Four Things I Learned From Charles R. Poliquin

Guest blog by Nick Mitchell, owner & founder of Ultimate Performance Fitness

The business I started ten years ago will soon have gyms on four different continents of the world. In March/April of this year I’ll fulfill a boyhood dream of opening my own gym in Los Angeles, the mecca of the fitness world. I’ve written bestselling books, actual overall bestsellers by the way, not just top of a narrow niche like “weight training”, and I can live wherever in the world that I choose, which means that right now I live near Malibu and wake up every day to a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Would I be able to brag so relentlessly if I hadn’t met Charles Poliquin in 2007? Who knows, I’m a pretty driven guy who doesn’t know when to stop. Has knowing Charles Poliquin helped contribute to my success and grow my business? Beyond any measure of doubt.

Here are four things I learned from Charles Poliquin that have helped me to be successful in and out of the weight room:

Never Stop Learning

In my life before Poliquin I knew all about tempo training, I learned that from reading Mike Mentzer and training at Dorian Yates’ Temple Gym back when he was the reigning Mr Olympia.  Low carb dieting was en vogue in bodybuilding long before most of you were even twinkles in your grandfathers’ eyes, and both Dan Duchaine and Mauro di Pasquale added ‘modern’ twists in the 1990s.  And by the time I attended my first Poliquin course jn 2007, I knew all about hard training, hard dieting, and was, according to Charles, the only British guy to ever show up for a first time course with lean muscular legs!  I probably weighed a shade under 240lbs at about 7% body fat at the time, down 15lbs from my bodybuilding competition peak in the late 1990s.

I remember this first course in Dublin very vividly.  I’d expected to be blown away by the technical knowledge of my fellow students, and was anticipating some powerful guys to be in attendance.  This was in the days when things were a little more strength coach oriented rather than personal trainer focused as they are now, and I was prepared to be pushed hard by my fellow students.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It wasn’t surprising really, I’d been practicing the science and art of body composition control on myself for longer than many of the attendees had been alive, so let’s just say there was a fairly big gap between the most junior and more senior students like myself or the always on top of her game Clare Rooney.

The course itself, a five day introduction to the Poliquin principles of weight training stands firm in my mind as one of the single best learning experiences of my life. Given my years both in the gym and reading everything I could on weight training, it didn’t really teach me an abundance of new things, as Charles is fond of saying there’s been nothing new in weight training since 1982.  Instead, Charles’ teaching helped me to crystallise all my years of gym experience into a ready to use format that will forevermore be at the heart of my overall periodisation and program design, both for my own training and the work we do across the global Ultimate Performance business.

What really blew me away were the one hour parking lot question and answer sessions Charles took at the end of each day.  It was like being the proverbial kid in the candy store getting to ask Charles anything I wanted on the subjects that have been the passion of my life!  Those of you who have been fortunate enough to witness Charles hold forth will perfectly understand that without an ounce of hyperbole his knowledge of how to optimize human performance and conditioning can only be described as encyclopaedic. Knowing him as I do now it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, although it still does because he seems to have an informed answer for everything, as this is the natural side effect from when a fierce intellect is married to dogged persistence and an unflinching work ethic, passion, and a relentless quest to be the best.

Work Harder Than Everyone Else

Spend a bit of time with Charles and it won’t take you long to understand that he believes that being the absolute best at what you do isn’t down to fluke or good fortune, or even the happy chance of Fate that makes you smarter than your peers.

Charles is, in my opinion, the number one icon in the world of strength and conditioning training, and this is primarily due to the fact that he has worked harder at it, applied his thought processes to it more thoroughly, and lived his work with passion for longer than anyone else.  When you talk to Charles about the untold hours he has spent coaching athletes on the gym floor, the all nighters he has had to pull to complete tight off season training program deadlines, or add up just how many hours he has spent reading to expand his knowledge base then you can really appreciate why he at his best he can be such a compelling figure.  What it takes to try to emulate him in your own chosen niche is both inspirational and humbling.

Ditch The Gym Pseudo Science!

Those of you who are familiar with bodybuilding will be aware of the tenets of High Intensity Training (capitals are, apparently, mandatory) and the eloquent and persuasive eulogies of its key advocates, Nautilus founder Arthur Jones and top professional bodybuilder Mike Mentzer.

Mentzer, the first man to win the Mr Universe with a perfect score way back in 1978, was seen as the “thinking man’s bodybuilder”, and although he was a bit before my time I bought into his own brand of logic of High Intensity Training, which can be neatly summed up with just one analogy – it takes just one spark to light a stick of dynamite so anything extra is just wasted effort. I look back on that even as I write these words and I really do think “what the f***?!”, but at the time, and to the sadly misinformed even to this very day, it made perfect sense.  Of course, this is quackery and pseudo science at its very best – allusions to dynamite, or the other oft quoted “hammering a nail into wood” parable, have as much relevance to the physiological stimulation of hypertrophy as Trump does to statesmanship and Obama did to the resolution of identity politics.

It was via Charles’ principles and teachings that I finally grasped what really makes a muscle grow, aside from brutal hard work and consistency that were the two things I think I did have right.  Experimenting with his 10×10 GVT protocols was the real eye opener, as it opened up a whole new world of points of stimulation away from simply training to failure and crushing myself with heavy weights, forced reps, and rest pause.  Ultimately this has provided me with so many different training tools to help my clients and my team, and because of Charles I realize that the variations we can provide are pretty much endless.

Uncompromising Excellence & Uniqueness Creates a “Tribe”

Wallets beware, Poliquin doesn’t come cheap.  His courses have always been pricey and his hourly rate is legendary. Charles isn’t mass market and never should be.  Being uncompromising in the pursuit of excellence will make you more expensive, and being “unique” rather than an everyman will close certain doors.  But in my experience it also opens you up to a more discerning client base, whose appreciation and loyalty for your products and services is both long lasting and far reaching. To borrow a reference from Seth Godin, Charles has created a global tribe by focusing on the highest possible quality of output, and by being his inimitable himself.  A great lesson for all of us.

In conclusion, Id like to take the opportunity whilst writing on Charles own website to publicly thank him for his generous support, inspiration, and education towards me personally.  It is a measure of the man, as busy and so often on the road as he is, that he has repeatedly gone out of his way to help my business, my family, and myself, and always makes himself available to give me the best of his advice and hard earned wisdom.  For this I feel truly privileged.