The Poliquin Principles
I've decided to accumulate and post this information for review by the training gurus to pick apart. Enjoy.
-The Poliquin Training Split-
Split Option A - Athletes
Day 1: Chest and back
Day 2: Legs and abs
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders and arms *
Day 5: Off
Split Option B - Bodybuilder #1
Day 1: Back and triceps
Day 2: Upper thighs and abs
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Chest and biceps
Day 5: Shoulders and calves
Day 6: Off
Split Option C - Bodybuilder #2
Day 1: Hamstrings and calves
Day 2: Back and shoulders
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Quads and calves
Day 5: Chest and arms
Day 6: Off
Split Option D - Bodybuilder #3
Day 1: Back and calves
Day 2: Chest
Day 3: Hamstrings and abs
Day 4: Shoulders and arms
Day 5: Quadriceps and calves
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
* Poliquin usually does not reccomend direct shoulder training.
Frequency of training is measured as the number of training sessions for a given muscle group or lift per unit of time. A certain level frequency must be given in the administration of a training stimulus in order to maintain or build upon a previous training stimulus. Optimal recovery time between training sessions is important in maximizing adaptive processes. As a rule of thumb, one would think that as the intensity of the training stimulus increases, there would be a decrease in need for training frequency.
However, in the practice of strength training in the sporting world, especially with elite athletes, there are conflicting schools of thought on training frequency. For example, Rich Weil, World Record holder in the bench press, recommended one session per week per muscle group (Weil, 1985) while at the other end of the spectrum 9 to 12 weekly sessions are common on leading successful weightlifting teams. For example, Tara Nott, America's first Olympic Gold Medalist in weightlifting has regularly squatted 9 times a week to achieve her sporting standard. Some weightlifting National Teams have done as much as 4 to 5 training sessions for the hip and knee extensors on a daily basis. And to rely on the scientific literature for an answer is rather useless, as the data is coming from untrained, unmotivated university subjects.
There are three main schools of thought on frequency:
School 1: Train three times a week. Bompa espouses that concept so did Chuck Sipes a very strong bodybuilder from the sixties. It is the most used system in the World.
School 2: Train at least 6 days a week the lift or its variations that you want to improve. Again, some very successful individuals like Mel Hennessey and Bulgarian lifters have endorsed this training concept.
School 3: Train hard, come back once you can lift more. In other words, wait for supercompensation to take place. So training frequency per muscle group is once every 3 to 10 days per lifts. Fred Hatfield is a strong proponent of this system. So was Mike MacDonald, one of the most successful bench pressers of all time. Terry Todd related to me that he would test how he felt in the bench press muscles with just using a broomstick for resistance. If it felt odd he would take an extra day off, or whatever how many offs he felt it would take.
Here are my own observations on training frequency:
Of all the loading parameters, I think training frequency is the one that is most influenced by individual genetic differences, regardless of drug use or not. I believe that it is the loading parameter that one must experiment with most to find out what works out best for them. I have seen very strong individuals get strong on once every 10 days to 10 times a week. In both extremes there where individuals using recovery agents and some not.
Frequency of training will vary the person's level of qualification. In the immediate start of strength training is definitely a must. As the person gets stronger, genetic differences become more important.
The principle of training economy has to be considered: how much time can you actually devote to training?
Provided that the training intensity and volume are challenging, a frequency of once every 5 days works for most individuals, most of the time. This is how I train 70% of my clients with appreciable results. Of course, you will here arguments like my uncle Bob bench pressed once only every equinox, and he can bench 600 lbs, or on the other side, you will not make gains unless you train at a frequency per week that represents the last 4 digits of you social security number.
The choice of training method influences recovery. For example, the more eccentric overload, the more need for recovery. Squatting 4 sets of 6 with chains is more demanding that squatting 8 sets of 3 explosively, even though the total reps are the same.
All factors being equal, for strength development, frequency is more important than it is for hypertrophy development.
If you can afford dedicating it the time, I believe that training twice a day for the same body part ( if you can afford the training time) is the system that works best. The morning workout facilitates the evening workout. Then again, I make the individual train that body part 5 days later. The trainee will train 3 days out of five twice a day for 10 days, then go on to once a day for 5 days.
