Tim Ferriss and Charles Poliquin on Strength Training, Weight Loss and Planning Vacation

For the last few months I’ve been reading fewer books and listening to more podcasts. One of the best podcasts going is ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’.

Tim (4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Chef) interviews and examines world-class performers in field ranging from investing to strength training and extracts useful tidbits you and I can use.

Last week I was listening to an interview with Charles R Poliquin. Charles is a top strength coach who has produced hundreds of medals, wins and personal bests for many elite athletes in over 17 different sports including athletes from summer and winter Olympics, the NHL, and NFL.

In other words – this isn’t a Youtuber cracking jokes for views – this guy knows his shit.

I loved a few parts the interview, enough that I had one of my Fancy Hands personal assistants transcribe them for me, for my own personal use.

Then – I thought, why not share the love?

Here are the sections I had transcribed and am posting today.

  • Thoughts on warmup routines [1:11:45]
  • The perfect preparation for strength workouts [1:14:40]
  • Most common post-workout mistakes [1:20:25]
  • Commonly neglected ways to decrease body fat [1:25:05]
  • On planning vacation first [1:34:05]

If you’re interested in this kind of stuff and want to listen to the full episode, you can get the Tim Ferriss show on iTunes or get it right here.

I encourage you to read (or at least skim) the entire post below. There are really cool life tips and knowledge dropped all through it.

A Disclaimer

When it comes to strength training, body building and weight loss there are a lot of conflicting theories and research. And people love to argue about it, like they do with religion and politics.

So if you disagree with something Charles says or have experienced different results yourself – that’s totally fine. Just take what you can use and leave the rest.

Here we go…


Charles Poliquin

Charles Poliquin on Warmup Routines :

Tim: When you think of the typical gym in the U.S., let’s just say, what drives you nuts about warmups? What are people doing incorrectly for warm-ups for weight training?

Charles: Uh, the foam roller. That is such a waste of time. And, plus, it leads to more scar tissue. So, I only like the foam roller to distract vertebra., that’s about it.

Okay, Warm-ups, okay, this is a very good evidence by Magda Ada warming up on a treadmill or using the treadmill, per se, increases insulin resistance, by 46% in six to eight weeks.

So all of the electronic cardio equipment in my opinion should be banned. So let’s say tomorrow, you named me the emperor of the all galaxies, and I’ve go all power, I’d take all that cardio stuff and throw it out of the gym. I would just replace them with strong man equipment.

Also, the concept of training your core, using unstable surfaces, If you look at the actual research you will find that it helps for about six weeks, but after that there’s no added benefit. The best way to strengthen the core is by squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, dips and so on.

So, what drives me crazy is the gyms where I go and everything is done. Like you’ll see a woman do a on a bali ball, arm on leg, doing a contra lateral dumbbell curl and switch legs and arms. What does that do? Fuck all. You know, she’d be better learning how to squat properly, and do a set of 20 to exhaustion, that would be more heat shocked proteins which are associated with fat loss and muscle building.

So, there’s actually a trend now, there’s 2 gym chains around the world, that add irony, to the educational seminar, to get rid of all this bad exercise. One of them, that leads to education, is a student of mine, that just won a body building contest and his physic has changed completely. Even now the owner of the chain are going, it shows what changes you witness when you do real strength training.

And one of the biggest chains in England was also asking me to revamp their system because, the rule is the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.

My thing, my mentor told me, is there are three basic principles:

  1. hard work
  2. hard work
  3. hard work

So you can’t replace the quality of hard work.

The perfect preparation for strength workouts:

Tim: So if you were designing the perfect warm up routine, you were able to throw the bali balls out the window, you were able to get rid of all the cardio equipment… Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, someone – you can tear this apart – but, just because people have heard of it, I’ll say, somebody’s getting ready for a 5×5, squat work out, let’s just say. Would you have them do any particular type of warm up for the perfect warm up?

Charles: Yes, of course. There’s 2 rules about warming up.

  1. First, know what the range of motion is.
  2. And two, the weights going to get heavier.

So, for example, you’ll have a 5×5, at 100 kilos, that’s 220 pounds. So you go to the gym, if you do squats, well, there’s a lot of research that shows that the mobility of the ankle is what decreases the probability of injury of the lower extremities rather it be ACL tear, hamstring pull or groin or whatever.

