My 10 favorite Poliquinisms
10 of my favorites lessons (i.e. Poliquinisms) learned from coach Poliquin
Charles Poliquin recently passed away at the age of 57, leaving behind one of the greatest strength coaching legacies the world has ever seen. Charles was born and raised in the Ottawa/ Gatineau area, completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa and his masters degree at the University of Montreal. Before I share my 10 favourite Poliquinisms, I’m going to give a quick background of how I discovered Charles’ work and why I started listening to him.
For us millennials, the internet has made acquiring information on training absurdly easy but also increasingly difficult when it comes to choosing who to listen to. There are unlimited professionals online with videos and convincing opinions who sound like they know what they’re talking about. However, having a great physique and sounding confident probably aren’t the best indicators when determining how knowledgeable these professionals actually are.
Here are a few factors I would consider more important: Results
Has this coach produced great results for others?
The best thing about Charles was that he had a very objective measuring stick for the results he produced. “Most Olympic medalists in the most sports in the world.” Anaerobic sports, aerobic sports, individual sports, team sports, winter sports, summer sports, women, men?
All of the above.
Damn. Say no more. You have my attention Charles.
As Charles used to say “the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.” No matter the sport or event, Charles seemed to know how to apply the basics to get the best result.
Time spent “in the trenches”
This is a phrase Charles used to describe the time coaches had actually spent in the gym training athletes. This information is rather difficult to find online unless a coach offers it up themselves. Despite growing up in Ottawa, I only discovered Charles’ work about 5 years ago when he launched his website StrengthSensei.com. By this time, he had over 40+ years of experience in the trenches. I remember one time asking myself “Why should I listen to this guy?” The answer became rather clear in a matter of seconds “this guy had been training athletes about twice as long as I had been alive on earth.”
Jeez. Damn. Okay, you have my undivided attention Charles.
You need to go to school for a long time to get a PhD. You need to read a lot of research. If you hung in there long enough to get a PhD, you likely have a solid understanding of the scientific process and how to think critically. Charles never got a PhD, but that didn’t stop him from being way ahead of the research.
There actually seems to be a major drawback to academia in relation to training that Charles never hesitated to point out. The research is about 20 years behind. Charles would say that if he waited for all his training methods to be validated by scientific studies he could waste almost 4 Olympic Games in the process.
In fact, I would argue that if you really want be ahead of the game as a strength coach, you don’t have time to complete a PhD. Time spent completing a PhD is valuable time you could’ve spent “in the trenches” training athletes, rather than spending 3-5 years doing research and typing up a paper that likely validates information that was already known.
Charles seemed to be great at connecting the dots between individuals’ results and their training regimes. He didn’t have time to wait for a meta-analysis on cluster training when he knew it worked since 1967.
Charles never skipped arm day
I’m going to share my favourite 10 pieces of training/life advice Charles has shared in interviews as well as in his articles online. Keep in mind I never had the privilege to meet Charles, which is what makes this article unique. Over the past few weeks it has been clear how the loss of Charles has affected so many people who were close to him. My hope is this article will highlight the fact that Charles also had a large impact on many who didn’t get the chance to meet him.
I also believe Charles’ impact on those who never met him is a reflection of the internet world we currently find ourselves in, and his ability to adapt to that new world. At some point it became clear that social media outlets provided coaches with a platform they could use to educate and influence a larger population. Charles took advantage of this new platform, and individuals such as myself were able to reap the benefits
This development made me think of Darwin’s famous quote “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Charles probably wasn’t the strongest strength coach out there (although he certainly wasn’t weak), he might not have been the most intelligent (although there is a good chance he was), but he was undoubtedly adaptable to change. It seems he was adaptable to change in terms of his theoretical approach to training. Always learning and never satisfied just because he was already producing the best results. Always citing recent scientific literature, ensuring he stayed up to date with any recent developments. He took advantage of social media, rather than critiquing it and discrediting it for its drawbacks. These are just a few reasons why Charles stayed at the top of the game for so long.
In my mind, Charles is still some sort of mythical legend. I’ve heard from multiple accounts that he “remembers every single thing he’s ever read, the year it was published and what journal published it.” I’ve also heard that “he can tell immediately after meeting you if you’ve eaten gluten in the last 24 hours.” There was no specific date on the horizon when I was expecting to meet Charles, but I was already nervous about it. Sure, any first impression is important, but I just had this weird feeling that Charles would’ve assessed my strength imbalances and nutritional deficiencies within 10 seconds of shaking my hand. Regardless, I think that my sentiments toward Charles are a reflection of how much impact this man had on the health and fitness industry. Here are my 10 favourite Poliquin concepts (in no particular order). Thank you for sharing your ideas Charles.
