The Top 5 Things I Learnt From Charles Poliquin

13 years ago when i entered the fitness industry things were very different to today.

Facebook was in it's infancy and there were no such things as instagram influencers and becoming a top personal trainer or strength coach meant travelling far and wide and investing thousands to learn from the best.

One of those was Charles Poliquin.

Now if you're reading this and aren't aware of Charles and his accomplishments, he was known as the world most successful strength coach having trained Olympic medalists across almost every sporting discipline as well as numerous athletes across the National Hockey League and National Football League among others. 

At the time of his death, he had achieved podium finishes with athletes across an incredible 17 different sports.

To describe the man fully, you would have had to have met him and to say that Charles had an aurora about him would be an understatement. Personally, i had not only the privilege of learning from Charles direct through his PCIP Strength Coach and Biosignature Practitioner qualifications and what's interesting to me is that many of the successful personal training business owner, those who've gone on to achieve national and international recognition all link back to Charles in some form.

So without delay, to honor Charles passing, i want to share with you the top 5 things i learnt from Charles Poliquin.

1. Training Should Follow Accumulation Phases and Intensification Phases

An accumulation phase is a block of training where total exercise volume is the key stressor. 

The goal here may be improve metabolic, hypertrophic or to endurance based pathways to lose body fat, build muscle and/or increase work capacity.

An intensification phase is a block of training where the intensity of the training is the key stressor.

The goal here would be to increase power or relative strength causing mostly central nervous systems adaptions.

For Example;

Accumulation Phase 1 - 4 Sets of 12 Reps

Intensification Phase 1 - 5 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Accumulation Phase 2 - 4 Sets of 10,10,12,12

Intensification Phase 2 - 6 Sets of 6,6,4,4,2,2

2. As Ones Training Age Increases, Lower Reps Are Necessary To Continue Strength Improvements 

When you first start lifting weights, you aren't very strong and aren't able to lift much weight for a given number of reps and can make improve in virtually any rep bracket because you're new to training with weights and your training age is more or less zero.

But after years of weight training where you've built a more efficient CNS and are more efficient at recruiting muscle fibres to produce more force, lower repetition training is require to continue strength training adaptions and improvements.

For example, in your first year of training you may be working within a 8-12 repetition range which will produce strength training improvements but as you progress and your training age (the number of years you've been training properly) increases, you may need to be training using methods such as 5x5 or wave loading to continue improving.

3. The Skill Of An Exercise Dictates The Number of Reps

Exercises which are more complex in nature with a higher risk profile such as Olympic lifts require lower repetitions to ensure the safety of the athlete or client.

Charles recommended for example, that the snatch Olympic lift would be performed for no higher than two repetitions and the power clean no higher than six. 

Higher repetitions would lead would lead to fatigue, improper technique, impaired motor learning and greater risk for injury.

4. The Higher The Reps, The Lower The Sets Whereas The Lower The Reps, The Higher The Sets Are Needed

Remember point #1 where we will observe either an accumulation or an intensification phase to ensure correct ordering of our programs for continued progress?

Well, the total number of sets per exercise is influenced too depending on which phase you are following to ensure maximal stimulus is received by the CNS, energy systems and muscle fibre type we are trying to influence.

For example, you may choose a rep and set scheme of 4 sets of an exercise for 10,10,12,12 repetitions if the goal was hypertrophy and you may choose 7 sets of 3 if strength training was the goal.

More set ares required for the strength training scheme as the CNS becomes more efficient overtime at recruiting largely fast twitch motor units to produce force where as less sets are required for the lighter, 'pump' based work found within the hypertrophy based rep schemes.

5. To Prevent Overtraining, Cut Back On Volume Not Intensity

After a period of time each training program reaches the part of the bell shaped curve where maximal adaptation has occurred and the body is no longer responding to the program. Similarly, after a period of time following either an accumulation or intensity based workout there will come a point where you may start to over reach possibly over train if you were to continue with the program.

To avoid either case, Poliquin recommends cutting back on the number of sets instead of lightening the load and further delaying recovery which leads to a reversal of your strength adaptions and progress.

For example,

If you have been bench pressing a record weight for you of 100kg for 5 reps and 5 sets by the end of intensification phase but are beginning to feel constant fatigue, loss of motivation and generally taxed and the next workout would look like this after warm up sets;

Set 1 - 105kg x 5reps

Set 2 - 105kg x 2reps 

Instead of lowering the weight to 100kg possibly even 90- 95kg to continue for all 5 sets, you would now terminate the exercise at set 2 and move onto the next exercise in program.

Critical drop off like this is a sign that the performance just isn't there and the body hasn't recovered from the last workout. 

So, To Conclude

In this article i've shared with you just five of the things that i've learnt from Charles Poliquin and could have quite easily made the tips in this article into the thousands such was Charles impact on those who learnt from him.

His teachings and reputation will continue to grow and we'll continue to benefit from Charles 'clinical pears' (for those who learnt from him 😉 ) forever.

I for one am grateful.


Chris Mason