Poliquin Principles for Big Strength Gains: 3 Key Training Tips

3 Big Training Principles I Learned from Charles Poliquin

On September 26, 2018, Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin passed away.

Charles Poliquin

For those not familiar with him, Charles Poliquin was one of the most successful and influential strength coaches of our time.

He trained Olympic medalists in multiple sports.

He also coached Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger, Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis, Gary Roberts, and many other elite hockey players.

Poliquin was often called arrogant by other coaches and many were put off by his demeanor.

I never met the man in person, so I can't comment on his personality.

What I do know is that Poliquin's material, especially his older writings, include some of the most useful information ever published on strength training for athletes. 

I have consumed several of his books, read dozens (if not hundreds) of his articles, and interned with one of his top students in the US, Ben Prentiss.

Poliquin Principles

So while I didn't know Poliquin personally, his work has had a profound influence on how I train my hockey players.

In fact, back in 1988 - yes, three decades ago - he wrote two articles titled "Five Steps to Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Strength Training Program" and "Variety in Strength Training" that I consider to be seminal works in the field of strength training.

They contain practical ways to arrange your training program and the information found in those two articles is as applicable today as it was in the late 80's. [1, 2]

While Charles Poliquin no longer walks among us, he left behind a legacy. 

Today, to pay tribute to the man and his contributions to the strength and conditioning industry, we're going to talk about 3 important training principles I learned from him.

I have successfully used these same principles you're about to discover with my hockey players over the years, so what follows isn't some theoretical mumbo jumbo like much of the lifting information you find online.

These are off-ice training methods that have been proven to work.

That said, let's start...

(If you’d rather watch than read about these 3 Poliquin principles… Check out the video below.)

Poliquin Principle #1: Alternate Phases of Muscle & Strength Development

A key element in Poliquin's approach to periodizing training programs was alternating between what he called accumulation and intensification phases.

Simply put, you'd use exercises and methods with the goal of gaining muscle mass first for a few weeks before switching to methods geared toward developing greater strength.

Then you'd rinse and repeat the process.

The result? 

Bigger and stronger athletes.

Accumulation phases (a.k.a. high-volume phases; with volume defined as total sets x total reps) would typically include the following parameters:

  • Exercises per body part: 2-4
  • Sets: 2-4 per exercise
  • Reps: 7+ per set
  • Intensity: < 80% of 1RM
  • Rest: 30-90 seconds [1]

Intensification phases (a.k.a. high-intensity phases; relative to an athlete's 1 RM) focus on building strength through neural adaptations. They are typically characterized by:

  • Exercises per body part: 1-2
  • Sets: 10-12 per body part
  • Reps: 1-6 per set
  • Intensity: > 80% of 1 RM
  • Rest: 3-5 minutes

Poliquin proposed that with this type of undulating approach, strength and muscle can be built at higher and faster rates than through linear periodization where overloading mainly takes place through ever-increasing intensity.

Poliquin Principle #2: Rotate Exercises Often

Rotating exercises on a frequent basis helps you avoid training plateaus and decreases the risk of overuse injuries.

That raises the question:

How frequent is frequent in the context of switching exercises? 

In general, you should change movements every 2-4 weeks.

Beginners don't need much variety because they're still learning how to perform exercises with correct form and can make rapid gains just by focusing on adding a bit more weight on the bar than last time. So sticking to the same movements for longer makes sense.

Advanced athletes require more variations to prevent plateaus. They have been lifting weights for years or even decades, so they're not going to add 5 pounds to their lifts every week for months on end like beginners can. 

More frequent adjustments to their training program provide a welcome transition from a mental standpoint as well. It keeps training fresh and fun. The effect of that for long-term progress can never be underestimated.

So how exactly does this whole rotating exercises thing work?

It's a lot less complicated than it sounds.

Simply alter your grip, use a different training implement, or change limb or body position.

For example, when people think about deadlifts, they usually picture the conventional deadlift done with a straight bar off the floor. But this is just one way of performing deadlifts, and it might not be the best variation for you.

With my hockey players, we perform several other types of deadlifts like sumo pulls from the floor or elevated off blocks. Trap bar deadlifts are another excellent movement since they place less stress on the spine than conventional deadlifts.

You can use this concept of variation without change for virtually every movement pattern or body part to continue making strength and size gains for a long time.

Poliquin Principle #3: Vary the Type of Muscular Contraction

Finally, Poliquin suggested varying the 3 different types of muscular contraction - eccentric, isometric and concentric - in your program.

Picture a barbell squat.

When you go down, that's the eccentric part. If you stay at the bottom without moving further down nor up, you're doing an isometric contraction. When you come up, that's the concentric part.

Most lifters focus all their time and energy in getting stronger in the concentric phase. However, there's some serious benefits to building greater eccentric and isometric strength that shouldn't be neglected.

Eccentric training, especially, can boost hypertrophy and strength gains more than concentric training alone.

Isometric work can be used to overcome sticking points or prolong the intensity and duration of a set after reaching concentric failure.

As you see based on everything we covered, Poliquin was a big proponent of frequently changing the type and magnitude of your training stimulus for continuous gains.

Poliquin's methods are one of the reasons why so many of my athletes have been able to get strong within a short time frame while remaining injury-free on and off the ice.

If you're a hockey player, then be sure to check out how I use these three Poliquin principles (and many others) in the weight room with my pro, college and junior players at:



[1] Poliquin, Charles. FOOTBALL: Five steps to increasing the effectiveness of your strength training program. NSCA Journal. 1988 Jun; 10(3):34-39.

[2] Poliquin, Charles. Variety in Strength Training. Science Periodical on Research and Technology in Sport. 1988 Aug; 8(8):1-7.

[3] Poliquin, Charles. "Training Gains That Keep Coming: A Primer on Periodization That Works". Retrieved from: https://www.strengthsensei.com/individualizing-periodization. Accessed: November 1, 2018.

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Yunus Barisik

Yunus Barisik, CSCS, specializes in making hockey players strong, fast and explosive. He has trained 500+ hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including T Nation, STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.

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