Program Critiques

I hope in this thread to stimulate discussion by critiquing various training programs available on the net.

[i]1. The 1-6 Principle by Charles Poliquin

This type of training originated with elite Romanian and Hungarian weightlifters who called it mixed neural drive/hypertrophy program. The system is based on what’s called neurological post-tetanic facilitation phenomenon.
Basically, you perform a maximal rep of an exercise, rest, drop the weight, then perform six maximal reps. By a cool trick of the nervous system, you’ll be able to lift a greater weight in the six-rep set than you could have if you hadn’t performed the 1RM set. Some even notice their poundages improving each “wave.” For example, a typical wave for someone who can do six reps with 220 pounds on the bench press would look like this:
Set 1) 1 rep with 265 pounds
Set 2) 6 reps with 220 pounds
Set 3) 1 rep with 270 pounds
Set 4) 6 reps with 225 pounds
Set 5) 1 rep with 272.5 pounds
Set 6) 6 reps with 230 pounds
The basic premise is to use maximal loads to potentiate the nervous system. Because of this newly increased, more efficient neural drive, you can use a greater load for six reps which ends up building bigger and stronger muscles.
The program seems to be very effective based on the feedback we’ve seen, but keep in mind that some strength coaches, such as Ian King, have also had success with a 6-1 setup instead of a 1-6. King and Poliquin learned of this technique from the same person but have interpreted it differently in their programs. But, all in all, this is another good choice for those that have only used higher reps previously. [/i]

Whilst the literature on ‘potentiation’ is inconclusive, practical experience suggests that it can be effective. I have two points however regarding the above example workout:

  1. After the first set the nervous system will be primed for ALL subsequent sets therefore the need to alternate in this way is questionable.
  2. Any lifting above 95% will severely tax the nervous system. Most meso cycles therefore limit lifts above 95% to 1 to 5 repetitions. The intensities in the above example are not specified but are open for interpretation. A load of 90% for the ‘priming’ set is sufficient to stimulate potentiation without inducing significant CNS fatigue.

[i]The Next “Big Three” Program by Chad Waterbury

Twenty-seven years ago, Bill Starr wrote a groundbreaking book called The Strongest Shall Survive. This book, mostly geared towards football players, introduced the “Big Three” program. This total body program consisted of three barbell exercises: bench press, full squat, and power clean, along with a few supplementary movements.
Now, Chad Waterbury has come along to improve upon this classic program. Instead of the squat, bench and clean, his program uses deadlift walks, sternum chin-ups, and overhead press squats. The workouts are brief, painful and infrequent, making them perfect for in-season athletes or busy people that can’t go to the gym five days a week.[/i]

There has been little development in strength science in the last 40 years but magazines still need to be filled. How many times and ways can the same basic philosophies be regurgitated? This is a prime example of a coach trying too hard to be innovative/revolutionary. A problem occurs when impressionable young athletes buy into a program because of the ‘charisma’ of the author. Did Chad really get that big doing overhead press squats? I have so many criticisms of this type of program I can’t bring myself to list them.

[i]The Oscillating Wave Program by TC

Generally speaking, there are three basic kinds of weight training: 1) strength training, where you try to increase the maximal amount of weight you can lift for a single rep. 2) hypertrophy training, where your main goal is to make your muscles larger, and 3) muscular endurance, where you increase the muscles’ ability to do aerobic work.
Most of you know that a periodization program where you incorporate all of these methods at different times of the year can be very effective. The Oscillating Wave Program takes that one step further by using all thee methods at the same time.
TC uses three varying rep schemes, three varying tempos, and three varying rest periods, all in the same five-day split. So, on one week you’ll train your biceps with traditional strength building protocols; the next week they’ll get hit with bodybuilding-style rep and set schemes; and the third week you’ll focus on endurance training. All the other muscle groups are rotated in the same fashion. You never use the same rep range for the same body part twice in a row and you never do two workouts of any kind in succession using the same rep ranges. Pretty cool. [/i]

I like and support the idea of changing the stimulus each workout. However, if improvements in sports performance are required the range of repetitions available decreases (see my Optimum Repetition article). Additionally, I do not consider tempo and rest periods particularly powerful variables. Tempo particularly is rather difficult to quantify: I personally advocate only two lifting speeds (normal and slower than normal!) and then only on the eccentric portion of the lift. It is probably sufficient to change just one variable each session.

