What Is The Charles Poliquin Training Split?


Charles Poliquin Training Split

What is the best training split? Charles Poliquin believed that most athletes did best training body parts once every 5 days. But what would such a Charles Poliquin training split look like? Find out the details right here!

Introduction

Charles Poliquin had several closely-related training splits that he used with about 70% of his professional athletes.

In order to give each one of them the attention they deserve I have organized this article as follows:

  • Part 1: Training Frequency
  • Part 2: Antagonistic Body Part Training
  • Part 3: Poliquin-Style Split #1
  • Part 4: Poliquin-Style Split #2
  • Part 5: Poliquin-Style Split #3
  • Part 6: Poliquin-Style Split #4
  • Part 7: Poliquin-Style Split #5
  • Part 8: Sample Training Routines
  • Part 9: Conclusion

I consider the late Charles Poliquin to be my single most important mentor in the iron game. 

In many respects my life’s work, Revolutionary Program Design, was made possible by Charles’ genius, his passion for strength training, his kindness, and above all his generosity.

What I would give to be able to pick his brain today.

But alas, life marches onward and waits for no one. 

If you understand and integrate the information contained in this article you will understand how to utilize one of the greatest, most effective training splits ever devised!

There is a reason these were Charles’ go-to training splits for producing Olympic champions in 22 different sports. 

Just remember, I am merely the messenger for this information. The true source of this knowledge was Charles and, before him, the realm of human genius itself.

Part 1: Training Frequency

Before you decide what training split you want to utilize you first have to answer the following question:

“What training frequency should I use?”

Or more specifically, how often should I train each body part?

There are many different views on training frequency. 

Some people favor training lifts or body parts 3-10 times per week, while others prefer resting as long as possible between workouts.

Charles’ opinion on this matter was rather simple: 

“Go heavier or go home.”

In other words, going back to the gym just to repeat a previous workout that you did is a waste of time. Lift hard, rest, and come back once you are stronger.

If you can do this every day (like John Broz does), fine. If performing 2 workouts per week works best for you, fine.

But do not come back unless you can add some weight to the bar!

In Charles’ experience most trainees do best training each body part once every five days.

This is in the middle of the high-frequency camp (which generally promotes 2-3 workouts per week per body part), and the low-frequency camp (which generally promotes 1 workout per week per body part).

For example, here is one of Charles’ preferred splits:

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

Each body part gets hit directly once every five days and the athlete spends about 4 days per week in the gym.

Part 2: Antagonistic Body Part Pairing

One of the more interesting aspects of the Poliquin splits is that they are all designed from the ground up to allow you to train antagonistic body parts together in the same workout.

For example, you might find quads and hamstrings, chest and elbow flexors, or back and triceps trained together in the same workout.

However, Charles didn’t just train these antagonistic body parts together. 

He took things one step further and actually alternated sets for these opposing body parts throughout the workout!

For example, he may have had one of his athletes do a set for the triceps, rest 2 minutes, do a set for the elbow flexors, rest 2 minutes, and repeat the process.

This is technically a super set, but it is quite different from the agonist supersets that I talk about a lot on revolutionary program design.

These antagonistic super sets are not necessarily a new training concept. Arnold Schwarzenegger was using them in the 1970s to build his Mr. Olympia physique!

However, it was not until the 1990s when strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin and Ian King really popularized this training method.

Alternating sets between opposing body parts has several key advantages over more traditional training. They include the following:

  1. Increased motor unit recruitment
  2. Decreased performance drop off curves
  3. Increased training density
  4. Improved structural balance
  5. Better pumps

These advantages are SO important to the Poliquin splits that we will examine each one in more detail right now.

  1. Increased motor unit recruitment

The scientific literature is quite clear on this one: antagonistic body part super sets increase your strength levels via increased motor unit recruitment!

The idea is that you are able to produce stronger muscular contractions shortly after contracting the antagonistic muscle group(s).

For example, your strength on preacher curls will be improved 1-2 minutes following a set of lying tricep extensions.

No one really understands why this is the case, but it likely has something to do with the way the nervous system is wired.