You have to consider the entire training system. For example, Louie Simmons has an extremely successful system with variations of loads throughout the week. His system works well when you do it in its entirety. So you can't mix a Louie Simmons bench press cycle with a Finnish deadlifting routine and a Russian squatting system. Always give a training system a fair try only in its original design. Combining training systems can lead to failure.
Training more than 3 times a week for a improving a lift is excellent to go through a plateau. In this area, there is scientific literature to back up this concept. But there is also a need to lower training volume once every three weeks for males and every three weeks for females.
Multiple sessions a week is for individuals who want to achieve Olympic standards. In personal communications with Chinese, Bulgarian and former East German weightlifting coaches, all of them stipulated that it takes about 3 years of incremental training to develop the work tolerance for such workloads.
In summary, training frequency will be determined by your training goals, your gender, the choice of training methods, magnitude and intensity of training load and most important your genetic make-up. In other words, you have to find out what works best for you. Take for example my assistant Chad Ikei, he bench pressed a World Record of 316 lbs at a bodyweight of 112.5 lbs at age 19. At that time he was bench pressing twice a week. Later on, when he was on the US weightlifting team, he trained the hip and knee extensors at a frequency of 8 to 12 times a week and yet his best performance was 13th in the World, and was National Record holder in the snatch, clean and jerk and total.
No, you should not try to lift year-round, unless you're committed to be world class powerlifter, bodybuilder, or weightlifter. Even those types of athletes can benefit from taking a week off from training once every 12 to 16 weeks.
During that week off, I do recommend, however, that you stay active doing whatever it is that you enjoy: tennis, windsurfing, biking, whatever. If you stay inactive, you'll experience mood swings due to the circadian regulation of hormonal output. There is some evidence that these mood swings may also be due to insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate uptake.
Keep in mind that the current Olympic gold medalist in the bobsleigh can power clean 160 kilos (352 pounds) while strength-training only five months out of the year. Similarly, the best weightlifter in the world in that same weight class can do about 212.5 kilos (467.5 pounds) in that lift.
You don't need to train year-round to have appreciable amounts of strength.
-Loading Parameters/TUT guidelines-
When training for relative strength, the following loading parameters apply:
Loading Parameters of Maximal Weights
Repetitions: 1-5 RM
Sets: 5-12 per exercise
Exercises: 2 per bodypart
Rest Intervals: 4-5 minutes
Concentric Tempo: 1-4 seconds*
Eccentric Tempo: 3-5 seconds*
Total Set Duration: Under 20 seconds*
Because of the high number of sets you'll be doing for this type of routine, you'll only need to do one to three exercises per workout. You could, however, do as many as four if you pair agonists and antagonists together, as opposed to working agonists alone.
Researchers have found that the ability to achieve full motor unit activation (MUA) is enhanced when immediately proceeded by a contraction of the agonists. For example, after doing a 3-repetition maximum (RM) set of close-grip triceps presses, rest 2 to 3 minutes and perform a a 3- to 4-RM set of dumbbell curls for the biceps. Rest 2 to 3 minutes and repeat for the required amount of sets.
This method has the added benefit of allowing you to double the workload per training session.
Other General Guidelines
1) Don't exceed eight reps in your hypertrophy phaseotherwise, you'll dive into the lower threshold motor units that won't help your throwing much.
2) Cycles should be of three-week duration, max.
3) Use eccentrics in your relative strength phase.
Loading Parameters of Hypertrophy
Intensity: Below 80%
Repetitions: 7 or more
Sets: 2-4 per exercise
Rest Intervals: 30-90 seconds
Concentric Tempo: 2-10 seconds
Eccentric Tempo: 2-10 seconds
Total Set Duration:
My own model on undulating loading patterns has been compared in the scientific literature to other modules of training. You should definitely incorporate it in your own training.
As a rule of thumb, I would say that the musculature grows best when both high volume phases (known as accumulation phases) are alternated with high intensity phases (known as intensification phases). The respective length of each phase will be affected by a variety of factors such as nutrient intake, serotonin and dopamine ratios, hormonal make-up, and fiber-type make-up.