A separate issue is that physiological components cannot optimally improve at the same time. A much more productive approach is to increase one component and maintain the others. In any case a sprinter’s strength training should attempt to minimise any non functional hypertophy.

[i]Super Beast by Christian Thibaudeau

This program combines several modern methods of strength development into one new program that’s unlike anything you’ve tried before. First, Thibaudeau explains the “new” means of strength development including isometric action, accentuated eccentrics, isomiometric and iso-ballistic action, and auto-regulatory clustering.[/i]

Some of you might have read Christian and my exchanges some months ago…. I’m here to eat humble pie. I used the following complex in additional to normal training with five of my lifters for three weeks:

6 single Clean pulls at +10% working weight; Eccentric deadlift; Reps 1 -3 6s isometric pause at the knee; Reps 4 - 6, 6s pause an inch from the floor

The results? All 5 lifters improved their maximum clean. The most was a staggering 7%, the least, a satisfactory 2%. Of course there were many other components to the cycle but certainly the gains were greater than expected and must be at least partly attributed to Christians suggestions.

An important question is however: Will these gains continue if cycles are repeated?

weighted jump squats

30 % to 50 % of 1 rep max squat performed in “jump squat” fashion for 10 reps.
3 x 10 jump squats. Weighted jump squats come up trumps time and again in vertical jump scientific study type programs.

Critique; Jump squats might fry the C.N.S if performed for to many weaks/months.
Also, if jump squats are done then 3 to 6 rep sets should have been investigated not just 10 and 12 rep sets.

I think 10 reps for squat jumps is too high. Fatigue sets in and you actually are not as explosive. I think rep range of 3-6 works best depending on load. I wouldn’t do more than 3 sets as a general rule if you are doing speed or other plyos in the same workout. Each rep should feel more explosive than the last. If it starts to feel slower stop the set.

Cheers chris.

Charles Poliquin. He knows far more than I do and if he personally coached me I’m sure he would jolt my strength up a bit, however…

I tried one of his formulas and it did not work for me. Basically it involved changing exercises around. A particular program recomended doing lunges for 3 weaks or so, I vaguely remnember that it was 6 sessions of lunges before going back to the squat. Ofcourse my first session of lunges sucked in terms of the weight but the weights went up dramatically over each session in linear fashion for first 5 sessions. Needless to say i couldn’t wait to get back to doing squats to see if my squatting was effected. I loaded up the squat bar and there was no improvemant in my squats at all. This experiance showed me that changing exercises about for the sake of it is nothing but a waste of mind energy. (There are ofcourse other reasons worth changing exercises for such as repeat injuries etc… or if u compete in Oly lifting, well I’ll leave that one to David W, or if you do bodybuilding you need to chissel your body. However, sprnters need a generic and general weight training progaram.)

Great posts
A few thoughts. What was the warm up for CPs workout in post one. This could influence the response according to the % of white fibre the athlete has. I would suspect that one high rep would suffice also, although it’s prob very individual.
Good to see you tried Christian’s idea and had success.

In the area of cleans & deadlift, I am trying a mix of isometric & eccentric work with auto-regulation, with an athlete I have been coaching for a few years now.

Looking to break some plateaus and while nothing concrete to report, there are generally good signs as well as the new protocols being well received, which many times is half the battle itself.

Will let you know.

I am not to keen on Charles Poliquins “tempo” ideas. If you look at many of his workout it will write the tempo beside the lift.

E.g 2 x 10 3040 (3 up, down in 4 secs, straight back up.)

