Charles Poliquin Training Principles: The Ultimate Guide!


Charles Poliquin Training Principles

Charles Poliquin was the greatest strength coach who ever lived. He trained Olympic medalists in 24 different sports and worked with countless professional athletes.

One of the keys to Charles’ success is he understood the mathematical principles of strength training. If you want to build a big, strong physique then the Charles Poliquin training principles are for you!

Introduction

  • Principle #1: You Must Define All Of The Loading Parameters!
  • Principle #2: You Must Vary The Choice And Order Of Exercises!
  • Principle #3: You Must Be A Wizard With Sets And Reps!
  • Principle #4: You Must Be Creative With Your Exercise Tempos!
  • Principle #5: You Must Pay Attention To Rest Intervals!
  • Principle #6: You Must Train All Parts Of The Strength Curve!
  • Principle #7: You Must Vary The Method And Mode Of Contraction!

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about to use the Charles Poliquin training principles to reach your fitness goals.

The Charles Poliquin training principles are a collection of ideas on how to design optimal strength training programs. There is a huge difference between a decent training routine and an optimal training routine.

In this article I want to share with you some of Charles Poliquin’s most important ideas on how to write optimal training routines. Many of these ideas will be completely new to you.

Unfortunately a lot of what you see from the best coaches and athletes in the world today is “monkey-see, monkey-do.” Most people put very little thought into their training programs.

Charles was one of those rare people who truly mastered the art and science of strength training program design. If you master the Charles Poliquin training principles then you will be able to reach your fitness goals faster than you ever thought possible.

Now let’s get down to business…

Principle #1: You Must Define All Of The Loading Parameters!

Charles believed that if you wanted optimal results then you had to define every part of the loading parameters of a training routine. The “loading parameters” are the variables that you can manipulate in a routine.

For example here are some of the most important loading parameters:

  • The choice and order of exercises
  • The sets and reps
  • The exercise tempo
  • The rest intervals between sets

All of these variables must be defined in your routine for optimal results! Just think about it: you are a mad scientist and the gym is your laboratory. Every workout that you perform is an experiment. You want every variable in your experiment to be precisely controlled.

Let’s look at a typical “German Volume Training” routine:

German Volume Training Arm Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 10 x 10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 10 x 10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: Lying ez-bar extension, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest

German Volume Training is known as the “10 sets of 10” routine. It was popularized by Charles Poliquin many years ago.

When you look at this routine, what do you see? If you are familiar with the Charles Poliquin training principles then you will see all of the loading parameters clearly defined in the routine!

The first thing you should look at is the choice and order of exercises. Every exercise has a symbol before it:

  • A1
  • A2
  • B1
  • B2

These symbols tell you the order to perform your exercises. The rules are simple: you perform all of the “A” exercises first, then all of the “B” exercises, then all of the “C” exercises etc. Whenever you have more than one “A” exercise you know that you are going to perform some type of superset.

For our German Volume Training routine you perform the A1 exercise, rest 60 seconds, perform the A2 exercise, rest 60 seconds, then perform the A1 exercise again. You do this until you have performed all 10 sets for both exercises.

The next big thing you should look at is the sets and reps. For our routine there are two types of sets and reps depending on the exercise:

  • 10 x 10
  • 3 x 12-15

The first number tells you how many sets to do and the second number tells you how many reps to do. For the “B1” and “B2” exercises you have a range of repetitions that you can perform. In other words you can perform anywhere from 12-15 reps per set.

The third thing you should notice is the exercise tempo. This is the weird-looking 4-digit code right after the sets and reps. For example:

  • 3/0/1/0

This is the tempo for the first couple of exercises. Charles Poliquin invented the 4-digit tempo code so that he could precisely control the tempos of his athletes’ exercises.

  • The first digit tells you how quickly to lower the weight down during the eccentric phase.
  • The second digit tells you how long to pause in the bottom position.
  • The third digit tells you how quickly to lift the weight through the concentric range.
  • The fourth digit tells you how long to pause in the top position.

OK, now let’s put it all together. The 3/0/1/0 tempo means that you lower the weight over 1 second, pause for 0 seconds in the bottom position, lift the weight over 1 second and pause for 0 seconds in the top position.

Most of the time you should lift the weight with an explosive positive phase. In that case there would be an “X” for the third number. For example a 3/0/X/0 tempo tells you to lift the weight explosively.

