by Charles Poliquin Iron Magazine
A radical approach to achieving unparallel gains in size and strength
If you read some of the hardcore muscle magazines, you might get the impression that every professional bodybuilder is a self-made champion – with the exception of a few respected trainers such as Milos Sarcev and Charles Glass. Through a combination of intense research in medical libraries and thousands of hours of experimentation, they have learned the self-evident truths that led them to become brutally huge, ripped to shreds and [insert your own favorite bodybuilding lingo here]. These mighty men of muscle don’t need this article.
But for anyone else who has reached a good level of success and is looking for a challenging workout that will pack on some fresh muscle and result in amazing improvements in strength, have I got a workout for you!
Be warned: This workout is hardcore. Your body will scream. Your mind will rebel. You will want to make changes, thus compromising its effectiveness – but don’t. You must follow the program “as is” to enjoy maximum benefits. Before I share it with you, let’s talk about it, starting with the man who inspired it: Pierre Roy.
Pierre is one of my earliest mentors in weightlifting methodology, and he is unquestionably one of the most successful coaches in North America, having produced an Olympic silver medalist, many world team members, and more than 50 athletes who have competed in Canadian national championships. I have taken the opportunity to bring him, along with several of his amazing athletes to serve as demonstrators, to the Poliquin Strength Institute on several occasions for seminars. Pierre has always been a coach ahead of his time, and one reason is that he is not afraid to experiment with new training methods.
Pierre once said that unless athletes start complaining of tendonitis, they’re not training hard enough. He believes that to reach the highest levels of physical development you should train until you are, literally, depressed – only then do you back off. And when you come back after that rest period, you’ll shatter your personal records.
Hypertrophy is an adaptation to a biological stress. The theory is, if something doesn’t kill you, then the more you put stress on it, the more it will adapt. If the .22 caliber doesn’t work, use a .50 caliber. The workout I’m about to share with you is .50 caliber.
Getting Locked and Loaded
The .50 Caliber Workout can be manipulated to improve pure strength gains or hypertrophy, or to correct a weak muscle group. It is the type of program I’d perform if someone told me I’d make an extra two million a year if I gained 15 pounds (although I might need to hire some psychopath to drag me to the gym and make me stick to it).
The idea of planned overtraining isn’t new – I didn’t invent this, and many others have come to these same conclusions, often by sheer accident. I call it super-accumulation training. I used it with the national speed skating team for years, and they’ve won a record number of medals.
The General Adaptation Syndrome is a theory about how the body responds to stress; it was introduced in 1946 by endocrinologist Hans Selye. Selye proposed that when subjected to stress, the body goes through several phases to adapt to that stress. The result is that the harder you stress the body, provided you rest long enough, the higher the peak of adaptation – and the highest peak of adaptation is called supercompensation. The downside of supercompensation is that at first you feel like a zombie in a silly Walking Dead horror movie, but at the end of the cycle you feel like the Incredible Hulk.
“Fatigue masks fitness,” they say, but it’s an idea that many elite athletes learned the hard way. The idea is that when you run an athlete into the ground, you can’t really see where an athlete’s potential is. This is a mistake Olympic newbies make: They train more and more as the competition nears, and then perform like crap in the Olympics. But then they take a week off and go to a World Cup and set a world record. Coaches and athletes eventually learned to train really hard until three weeks before the Olympics.
The goal of the .50 Caliber Workout is simple: brutally train yourself into the ground for two weeks, take five days off, and come back to rebound and break your size and strength plateaus. But here’s the catch: During the two weeks of loading/forced overtraining, your goal is to lose strength – then keep right on training. To quote an Ayurvedic medicine paradigm, “You have to be weak to be strong.”