The bottom line here is if you want to lift more weight in your next workout then antagonistic body part supersets are one way to do it!

  1. Decreased performance drop off curves

Over the course of a workout you will inevitably get weaker. This is just a fact of life. 

However, what if I told you there was a way to dramatically decrease the rate at which your body fatigued over the course of a workout?

There is: antagonistic body part supersets!

The scientific literature as well as real-world experience tells us that you will lose strength during a workout slower if you train antagonistic body parts together.

This is true regardless of whether you are doing more of a strength-focused intensification routine with lots of low rep sets, or a high-rep / high-volume accumulation-style workout.

And at the end of the day, a higher number of sets performed with a higher load is always going to result in a bigger, stronger, leaner you!

  1. Increased training density

This one should be rather obvious: when you train antagonistic body parts together you are able to increase the density of your training!

The reason is simple: while one of your muscle groups is recovering from a hard set, the other one is working!

For example, if you are super setting chest and back, your chest will be resting during your sets of back and vice-versa! 

This means you can decrease your overall rest between sets without negatively impacting your performance.

In other words, you can get twice as much work done in the same amount of time, or you can complete the same volume of work in half the time! 

Not a bad deal if you ask me!

  1. Improved structural balance

This is one of the less obvious but massively important benefits of using antagonistic body part supersets in your training.

One of the keys to achieving optimal structural balance is to work both sides of your body and your joints equally.

For example, if you did 100 sets of bench presses per week but 0 sets of upper back work you would surely run into problems with your shoulder health quite quickly.

One of the easiest ways to make sure you are balancing your training properly is to just use antagonistic supersets as Charles Poliquin advocated! 

They literally force you to balance out the number of sets you do for each side of your body and each half of your joints. 

This goes a long way in preventing injuries and promoting rapid gains in strength and size.

  1. Better pumps

Arnold Schwarzenegger figured this one out a long time ago, and it turns out he was right-on-the-money: antagonistic supersets  give you incredible pumps!

There is just something about training chest and back together or quads and hams. The blood just seems to “pool” in the muscles without escaping!

Bodybuilding coaches such as Milos Sarcev and John Meadows are also big proponents of this system, amongst other people.

The bottom line is that there are many, many benefits to incorporating antagonistic body part training into your routines. 

And the Poliquin splits accommodate this type of training better than any other split out there (with the possible exception of the classic upper / lower split).

Part 3: Poliquin-Style Split #1

We’re finally getting to the good stuff: the Poliquin splits!

It only makes sense to kick things off with the most famous Poliquin split in the world. 

This could be thought of as Charles “default” or “go-to” split as it worked for such a high percentage of his athletes, from gold medalist Adam Nelson to silver medalist Dwight Phillips to gold medalist Helen Maroulis.

Here is the split:

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

Body parts are trained directly once every five days, although many body parts (such as arms) do receive some additional indirect stimulation during the five-day training week.

Even on the lower body day sets for quads and hamstrings are alternated throughout the workout. 

For example, this may include super setting squats and leg curls early in the workout and super setting lunges and back extensions later in the workout.

In my experience there are two major drawbacks with this exact split.

First of all, it can be quite taxing to train both your chest and your back in the same workout! 

These are two relatively large muscle groups that often require some seriously heavy slag iron to get a training response!

The other major issue is that this split can be very demanding on the lumbar spine. 

It is not at all easy to perform heavy rowing exercises including t-bar rows and dead stop rows and then return one day later to do heavy squats and deadlifts!

This was rarely a problem for Charles’ athletes because he almost never incorporated these heavy barbell rowing movements into his clients’ routines. 

Instead he preferred rowing movements that are less demanding on the lower back such as one-arm arcing DB rows, one-arm elbows-out DB rows, and cable face pulls.

With all do respect to Charles, this is one area where I strongly disagree with Charles! 

I believe these heavy rowing movements have a very important role to play in your training, especially if you use the form that I recommend on t-bar rows and barbell dead stop rows.

Nonetheless, this is a fantastic training split. If you tend to use rowing variations that place minimal stress on your lower back then I highly recommend you give it a try.

Part 4: Poliquin-Style Split #2

This split is extremely similar to the Poliquin-style split #1. 

