If you want to reach your full potential then you MUST incorporate functional hypertrophy training into your yearly plan. If you have been neglecting your fast-twitch muscle fibers then these 3 Charles Poliquin functional hypertrophy routines are just what you need!
This article on functional hypertrophy will be divided into the following parts:
- Part 1: What Is Functional Hypertrophy?
- Part 2: Principles Behind Training For Functional Hypertrophy
- Part 3: The 4+2 Method
- Part 4: The 5 To 8 Method
- Part 5: The 3 Then 1 Method
- Part 6: Conclusion
After finishing this article you will be armed to the teeth with knowledge on the importance of functional hypertrophy and 3 Charles Poliquin functional hypertrophy routines that you can start using today!
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: What Is Functional Hypertrophy?
Every muscle in your body has different grades of muscle fibers. In reality there are 27 different “grades” of muscle fibers, but in practice it is easier to talk about the 2 major categories:
Fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.
These muscle fibers exist on a spectrum:
Fast twitch <—> Slow twitch
The fast twitch fibers are geared more towards maximal strength output and explosive movements.
Powerlifters, sprinters, and boxers all tend to have very well-developed fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Because the fast-twitch muscle fibers are highly correlated with sports performance, hypertrophy occurring in these muscle fibers is often referred to as “functional hypertrophy.”
Slow twitch muscle fibers are more geared towards endurance-related tasks and are highly resistant to fatiguing. Marathon runners, rock climbers, and even many bodybuilders often have well-developed slow twitch fibers.
Most traditional high-volume bodybuilding programs (ala Arnold Schwarzenegger) are more geared towards developing the slow-twitch fibers.
There is nothing wrong with this, and Arnold’s high volume training style has produced some impressive physiques over the years.
However, there are some serious advantages to trying to hypertrophy the fast-twitch muscle fibers as well.
Powerlifters and other strength athletes are obviously interested in hypertrophying these fast-twitch muscle fibers, as these are the ones that are most responsible for improving strength.
Many of these athletes also compete in weight classes, so they want to make sure that every pound they add contributes to their performance as much as possible.
However, there are also advantages to bodybuilders who train to hypertrophy these fast-twitch muscle fibers, even if only periodically.
In bodybuilders these high-threshold muscle fibers are very often neglected, but they have the greatest potential for growth!
It is not uncommon for a bodybuilder to undergo a rapid growth spurt once they start giving these muscle fibers the attention they deserve.
In addition, functional hypertrophy training tends to work awesome for improving a bodybuilder’s strength foundation.
When they return to their traditional higher-rep training bodybuilders often find they are much stronger, and they can now use this newfound strength to lift even more weight with their higher-rep sets!
The bottom line: everyone, regardless of their specific goal, stands to benefit from some targeted functional hypertrophy training.
Part 2: Principles Behind Functional Hypertrophy Training
There is no way around it: if you want to train for functional hypertrophy, then you must understand how to manipulate all of the loading parameters.
Here are some general rules that you should follow for this type of training. Don’t worry, I will also be giving you three sample training routines later in this article:
Optimal rep ranges
Generally 1-8 rep range to hypertrophy the fast twitch muscle fibers
Functional hypertrophy arguably even better with reps in the 1-5 rep range, although reps as high as 6-8 can still be helpful.
Time under tension
Ideally we want the total time under tension of our sets to be between 20-30 seconds. You can go as high as 40 seconds on the high end and as low as 10 seconds on the lower-end.
However, 20-30 seconds of time under tension per set is the “sweet spot” for functional hypertrophy.
If you are like most people, this probably seems like an eternity.
Most of the people I seen in commercial gyms pump reps out as fast as they can with no regards whatsoever for their exercise tempos!
If you are not familiar with the importance of manipulating exercise tempo, then this article is for you.
There is no denying it: post-failure training methods can be incredibly effective for boosting functional hypertrophy.
The basic idea is to train to failure (or just before it), and then find a way to prolong the time under tension of the set.
Doing this with low reps can be very effective.
For example, fast twitch drop sets and fast twitch giant sets are both a decent example of this
Dante Trudel style rest-pause training is another example.
We know that eccentric muscular contractions preferentially recruit the higher-threshold motor units.
In fact it is the eccentric contractions (not concentric contractions!) that are most responsible for increases in strength and size in both beginner and advanced lifters.
This is one of the reasons controlling the negative phase of a lift is so important!
I would rather you control the negative and skip the positive phase than do the positive phase but let the weight drop back down on you on the eccentric!