So the first thing I would do is, I would go on a calf machine, and stretch the calves, then pull down all the static stretch rate second. Then I finish off with a voluntary contraction, because it resets the pattern for strength.

Research is clear, if you do static stretching you don’t finish with a contraction, you’re more likely to get injured.

Tim: So you do the 8 second stretch, let’s just say at the bottom of the calf machine and then you go up to sort of a peak hold, or is it just one?

Charles: Yea, you could concentrate on lifting the weight, actively contracting the calf. The weight should be enough to stretch you, if it’s really enough to stretch you, won’t be able to lift it, but you do a voluntary contraction for two seconds at the end of the stretch to reactivate the power in the muscle.

So, I would make my ankles flexible. Then, I would hit the bar, and depending on which muscles were tight, I would take a squat, Hamstrings or whatever. I would, by the same principle, get into a position where I’m basicly do PNF stretching, and then, do those exercises then, and mobile for range of motion.

Then, if the goal is 100 kilos for 5 sets of 5, then the first warm up set would be the bar, full bar, 4 reps, So my body knows what the range of motion is.

Then go with 60 kilos, which is 60%. So my body with the range of motion is about 60%, I would only do about 3 reps, then I would go to 75 kilos, I’d do 2 reps. I’d go to 85 kilos, do one rep, I’d then go to 90 kilos and do one rep, 95 kilos do one rep, So all those weights, just tell me the weight is going to be coming soon.

And, then, squat arm kilos for 5 sets of 5, so that’s my goal. So I know what the range of motion is, which allows me to have great mechanics. And I’m warmed up, psychologically and physiologically speaking, and I know I’m able to handle the weight. Some people do what they call over warm-up.

So if they want to train at 100 they’ll do a set at 95 then go to 110, to activate their nervous system. They’ll do one rep, so they don’t really go to failure, they just tell their body, ‘Hey, 100 kilos is going to feel lighter.’

Paul Carter is a big advocate of this. But the first time I read it, was from a power lifting coach, in 1973,. I mean, that’s when the article was published, but it was from Finland. And the academic name, which has about 96 letters, but it means proprioperception set.

Tim: Okay, proprioperception set.

Charles: For short, P set. But that’s a way to warm up and that’s it’s own thing. But, Paul Carter figured it out, but, there’s such a thing as universal intelligence.

There’s nothing new, really, so, I could find it in ’73 and that’s all the research that I did on it, but maybe someone figured it out in 1908 by himself.

I mean, in my house here, I have everything that’s ever been written on weight training since 1896. Multiple languages. Like for example Fredrick Delightee’s anatomy books. I’ve got them in 15 different languages.

Tim: Okay.

Charles: I find it’s a good way, you know, I love learning languages, but, you should learn things you are passionate about, so, I figure you can learn a lot of grammar on explaining to someone how to squat, right? You learn directions and whatever.

So, I’ve learned that as a tool for learning languages. But, the point is that, when people say, oh, I’ve invented this, I say Bullshit, it was invented in Egypt in 1923 or 1908 by Bob Peoples or whatever it is.

What’s new is combinations, or, you know, applications. But you know, fat grip dumbbells is not new. I mean, that’s 1896,. So what I did with the fat grip dumbbells I made them revolve so that it’s easier on your joints.

So I designed them for Watson gym equipment. They’re calibrated, they’re nuclear attack resistant, blah blah blah. But all I did was, it’s an application, you know.

Tim: Right, right, new applications of an old idea.

Charles: Yes, yes. But there’s nothing new in weight training.

Most Common Post-Workout Mistakes

Tim: Speaking of the squat routine that you sort of led up to, what are the most common mistakes that people make after they finish their worksets, or, after a workout, for that matter?

Charles: In a really, really big daily routine in immediate recovery. That’s from personal experience.

I mean there’s some research from Australia and South Africa to back me up. But, over the years, cortisol used to be considered the enemy. Now, in the last four years, we figured out that the more cortisol you make during training, the greater the training response.

So, people used to take cortisol blockers before training, but that’s stupid. It leads to no gains. But, I think that the effect of the cortisol is transitory so you induce the message so you gotta get rid of the message.

So, as, what’s that guy? – Charlie Sheen said, ‘I don’t pay women to have sex, I pay them to leave after sex.’

Charles: So, cortisol is like that. The prostitute that you gotta get rid of.

I know my analogies are a bit up there but people like graphic stuff. So, they remember far better.

