I took my first course with Charles Poliquin in Montreal in 1997.
That was way back when he actually had hair!
I was discovering the field of strength and conditioning then. I was never a gym rat but was always interested in sports performance and I don’t think I could have gotten a better early education. Twenty years, and many medals later (although not as many as Charles!), here are 5 fundamental principles I learned from him that I think every experts in strength coaching should know
1 – There is a difference between strength training and displaying strength
You can’t make a mistake as to what your sport is. If you are an athlete in any sport other than weightlifting or powerlifting, lifting the bar is not just what counts. Strict form is all important for transfer to sports performance. I don’t care how light you think it is but if your hips shoot backwards on the ascent of a squat the set is over! They don’t give medals for split squats and dumbbell rows. Do you wanna be strong or lift heavy weights? There is a difference – which is not often perceived. Very strict form in the gym ensures proper transfer to performance.
2 – The key to athletic transfer is removing the weak link
From the very beginning what impressed me about Charles was his ability to spot imbalances. His will to correct them was what was setting him apart from everybody else. You have to remember this was 20 years ago, a lot of those things were not in fashion then. It wasn’t just lifting for the sake of lifting. It remains true today; if I get everybody to perform better at their sport quickly it is because I follow the path of seeking and eliminating the weak link that Charles set me on. This point relates to point #1 and many people don’t realize it. Athletes lifting technique will change under high tensions due their weakness. How can you hope to fix them if you allow them to escape the pattern that you are trying to strengthen? This holds true for any level of athlete.
3 – Your nutritional environment must be tailored to your genetics
Back in 2004 I took one of the first class of what has now evolved into Metabolic Analytics. Thousands of measurements later I understand that there is no cookie cutter approach to nutrition, and in the case of us Westerners our genetic backgrounds are so mixed that you cannot hope to have such a simple approach work. There is always the odd stud who eats like crap and looks like a million bucks to justify the claims that nutrition is not important when it comes to performance but it just means that he is a good detoxifier with great insulin sensitivity. It doesn’t last though, inflammation and injuries will catch up with him soon enough. You need to find out what works for you and you need tools to control the process.
4 – Proper use of supplement for foundational health and performance
Charles knows about effective supplementation. I listen to everybody but I trust no one really, trying different things and keeping only what works. Over the years, his supplement regimen has moved more toward general health and away from direct performance enhancement. It comes as a surprise to athletes when they are told to take magnesium rather than creatine but the truth is that performance and health go hand in hand; there is no contradiction between the two. It is true in the weight room, it is true at the table and in supplementation. If you are fortunate enough to train athletes through long careers as I have you’ll see how invaluable proper use of supplements for foundational health is.
5 – There is more than one way to skin a cat
Although strongly opinionated, Charles will direct you to other coaches for the purpose of learning. Some of them with seemingly very different views. I followed his advice and visited them. Different views, different means, only results matter !