The last thing you should notice in our routine is the rest intervals. This one is easy. In our German Volume Training routine there were two different rest intervals depending on the exercise:

  • 60 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds rest

The rest interval starts the instant you finish your set. For example the instant you finish your set of bench presses your 60 second rest interval starts. In 60 seconds you should start your next set of preacher ez-bar curls.

Charles Poliquin believed that the ONLY way to accurately track your rest intervals was to use a watch. Remember, you are a mad scientist and the gym is your laboratory! You must precisely track all of the variables. If you just say “I think it’s been around 60 seconds” then you are not going to get optimal results from your routine. Rest intervals must be tracked properly!

OK, let’s take another look at our German Volume training arm routine:

German Volume Training Arm Workout

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 10 x 10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 10 x 10, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: Lying ez-bar extension, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curl, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 30 seconds rest

If you have been paying attention then you should be able to quickly read this routine. You should easily be able to figure out the order of the exercises, the sets and reps, the tempo and the rest intervals.

If you are still confused then I highly recommend you re-read Part 1 of this article. Better yet, go ahead and read my article on how to read a training program. This is essential knowledge if you want to really understand the Charles Poliquin training principles.

Principle #2: You Must Vary The Choice And Order Of Exercises!

Let’s kick off our discussion of the Charles Poliquin training principles by talking about the choice and order of exercises in a training routine. When most people train they perform several sets for their first exercise, then several sets for their second exercise, then several sets for their third exercise etc.

For example here is what a typical leg workout might look like for a bodybuilder:

Typical Bodybuilder Leg Workout

  • A1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree leg press, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Leg extension, 3 x 15-20, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
  • E1: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

There is nothing inherently “wrong” with this type of routine. It works very well for many trainees. However, Charles believes there are better ways to structure a training routine for size and strength gains. Charles Poliquin believed that using “supersets” was one of the most effective ways to train.

There are two types of supersets that Charles used with this athletes:

  • Antagonist Supersets
  • Agonist Supersets

Don’t worry, I’m not going to quiz you on these terms at the end of the article! Antagonist muscles are just muscles located on opposite sides of the body or opposite sides of the joint. Good examples of antagonist muscle groups include chest / back, quads / hamstrings and biceps / triceps.

Antagonist muscles perform opposite movements. Charles Poliquin used antagonist supersets in almost ALL of his athletes’ routines because he believed they were a superior way to train.

Here is how you could re-write our “typical bodybuilder leg workout” using antagonist supersets. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin Style Bodybuilding Leg Workout

  • A1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/1, 75 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Leg extension, 3 x 15-20, 1/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B3: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Just take a look at the “A1 / A2” exercises. For this new routine you would perform your 1st set of lying leg curls, rest 75 seconds, perform your 1st set of back squats, rest 75 seconds, then perform your second set of lying leg curls etc.

You continue alternating back and forth between leg curls and squats until you have completed 4 sets of each exercise.

Why does Charles Poliquin like antagonist supersets so much? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major reasons why Charles liked antagonist supersets so much:

  • They let you recruit more muscle fibers in the target muscle groups
  • They improve your muscular endurance during the workout
  • They let you perform more total sets in less time

It’s really important that you understand the science of antagonistic supersets so I’m going to discuss this topic in a little more depth.

OK, let’s say you are super setting incline bench presses and chin ups. You do a set of incline bench presses, rest 1-2 minutes, do a set of chin ups, rest 1-2 minutes, then do another set of incline bench presses etc.

The first reason that this is a great strategy is it lets you recruit more muscle fibers in your chest and back. Research has shown over and over that if you perform a set of chin ups shortly before doing a set of incline bench presses you will actually recruit more muscle fibers in your chest, shoulders and triceps during the incline bench press.

The next point is even more important: antagonist supersets improve your muscular endurance over the course of a workout.

Let’s say you are performing 4 sets of incline bench presses with your 10-rep max. Here is what your sets might normally look like:

  • Set #1: 200 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #2: 200 pounds x 9 reps
  • Set #3: 200 pounds x 8 reps
  • Set #4: 200 pounds x 6 reps

This is pretty normal. As you perform more sets your strength slowly goes down. Here is what your sets might look like if you were using antagonistic supersets:

  • Set #1: 200 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #2: 200 pounds x 10 reps
  • Set #3: 200 pounds x 9 reps
  • Set #4: 200 pounds x 8 reps

As you can see your performance on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th set is slightly better when using antagonistic supersets.

