Structural Ballance? Poliquin
Achieving Structural Balance
By Charles Poliquin
Throughout my years in the strength and performance business, I’ve often observed that an athlete’s plateau in strength development is caused by a lack of structural balance. Let’s say, for instance, that you can bench 250 pounds, but unfortunately, you’ve been stuck at that particular weight since the year Donna Summer’s hit “Love to Love You Babe” soared to the top of the disco charts. That wouldn’t be good.
Believe it or not, I meet lots of athletes who are in the same situation. The first thing that I do is look for the aforementioned disproportionate ratios between different exercises. For instance, if a particular athlete’s personal best on the close-grip bench press is 225, but he has to ask the bag boy at the local Piggly-Wiggly to heft the one-gallon jugs of milk into his trunk, something is terribly, terribly wrong. In other words, more than often enough, if you’re failing to make progress in a given lift, the body is protecting itself from injury by neurally inhibiting strength gains.
By working with hundreds and hundreds of elite athletes over the course of two decades, I’ve been able to collect some normative data about how much an athlete should be able to lift, relative to his other lifts. The athletes who achieved those ratios tended to perform better on the international scene and had the lowest incidence of injuries.
For the purpose of this article, I’m only going to discuss the upper extremities. I use the 14-inch grip bench-press test as the reference value for other upper extremity exercises. Even though I acknowledge that this area needs further study, this was the first time that the strength and conditioning coaching community was presented with simple tests to assess the athlete’s optimal strength ratios. This data is presented below in Table 1. You don’t need to spend too much time looking at it right now, because I’ll be coming back to it
I suggest that you figure out your 1RM in all of the described movements and make training adjustments accordingly. For instance, if you test your close-grip bench press 1RM and it’s 225 pounds, you know that you should be able to do eight reps of single-arm external rotations with 20 pounds (225 x 0.09 = 20.25 pounds). Similarly, you should be able to do 187 pounds on the incline barbell press (225 x 0.83 = 186.75 pounds), 182 pounds on supinated chin-ups, 144 pounds on behind-the-neck presses, 104 pounds on Scott barbell curls, and 68 pounds on standing reverse curls.
? All lifts are done on a 40X0 tempo (that’s four seconds to lower the bar, no rest, and an explosive concentric rep).
? Lifts are to be tested after six to eight sets of low-rep (one to three) warm-ups.
? Form, of course, has to be perfect on all lifts.
? Except for the reverse curls, in which I use an Ivanko bar, I use competition Eleiko plates and bars. The Eleiko weights allow me to adjust the weight to the nearest 0.5 kg.
? Not all lifts are tested on the same day. Instead, I prefer to use different ones at various sections of the training process.
Optimal strength ratios in the male elite athletes involved in upper body dominated sports as they related to a 1RM, 160 kg performance in the 36 cm close-grip bench press (Poliquin, 1997)
Optimal Strength Ratios
Close Grip Bench Press
Absolute score: 160 kg (352 pounds)
Relative score: 100%
14-Inch Close-Grip Bench Presses
Incline Barbell Press
Absolute score: 133 kg (293 pounds)
Relative score: 83%
? The width of the grip should be slightly wider than the bi-acromial width (the distance between the two points of the shoulders), and the elbow angle should be 45 degrees between the forearm and the upper arm in the bottom position.
? The bench is inclined at 45 degrees
Absolute score: 130 kg (286 pounds)
Relative score: 81%
? The weight recorded is equal to the weight of the athlete, plus whatever additional weight that he or she can pull.
? The chin must clear the bar, and the elbow flexors must make contact with the forearms in the top position.
Absolute score: 102 kg (224 pounds)
Relative score: 64%
? The shoulder, when healthy, is designed to do the press behind the neck without any problems. If you can’t do it, you have, as my good friend Gary Roberts of the Hurricanes would say, “some issues.” These issues can range from a tight subscapularis to a weak infraspinatus. Before testing it, fix these problems.
? The bar is pressed from the meaty area of the traps to 99% of elbow extension.
? The grip is as narrow as your present level of hypertrophy will allow
Scott Barbell Curls
Absolute score: 74 kg (163 pounds)
Relative score: 46%
The grip is slightly narrower than bi-acromial width
Standing Reverse Curls
Absolute score: 48 kg (107 pounds)
Relative score: 30%
? I use an Ivanko bar for the reverse curls.
? The grip is the mid-grip pronated spacing on the EZ-Bar.
? The back is supported by a Swiss ball to prevent cheating and minimize the stress on the lower back.
External Rotation SA*
Absolute score: 15 kg (33 pounds)
Relative score: 9%
*Done for eight reps
? A dumbbell is used as the means of resistance.
? I look for 8RM performance. If the athlete does, let’s say, only five reps with a given weight instead of eight reps, I deduct 2% per rep off the 8RM target. For example, if the athlete did six reps with 20 pounds, he is two reps (two reps = 4%) off the 8RM target. Therefore, he would have done 19.2 pounds for eight reps (20 x 0.96 = 19.2 pounds).*
? The elbow is supported on the ipsilateral vastus medialis (on top of the thigh) and should be about two inches lower than the tip of the shoulder.
? It is extremely important that maximal range is achieved in the eccentric range.
*The 0.96 is derived by taking 100 and subtracting 4%. Similarly, if he had only done five reps with 20 pounds, he’d have missed his rep target by three. I would then multiply three reps by 2% to get 6%. If I subtract 0.06 from 1.00, I get 0.94. Therefore, 20 pounds x 0.94 = 18.8 pounds.
You may consider all of this testing to be too much trouble. Fine. At the very least, test your close-grip bench press and your single-arm external rotation. If you’re like the majority of athletes, you’ll find that your rotator cuffs are woefully underdeveloped, and simply including this movement into your routines will dramatically increase your bench press performance.