So you wanna get rid of cortisol, so in my opinion, you gotta suppress cortisol immediately after exercise. Of course, people say, ‘Well, don’t you have to dial down that?’

I say, ‘Hey, I don’t think Millicent listens to 14 different sports, that’s my data.’ So, I’ve tried not to do it, I’ve gone away from it, I’ve tried different ways, but, I really believe you’ve got to bring the cortisol down. The best way to do that is to make yourself more insulin sensitive.

So you go through steps to make yourself insulin sensitive. But, somebody that trains really hard, let’s say he weighs 200 pounds, I really like to add 200 grams of a carbohydrate blend right after exercise with about 50 grams of a high quality protein.

A lot of people are intolerant to whey and they don’t even know. I really like essential amino acids blend. So if you’re a 200 pound man, I developed a product for D Lab, it’s called Pentacarb. It has pschodextrine, some dextrose, and 3 forms of non-GMO maltidextrine, 50 grams of essential aminos in most cases.

If they can handle the whey protein, I give them whey protein because it’s way cheaper. Or, sometimes I give them goat whey because they’re not intolerant to goat whey while they may be intolerant to cow’s whey.

Tim: Where does someone find goat whey, just out of curiosity?

Charles: I mean, I make no money telling you this, but, my favorite brand is Tera’s Whey, you can find it at Whole Foods, but, on Amazon, they’ll split you’re case and ship it to you in 24 hours. That’s where I get mine.

And it’s, I find, personally, to be more anabiolic than cow’s whey. That’s my personal preference. But I use, for my amino acids, one of my other students, in Germany makes amino acids / electrolyte complex, and, I use that.

I mean, it’s something I never run out of. I come back from a trip I put 2 canisters back into my luggage. I don’t want to forget it.

Tim: And, what’s say the Pentacarb, I mean, just so people don’t take, I mean, interpret it the wrong way. At what point have you earned that, let’s say 200 grams of carbohydrate 50 grams of protein for instance, if your a larger athlete, Because, I’m sure you’ve seen it, I know I’ve seen it. You go to the gym, I see someone do 10 minutes on an elliptical, while watching part of The Game of Thrones, They get off and they drink 500 calories of carbohydrates. When does it make sense to consume this post workout and when does it not make sense?

Charles: You have to deserve your carbs. I’ll repeat myself on that. And to deserve that many carbs post exercise, you need to be sub 10% body fat.

And the quickest way to know if you have sub 10 body fat as a male, is can I see the lean outline of your abs, in other words, can I see all ab rows.

One ab row doesn’t count. You have to see them all, okay? In other words, you should have penis skin on your abs.

If you can pinch an inch you certainly don’t deserve carbohydrates. If you can see visibly your abs, then that’s when you deserve it. Until then, I think you should stick to either whey or essential amino acids. And more branch chains, and some glutamine. Because you don’t deserve it.

But one of the things that increases anabolicism is to be insulin sensitive. What makes you insulin sensitive? Losing body fat. I mean, Nick Mitchell sent me some pictures yesterday of this journalist that he’s training, and this guy looks like human foie gras. And in 9 weeks the guys got abs, right?

I mean, he was considering calling his book, ‘How to Polish a Turd.’ But, no kidding, but the point is, he took this guy who looks horrendous, and it’s all documented so there’s no Photoshop and bullshit and he took him from a 23% body fat to I would estimate a 9% body fat in 9 weeks.

What you do is, you restrict his carbs, but now that he’s lean, you jack up his carbs, so you gotta deserve your carbs. If you don’t deserve them, don’t have them. You’ll just get fatter.

Commonly neglected ways to decrease body fat

Tim: what are some commonly neglected ways to decrease body fat, aside from restricting carbohydrates ?

Charles: I think that the biggest mistake is to do steady state cardio. If you want to get fatter, go right ahead. But, the second most biggest mistake is to use the low fat approach.

So, some people will restrict their carbohydrates, but they’ll restrict their fat too. So, that’s a big mistake.

If you’re going to go high protein / low carb, you need to have high fat. So you’re cooking meats in olive oil and butter, you put butter on your vegetables, and so on, and you take coconut oil. That would help you get more insulin sensitive.

The thing, too, is decreasing cortisol. Cortisol is a great enemy when we are talking about developing insulin resistance. How do you decrease cortisol?