I think that some of the improvements you’ll get with that are just strength endurance, not so much starting strength/power.
My greatest gains have been in the region of;

3 x 3 reps. +,1/2,3, 3-5. (up in whatever time it takes with accel, puase at top for a second, lower in whatever time is comfortable, usually 3 seconds, rest or puase at bottom for 3 to 5 seconds, then try and blast upwards.)

What about Bill Starr’s big 3

Power Clean/Deadlift
Back Squat
Bench Press.

3 sessions per week 5 sets x 5 reps using a light, medium and heavy days.

A farily basic programmes but I have made some good gains using it.

Have found that aout 6 weeks is the maximum time to use though.

Aren’t eccentric deadlifts (with up to 130% of 1RM) a little dangerous??

Yes. My lifters did 100 - 110% maximum clean.

I got mixed up with his newer Triple Threat program. It uses something like deadlifts with 8 second eccentric singles at 125%.

Christian Thibaudeu’s article “superbeast” was an excellent article, and it helped clear up some questions I had regarding Jay Schroeder’s methods. One question I have on it, does anyone have any expierence with the example programs he wrote at the end of the article? It looked like was tring to fit each method into each workout 3x a week. A bit excessive?

I found out something new: I have been doing the “Waterbury walk” now for several years and never knew it… now that its “his” exercise everytime one of my athletes stands up with a deadlift and walks it to the rack, they are now going to have to pay him a royallty… I guess I have been “ripping him off” all this time and never knew it!

"Chad then moved to the Waterbury Walk. “I decided to name this one after myself before someone else rips me off,” he said.

Although not a training program for an athlete, I have noticed a lot of problems with the German Body comp (GBC) program. I tried it with some non-athlete clients for weight loss and they quickly overtrained and got depressed after two weeks. I would avoid this workout, or drop the volume considerably.

So you would recommend against over 1RM eccentric deadlifts because you feel they’re dangerous?

Comments resulting from further experimentation (3 macros) with CT’s functional isometrics (FI):

  1. Athletes limited by strength appear to benefit the most. I have a lifter who can DL 205k yet cleans only 120, he did not respond at all to FI

  2. FI should be ommitted during unloading weeks (i.e. typically one week in every four). Failing to do so resulted in overtraining as measured by pre session grip test.

  3. Cleans typically respond better than snatches. I contend that this is due to the greater importance of limit strength in the former.

  4. Holds below knee were more effective than higher holds. This is supported by research that suggests cross over is greater when the muscle is contracted in a lengthened position.

  5. FI works partially by improving ‘core’ strength. THis is a subjective opinion.

  6. Strength gains were achieved with little gain in body weight


recommend it for sprinters? too much too squeeze into a program? same protocols?


David W, thanks for the great post. Of all the different routines that I have tried over the last 20+years, one of my favorites is what CP calls the 4/5% solution. It looks something like this:
bench press(or any other compound lift)
workout 1-5x5@baseline weight
workout 2-5x4@baseline +5%
workout 3-5x3@baseline +10%
workout 4-5x5@baseline +5%
workout 5-5x4@baseline +10%
workout 6-5x3@baseline +15%

So theoretically, at workout 7 you would use your starting point weight +10%. So if you started at 5x5@200, you would now use 220. I have used this successfully in the past in bringing up limit strength. However, this might be more of a peaking program as my strength fell off a bit after the program. I think the choice of a follow up routine is important. A couple of thing: for hypertrophy, choose higher reps such as 5x8,7,6 and obviously, for relative strength, try 5x4,3,2 or so. Also, the more advanced lifters may only be able to go 4% between workouts.

Comments, anyone? I would like to pick some brains on what everyone would do for a follow up workout.

What do you pick for the baseline weight?
A weight that you can get up for say 6 reps on the first 3 sets and only 4-5 on the last 2?
Also say you were using this for bench would you only do 1 of these workouts per week? If so what is done on the other day?