When athletes get weaker with a program, they tend to stop – that’s a mistake on the .50 Caliber Workout. You have to continue working until you get much weaker, actually shooting for a drop of 20 percent in strength. If the weight you use for a certain exercise is 100 pounds for sets of 8, then at the end of the two weeks you should have a hard time completing sets of 8 with 80 pounds. If you lose more than 20 percent, that’s even better – I’ve seen guys lose as much as 40 percent. As a general rule, genetically skinny guys may lose more; mesomorphs may lose less.
The point is, you have to be very clear when you embark on this program that you won’t quit for two weeks. You’ll get to the point where every joint hurts, and you’ll see your weights tank. You may start your squats with 300 pounds on Monday, and by the next Friday only be able to use 240. Not only that, you’re also going to lose muscle. It’s not uncommon to lose 12 to 15 pounds of bodyweight during the first two weeks. But during and after your off period, if you eat correctly, you’ll gain that back and usually another five pounds in one shot. For example, a 200-pound man may go down to 185 or 187 by the end of the two weeks. Then he will slingshot past his previous best and hit 205. That is, of course, if he follows the program and if he has the testicular fortitude to accept the initial losses.
I should also mention that there’s research from the US and from Finland showing that at the end of your two weeks of loading with this type of program you actually have a decrease in testosterone levels. But at the end of your period of unloading you have an increase in free testosterone, and there’s a high correlation in the amount of free T you have and the amount of strength gains you make.
Let’s review: By the end of the first two weeks of this program, if you’re doing it right, you will:
1. Lose strength
2. Lose muscle
3. Be chronically overtrained
4. Experience aching tendons and joints
5. Be brutally sore (and train right through it)
6. Experience depression
But let’s keep our eyes on the prize here. This isn’t just self-torture. If you can get through the two weeks of loading and then properly execute the five-day recovery period, then you will, without a shadow of a doubt, blast though your previous strength and/or hypertrophy goals. Your mouth will literally drop as the recovery process begins. You’ll feel like your muscles are about to burst through your skin, and your friends will accuse you of being chemically enhanced.
The Devil’s in the Details
I’m not normally an advocate of total body training, but I make an exception with this type of training. The workout requires you to train nine times a week for two weeks. You train twice a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and once a day on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Sunday you rest. If you can’t make it to the gym this frequently, this program is not for you. Here is the workout:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
A-1. Back Squat, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2. Leg Curl, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1. Lean-Away Chin-Ups, 5 x 4-6, 4010, rest 100 seconds
B-2. Dips, 4010, 5 x 4-6, rest 100 seconds
A-1. Snatch Deadlift on Podium, 10 x 6, 5010, rest 3 minutes between sets
B-1. Seated Dumbbell Press, Semi-Supinated Grip, 5 x 6-8, 4010 tempo, rest 100 seconds
B-2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row, 5 x 6-8, 2011, rest 100 seconds
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Mornings
A-1. Front Squat, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2. Kneeling Leg Curl, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1. Close-Grip Pronated Pull-Up, 5 x 6-8, 3011, rest 100 seconds
B-2. Incline Dumbbell Press 5 x 6-8, 3110, rest 100 seconds
Here are some crucial details when performing this workout:
* Each set goes balls to the walls!
* Not counting warm-ups, take each set to concentric failure. In other words, don’t do a set of 8 with a weight you can rep to 15. Perform sets of 8 with a weight you can only lift 8 times.
* If you have to decrease the weight every set to get the required number of reps, decrease it by no more than 5 percent.
* Use your normal recovery method – you’ll need it. And take at least 40 grams of BCAAs during each workout.
* Your appetite will increase at first during the end of the two weeks of loading, and then it will begin to decrease. That’s the first sign of overtraining by volume. The second sign is that you find you can’t get enough sleep. Sneak in a nap anytime you can; the more sleep you can get, the better.
* Don’t change the recipe. If anything, add more exercises.
* If you choose your own exercises, remember that all the movements you use have to be “most bang for your buck” exercises. That means every exercise should involve at least two joints. If you want to use different exercises, you could do back squats in the morning, heels-elevated squats at night, front squats the next day, and cyclist squats next day after that. It doesn’t matter. But, week one and week two should look the same to make certain you got 20 percent weaker on those same exercises.