Earn your carbohydrates
Charles liked to use this phrase to describe that the amount of carbohydrates you eat should relate to the amount of body fat you carry. Basically, if you’re male and above 10% body fat (if you can’t see a 6 pack of abs, you’re likely above 10%), you don’t deserve carbohydrates. Until you get below 10%, you could probably benefit from limiting your carbohydrate intake to a certain degree.
No pissing, no moaning.
Rule #1 for Charles: no pissing, no moaning.
My understanding of this quote is that there are certain circumstances that are out of our control. Other people’s actions, the weather, the bus schedule, this list is endless. We can spend time thinking and talking about these things and how they are having a negative impact on us OR we can focus on the things that are within our control, such as our thoughts, actions, diet, etc. Similarly, Charles seemed to be a big proponent of gratitude, recommending to keep a gratitude journal daily. In one article he used the phrase “what you appreciate, appreciates”.
Neuro-typing for training programs
This is one of Charles more original ideas. It’s the idea that each individual has a different neurotransmitter profile and their training should be based off of that profile.
By looking at four of our main neurotransmitters (dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, GABA) and determining which is the most dominant would determine what kind of training approach that individual would benefit from the most.
Discipline and Love
Charles suggested that discipline is fake news. Instead, he said that we often make decisions out of love or out of fear. If you find yourself reaching for a box of cookies, it isn’t because you lack discipline. It’s more likely because you love the taste of cookies more than you love being lean. Kobe Bryant didn’t train three times a day because he was really disciplined, he just really loved to play basketball. While fear can be a powerful motivating factor for a lot us, Charles recommended to act out of love instead. It’s usually the flipside of the same coin, and because love is a much stronger emotion, it produces much stronger results.
Cell phones and testosterone levels
Cell phones are slowly stealing our testosterone. At the very least, Charles recommended keeping them out of your pocket and putting them on airplane mode when you’re sleeping.
Breakfast and Neurotransmitter Cascades
Charles wrote that the first thing we put in our mouth every morning dictates the neurotransmitters were likely to produce for the rest of the day. He was a big proponent of the meat and nuts breakfast because these foods provide the amino acid precursors to make the neurotransmitter dopamine. He also recommended leaving the majority of your carbohydrate intake until the evening as this would encourage serotonin production and aid with sleep quality.
Charles recommended to lower the weights slower than you lift them. There are fewer motor units involved during an eccentric contraction, meaning there is more load per motor unit when comparing an eccentric contraction to a concentric contraction. As a result, we can generate more tension in the muscle with an eccentric contraction, leading to increased stimulus and greater muscle gains. Some of the workouts Charles shared on his site included eccentric tempos of 10+ seconds. Walk into any commercial gym, odds are you won’t see many people training with an eccentric tempo any slower than 3 seconds.
Blood Test Values
Getting your blood tested is a great way to know what is going on under the hood. It can help us identify nutritional and hormonal deficiencies related to diet and lifestyle. Charles liked to point out that we must be cautious comparing certain values to “the norms”. Charles would jokingly say that in today’s society “Homer Simpson is the norm.” If our goal is to look or perform like Conan the Barbarian, having certain values that are “normal” aren’t necessarily ideal. A good example of this is the normal values for blood glucose. Functional medicine practitioners are now calling Alzheimer’s “type III diabetes” because of its correlation with high blood glucose values. Recent research has shown that those who have high blood sugar, but still inside what is considered “the normal range”, still have a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Don’t settle for the norms, unless you want to be Homer Simpson.
Knowledge not applied is a waste of time
Let’s say you just read a book about speed development and it took you 5 hours. If you never apply any of that information you learned in that book to your actual life or training, you just wasted 5 hours of your life. For information junkies who are crushing podcasts and books on a weekly basis, this idea certainly hits home. With so much information out there, we run the risk of most of it going in one ear and out the other. Charles said he used to highlight information he felt was relevant as he read it, then he would go back and write it down and review it within a week. No shit he remembered everything.
Long distance cardio
Charles pointed out that the more slow, long distance cardiovascular work (cross country skiing, long distance running, etc.) an athlete has done in their career, the quicker their brain has aged. He spoke on correlations he saw between his aerobic sport athletes and early diagnoses of degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s. He suggested that the increased and prolonged cortisol production from this aerobic work oxidizes or “rusts” the brain over time. Who actually enjoys long distance cardio anyway?
Charles may no longer be with us, but his passion, ideas and legacy aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
About the author
|Sean Stoqua is a former dual-sport collegiate athlete, earning an honors degree in Kinesiology from Acadia University. While attending Acadia, Sean collected multiple AUS championships as a starting guard for the basketball team and a starting defensive back for the football team before being sidelined by injury. He has since undergone major reconstructive surgeries on both of his legs (one ACL repair and three ankle surgeries). Sean is currently finishing his master’s degree in Physiotherapy at the University of Ottawa while competing for the men’s basketball team. By sharing knowledge he has acquired through his education and personal experience he helps others maintain optimal health as they pursue their goalss.|