Numerous research studies have shown that antagonistic supersets improve your muscular endurance over the course of a workout. No one really understands why they work. Not even Charles Poliquin knows why this happens. He thinks it has something to do with the central nervous system.

Finally antagonist supersets let you perform twice as much work in the same amount of time.

Let’s say you were performing a set of incline bench presses every 4 minutes. There’s nothing wrong with this. However, what if you were to perform chin ups in between your sets of incline bench presses? Not only would you lift more weight on your sets but you would perform twice as much work in the same amount of time! Not a bad deal!

If you want to learn more about antagonist supersets then check out Josh Bryant’s incredible book “Bench Press: The Science.” It is a short read but he does an AWESOME job of covering the science behind antagonist superstar. He even covers the relevant scientific studies.

OK, let’s take another look at our Charles Poliquin style bodybuilding leg routine:

Charles Poliquin Style Bodybuilding Leg Workout

  • A1: Lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointed straight), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 10-12, 3/0/X/1, 75 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree leg press, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Leg extension, 3 x 15-20, 1/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B3: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

You know now why Charles likes to use the A1 / A2 system for most of his routines. Basically you lift more weight and have better muscular endurance this way.

In this particular routine there is another type of superset. Just take a look at the B1 and B2 exercises. They are both for the quadriceps! This is known as an “agonist superset” because you are super setting two exercises for the same body part.

Charles was a huge fan of using agonist supersets to build muscular hypertrophy. In our example you are performing leg presses and leg extensions with only 10 seconds rest in between exercises. This is a great way to force your muscles to work longer by prolonging the time under tension of the set.

Charles also likes to use tri-sets and giant sets to build muscular hypertrophy. Tri-sets involve performing 3 exercises for the same body part in back-to-back fashion. On the other hand giant sets involve performing at least 4 exercises back-to-back for the same body part.

Supersets, tri-sets and giant sets are awesome tools for building muscular hypertrophy. Giant sets are a favourite of Milos Sarcev, one of the best bodybuilding coaches in the world.

OK, you now know how to manipulate the order of your exercises using things like antagonistic supersets like Charles Poliquin. Charles also believed it was CRITICAL for you to vary the choice of exercises! Here are Charles exact thoughts on the subject:

“Changing the nature and form of the exercise is another way to gain strength faster while eliminating boredom.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Charles is saying that if you want to get the most out of your training then you have to challenge your body with new exercise variations. These variations don’t have to be dramatic. And of course Charles would never have you do single-leg squats on a bosu ball while performing a power snatch!

Charles is talking about small variations in exercises such as your grip / stance or the angle of your bench. For example Charles was a fanatic about varying your foot orientation on leg curls.

Most people believe there are three types of leg curls:

  • Lying leg curls
  • Seated leg curls
  • Kneeling leg curls

Charles would say “that’s it? You you’ve got to be kidding me!!” Charles knew that there were many, many different ways to perform leg curls.

Here are a few of the ways to add variety to your leg curls:

  • You can plantarflex or dorsiflex your feet
  • You can point your feet inwards, outwards or straight ahead
  • You can use 2 legs or 1 leg at a time

This means there are (2 x 3 x 2) = 12 different variations of leg curls you can perform on any leg curl machine! How cool is that?

The same thought process can be applied to many other exercises. For example on squats you can use a wide, medium or narrow stance. You can also choose to squat with your heels flat or with your heels slightly elevated.

When you train your chest you can use a 15, 30, 45, 60 or even a 75 degree angle on incline dumbbell presses. When you perform incline dumbbell curls to target the long head of your biceps you can use a 30, 45, 60 or 75 degree incline bench.

All of these different exercise variations have merit because they all target a different portion of the motor unit pool for each muscle group. The bottom line is Charles was a big believer in varying BOTH the choice AND the order of exercises in his strength training routines.

This is a huge part of why he delivered superior results for his athletes and became the greatest strength coach of all time.

Principle #3: You Must Be A Wizard With Sets And Reps!

Charles Poliquin was truly a wizard when it came to manipulating the sets and reps of his routines. Don’t worry, you won’t have to spend 7 years at Hogwarts to learn how how to manipulate your sets and reps. But you DO have to be a little creative!

First let’s talk about reps.

The number of reps that you should perform depends on your training goal. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Hypertrophy: 6-20 reps per set
  • Strength: 1-8 reps per set

Charles believes that bodybuilders should perform most of their sets in the 6-20 rep range. It is perfectly OK to perform some sets with more than 20 reps or less than 6 reps. However, if your goal is muscular size then stick with the 6-20 rep range most of the time.