There is one key difference to pay attention to: the location of the torso day and the arms day are swapped.

For example:

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

If you are fond of using relatively heavier rowing movements in your training (as I am, both myself and with my online coaching clients) then you may find this split to be a better option.

There will always be at least 1 day of rest between workouts that significantly tax the lower back which will allow for just enough rest to progress without overtraining.

Another advantages to this specific split is that your arms have an extra day of rest before being hammered again on the chest / back day. 

There really aren’t any obvious drawbacks to this split – I highly recommend you give it a shot if your schedule allows.

Part 5: Poliquin-Style Split #3

For example:

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

This is another variation of the so-called Poliquin split. 

You are still training antagonistic body parts together (for example, chest and biceps on day 1 and back and triceps on day 4).

Charles often used this specific split with his more dopamine-dominant athletes or those who were blessed with a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

For these gifted athletes it can be quite a challenge to train chest and back together on the same training day. 

This split solves this problem by pairing either chest or back with a smaller muscle group such as biceps or triceps.

If you find yourself having trouble recovering from a properly programmed chest / back workout then I highly recommend you give this split a try!

Part 6: Poliquin-Style Split #4

This is another split that deserves your attention.

Many people find that they have a hard time performing pressing movements twice in a five-day period. 

For example, on the Poliquin-style split #1 you may be doing things like incline bench presses and incline dumbbell presses on chest / back day, and things like close grip bench presses or dips on arm day.

Some people find this is just too much of a good thing and they can’t properly recover!

If this describes you then you may want to try the following split:

  • Day 1: Chest / Elbow Flexors / Triceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Back / Rotator Cuff
  • Day 5: Off

The most important thing to notice is that the chest and triceps muscles are trained on the same day! 

This gives these muscles a full five days of rest to recover with no overlapping of body parts.

This is actually one of my favorite splits to use with individuals with sub-optimal upper body structural balance. 

I often just perform shoulder exercises (overhead pressing exercises, really) instead of the “chest” work on this split. 

This organization makes it super easy to focus on the major upper body structural imbalances that I see in clients over and over again:

  1. Rotator cuff strength
  2. Lower trap strength
  3. Overhead pressing strength
  4. Brachialis strength

In fact, if I had to pick one split to use to correct a client’s upper body structural imbalances in record time, this would be it! (with chest work swapped out for shoulder / overhead pressing work, of course).

Check out the sample routines for an example of a great routine to improve upper body structural balance!

Part 7: Poliquin-Style Split #5

OK, this is a rather extreme variation of the Poliquin split that should only be reserved for highly advanced bodybuilders.

I know many of you will be tempted to try this split before you are ready, which is why I am hesitant to include it here.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  • Day 1: Chest/Back
  • Day 2: Quads
  • Day 3: Arms
  • Day 4: Hamstrings
  • Day 5: Off

This split breaks up the quads and hamstrings work into two seperate days. This allows bodybuilders with lagging lower bodies to really hammer the legs with a lot of volume and exercises.

The drawback to this split is that you are training 4 times in 5 days. 

This is simply too much for most people to recover from, even those individuals with above average recovery ability!

This was a split Charles loved to use during his “5-Day Hypertrophy Bootcamp” seminars. 

He purposefully over trained his students into the ground for five days. 

After the initial five day training period he instructed his students to take a full five days off training and increase their baseline calorie intake by 50% for the five days!

Many students reported gaining several pounds of solid muscle (and even dropping body fat!) during the 5 day recover period.

This split is certainly interesting, but I think there are better options for most trainees.

Part 8: Sample Training Routines

Here are a few sample training routines illustrating how you might organize your workouts using one of the above Poliquin splits.

Of course nearly every training style is possible with these routines, from high-volume bodybuilding training, to functional hypertrophy training, to pure strength-training routines.

Note: if you have any trouble at all reading the following workouts then please read through the following article: 

How To Read A Workout Routine!

It will teach you step-by-step how to read a training program where all of the loading parameters are clearly defined 🙂

Now onto the sample routines!

