Coach Poliquin’s Mentors – Get On The Fast Track To Success With These 5 Principles
What is the quickest way to reach success? Learn from those who have already achieved it!!
In this series of articles, we will present you with great coaches, mentors, students and colleagues of coach Charles R. Poliquin. They will highlight some of their principles and gems they have accumulated over their collective centuries of experience in the trenches. This way, you too, can stand on the shoulder of giants. Our first spotlight will be on coach Pierre Roy, who was coach Poliquin’s very first mentor when he was age 17.
Pierre Roy is the undercover gem of Québec’s Olympic weightlifting. An unassuming man, he nonetheless put into practice a few principles that lead to tremendous success. Relentlessly, he combined his passion for training with his training methods so his athletes could achieve breakthrough performances.
Roy coached Jacques Demers to a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. He narrowly won over Dragomir Cioroslan who went on to become the head strength coach of the U.S Olympic weightlifting team. He also coached Denis Garon to a 222.7 kg (489.94 lbs) clean & jerk. Over 50 of his athletes have been a part of National teams at the junior and senior levels. And most of all, he impressed his coaching philosophy and principles to a then 17 year old young coach from Ottawa. Coach Poliquin credits much of his early knowledge to what he learned from Pierre Roy, and he applied what he learned, with great care and perseverance, to the greater benefit of his athletes. That is how Charles started to make a name for himself in the Iron Game and he retained that mentality and those principles up until his last days.
Here are 5 concepts that coach Poliquin learned very early on from Pierre Roy that made a tremendous difference in his career.
Pierre Roy Principle #1 – The Value of Hard Work
If there is a tired old saying in the success community at large, it is that you have to work hard. This is especially true, from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rousing speech on his success principles to social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk. Even Quest Nutrition’s Tom Bilyeu has sung the praises of the hard work mantra, recounting how he began his multi-million dollar company working on the production line alongside his employees.
So, what does hard work looks like for a successful strength coach? Both coach Roy and coach Poliquin started their career doing 60 to 70 hours in the gym, coaching. That does not include writing the programs. It means opening the facility in the morning, closing at night, doing weekends and spending the dead times poring over books, athletes’ training logs, and planning for competitions or other events.
This seems harsh and thankless, but this kind of dedication was born of passion and both coaches got to live their dreams thanks to that.
So yes, as coach Poliquin reminds us in the video below, the secret is three things: hard work, hard work, and hard work. Having a mind full of information is one thing, but you have to apply it. And you never know which athlete is going to have a break and become the next champion, or which one will provide you with an insight that furthers your comprehension of the training process.
Even though this series is dedicated to the training insights of strength coaching experts, one key takeaway is that you have to apply the knowledge as often as possible, to as many athletes as possible, over as many different types of sports or goals as possible. And that, indeed, takes hard work.
Pierre Roy Principle #2 – Training Log
If you’ve been following coach Poliquin at all, you surely know how fond he was of writing everything down. From a grateful log to jotting down everything possible from his athletes. This is something he picked up from Pierre Roy as he was adamant about having every one of his athletes log their sets, reps, and loads. He would then spend hours analyzing them and measuring their results against the methodology used to refine the process. This is how coach Roy came up with his periodization models, which became the base for the current models in Olympic weightlifting.
You can derive a lot of information from individual training logs and then compare your athletes to norms in their respective field, or to themselves in previous phases. It is both a tool of personal progression for each individual athlete and a great way to see general trends among athletes for a given phase of training. This simple tool all by itself will provide profound insights that can make the difference between being in the top 10 vs. making a podium.
Pierre Roy Principle #3 – Structural Balance
A well-balanced athlete is an athlete that suffers fewer injuries, is able to better exploit his performance and has a greater capacity to make rapid improvements. Pierre Roy was well-known in the 70’s and 80’s for his well-balanced athletes. From his own admission, he picked up this idea after talking shop with colleagues from the Eastern Block. Being a very humble and friendly man, coaches of the Eastern Block never hesitated to trade methodology with him.
He further developed the concept using his own athletes’ training logs and came up with norms he applied in his field. He then used them to make sure his Olympic weightlifters were strong where it counts. This is how he ensured they could perform well while not being injured by the repetitive stress of a sport that has only a few specific moves under maximal loads.
Those ratios of strength between lifts insure that each muscle is within a certain strength ratio of the other. For example, your snatch should be 78% of your clean & jerk. Another gem that he often mentions is that an athlete should be able to perform 2 reps of the front squat with his best 1RM clean & jerk.
This is what lead coach Poliquin to his concept that some athletes were too strong for their speed, while others were too fast for their strength. By applying correctives measures to improve the lagging physical quality, athletes were able to make dramatic gains in their performances.
This is the same concept that coach Poliquin used to develop the concept of a more universal structural balance, taught in the “Mastery of Program Design” classes.
This principle is why people who used the Overhead Squat to assess strength were often derided, as it tells nothing of joint integrity while under load. Knowing those strength norms and putting them into practice is what will lead athletes to perform well in the field; not the ability to perform circus exercises with loads that would not challenge a kindergartener.
Pierre Roy Principle #4 – Variety of the Training Stimulus
Coach Roy was the first person to impress upon coach Poliquin that a program is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it. This truism is one of the great pitfalls of many coaches nowadays. A lot of them believe in a “magic program.”
Those strength coaches are held back by the seeming progress of their athletes. They would see beginners make gains on a given sets & reps scheme every day. Then, when progress slowed down, they would keep using the same scheme until gains came to a screeching halt. The truth is that inexperienced athletes can keep making improvements with the same training for a long time. Intermediate or advanced athlete however, need a lot more variety of their training stimulus to progress.
Coach Pierre Roy changes the training every two to three weeks. Coach Poliquin would sometimes change at least one loading parameter each workout. But this is a case by case situation. What remains true is that the training stimulus should be changed in one way or another at frequent intervals and progress should be monitored closely (hint: training log).
Coach Poliquin would often credit this piece of advice as the single most useful information that give him an edge early on.
Pierre Roy Principle #5 – Controlled Overtraining for Optimal Progress
Did we mention that coach Roy was a very friendly man? That does not mean he is not also a strict taskmaster. One of his adages is that athletes should complain of joint pain or slight depression, otherwise they are not training hard enough. By joint pain, he meant slight tendonitis, not full blown injuries of course.
Controlled, periodic overtraining, otherwise known as overreaching, is what leads to overcompensation. This will lead to new gains in performance and peak performance. This type of training, and the mental toughness it develops, are the key to athletes digging deep down in their reserve of strength. Cue in the hard work mentioned previously.
This philosophy was shared by other coaches, notably the late Arthur Jones (LINK) of Nautilus and HIT fame. Of course, one of the reasons many bodybuilders made gains while training under Jones was the reduced workload. The low volume advocated in the HIT methodology was a welcome change of pace to over trained bodybuilders. As coach Poliquin was fond of saying: “Fatigue masks fitness.”
These are some of the most valuables training gems coach Poliquin learned from coach Pierre Roy. They made a drastic difference in his training philosophy and were the foundation of his success. Apply them and you will know success with your athletes as well.
By Patrick Gagnon, B.Sc, D.E.S.S