Well, you manage your stress. How do you manage your stress? Well, you get effective work habits. You eliminate distractions. When you’re at work, turn off your email. Only answer email right before lunch and right before work. I mean, there’s a lot of ways to manage your stress.

One of the books I really like and recommend to all my students is 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman.

Tim: Ah, I’ve never heard of it.

Charles: Okay, Tim, you’ve gotta read that book. I would say it’s one of the best books you can ever read. Because what he does, he takes a critical look at the self help industry.

And one of the tests he makes you do, he describes 10 self help techniques that are repeated over and over in the self help literature, and he asks you to identify which ones work.

I won’t tell you the answer, but I got 100% on the test because I identified the ones that don’t work and the ones that do work. The last time I was on we discussed one of the ones that you read in every book – ‘imagine the body that you want’ blah, blah, blah. Well, all that does is encourage you to be delusional.

What works is a plan, with action steps. If you wanna get lean, you need a plan. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. In the book what he does is, he answered a challenge from his friend Sophie.

Sophie said, “I’m busy, I want to help myself. But I want stuff that is science based, and I want to not take a lot of time.”

So he says, “So I could give you an essay in under one minute?” and she goes, “That’s right.” So that’s why the book is called 59 seconds.

In the book he’ll go over anything from building relationships to goal setting, and he destroys a lot of myths about goal setting and these bullshit studies that were never actually done. But he does everything, so you would love it.

And he’ll talk about anything from increasing your height to your odds of getting picked up when you hitch hike to whatever. He’s a very funny guy and he’s written a lot of very good books.

He’s the one that wrote Quirkology. He’s a magician as well as being a PhD in psychology, and you can see his magic tricks on YouTube, He’s a pretty interesting guy. So that’s probably the best self help book.

But I tell people if you really want to change read that book.

Tim: 59 seconds.

Charles: Yea, by Richard Wiseman.

Tim: Very cool What other books do you gift the most to other people, or recommend the most?

Charles: I get that one often. The other thing I really like to get is The One Thing.

I’m actually lecturing with one of the authors in Texas in November, so if you want to join up just go look at the ThePowerfulExecutive.com it will be a page that will allow you to register. J. Papasan wrote The One Thing with Gary Keller.

It’s very similar to 4 Hour Work Week on a lot of points. I mean, success rules are success rules, right? But, when I read your book, and I tell my students to buy your book, what I learned from you was, I work way too hard, and have no fun in my life.

So, after reading your book, and J. Papasan and Gary Keller recommend the first thing you should plan in a year is your vacation.

On planning vacation first

Charles: So, after reading both of these books, I mean, when I’m at home, I work 2.5 to 4 hours max.

I take the month of July off. I take the first 2 weeks of August off. I don’t work the month of December until about the end of January. And a week a month, I take off, okay?

I never done that in my life, unless until the last 4 years. But, what I learned, with The One Thing, is that, you have to pick one activity per day that will change the rest of your life.

So for example, doing a podcast with you, is my one thing today. Because, you’re a very popular author, I mean, Schwarzenegger, who is another one of my heroes, who was on your podcast recently. Actually, Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably the most inspiring man you could listen to.

I was very fortunate to be invited by Tony Dority to teach at the Arnold Classic last March, in Australia. And on Sunday morning, there was a small group of us were invited to listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And, coming out of that lecture, I don’t think in my life I’ve ever been that fired up. What I like about Schwarzenegger is he’s very honest. And, the thing he talked the most about was actually his mistakes. It takes balls to do that. All you learn from them and so on.

But the one thing that is one of my favorite books, I tell my students it gets you organized and makes you focused. Success rules are universal.

Tim: No, it’s just like strength training, like you said. I think there are old ideas, and new applications. I remember I was on the BBC once, and it was kinda funny because I knew that they were going to set me up. It was a segment on self help, and I was like “Ok, if their calling it self help, this is gonna be an attack piece.” And I knew it was coming.

So I sat down and they were like, “ So, Mr. Ferriss,” and they said this in the most British way imaginable, you know, very polite but very condescending, and they said – not all British people are like that, but it is a super power in the U.K. And they said, “So how would you defend people in the self help genre who this, this and this?”

And I said “I wouldn’t, I think their full of shit.” And I said, “I think that for the most part, you should only take advice from people who have a track record of implementing that same advice and I identify more with, or, if you ask me who my favorite self help author is, I would probably say Ben Franklin, right?

