the accumulation / intensification model.

The German researcher Dietmar Schmidtbleicher discovered as far back as the 1970s that you could achieve faster results by alternating blocks of high-volume training and blocks of high-intensity training.

In this context intensity reflects the percentage of your 1-rep max that you are using so a higher-intensity block would feature lower repetitions.

Charles used the accumulation / intensification model with the vast majority of his athletes and his results speak for themselves! Let’s talk about each of these phases in a little more depth.

Accumulation Phases

Accumulation phases are primarily designed to create adaptations within the muscular system. The idea is to fatigue the muscles with a relatively higher volume of work. Most trainees use traditional “straight sets” when training for hypertrophy.

There is nothing wrong with this but Charles felt a better approach was to use techniques that prolong the time under tension of a set after approximating muscular failure. For example the following training methods work extremely well during accumulation phases:

All of these methods involve fatiguing the muscle with a regular set and then finding a way to further prolong the time under tension.

This may include dropping the weight, changing exercises, or resting just long enough to bang out further repetitions.

Of course these methods would only be used by an athlete seeking increases in muscular hypertrophy. Some of Charles’ athletes wanted to avoid building muscle to maximize their relative strength.

For example, a powerlifter competing in a lighter weight class would be very cautious about using these methods for fear of outgrowing their weight class. In that case more traditional straight set methods would be utilized during an accumulation phase.

Intensification phases

Intensification phases are pretty much the opposite of accumulation phases. Here we are trying to minimize the amount of muscular fatigue that we accumulate. Instead we are trying to improve the efficiency of our nervous system.

There are many ways to accomplish this goal but they usually involve multiple sets of lower repetitions. Here are some of the best intensification protocols:

There are of course many more methods but this is a good sampling. The key during an accumulation phase is that you are trying to present your body with a stimulus that “excites” your central nervous system and improves its ability to recruit and coordinate more motor units.

Strength athletes would obviously be interested in intensification phases because their competitions are geared towards displaying maximal strength.

However, even bodybuilders and other physique athletes benefit from intensification phases because they will be able to lift more weight when they return to their lower-rep accumulation phases.

Part 12: Training For Relative Strength

Relative strength refers to how strong you are relative to your own bodyweight. If someone is “strong for their size” then they likely have high levels of relative strength. Many sports such as powerlifting are primarily decided by which athlete has the greater level of relative strength.

Charles refined many different training programs for his athletes who needed greater levels of relative strength such as wave loading, the Modified Hepburn Method, and supra-maximal eccentric training. However, one of his favourite methods for relative strength was easily cluster sets.

The classic Poliquin-style cluster sets protocol goes like this: you perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 90% of your 1-rep max. Normally this would be impossible for most trainees. The key to making this work is that you will rest 15 seconds between each of the five repetitions during a set.

For example:

  • Perform your 1st rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform your 2nd rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform your 3rd rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform your 4th rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform your 5th rep, done!

Of course you would only be finished with your 1st set. A true cluster sets workout features 5 total sets per exercise! This training method is extremely demanding on your nervous system.

One of the ways to improve the effectiveness of cluster sets and manage the central nervous system fatigue is to alternate between sets for antagonistic body parts.

For example, here is a cluster sets arm workout that you may want to try if you are particularly motivated:

Arms

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 5 x 5**, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher zottman curl (offset grip****), 5 x 5**, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Unilateral overhead rope cable extension, 3-4 x 5-7, 2/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3-4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest

**Performed using the Poliquin cluster sets protocol. Perform sets of 5 reps with 15 second rest breaks taken in between each repetition.

****Your pinkie should be touching the inside of the dumbbell during the entire set. This will force your elbow flexors to work much harder during both the concentric and the eccentric range.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

A great option would be to train arms once every five days using a Poliquin-style split. For example:

  • ay 1: Arms
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Chest / Back
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat!

After 2-4 weeks on this routine (or 3-6 total workouts) I recommend you move on to a higher-rep accumulation phase that is less taxing on your central nervous system. This is a highly demanding training program but the results are more than worth it!

Part 13: Training For Absolute Strength

Absolute strength is a much more simple concept than relative strength: it is simply a measure of how strong you are, regardless of your bodyweight. The “unlimited” weight classes in powerlifting and professional strongman are perfect examples of sports decided on absolute strength levels. 

In reality training for absolute strength is MUCH easier than training for relative strength because you don’t have to constantly worry about whether you are building too much muscle!

If your fast-twitch muscle fibers grow that is not a problem. In fact, it is an extremely desirable thing for someone training for absolute strength as it dramatically increases their long-term potential for strength gains!

In my experience one of the best training protocols to use when training for absolute strength is the “5 to 8” method. Charles invented the 5 to 8 method as a variation of Dante Trudel’s rest-pause training style.

You are going to perform 5 reps followed by 3 additional singles performed in rest-pause style. Here is what a sample set would look like:

  • Perform 5 reps, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds
  • Perform 1 rep, done!

This would constitute one 5 to 8 set. In a typical workout Charles would have his athletes perform 3 to 5 of these sets for two separate exercises! Talk about a brutal workout!