Summary of functional hypertrophy training principles
So the best functional hypertrophy methods will combine one (or more!) of the following factors: 1-8 (ideally 1-5) reps per set, 20-30 seconds time under tension per set, post-failure training, and eccentric training.
Understanding how to apply these 4 principles is a big reason why I am able to pack consistently help my online coaching clients pack on pounds of functional hypertrophy.
Now that we understand some of the principles of designing a functional hypertrophy workout we can better appreciate Charles Poliquin’s top 3 functional hypertrophy routines.
Part 3: The 4+2 Method
This is Charles Poliquin’s absolute favourite method for functional hypertrophy!
Nothing else even comes close!
Actually, it combines all of the “laws” of training for functional hypertrophy: the correct rep ranges and total time under tension per set, post-failure training, and eccentric training!
Talk about a slam dunk!
There are three basic steps to a 4+2 set:
- Perform 4 gut-busting reps
- Rest a total of 10 seconds while adding 1-20% additional weight to the exercise
- Complete 2 additional eccentric only repetitions on a 8/0/X/0 tempo
The 4+2 method is a little more complicated than it sounds at first. Let’s examine each of these “steps” one-by-one.
Step 1: perform 4 gut busting reps
The idea is simple: Perform a set of 4 reps to one rep shy of failure.
What does 1 rep shy of failure mean?
It means that your fourth rep will be extremely difficult to perform but you will complete it without a break in technique.
Or as Charles liked to say, “your spleen should come out of your left eye on the last rep.
Your left eye, not the right eye! This is very important.
If you finish four reps and think to yourself, “I probably have one more in me,” then you did not pick the right weight and YOU FAILED TO TRAIN 1 REP SHORT OF FAILURE!
Step 2: rest a total of 10 seconds while adding 1-20% additional weight to the exercise
After the 4th rep you will rack the weight. Now you are going to rest for a total of 10 seconds and increase the load on the exercise by between 1-20%.
I recommend you start by adding a weight that is closer to 1% if you are newer to eccentric training.
If this is too easy then you can always progressively increase the amount of weight you add.
The way that you add weight to the exercise varies from one exercise to another. Let’s examine a few common exercises to clarify things.
If you are doing pull ups, add an additional 1-20% of your combined bodyweight and external load.
For example, if a 180 lb man does pullups with 20 lbs additional load and wants to add an additional load of 10% to the exercise, he would add (180 + 20) x .1 = 20 lbs.
If you are doing unilateral dumbbell preacher curls, then you would simply swap out your current dumbbell for a slightly heavier dumbbell after completing 4 reps.
For example, if you are doing 50 pound dumbbell preacher curls, then you may want to swap out the 50 pounds dumbbell for a 55 lb dumbbell.
If you are doing an exercise such as the bench press, then there is no way around it: you are going to have to use weight releasers.
Simply take the total load on the bar and add 1-20% of additional weight in the form of weight releasers.
For example, if you bench pressed 20 pounds for 4 gut-busting reps, then rack the weight and add an additional 10 pounds on each side of the bar for a total of 20 additional pounds (the 10 pounds includes the weight of the weight releasers themselves).
Part 3: complete 2 additional eccentric only repetitions on a 8/0/X/0 tempo
After you have increased the load on the exercise and rested for 10 seconds you will complete 2 additional ECCENTRIC-ONLY REPETITIONS.
You will use an 8-10 second eccentric phase on these 2 additional repetitions.
These extra reps will thoroughly exhaust eccentric strength levels after achieving near-concentric failure.
This combines to create an incredibly potent stimulus for not only functional hypertrophy gains, but strength gains as well.
Don’t freak out, there are plenty of ways to accomplish this.
To perform eccentric pull ups you can then simply stand on a bench or some other fixed platform to “skip” the concentric phase of the lift and start at the top.
To perform eccentric preacher curls you can then just use your non-working arm to help bring the dumbbell to the starting position so that you can perform your desired eccentric-only repetitions.
For example, Josh Bryant is a big fan of this method:
To perform eccentric bench presses you will need a pair of weight releasers.
Note: while you will be able to lower the barbell and the weight releasers down on your own, you will need a pair of competent spotters to “lift” the weight off of your chest.
Summary of the 4+2 program
To repeat: perform 4 gut-busting reps, rest 10 seconds while adding 1-20% load to the exercise, then complete 2 additional eccentric only repetitions on a 8/0/X/0 tempo.
Here is a sample 4+2 training routine for the arms:
- A1: V-Bar Upright Dips, 3-5 x 4+2**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral DB Preacher Curls (Hammer Grip), 3-5 x 4+2****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Overhead cable rope extensions, 4 x 5-7, 3/2/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Incline cable curls, 4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 4 regular repetitions, rest 10 seconds while adding an additional 1-20% load to your dipping belt, and perform an additional 2 eccentric-only repetitions on an 8/0/X/0 tempo.