Sample training routine #1

This routine uses the following split:

  • Day 1: Chest / Back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Arms / Rotator Cuff
  • Day 5: Off

For example:

Day 1: Chest / Back

  • A1: 60 degree incline bench press, 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Shoulder width supinated chin ups, 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline DB press, 3 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 1-arm elbows-out DB row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest

Day 2: Legs

  • A1: Front squat (heels flat / wide), 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Rear foot elevated split squat, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (with bands), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

Day 4: Arms / Rotator Cuff

  • A1: Close grip bench press, 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: 1-arm preacher zottman curl, 5 x 5****, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline ez-bar extensions (bar to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB external rotations (elbow on knee), 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

**** all sets performed as cluster sets! A cluster set is a set of five reps where you take a 10-15 second pause in between each rep. 

During the pause the barbell should be loaded back onto the squat rack or bench press station etc.

Cluster sets were a favorite of master Poliquin for increasing relative and absolute strength at dizzying rates.

If you are more interested in strength than size then I recommend you give this routine a try.

Sample training routine #2

This routine uses the following split:

  • Day 1: Arms
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Chest / Back
  • Day 5: Off

For example:

Day 1: Arms

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Flat DB extensions, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Overhead rope cable extensions, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB curls (supinated / offset grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (pronated / wide grip), 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Preacher ez-bar curl (supinated / narrow grip), 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Day 2: Legs

  • A1: Back squat (heels slightly elevated / medium stance), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Leg press, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Leg extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 1/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantar flexed / pointed in), 3-5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: DB Romanian deadlift, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/2/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: 90 degree back extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Day 3: Chest / Back

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest 
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Pec-dec fly machine, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Wide grip pronated pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: T-bar rows, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Reverse pec dec (for rear delts), 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

This routine features tri-sets, another one of Charles Poliquin’s favourite training routines.

Tri-sets are better suited for packing on pounds of muscle as opposed to getting stronger.

I guarantee you some of the best gains of your life if you properly apply yourself on this type of tri-sets training routine for a good 3-6 workouts per body part!

Sample training routine #3

This split uses the following split:

  • Day 1: Shoulders / Elbow Flexors / Triceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Back / Rotator Cuff
  • Day 5: Off

For example:

Day 1: Shoulders / Elbow Flexors / Triceps

  • A1: Standing behind the neck press, 6 x 7/5/3/7/5/3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (supinated / wide grip), 6 x 7/5/3/7/5/3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Dead skulls, 3 x 8-10, 3/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Incline cable curls, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest

Day 2: Legs

  • A1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 6 x 7/5/3/7/5/3, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Walking lunge (holding DBs), 3 x 8-10, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated leg curls (ankles plantarflexed / pointed out), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • C1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest

Day 4: Back / Rotator Cuff

  • A1: Close neutral grip pull ups, 6 x 7/5/3/7/5/3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing cable external rotations (elbow by side), 6 x 5, 2/0/2/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated cable rope face pulls (with max external rotation), 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 120 seconds rest

As discussed earlier this type of split is absolutely fantastic for improving upper body structural balance! 

This is especially true when you swap out chest work for some overhead presses for the delts.

You may also notice that this routine uses the 7/5/3 wave loading protocol that I have talked about previously.

This is just an unbelievably effective training method for a large percentage of the training populace. 

It boosts strength and functional hypertrophy at a tremendous rate!

If you have completed the upper body structural balance protocol and found weaknesses that need to be addressed then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!

Part 9: Conclusion

Charles Poliquin has left the strength training world with many wonderful training concepts, from upper body structural balance norms to standardizing the tempo prescription to varying the method and mode of muscular contraction.

However, one of my favourite gems from Poliquin’s teachings is the Charles Poliquin training split. 

These splits are not for everyone. In particular you must have a very flexible schedule as you will have to train on different days of the week each week to make it work.

However, if you have a more flexible schedule and are willing to put in some hard, hard work then this may be just the type of training split you need to realize your genetic potential!

Of course if you want help organizing your own training routine with a Poliquin-style split then you can check out my online coaching program.

Thank you for reading and best of luck with your strength training endeavors!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

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

Recent Posts