Charles: That’s right

Tim: I’m looking back. Or, Seneca, maybe, right? Really rewind the clock.

Charles: Yea

Tim: And I think that The One Thing is, just the title itself, after you’ve read the book, I think is very helpful. Because rather you look at Seneca, you look at some of the top preforming CEOs in Silicone Valley who actually have lives outside of the businesses they are building, they’re constantly asking a question that is some variance of “What is the one thing on this list that really matters?” What is the one thing on this list that will make all the other things easier, or unimportant, or whatever. There’s always some variation of that question.

Charles: Correct

Tim: But I think it’s so valuable for people to hear you say what you did which is you’re planning vacation first, right? You’re blocking out times for the fun things because if you don’t do that, then work will simply swell to fill those times and fill those voids.

Charles: Exactly.

Tim: What do you do with your, say, when you take the month off, what are the things that you now do?

Charles: Well, to give you an example, my daughter loves martial arts. And, the last two summers, we went to Sweden, and Stockholm, and she trained with this sensei in Brazilian Jujitsu.

So she trained 3 times a day, twice in Jujitsu and once in lifting. But in between we would do things like visit biking museums. We would do some type of touristic learning experience. And, we go off, and visit the islands off Stockholm for one day.

Whatever that is, I think that, you know, when I’m raising her, I try to make her visit as many countries as possible, every year, so that she doesn’t – you know, 80% of 15 year old Americans can’t put the U.S. on the world map. That’s a big issue.

So by going here, there, and then everyday asking her 3 questions. And, I always ask her, and I’ve been doing that since she was a toddler, since she could speak. And one is, “What have you done today to help someone?” And she’ll say whatever.

And the second question is, “What has someone done nice for you today, or to help you out?” And then the third question is always, “What did you learn?” And then, so, you know, one time we went to visit a lady while we were in London, who was an expert on mammals.

She wrote a book on mammals that my daughter read when she was 5 or six years old. So I booked a brain-picking fete with the lady. She was kind of puzzled why I’d want to do that.

And I asked my daughter, “You can ask her whatever you want about animals.” And, she like, no, and the lady was surprised by how much my daughter knew about things and how smart the questions were. But you know, a life not examined is not a life worth living.

So I think it’s really important that you pause at the end of the day to see, what have you done? You know, I, religiously, I support different causes, so for example, on the weekend I adopted a Bengal tiger. This afternoon when we hang up I’m making a donation to the Navy Seal Foundation.

Tim: You’re really informed. I mean, one of the principles in life is to give what you want. So if you give away money, you’ll receive money.

Charles: I like that. I like that.

Tim: So, you know, if you’re not willing to give it away, you won’t attract it. I know it sounds a bit hokey, but it’s very true. And, my father taught me that a long time ago. He had this same practice.

But I remember in university having zero money. I was so poor the furniture was painted on the walls. I donated $150 bucks, I had $50 bucks left in my account after that, to a homeless peoples shelter. And the next day I sold one of my university papers to two different federations, and they each paid me, one paid me six hundred bucks and the other paid me 1,200 bucks for the same chapter. It was a chapter on training for the vertical jump in volleyball. So the return on the investment was immediate.

But, I’m a big believer, if you want more money, give more away. And, we, you know, for example, why the Navy seal foundation, well, those guys take care of that we can live the way we want to live, but our government doesn’t support them very well once they’ve used them, right?

So I leave clear instructions that I want the money to be used for rehab. A lot of guys get injuries, and no one takes care of them. But, if doesn’t matter if you give to Doctors Without Borders or whatever else. I mean the thing is, if you leave this planet without making it better than when you were born, you didn’t live a good life.

Charles: Yea, what’s the point?

Tim: Yea

Charles: Yea, agreed.

Tim: What are questions that you ask yourself at the end of the day? Or the end of the week? Just like you had the questions that your daughter asks, or that you ask your daughter, rather. Are there questions that you revisit on a regular basis?

Charles: Well, it’s always, ‘How can I make this better?’ or ‘How can I make the teaching more effective?’ You know? I realized over the years that you have to simplify more, and more, and more, and more. So one thing I’ve learned in this 54 years on Earth is that, as Einstein said,, ‘There’s genius in simplicity.

// end of transcription


That’s it for today. I hope you were able to pull something out of that interview that helps you. (I know I did).

Which part stuck out to you the most? Was there any part that helped you? Leave your thoughts or comments below.