The Best Training Program Doesn’t Exist
“You are responsible for shaping and choosing the environments that will ultimately shape the person you become and the destiny you have.”
Hardy, Benjamin, Author of Willpower Doesn’t Work
Being stuck halfway through the completion of a difficult endeavour has a name:
It’s called Mediocrity.
How many trainees find themselves in such a position?
Year in, year out, they look the same, lift the same… and fight to stay sane!
- These are the guys that train twice a day, every day, and have zero gains to show for it…
- These are the guys that train heavy despite obvious nervous fatigue…
Willpower is very rarely the problem.
Most trainees are just misguided or clueless.
They simply fail to create an environment to foster growth.
With such scenario it is tempting to blame the methodology. And indeed, many end up vilifying x, y or z type of training.
“German Volume is no good”
“Westside doesn’t work”
Wrong! It doesn’t work for YOU!
Because you are not training for your type.
Most successful athletes instinctively tune in to their types.
Of course, this means knowing yourself to manage your INTERNAL environment.
As the saying goes: “Know Thyself.” And, I learned this the hard way in my four decades of training Olympic champions.
My goal here is to share with you the basis of the system and my views on neurotransmitter dominance in the context of performance and muscle gains.
Each individual has their own unique ways of achieving their goals, and individualization should be embraced fully.
Case in point: Ed Coan and Jon Brown. Two diametrically opposed training methods that both delivered stellar results.
But still far too many people diligently stick to a method that does not suit them.
Take Care of the Extremes
“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and, thinking what no one else has thought.”
As Dr Mauro Di Pasquale is fond of saying: “Your best advise only applies to 70% of the population”
I couldn’t fail but notice that some athletes made better progress in strength on maintenance phases compared to their regular training.
Basically, 70% of the population reacts well to an average training volume.
While 15% need less volume and 15% need more.
That’s the typical inverted bell curve. You find the outliers on either side of the spectrum.
At first, I used a very sophisticated Bulgarian coaching method:
- Pick a bag of eggs (trainees)
- Throw it against a wall
- Pick the survivors
- Train them to become champions.
Joking aside… I produced very good results through trial and error.
It solidified the idea that training individualization is the key to outstanding results.
But I felt I still needed a formula to systematize my methods.
Luckily, I was introduced to coach Anatoly Bondarchuk’s theory early on. (I always give credit where it’s due.)
Bondarchuk maintained that there were three types of athletes:
- Athletes that respond best to volume
- Athletes that respond best to intensity
- Athletes that respond best to variety
While undoubtedly useful, I grew to find such categorization limiting.
Sometimes I would coach a football team and while most athletes were doing well on the day, I had to send some players back home. The reason is that 10 minutes within the workout, I could tell they were not recovered enough to have a good workout. Their teammates were just fine, but these guys were not 100% yet.
This led me to more elaborate extra manipulations of their training cycle.
So, I was still on the look-out for a system.
Little did I know I would find such system in Chinese ancestral wisdom. Heck, I would even have called myself out for becoming a granola head!
The 5 Types
“Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject – the actual enemy is the unknown.”
When I was studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, I became aware of an intriguing notion…
In the TCM model, the five elements of fire, wood, earth, water, and metal regulate health.
For instance one individual may be described as suffering from “excessive fire.” Therapy would then balance their energy and the body would heal.
It is a very intriguing field since some diseases that western medicine differentiate are stacked up into one single category by Chinese medicine. One case in point being osteoporosis and adrenal fatigue, for TCM both are disruption of the kidney energy.
Of course, Chinese medicine doesn’t solve every health issue. And I am not advocating foregoing western medicine altogether.
Every system whatever its merits also has its flaws!
Nevertheless what stuck with me as highly relevant to the subject in my mind was that according to Chinese wisdom, each individual tends to be heavily swayed by one element.
Their dominant element will determine personality, strengths, weaknesses and, more germane to our discussion, training response.
The most Yang of the elements is fire.
Earth is balanced.
Water is the most Yin.
Note that, in biology, everything exists on a continuum. Hence pure types are not that common. And most people fall somewhere in-between the five points of the continuum.