* During the two weeks of overreaching you must consume at least two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
* Don’t take testosterone-boosting supplements during the loading weeks. You want to train to the point of depressed testosterone, so save them for the five-day off period.
* Don’t worry about direct arm work. You’ll gain plenty of arm size without direct biceps and triceps work during this program if you choose to use dips, chins and presses.
* Consume 1 gram of fish oil per body fat percentage point per day during the loading phase. There is no need to do this during your five off days because you’ll want more calories from carbs, and you don’t want to slow down the insulin response with the fish oil during this off/rebuilding period.
* You have to make a contract with yourself to do the work. Reward yourself with a big dinner on the last Saturday night. If you don’t have a coach to push you, train in a team of three partners.
Relax and Recoil
It’s important to recover completely from this workout. Here are some guidelines to use during your five-day recovery period.
* Off means off. No “recovery work.” Besides, if you squat five times in three days, do you think you’re going to want to run around a parking lot dragging a sled?
* During this five days off, you’ll want to eat something every two hours maximum. Seriously. Alternate solids meals with liquid meals. Always start with solid.
* Upon arising, have a high-protein breakfast: a buffalo steak and some
L-glutamine is a key supplement in this workout to ensure complete recovery.
L-glutamine is a key supplement in this workout to ensure complete recovery.
cashews, for example. Ninety minutes later, have a protein shake and a carbohydrate powder. Add about 20 grams of L-glutamine to these shakes. You want to consume 80 grams of L-glutamine per day during your five recovery days.
* If you don’t adopt a philosophy of “eat and eat and eat,” this program is not going to work. Calories are the focus. For example, coconut sticky rice with mangos, is great source of clean carbs, add some whey protein in it.
* Accelerate your recovery with massage, acupuncture and frequency-specific microcurrent. Don’t bother with ice massage, as it only raises your cortisol. It is one of those moronic space fillers that Internet information brokers promote.
* Take testosterone-building supplements such as Holy Basil and Pantethine during this period.
*Once you start overeating, your joints and tendons will begin to feel better. In this five-day phase, your whole demeanor and physique will change.
*To accelerate joint tissue remodeling, take 2 Flame Quench with 2 Sinewplex 3 times a day with meals
*Taking Über Inositol or Über Inositol T at a dose of 10 grams in half a cup of water, 45 minutes before bed, will reset your neurotransmitters levels in record time.
The Spoils of War
After your off period, go to the gym and do your Monday morning workout from the loading phase. Take a day off. Then do Tuesday’s workout. Your goal here is to evaluate your progress. Prepare yourself to see some major gains. After that, you can start the cycle all over again if you choose.
In weightlifting circles, when you do this program they look for you to walk in looking like a zombie. That’s when they know it’s time for you to take off. No zombie look? Then you’re not training hard enough; you need to train more, and then rest.
I did a strength training version of this program once for the Canadian Olympic luge team. The coach said he had to cut some members of the team because the Olympic gravy train money was over. I told him that after three weeks I’d tell him who on the team had the balls to be a champion.
I walked into the starting house three weeks later and saw five members of the team in one corner looking like someone had shot their dogs. They looked depressed, some were drooling, some had tremors. I told the coach to keep those guys and cut the rest. The other members of the team were on the other side of the room, laughing. They clearly hadn’t followed the program. So the coach kept the depressed guys and cut the rest, right then and there.
The zombies took their five days off. After that, one member of the team, who only weighed 172 pounds, came back and did three wide-grip pull-ups with 126 pounds of added weight. He went on to set an Olympic record in the start. His name is André Benoit.
Just as with those athletes, you gotta train when you’re weak. You have to push yourself, both physically and mentally, to reap the massive benefits of this type of training. If you want to blast through your training plateaus, you have to pull out the big guns. A .50 caliber will do.