Strength Coach Mishaps

Charles Poliquin

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Q: What would you say were the top-two mistakes you ever made as a strength coach?

A: Youíre a moron only if you make the same mistake twiceóso the saying goes. Iíve made plenty of mistakes, which has made me successful. As legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, ďYou miss 100 percent of the shots you donít take.Ē

1) Believing the instability model for too long. During the mid-í90s there was a theory going around that working on an unstable surface would make your prime movers stronger. Thatís somewhat true. Yes, weak stabilizers can inhibit prime movers to a certain point. For four to six weeks a year novice athletes should do some unstable work. Thatís it. A speed skater wears skates. What a news flash! Want his times to go down? Work on his lower-back strength. Believe me, Iíve trained enough world-record holders in that sport to know that one.

2) Waiting too long to hire support staff. Iíve had a very successful career, but Iím sure it would have been a lot easier on my adrenals if Iíd hired support staff earlier. Always hire someone to do all the chores that need to be done and that you hate doing. If those chores are done by someone who earns less than you, it enables you to earn more money by doing what you love and gives you more free time.

Q: Iím moving up a weight class in jujitsu and want to be as strong as possible at that new weight. What sorts of sets and reps would you recommend?

A: This system is a blend of the late Canadian strongman Doug Hepburnís ideas and Hungarian and Romanian weightlifting methodology. It could be called the patient-lifter/stepladder combo strength system.

Part 1: Heavy singles work. After a good warmup you recruit the highest-threshold motor units. Start with a weight you can do five singles with, and then go up to where you can do eight singles. After youíve done your singles work, you need to go back down to a weight where you can do five sets of three. At that intensity step up to five sets of five repetitions.

For success with this strength-building system you need to keep in mind the following points :

ē You have to do the singles with 95 percent effort; itís the volume of high intensity and not just intensity that dictates the training effect.

ē Do the singles at a very controlled tempo for the eccentric loweringófive seconds. Do the concentric range as explosively as possible. Concentrate on accelerating the bar until the concentric range is completed.

ē On the eighth single, if you feel particularly good, do not miss the opportunity to go for more weight.

Part 2: High-threshold hypertrophy work done at a 3/2/1/0 tempo. Work with about 72 to 78 percent of your best single. Lower for a count of three seconds for the eccentric range, pause for a count of two seconds in the most disadvantageous position (in this case off the chest), and lift for a count of one. As you tire, the concentric-range tempo will exceed one second, but that shouldnít be a concern.

The function of the pause at the disadvantageous angle is to increase intramuscular tension and total time under tension for the set.

Once youíve excited the nervous system with the singles done in part 1, you can do hypertrophy work in higher-threshold motor units.

Iíve found that people learn best from a combination of theory and practical examples, so letís look at a sample progression using that training system.

The trainee, whose name was Tom, had a previous best incline press of 320 pounds. His workout progression looked like this:

Workout 1

Part 1: heavy singles at a 5/0/X/0 tempo

Set 1: 305 x 1

Set 2: 305 x 1

Set 3: 305 x 1

Set 4: 305 x 1

Set 5: 305 x 1

Part 2: high-threshold hypertrophy work at a 3/2/1/0 tempo

Set 1: 240 x 3

Set 2: 240 x 3

Set 3: 240 x 3

Set 4: 240 x 3

Set 5: 240 x 3

Note: Tom was conservative at his first workout, which was quite wise.

Workout 2

Part 1: heavy singles at a 5/0/X/0 tempo

Set 1: 305 x 1