The Fire Type
Fire types are the proverbial short fuse individuals.
I had an intern from New York at my gym. I told him: “Just watch, don’t talk to my athletes when I coach.”
I tend to banter a lot to piss off my athletes and get them to push harder.
I was coaching Adam Nelson, who is the most medalled man in history for shot put, and incidentally the poster child for fire type.
I was bugging the hell out of him when the intern decided to be funny…
His joke went flat like a lead balloon
The room was full of Olympians, pro hockey and football players – it became dead silent.
“Hey buddy, pick a window, cause you’re going through it.”
And I knew he was going to throw the guy out of the window, so I made another joke to divert the attention, everybody laughed and I said: “ok, next set!”
Back to my office with the intern, I told him I had just saved his life.
He burst into tears and said, “I realized that.”
Fire types are risk takers with an explosive temperament. They tend to be trigger happy and would rather say sorry than wait for an answer.
A great example of a fire type athlete would be Victoria Anthony nicknamed Mongoose on PCP. Her fighting style reflects her elemental nature. Here is an example of it:
Fire types do very well in power sports and thrive on intensity.
Take away intensity from their program and they will wither away, become unmotivated, and most likely lose muscle mass.
They are highly motivated individuals, driven and enthusiastic. (That’s the sunny side of fire.)
At the other end of the spectrum, the water types are the proverbial laid back Yoga enthusiasts.
Actually, I don’t dwell much on metal and water types. While they have many great qualities, most of these give zero edge when it comes to training.
They naturally gravitate away from physical activities.
Later on I was introduced to the work of Dr. Braverman on neurotransmitters. His test is the most valid to this day. Some of the top researchers on neurotransmitters – such as Catherine Willner and Bill Beloka – agree with me on this.
That was my Ah-Ha! moment.
Chinese types dovetail with neurotransmitters dominance.
An Elegant Formula
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo Da Vinci.
But, before going into more details, let’s make something clear:
Of course. there are more than 4 neurotransmitters.
But for our purposes working with these 5 type (4 neurotransmitters + the balanced “Earth” profile) provides a more than valid shortcut to training optimization.
The reason for this is simplicity.
When I was at the university, some of my classmates thought they could humiliate our anatomy teacher – who was too strict for their undergrad uneducated palates.
So, they set up a dinner between the professor – the author of Grey’s Anatomy as it turns out – and a French anatomy specialist.
They veered the conversation towards the fact than some anatomical structures were missing from Grey’s handbook.
They were already smirking and waiting for Grey’s to be humbled and confused…
Yet… much to their surprise (!)
He was well aware of the existence of these structures and proceeded to point the fact that it was a handbook for students.
He had put in his book all that was necessary for their basic education, no more, no less.
“I can’t rely on those brains of yours to process ALL the information at once.”
The lesson was, chewable bites only!
The same goes with neurotransmitters. There is a lot to say about the subject and a lot to discover.
But for our conversation, we will stick to the bare essentials.
- Dopamine dictates drive and motivation
- Acetylcholine regulates your attention span
- GABA is the neurotransmitter of centered calmness
- Serotonin will predict your level of happiness and contentment.
Hence the archetypical types:
Dopamine dominant type are gifted for power sports that require explosiveness. Sports such as shot putting, or triple jump for example.
Your acetylcholine guy has an outstanding attention span and does well in team sports. In a baseball team 11 out of the 12 are acetylcholine dominant.
GABA dominant individuals would make perfect snippers since they seem to be gifted with infinite patience.
Serotonin dominant people are monks. Content and happy no matter what.
Training Dopamine Individuals:
Without knowledge, action is useless and, knowledge without action is futile.
The dopamine dominant athletes thrive on intensity. Which means low reps and numerous sets.
They can train heavy all the time without burning out, PROVIDED all other training variables change often.
The program needs to vary as often as every other workout with pure types.
They are adaptation machines. Repeating a workout will result in little to no progress. With extreme cases, you would repeat a workout every 40 days. Then they will perform even better. Repeat it sooner and performance will be worse or equal.