On the other hand if your main goal is to get stronger then Charles believes you should perform most of your sets in the 1-8 rep range.

Charles believes that the rep is “the mother of all loading parameters.” In other words when Charles sits down to write a new training routine for his world-class athletes the first thing he decides on is the number of reps that his athletes should perform per exercise.

The rep range influences all of the other loading parameters.

For example certain exercises cannot be performed for high or low reps. If you are performing a set of 20 reps for legs then it would be suicide to choose the front squat.

Your scapular retractors (upper back muscles) would tire out after the first 6 reps and you would not be able to hold the bar on your front delts.

On the other hand some exercises should never be performed for low reps. If you write a routine featuring sets in the 1-3 rep range then it would be beyond stupid to pick any type of skull crushers exercise! You would tear your triceps tendon right off the bone before you actually accomplished anything productive.

The number of reps that you perform also influences the number of sets that you can do.

Charles believes that when you are training for strength in the 1-3 rep range that you should do AT LEAST 6 sets per exercise. On the other hand if you are performing sets of 10+ reps then 3-4 sets per exercise is probably more than enough.

I mentioned earlier that Charles is like a wizard with sets and reps. He had some very creative set and rep schemes that he used with athletes. One of his favourite set / rep schemes for building muscle mass was the 6/12/25 method.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a tri-set where you perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise and 25 reps on the third exercise. For example:

6/12/25 method arm workout

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying DB extension, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing cable rope overhead extension, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A4: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Seated DB hammer curl, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A6: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are some exercise videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2.

The 6/12/25 method works incredibly well for building size. You get to blast your arms with three different rep ranges and exercises to exhaust all the motor units in the biceps and triceps motor unit pool. The time under tension is also incredibly long because of the tri-set so you will get a skin-bursting pump!

Charles also had some creative ways to manipulate the sets and reps for his athletes who needed to get stronger. One of his favorite strength-building routines was the 1/6 contrast method. The idea is simple: you are going to back and forth between performing sets of 1 rep and sets of 6 reps. For example:

  • Set #1: 1 rep
  • Set #2: 6 reps
  • Set #3: 1 rep
  • Set #4: 6 reps
  • Set #5: 1 rep
  • Set #6: 6 reps

Charles Poliquin learned the 1/6 contrast set method from one of his colleagues in 1992. He had a TON of success using it with his world-class athletes.

The varying reps helps to “excite” your central nervous system so that you lift heavier loads. It also lets you perform 6 total sets per exercise which matches Charles’ belief that you should perform at least 6 sets per exercise when training for strength.

Here is what a 1/6 contrast method leg workout might look like:

1/6 Method Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6 x 1/6**, 2/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method**** / toes pointed out), 6 x 3, 2/0/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as a 1/6 contrast set as described above.

****Dorsiflex your toes (point your toes up towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your toes (point your toes down away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Charles had a ton of different ways to manipulate the sets and reps of his routines. This should give you some ideas. If you are looking for more ideas on how to vary the sets and reps of your workouts then check out the following article:

Chalres Poliquin’s 15 Favourite Training Programs!

That article will give you more than enough ideas!

Principle #4: You Must Be Creative With Your Exercise Tempos!

Charles Poliquin was famous for saying that “exercise tempo” is the most neglected loading parameter.” If your goal is to learn the Charles Poliquin training principles then learning how to manipulate exercise tempo is a must.

Tempo is the speed at which you perform your exercises. Charles was the first strength coach to write tempo using a 4-digit code. For example:

4/2/X/0

The first number tells you how fast to lower the weight, the second number tells you how long to pause in the bottom position, the third number tells you how fast to lift the weight and the fourth number tells you how long to pause in the top position.

In other words “4/2/X/0” tells you to lower the weight over 4 seconds, pause for 2 seconds in the bottom position, lift the weight explosively and pause in the top position.

Just in case you are more of a visual learner here is Charles Poliquin himself teaching you exercise tempo:

Here is one of the simplest and most important rules of exercise tempo:

Lower weights down more slowly than you lift them up!

This is the total opposite of what most trainees do! For example when the average trainee performs a set of bench presses they drop the weight down to their chest with no control and then press it back up. This is all wrong!