****Perform 4 regular repetitions, rest 10 seconds while swapping your current DB for a DB 1-20% heavier, and perform an additional 2 eccentric-only repetitions on an 8/0/X/0 tempo.
Note: if you are having any trouble reading this routine then you may need a refresher on how to read a training program.
Notes on the sample 4+2 routine:
If you are new to this routine then you may find that the first couple of exercises leave you absolutely toast.
If this describes you then you are more than welcome to skip the “B1” and “B2” exercises. The first two exercises compose the heart and soul of this routine!
The 4+2 method can be very painful. You will feel some very, very deep muscle fiber stimulation during this routine.
On another note, the tempos MUST be strictly adhered to.
That means a 4 second negative phase during the first 4 repetitions on each set, and a strict 8-second eccentric phase during the additional 2 eccentric reps.
If at any time during the additional eccentric-only repetitions you are unable to lower the weight in 8 seconds, then you are DONE for that set!
Just increase the load by a smaller amount next time.
Programming for the 4+2 method
This type of routine is INCREDIBLY demanding on the central nervous system.
I recommend you perform this routine only ever other workout, much like I described in my article on the top 11 eccentric training methods.
For example, let’s say you were using the following training split where you train the arms once every 5 days:
- Day 1: Arms
- Day 2: Legs
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Chest / Back
- Day 5: Off
- Day 6: Repeat
What I would do is this: on your first workout perform the 4+2 routine as listed.
On your second workout I want you to SKIP the additional 2 eccentric-only reps on exercises A1 and A2. Everything else stays the same.
Then you simply repeat this pattern as many times as necessary.
For example, if I was training you with the 4+2 method, then I would structure your workouts as follows:
- Workout 1: 4+2 method
- Workout 2: straight sets of 4
- Workout 3: 4+2 method
- Workout 4: straight sets of 4
- Workout 5: 4+2 method
- Workout 6: straight sets of 4
- Workout 7: Switch to a different, higher-rep accumulation style workout.
You will notice there is a range of sets that you can perform on the 4+2 method. Specifically, you can perform 3-5 sets.
The exact amount will depend on your performance on any given day. If you are having a day when you feel like superman then go for 5 total sets of the 4+2 method.
If you had a bad night of sleep and feel like crap, then 3 total sets would be more appropriate.
Part 4: The 5 to 8 Method
This is really a variation of Dante Trudel’s version of rest-pause reps.
As you may know from my article on fast twitch drop sets, “rest-pause sets” were originally invented and popularized by Mike Mentzer.
Mike’s idea was to perform drop sets with nothing but singles.
You would perform 1 near-maximal single, drop the load a little bit, complete another single, drop the load a bit, and repeat this process until 4 total singles were performed.
Dante Trudel’s rest-pause training style has nothing to do with Mike Mentzer’s training system, and he admits he probably should have picked a different name for his system, but the phrase “rest-pause” stuck.
Here is what Dante’s version of rest-pause sets looks like:
- Go to failure between 7-10 reps
- Rest 20-30 seconds (or take 10-15 deep breaths)
- Go to failure again (typically getting 2-4 extra reps)
- Rest 20-30 seconds (or take 10-15 deep breaths)
- Go to failure again (typically getting 1-3 extra reps)
This system is more geared towards bodybuilders looking to add muscle mass at all costs. It works incredibly well for certain individuals.
Poliquin’s 5 To 8 System
Charles Poliquin’s take on rest-pause training for functional hypertrophy is a little different.
The three biggest changes relative to Dante’s rest-pause method are lower rep ranges, not training to failure, and performing three extra “mini-sets” after the first initial high-rep set.
For example, here is what the 5 to 8 method looks like:
- Perform 5 gut-busting reps, the fifth rep should be very very hard
- Rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 gut-busting rep with the original load
- Rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 gut-busting rep with the original load
- Rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 final gut-busting rep with the original load
This system is more geared towards functional hypertrophy and all-out strength development compared to Dante’s system.
Neither is better, just different methods for different goals
What makes the 5 to 8 system so effective?
This method is essentially another form of “cluster sets.” Charles believed that cluster sets were the #1 routine for strength gains on a particular lift.
By incorporating some similarities with clustering (taking short intra-set rest intervals to eeke out more reps), we are getting rapid strength gains.
Basically the 5 to 8 system is a way of extending the set after achieving near-muscular failure.
The additional singles are FANTASTIC at further recruiting and fatiguing the higher threshold motor units.
