5 Things I Learned at Charles Poliquin’s Advanced Program Design Seminar

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Over the years I have attended countless seminars and consulted privately with some of the biggest names in the fitness industry.

But from all the great coaches I have learned from one stands above the rest and that’s Charles Poliquin aka Strength Sensei. What separates Charles from the rest is that while most favour one particular approach over others, Charles recognises individuality and uses the tool best suited to get the job done.

Simply put Charles has the biggest toolbox and most importantly he knows when to use the right tool.

This is what I call a sniper approach i.e. knowing how to zone in on exactly what a person needs at the right time. In my opinion that’s the number one factor that has enabled Charles to produce the results he has with his athletes in record time. That’s a science and an art that takes many many years to perfect.

In fact if you haven’t studied under coach Poliquin directly you can never fully appreciate his methodology because you wont have the full understanding of how to apply everything in context.

Very recently I had the privilege of attending a private seminar with a select few of my Clean Health colleagues by Charles on Advanced Program Design.

For first time ever Charles Poliquin revealed what he called his greatest competitive advantage on how he individualises training for his athletes based on their physiology.

I must say this was the best course I have done to date because it allowed me to take all the knowledge I have accumulated over the years and have a far better understanding of how to apply it most effectively.

1. The 70% Rule

In physiology everything is defined along a continuum. It’s a bell curve distribution with 68% of the population falling in the middle and 16% falling at each of the extremes.

Charles is very adamant that when he gives general advice about training and nutrition it only applies roughly 70% of the time because it doesn’t account for the outliers.

For example while the average bodybuilder will make the best progress using a moderate volume approach, some will need far more and others far less.

When training for strength it is generally accepted that 3-4 reps per set is the optimal range. However 16% of the population will make better progress with 1-2 reps per set and 16% will make better progress with 10 reps per set.

Knowing what to do in that 30% of the time with those that vary from the norm is what separates a good coach from a great coach.

That’s why at Clean Health our coaches are among the industry leaders in producing results time and time again. Each an every coach is commented to continually up skilling themselves in order to expand their toolbox.

2. The Greatest Determining Factor of an Athlete’s Physiology is their Neurotransmitter Profile

Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that determine how we think, feel, and behave. There are 4 major neurotransmitters. They are Dopamine, Acetyl Choline, GABA, and Serotonin.

The first two are excitatory while the later two are inhibitory.  In other words you need Dopamine and Acetyl Choline to stay awake, while you need GABA and Serotonin to fall asleep.

The relative dominance and deficiency of each of the Neurotransmitters will vary with each person, which will in turn dictate not only how they behave but also how they respond to training.

For those of you who have read Charles Poliquins article on the 5 Elements in Chinese Medicine and how they correlate with someone’s personality and physical type, the 5 Elements are in essence related to Neurotransmitter dominance.

The most simple and effective tool for assessing persons Neurotransmitter Profile is The Braverman Assessment by Eric Braverman who is a leading researcher in the field of Neurotransmitters.

3. Dopamine dominant athletes respond best to intensity

Dopamine is the voltage generated by the brain. It’s related to energy and motivation. These people are strong willed, driven, and highly rational.

Dopamine types are typically very fast twitch and have very efficient nervous systems. As a result they respond best to intensity. If you take away intensity you take away their training stimulus.

In strength training intensity is defined as the percentage of 1RM. With these types 8 reps is considered volume. If you put them on a typical higher rep bodybuilding protocol they will lose muscle mass and strength very rapidly.

Because of their efficient nervous systems they adapt very quickly and need to vary the stimulus at every workout. Its best to vary tempo and exercises but intensity should remain high.

Myself and Clean Health founder Daine McDonald are typical examples of this. Naturally we gravitate toward low reps and adapt very quickly. Whenever we have experimented with high rep protocols we always lose muscle mass and strength.

The best form of fat loss training for Dopamine types is Strongman with 10 sec maximal efforts and incomplete rest periods.

“CHPC Athlete Bryan is the prototypical dopamine dominant athlete, seen here pulling a phenomenal 300kg deadlift raw at just 90kg bodyweight! ”

4. Acetyl Choline dominant athletes respond best to variety

4. Acetyl Choline dominant athletes respond best to variety

Acetyl Choline is the speed at which the brain processes information. It’s related to memory and attention. These people are witty, highly creative, and quick thinkers.

Acetyl Choline types respond best to variety. They are typically fast twitch but their nervous systems aren’t as efficient as Dopamine types. As a result they need repetition in exercise exposure and a mix of volume and intensity. However they over train quite easily if volume is excessive.

Typically they adapt in about 4 workouts of the same body part. After that you need to change exercises and switch from volume to intensity or vice versa. You can play around with set and reps within a macro cycle. They do well with Omni rep protocols e.g. 4-8-12 for hypertrophy or 6-12-25 for fat loss.

If you reduce volume for 3 straight workouts then bring it back up and repeat the cycle you can extend them to 6 workouts for the same body part. E.g. Workout 1 – 100% volume, Workout 2 – 80%, Workout 3 – 40% volume, then repeat.

5. Those with a balanced Neurotransmitter Profile respond best to volume

Athletes who have an equal balance of all 4 Neurotransmitter tend to be stable and grounded. They like structure and consistency and can stay on a program for a long time.

Typically they are mixed fibre type and respond best to a broad range of training stimuli i.e. volume and intensity. They adapt in about 6 workouts of each per given body part and don’t need much variation in sets and reps within a macrocycle.

They can handle volume better than pure Dopamine and Acetyl Choline types but don’t have the ability to recruit a lot of high threshold motor units and burn out with a lot of maximal load lifting. As a result the average intensity should be lower and volume higher. They do well on rep schemes where they have to increase reps such as GVT or prolong TUT such as drop sets and giant sets.

So what about GABA or Serotonin dominant types? If you are reading this chances you don’t fall into either of those categories. These are people very unlikely to have training as priority in their hierarchy of values.

If you would like to learn more about this topic please check out our program design courses:

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