The eccentric or lowering phase of the exercise is where most of the strength and size gains come from! If you want to get bigger and stronger then you must lower your weights under control.

The 6x Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates was also a big fan of lowering weights under control. You can click right here to listen to him talk about the importance of eccentric contractions for muscle growth.

So how slow should you lower your weights down? Charles likes to use a 1-5 second lowering phase about 80-90% of the time. There is no best eccentric tempo. Just like your sets and reps you have to vary your eccentric tempo over time.

Another reason exercise tempo is so important is it influences the total time under tension of your set. Time under tension simply tells you how long a set lasts and how long a muscle was being trained for in that set. Time under tension is calculated using your reps and your tempo:

Time under tension = (number of reps per set) x (length of time per rep)

For example if you perform sets of 8 reps on a 4/0/X/0 tempo then your time under tension per set is about (8 x 5) = 40 seconds.

Charles Poliquin was the first strength coach to define optimal time under tension parameters for various goals. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin Optimal Time Under Tension Parameters

  • Relative strength = 1-20 seconds time under tension
  • Absolute strength = 1-40 seconds time under tension
  • Functional hypertrophy = 20-40 seconds time under tension
  • Hypertrophy = 40-70 seconds time under tension

If your goal is strength then most of your sets should have 1-40 seconds of time under tension. On the other hand if your goal is muscular hypertrophy then most of your sets should have 20-70 seconds of time under tension.

Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule. But these are very good general guidelines. The only way to know your time under tension per set is to manipulate your exercise tempo just like you would your sets, reps and exercises!

OK, let’s take a look at a couple of routines covered earlier in the article.

6/12/25 method arm workout

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying DB extension, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing cable rope overhead extension, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A4: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Seated DB hammer curl, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A6: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

This 6/12/25 method arm workout should look familiar! This was a Poliquin-style hypertrophy routine. Let’s calculate the time under tension per exercise.

  • Exercise A1: 6 reps on a 4/0/X/0 tempo = (6 x 5) = 30 seconds time under tension
  • Exercise A2: 12 reps on a 3/0/X/0 tempo = (12 x 4) = 48 seconds time under tension
  • Exercise A3: 25 reps on a 2/0/X/0 tempo = (25 x 3) = 75 seconds time under tension

This is perfect! When you are training for hypertrophy you want your sets right around the 20-70 second range so these tempos are very appropriate for this routine.

If you just dropped the weights down on the eccentric range without controlling them at all then you would be nowhere near these time under tension ranges.

Charles was often very creative with his tempos when training in the 1-5 rep range. You should be too! When you are training with low reps you can use some very long eccentric tempos because it’s easy to stay in the 1-20 or 1-40 time under tension range.

For example Charles was a big fan of using slow tempo squats. He often had his athletes squat down over 7 seconds and pause for 6 seconds in the hole before exploding back up. Charles calls this a “Klokov squat” because the Olympic weightlifting superstar Dmitry Klokov popularized them. Check it out:

Talk about an impressive squat! These slow tempo squats have many advantages. They overload the eccentric range of the movement, they eliminate the stretch reflex in the bottom position so your muscles have to work harder and they reinforce proper exercise technique.

No wonder Charles used them with his athletes! I will talk more about slow eccentric tempo methods in part 7 of this article.

Principle #5: You Must Pay Attention To Rest Intervals!

Rest intervals are another one of those loading parameters that is ignored by most people.

How many trainees do you see in your local gym timing their rest intervals using a stopwatch? I don’t know about you but the only people I’ve EVER seen properly measure their rest intervals were hardcore powerlifters.

In reality rest intervals are an extremely important part of your training routines.

One of the reasons Charles likes to use antagonistic supersets so much is because they let you take enough rest in between your sets. Just take a look at the following Poliquin-style chest / back workout:

Charles Poliquin Chest / Back Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 5 x 5, 3/1/X/1, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: 75 degree DB overhead press, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

For this routine you are supposed to rest for 100 seconds in between your A1 / A2 exercises and rest for 60 seconds in between your B1 / B2 exercises. This may not seem like a lot of rest. After all, you are resting less than 2 minutes between all of your exercises!

Most people rest way longer than that between their sets! Of course things are not this simple. You are only resting for 100 seconds between your A1 / A2 exercises but you have WAY more rest than that in between your sets of incline bench presses!

Just think about it: after your 1st set of incline bench presses you rest 100 seconds, then rest about 20 seconds while performing your set of chin ups, then rest another 100 seconds before performing your next set of incline bench presses.