Dopamine individuals tend to be fast twitch. Hence going over 8 reps in the basic exercises is a waste a time. They don’t need long TUT to make progress.
Putting a dopamine individual through a 6-12-25 is a highly entertaining experience.
Since they thrive on low reps, an ideal workout supersets two antagonist body parts to allow recovery and save time.
Here’s one typical workout plan that would be well-suited for a dopamine type looking for functional hypertrophy gains:
Pure dopamine make up for 8% of the athletic population. By athletic population I mean Olympian material. Not your average Joe.
For less extreme cases you could select three different trainings and alternate them as follow:
Then you could embark on a less intense phase and introduce more volume for a short while.
I usually advocate NOT to train for your type about 20% of the time.
Training Acetylcholine Individuals
These athletes need variation in volume.
Deloads must be computed into the cycle.
I’d describe such athletes as quite unpredictable. You need to pay extra attention during the warm-up to determinate whether they are sufficiently recovered and adjust accordingly.
I also differentiate 3 different subtypes (learn more in class)
If you want to learn more, don’t wait, enrol for my NEURAL PROFILE BASED PROGRAM DESIGN and learn from the coach who originally designed the neurologically based training system.
For a pure type I would recommend sticking to the following structure:
Also, be sure to program a liver protocol on a monthly basis since this is a weak point for acetylcholine types.
An overtrained acetylcholine dominant athlete will complain of tendon pain.
They need less variation than dopamine types. But volume needs be closely monitored and adjusted.
One of the best method is to alternate between accumulation and intensification phases:
Training a balanced or Earth type:
Earth dominant types are volume freaks. They can tolerate as many as 36 sets per workout. These guys are most suited for endurance.
They are very gifted for hypertrophy, but not so much for strength.
They are the only type to display the myostatin deficiency gene. And 8 out of 10 IFBB pro bodybuilders are both earth types and myostatin deficient.
They thrive on methods that prolong the TUT.
They can stay on the same routine for 6-8 rotations without drop in performance.
When overtrained, their immune system takes a nose dive. They are the one who will come down with a cold.
As far as volume is concerned one of the most successful scheme I’ve used is as follow:
If you paid attention to my writings, you will have noticed that I always mention that reps and training effect are dependent on training age, muscle group and neurotype.
Here’s the explanation:
Dopamine types need less TUT to elicit the same effect as an earth type would.
Acetylcholine types tends to tolerate less intensity. With these athletes you would not go under 10 sec of TUT too often without risking adrenals burnout.
Earth types tolerates and thrive on longer TUT.
Everyone has limits. You just have to learn what your own limits are and deal with them accordingly.
There is an additional layer of complexity to the system. As you must have noticed, there is a deficiency section in the Braverman test.
This section zeroes in on your limiting factor.
Typically yang types will be limited by a yin neurotransmitter.
Deficiencies, contrary to dominance, are dictated by lifestyle, you can fix them to improve your performance.
For example, dopamine styles are very driven but often can’t seem to be able to slow down and have fun (serotonin deficiency.)
Similarly, acetylcholine types won’t be able to stop the hamster running in their head and suffer from anxiety (Chinese calls it: “the professor that lives too much in his head”)
Knowing the deficiencies will allow you to individualize further.
And… there are ALWAYS deficiencies!
It is easy to overlook this variable.
Individualization is key! The saying is gone stale now that every Instaxpert uses it. But the rationale remains solid.
And by individualizing, I mean going full-fledged.
My athletes often worry when comparing programs.
Helen, Yelena and Vicky were puzzled: “How come our programs are so different, we are all wrestlers?”
One of my NHL hockey player, and Olympic Gold medalist thought I was making preferences since he had so much less volume that his team mates and contemplated the fact that I might have been paid to ruin his career… (for the record, he did VERY well)
That’s how widely different a program can be from one athlete to another!
Create the perfect environment for your growth.
It requires introspection and proactiveness as well as a healthy dose of confidence to be able to run counter to common knowledge.
It is all worth it in the end.
Coach Charles R. Poliquin
Learn more with me!