Unlike Dante’s version of rest-pause training you should NOT take these sets all the way to muscular failure. Instead you should select a weight that lets you get 5 reps and then stop there. The 5th rep should be extremely hard but you do NOT want to fail with this training protocol.

Here is what a lower body workout might look like:

Lower body

  • A1: Front squat (wide stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 5/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method**** / pointing in), 3-5 x 5/1/1/1**, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Poliquin step up, 3 x 15-20, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3-4 x 7-9, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a “5 to 8” set as described above. Perform 5 reps, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, done!

****Dorsiflex your ankle (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankle (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The 5 to 8 method is primarily intended to be an intensification protocol where you rapidly build strength. However, this program is also EXTREMELY effective for building functional hypertrophy. You know, hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

In fact Charles Poliquin considered the 5 to 8 method to be his second favourite routine of all time for rapidly boosting muscular hypertrophy.

If you are looking for a routine that will rapidly boost your strength levels and also help you add some functional muscle mass then I highly suggest you give Charles Poliquin’s 5 to 8 method a shot. You won’t be disappointed!

Part 14: Training For Functional Hypertrophy

Training for functional hypertrophy is a tricky subject. On one hand we are trying to build muscular hypertrophy. On the other hand we want to make sure that the muscle mass we are building is specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Many sports such as powerlifting, strongman, shot put, the 100 meter dash, the triple jump and others place a premium on functional hypertrophy levels.

If you are writing a routine to build functional hypertrophy then there are a couple of general rules that you should follow:

  • Train primarily in the 4 to 8 rep range
  • Train to near-failure and then find a way to prolong the time under tension

Of course there are some functional hypertrophy methods that don’t quite fit these rules. Supra-maximal eccentric in the 2-3 rep range certainly comes to mind in this regard. However, as a general rule of thumb these are good rules to follow. 

One of Charles’ favourite methods for boosting functional hypertrophy was actually mechanical advantage drop sets.

Mechanical advantage drop sets are very similar to supersets, tri-sets, and giant sets in that you are going to perform an exercise to failure and then move onto another exercise to further prolong the time under tension of the set. The thing that makes mechanical advantage drop sets unique is that you are choosing 2-4 variations of the same exercise!

You may change things such as your grip, stance etc. to vary the exercise and keep the set going. You are going to start with the variation that you are weakest on and finish with the one you are strongest on.

The last wrinkle is that you aren’t going to adjust the weight from one exercise variation to the next! By moving from an exercise variation that you are weaker on to one that you are stronger on you can continue to bang out additional reps without having to drop the load.

One of the best ways to build functional hypertrophy in the upper back is to perform a mechanical advantage drop set featuring three different types of pull ups. 

Check it out:

Advanced Back / Chest Hypertrophy Workout

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A4: 45 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: 10 degree decline DB press, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Although convenience was never a priority for Charles mechanical advantage drop sets are very convenient to perform in a commercial gym. This is because you do not need to hog more than one exercise station to perform them!

In this regard mechanical advantage drop sets are much more practical to perform in a commercial gym than something like giant sets. Speaking of giant sets…

Part 15: Training For Absolute Hypertrophy

 

When I say absolute hypertrophy I am talking about hypertrophy irrespective of its impact on athletic performance. Most of Charles’ athletes were not seeking extra muscle mass just for the sake of extra muscle mass. They only wanted to build muscle if it meant their performance in their chosen sport would improve!

Of course whenever Charles trained a high-level bodybuilder he was more than happy to use training protocols that improved muscle mass as quickly as possible.

One of Charles’ favourite training methods for this purpose was giant sets. Giant sets were popularized by the IFBB professional bodybuilder Milos “The Mind” Sarcev.

Giant sets involve performing at least 4 different exercises back-to-back for the same bodypart with only 10 seconds rest between sets.

For example:

  • Perform exercise A, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise B, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise C, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise D, rest 2-4 minutes

Giant sets work so incredibly well because they increase the time under tension of your set to sky-high levels. Basically you are forcing your muscles to work far longer than normal and you are knocking off a huge number of motor units in the process.

This is a sure-fire recipe for success!

Here is a Poliquin-style giant sets workout for the hamstrings. I should warn you that this workout is rather severe. You need to be a bit of a masochist to take this routine head-on!

Check it out:

Advanced Hamstrings Giant Sets Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method** / feet pointed out), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 45 degree back extension (eccentric emphasis with dumbbells), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Snatch grip deadlift, 4 x 5-7, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Dorsiflex your ankle (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankle (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

If you are going to perform some quadriceps work after this giant set for the hamstrings (I certainly would) then I recommend you stick to exercises that don’t tax your lower back. Exercises such as leg presses, machine hack squats and lunges would be perfect.

Of course the major downside of giant sets routines is that they are very difficult to perform in a commercial gym. If train in a private gym or during off-hours in a traditional commercial gym then I highly recommend you start using giant sets to build muscle mass in record time!

Conclusion

Charles Poliquin Program Design

Charles Poliquin revolutionized the strength training world again and again. It is difficult to keep track of the number of ideas he introduced.

Tempo training, structural balance testing, and neurotransmitter based program design are three of the more obvious concepts that he either invented outright or popularized. The strength training world simply would not be the same without him!

Thank you again Charles for sharing your gift with the world. May this article honor your legacy for many years to come!

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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