That means you get (100 + 20 + 100) = 220 seconds of rest between your sets of incline bench presses! That’s almost 4 minutes! Charles believed that using antagonistic supersets was one of the only ways to get in a lot of quality sets while also resting long enough between exercises.

Here are some general guidelines for when you are using antagonistic body parts and training for strength:

Charles Poliquin Antagonistic Superset Rest Period Guidelines

  • Sets of 1 rep: 120 seconds
  • Sets of 2-3 reps: 100 seconds
  • Sets of 4-6 reps: 75-100 seconds
  • Sets of 7-9 reps: 45-75 seconds
  • Sets of 10-15 reps: 30-60 seconds
  • Sets of 16-25 reps: 30 seconds

For example if you are performing a 10 sets of 3 workout then you would rest about 100 seconds in between sets. Charles used advanced statistical analysis on his athletes’ training logs to arrive at these numbers.

Basically he used many different rest intervals with thousands of athletes and then used that data to figure out precisely which rest intervals produced the best results. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Charles’ data is spot on.

Of course these numbers work best when you are training for strength. So what about when you are training for muscular size? I’m glad you asked! Charles believed that one of the best ways to train for size is to use training methods that prolong the time under tension of a set.

Some of Charles’ favourite options for bodybuilders include supersets, tri-sets and giant sets. For example here is a biceps tri-set routine that Charles Poliquin wrote many years ago:

Charles Poliquin Biceps Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (offset grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0**, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 2-3 minutes rest

**Pause for 2 seconds at 30-45 degrees of elbow flexion during the concentric range. This will increase your recruitment of the brachialis muscle.

You can click right here to watch Charles Charles coaching a bodybuilder through this routine:

As you can see when Charles uses supersets, tri-sets and giant sets he has his athletes rest 10 seconds in between exercises. After the last exercise you would rest for 2-3 minutes and then repeat the entire circuit again. This is a very creative way to manipulate your rest periods to build more muscular hypertrophy.

The bottom line is your rest periods are another CRUCIAL part of your training programs. They are certainly one of the most important Charles Poliquin training principles. If you are not using a stopwatch to track your rest intervals then you are leaving some hard-earned gains on the table!

Principle #6: You Must Train All Parts Of The Strength Curve!

Charles Poliquin believed that overloading different points in the strength curve was one of the fastest ways to accelerate your progress.

The strength curve is a model used to show how strong your muscles are in different positions or how strong you are at different points in an exercise. There are three points in the strength curve:

  • The bottom or stretched position
  • The mid-range position
  • The top or shortened position

Let’s use the back squat as an example. Of course I am talking about a full back squat here, not a powerlifting style back squat.

Here is Dmitry Klokov giving a good demonstration of a full back squat:

There are three main parts of a back squat. There is the bottom position where your hips are below your knees. There is the mid-range position where your legs are about parallel to the ground or slightly above parallel. Finally there is the top or shortened position where your legs are almost straight.

The hardest part of a back squat is the bottom position. This is where your legs are overloaded the most during a squat. On the other hand the top part of a back squat is relatively easier. Your leverages are much better here so your quads don’t have to work nearly as hard.

If you want to build size and strength as quickly as possible then you have to use strategies that overload all 3 points in the strength curve, not just the bottom part! Otherwise your body gets “bored” of the training stimulus and starts to adapt more slowly to your workouts.

Fortunately Charles Poliquin had a huge variety of ways to do this. One of Charles’ favourite strategies was to use bands and chains on exercises such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Bands and chains were popularized by Louie Simmons, the creator of the Westside Barbell training system.

You can click right here to watch Charles Poliquin coaching IFBB pro Ben Pakulski through a set of chain bench presses:

Chains are a little bit easier for the average person to understand. As Ben bench presses the weight up off his chest the chains come off the ground and make the bar heavier. This makes the movement somewhat lighter in the bottom position and somewhat heavier in the top position.

Chains are a great strategy for overloading the mid-range of the strength curve. They also make the center of mass of the barbell much lower towards the ground which gives the exercise a totally different feel. Benching with resistance bands is a completely different animal.

You can click right here to watch Charles Poliquin coaching Ben Pakulski through some banded bench presses.

The bands are like giant rubber bands that you attach to a barbell. As you bench press the weight up they rapidly pull the weight back down to the ground. They don’t make the barbell heavier. Instead they pull the weight down faster than the speed of gravity!