Accumulation phases are normally characterized by the following:
High number of exercises (2-4 per body part)
Higher reps (7 reps or more)
Lower sets (2-4 sets per exercise)
Higher volumes (number of total sets times total reps)
Lower intensities (below 80%)
Shorter rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds)
So, for instance, a typical accumulation phase may consist of 3 exercises of 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting an average of 75 seconds between sets.
Intensification phases are characterized by:
Low number of exercises (1-2 per body part)
Lower reps (1-6)
Higher sets (10-12 total sets per body part)
Lower volumes (total number of sets times total number of reps,
e.g. 6 sets of 3 reps=18 reps of volume)
Higher intensities (80% and above)
Longer rest intervals (3-5 minutes)
So, for instance, a typical intensification phase may consist of 2 exercises of 5 sets of 4-6 reps, resting an average of 3-5 minutes seconds between sets.
Keep in mind there are plenty of ways to undulate the training loads, but the way given above is the one I prefer to prescribe to my clients. To put this into practice, you might try alternating intensification and accumulation phases about every 3 weeks, or every six workouts. In other words, do an accumulation phase for 6 workouts, and then switch to a intensification program for 6 workouts.
-Optimal Strength Ratios for Upper Body Dominated Sports-
Optimal strength ratios in the male elite athletes involved in upper body dominated sports as they related to a 1RM, 160 kg performance in the 36 cm close-grip bench press (Poliquin, 1997)
Optimal Strength Ratios
Close Grip Bench Press
Absolute score: 160 kg (352 pounds)
Relative score: 100%
Incline Barbell Press
Absolute score: 133 kg (293 pounds)
Relative score: 83%
Absolute score: 130 kg (286 pounds)
Relative score: 81%
Absolute score: 102 kg (224 pounds)
Relative score: 64%
Scott Barbell Curls
Absolute score: 74 kg (163 pounds)
Relative score: 46%
Standing Reverse Curls
Absolute score: 48 kg (107 pounds)
Relative score: 30%
External Rotation SA*
Absolute score: 15 kg (33 pounds)
Relative score: 9%
*Done for eight reps
I suggest doing two exercises for the external rotators, either on chest day or back day. Since the pectorals and the lats are both internal rotators of the humerus, it doesn't matter which body part you pair with your external rotator work.
I suggest using an A1/A2 system. That is, for every set of, let's say, chest work, do one set of external rotator work. For example, for rotator cuff work done on a chest day, you might try the following:
A1) Dumbbell bench presses
Rest for two minutes
A2) 30-degree low pulley external rotations (shown below)
Rest for 90 seconds
B1) Incline barbell presses
Rest for 90 seconds
B2) Elbow-in-front dumbbell external rotations (shown below)
Rest for 75 seconds
Warming up is an individual thing. Before I have my athletes do bench or incline, we always do 1-2 sets of light rotator cuff external rotations. If my first working set is 300 lbs, my warm-up would go something like this:
120 x 6 (40% of first working set)
180 x 4 (60%) 210 x 2 (70%)
240 x 2 (80%) 270 x 2 (90%) and then begin my work sets.
This is assuming it is my first exercise of the day- and these 5 sets would be suitable. This breaks away from the traditional 15-12-10 warm-up, or a total of 37 reps- my way has only 16 reps, done in an escalating fashion. My next exercise might be dumb bell press or fly and actually one set of 4-6 would be needed before I jumped right into the meat of the workload. As a general rule, work-up to a double of 90% of your first working set -- not your max
Honestly, while I think Poliquin has some good ideas, I think he over-simplifies (generalizes, in other words) some of the concepts he presents.
I realize that in order to be a businessman, he's got to take this stuff and give it clever names and cookie-cutter principles that any average gym-rat can pick up and use.
But a lot of the time a lot of the nuance is gone when you do that.
The splits outlined at the beginning are a prime example. He takes a lot of older ideas and concepts, then re-packages them with a new name.
I also think he focuses too much on things that don't really matter that much....TUT and the A1/A2 supersets being at the top of that list.
I've already outlined my feelings on periodization, hypertrophy training, and special strength training....suffice it to say, in some ways I agree, in others I don't.
But, no one can argue with Poliquin's success in marketing himself.