This training method has the added bonus of not requiring any special equipment, and (depending on the exercise) you can often get away with not using a spotter.
Here is a sample upper body routine for Charles’ 5 to 8 method:
- A1: Standing military press, 3-5 x “5 to 8”**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Close grip supinated pull ups, 3-5 x “5 to 8”**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB press (pronated grip), 4 x 6-8. 2/2/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Deadstop row, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 8-10, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Seated zottman curls, 3 x 8-10, 4/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 5 reps, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, DONE. That is one set!
Because this routine does not include any sort of enhanced eccentric training it is a little bit easier to recover from vs the 4+2 method.
But only a little! It is still very demanding on not only your muscles but also the central nervous system!
I recommend you perform this routine for a total of 3-6 workouts before switching to a higher-rep accumulation style workout that is somewhat easier on the central nervous system.
Part 5: The 3 Then 1 Method
This is Charles Poliquin’s 3rd favourite training routine for rapidly boosting functional hypertrophy. This routine is also AWESOME for eliciting rapid strength gains, as you will see shortly.
This routine is really a form of contrast training or wave loading, depending on how you look at it.
You are going to perform 3 “waves” for your chosen exercise.
The first part of the wave involves performing a set of three.
Again, your spleen should feel like it is coming out of your left eye on the third rep, but you will complete it in good form.
After doing the set of 3 you will take a long rest and add at least 10% to the bar. Yes, we are going to be doing a supra-maximal eccentric only repetition 😀
For the single repetition you are going to lower the weight under control for 8-10 seconds.
If at any point the bar (or dumbbell) lowers faster than 8-10 seconds you are to immediately stop the set and lower the load.
So the “3 then 1” protocol looks like this:
- Set 1: 3 reps
- Rest at least 2 minutes
- Set 2: 1 eccentric-only rep (8-10 second negative)
- Rest at least 2 minutes
Altogether these 2 sets constitute 1 “wave.” you are to perform 3 waves in total for this routine!
Just like with wave loading, this training method takes advantage of the principle of post-tetanic facilitation.
This is just a fancy way of saying you can come back stronger after exciting the nervous system with a heavy load.
In this case the supramaximal eccentric reps “turn on” the nervous system, allowing you to lift more weight on the regular sets of 3.
And the sets of 3 excite the nervous system to allow you to lift more on the eccentric-only singles!
This is truly an incredible training system!
If you pick the correct weights you will find that you can lift more weight on your 2nd wave compared to your 1st, and more weight on your 3rd wave compared to your second!
Note: if you are performing a barbell exercise then you may need to use weight releasers to complete this routine.
If you want to purchase your own weight releasers then here is a link to a great pair of weight releasers for a very reasonable price available on Amazon:
Here is a sample “3 Then 1” routine for the lower body:
- A1: Back Squat, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral Lying Leg Curl (Feet Plantarflexed / Neutral), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A3: Back Squat (eccentric-only rep using weight releasers), 3 x 1, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A4: Unilateral Lying Leg Curl (Feet Plantar Flexed / Neutral, eccentric-only rep), 3 x 1, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Walking lunge, 3 x 6-8, 1/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree back extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
In order to perform eccentric-only singles on leg curls you would simply use two legs to lift the weight up and then use just the working leg to lower the weight down under an 8 second tempo.
Because of the reduced number of eccentric-only sets, you can probably get away with using this exact lower body routine for 3-6 workouts in a row before switching to another routine.
For example, if you are relatively advanced and adapt relatively quickly to training routines, then you might want to periodize your workouts this way:
- Workout 1: 3 Then 1 Method
- Workout 2: 3 Then 1 Method
- Workout 3: 3 Then 1 Method
- Workout 4: Switch to a higher-rep accumulation routine
I have personally used this routine with a lot of success in my own training.
Many of my powerlifting and strength-focused clients have also reported some of the best gains of their entire lives on Poliquin’s “3 to 1” wave loading routine.
I highly recommend you give it a try!
Part 6: Conclusion
These 3 Charles Poliquin functional hypertrophy training routines are incredibly rewarding to perform.
They are obviously great for producing rapid gains in strength and functional muscle mass.
However, they are also awesome for building mental toughness and increasing your pain tolerance.
Whether you are a strength athlete, a bodybuilder, or just someone trying to look better naked, training for functional hypertrophy absolutely has a place in your training toolbox.
If you are ready to take your training to the next level then I highly recommend you give one of these 3 routines a try!
Of course I am always available to put together a customized functional hypertrophy routine for you through my online coaching program.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training endeavors!
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