Bands are a great way to overload the lockout portion of squats, bench presses and deadlifts. They give the movement a totally different feel.

Charles believes that bands are so taxing on your central nervous system and connective tissues that you should only use them every other workout. For example:

  • Workout #1: Band bench press
  • Workout #2: Regular bench press
  • Workout #3: Band bench press
  • Workout #4: Regular bench press
  • Workout #5: Band bench press
  • Workout #6: Regular bench press

Of course Charles had some other ways to overload different points in the strength curve. One of Charles’ favourite methods was to change the angles on an exercise to overload a different part of the movement.

You can click right here to watch Charles Poliquin giving a perfect demonstration of the preacher curl.

Charles Poliquin was a huge fan of preacher curls. He felt that preacher curls and incline curls were BY FAR the 2 best biceps exercises that you can perform.

Preacher curls are great for overloading the stretched position of the strength curve. They are hardest when your forearms are parallel to the ground which is near the start of the movement.

If you want to overload the shortened position of the strength curve then you can perform a vertical preacher curl. You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the vertical preacher curl, aka the “spider curl.”

This exercise is actually hardest near the top of the movement instead of the bottom. You will get an incredible contraction in your biceps near the top but you will barely feel your biceps working in the very bottom.

As you can see there are many different ways to overload different points in the strength curve. If you overload the stretched, mid-range and shortened positions then you will make faster progress and your risk of injury will go down.

More strength, more muscle mass and less risk of injury? That sounds like a good deal to me!

Principle #7: You Must Vary The Method And Mode Of Contraction!

OK, now we’re getting into some advanced training strategies! There are three main types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric muscular contractions
  • Eccentric muscular contractions
  • Isometric muscular contractions

Concentric contractions occur when you’re lifting a weight up. For example when you bench press a weight from your chest all the way to lockout you are performing a concentric contraction.

Eccentric contractions are the total opposite: they occur when you are lowering a weight down. For example when you lower yourself down to the bottom position of a squat you are performing an eccentric contraction.

Finally there are isometric contractions. Isometric contractions occur when your muscles are contracting without moving. A good example of an isometric contraction is performing a pause in the bottom position of a squat.

Charles believed that anyone with over 2 years of hardcore training experience should at least start experimenting with advanced eccentric and isometric training protocols. If you are a beginner with less than 2 years of training experience then these methods are not for you!

Advanced Eccentric Training Methods

Charles used a ton of different eccentric training methods with his athletes. I cover this topic in great depth in the following article:

The 11 Greatest Eccentric Training Methods!

In this article I will teach you 2 of Charles’ favourite eccentric training protocols. Charles believed that accentuated eccentric training is one of the fastest ways to blast through a training plateau.

Eccentric training works incredibly well for stimulating adaptations within the central nervous system and building functional hypertrophy. One of the simplest ways to perform eccentric training is to use exercise variations which specifically overload the eccentric range of an exercise.

Two great examples include zottman curls and the Poliquin method on leg curls.

The zottman curl is probably one of the best exercises you can perform for your brachialis muscle. Here is a great video:

The basic idea is to curl the weight up with a supinated grip and to lower the weight back down with a pronated grip. The brachialis muscle works the hardest when you curl with a pronated grip. However, it is still activated at least a little bit during supinated grip curls.

Most people know that you are stronger when you curl with a supinated grip rather than a pronated grip. This means Zottman curls let you curl up a heavier-than-normal weight so you can eccentrically overload your brachialis during the lowering phase. How cool is that?

The Poliquin method on leg curls is another great example of an eccentric exercise. Check it out:

The basic idea is to curl the weight up with your toes dorsiflexed (pointing towards your shins) and lower the weight down with your toes plantarflexed (pointing away from your shins).

OK, it’s time for an anatomy lesson. The hamstrings are the main muscle group that bends the knee. However, the gastronomic (one of the 2 calf muscles) also helps you bend your knees when your feet are dorsiflexed. When your feet are plantarflexed your gastronomic taps out and stops helping.

When you use the Poliquin method on leg curls you are using your gastronomic to help lift the weight on the concentric range, then leaving your hamstrings to do all the work on the eccentric range.

This means the Poliquin method lets you eccentrically overload your hamstrings. Again, how cool is that!?

Zottman curls and Poliquin method leg curls are relatively easy to recover from and can be performed year-round. Other forms of eccentric training are much more demanding and should be performed sparingly.

One of Charles’ favourite eccentric training protocols is the eccentric cluster set. Here is Josh Bryant giving an excellent overview of how to use weight releasers on the bench press:

If you are interested in learning more about weight releasers then check out this article:

Weight Releasers: The Ultimate Guide!

It is difficult to perform multiple reps with weight releasers. This is because they fall off the barbell in the bottom position of your exercise. If you are training alone then you need to physically re-rack the weight releasers after every rep.

A great way to get around this problem is to perform cluster sets with weight releasers. For this training method you are going to perform sets of 5 reps with the weight releasers. The key is you are going to rest for 30 seconds in between each rep.

While you are resting you get up and re-rack the weight releasers in preparation for your next rep. After your 5th rep you rest 4-6 minutes and repeat the process.

Here is a sample bench press routine:

Bench Press Cluster Sets With Weight Releasers

  • A1: Bench press with weight releasers (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 10/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
  • A2: Unilateral preacher zottman curl, 5 x 5, 5/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated DB hammer curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Rest 30 seconds in between each rep. Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the bar and an extra 5-20% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the bar during the eccentric range should be 90-120% of your 1-rep max.

You can click right here for a perfect demonstration of bench press cluster sets with weight releasers:

This is easily one of the most powerful training methods you can use because it combines cluster sets AND eccentric loading. If you are stuck in a strength plateau then this method will help you blast right through it faster than anything else.

Of course Charles Poliquin was also a big fan of isometric training.

Isometric training is great because it lets you recruit more motor units than any other training method. It also lets you produce up to 15% more force than either concentric or eccentric muscular contractions.

Charles Poliquin’s absolute favourite way to do isometric training was called functional isometrics. Functional isometrics is a reasonably complicated training method so let’s watch a video demonstration first. Check it out:

You are going to divide a barbell exercise such as the bench press into three different ranges of motion. You have the bottom third, the middle third and the top third. You are going to perform 3 sets in each of these ranges of motion for a total of 9 sets.

After your 9 partial range of motion sets you are going to perform 1 full range of motion sets. For example:

  • Sets 1-3: Bottom third range of motion
  • Sets 4-6: Middle third range of motion
  • Sets 7-9: Top third range of motion
  • Set 10: Full range of motion

For the first 9 sets you are going to perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between the safety pins followed by an all-out isometric contraction against the top pin. You want to push against the top pin as if you were trying to break it in half!

After the isometric rep lower the weight back down to the bottom pin and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep. If the weight was heavy enough then you will not get this final rep.

Here is what a full Charles Poliquin style functional isometrics workout might look like:

Bench Press Functional Isometrics Workout

  • A1: Bench press bottom position functional isometric (competition grip), 3 x 4-6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A1: Bench press bottom position functional isometric (competition grip), 3 x 4-6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A1: Bench press bottom position functional isometric (competition grip), 3 x 4-6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: Decline DB extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

**Perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between the safety pins. On your last rep perform 1 all-out isometric contraction against the top pins for 6-8 seconds. Try to break the top pin in half! Then lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more full range of motion rep.

Functional isometrics was one of Charles Poliquin’s “secret weapons” that he used with Olympic gold medalist shot putter Adam Nelson to develop his unbelievable upper body strength.

You may never build a 600+ pound bench press like Adam Nelson. However, if you use this functional isometrics routine then you just might hit a new personal best.

Charles routinely saw his athletes add 30-45 pounds to their best 1-rep max after just 1 month of using this routine!

Conclusion

Charles Poliquin Training Principles

The Charles Poliquin training principles are a collection of ideas on how to design optimal strength training routines.

Charles was a big believer in manipulating ALL of the loading parameters of a training routine. This included the exercises, sets, reps, tempos, and rest intervals. Charles also manipulated the method / mode of contraction and which part of the strength curve was being overloaded.

If you want to optimize your results then you must start manipulating these training variables in your own programs.

Of course this article would not be possible without Charles Poliquin himself. He will be remembered for his contributions to the strength training universe, his endless generosity and of course his blunt sense of humor.

I hope this article honors Charles Polquin’s legacy for many years to come. As they say, “legends never die.”

If you enjoyed this article then check out my other guides on Charles Poliquin’s training theories:

You won’t find information like this anywhere else in the world. Trust me – I’ve looked! Now let’s finish things off with a quote from the master blaster himself:

“Your mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open!” 

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

Dr. Mike Jansen

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

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