The Super Accumulation training review:
The Super Accumulation training program (also referred to as the .50 Calibre training) is the brainchild of Charles Poliquin.
As you can tell from the name it’s designed to be a killer workout.
This programme has been discussed at various courses I’ve been on over the last few years. The response from those who have done it can usually be summed up with one word…brutal.
The exception to this is a small group of trainers I met from Australia. They seemed to love it and had a satisfied smile and a misty eyed look on their face when recalling the training (sickos!!!).
The plan requires you to train 18 times in 2 weeks. Twice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and once on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each session is a whole body session incorporating big bang for your buck exercises like squats, deadlifts, chins and dips.
Sounds tough, right? Of course it does.
In fact, the programme comes with the following warning from Poliquin:
“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.”
This program was inspired by one of Poliquin’s first mentors, Pierre Roy. Roy believes that for athletes to reach the upper echelons of their sport they must overreach (depending upon your definition, maybe even, over-train) then back off. Following this rest and recuperation, the theory has it that you will slingshot past your old PBs and gain muscle mass. Sounds fun! Or is that just me?
I’ve mentioned the 2 weeks of extreme loading. The other key ingredient is the rest period at the end of those 2 weeks. Poliquin advises having 5 days off from training completely. During this time you eat tons including copious amounts of carbs. Now that does sound fun!
Here are the cliff notes (provided by Poliquin) of what I was trying to achieve in the 2 weeks of loading:
- Lose strength
- 2. Lose muscle
- 3. Be chronically over-trained
- 4. Experience aching tendons and joints
- 5. Be brutally sore (and train right through it)
- 6. Experience depression
That’s my brief overview of the program and the principles behind it. For more detail go to the following link to read all about it in Poliquin’s own words.
So why on earth did I do it?
- Poliquin is an excellent salesperson. If you’re a gym junkie who loves to train and hates days off from the gym then this is right up your street. I fall firmly into this category.
- Following on from point 1 this plan allows you to then put your feet up and commit carbicide. I like my carbs so this also appealed.
- I’ve always been intrigued by this programme. My schedule has never allowed me the time required to fit in this many sessions and eat as much food as needed to sustain the training. This year, just before Christmas a handful of my clients were away on holiday or with business. I seized my opportunity and went for it.
- As I said I performed this training in the lead up to Christmas. Now that’s a time of year when even the best intentioned tend to tuck into some dubious food choices. Mince pies anyone? Well I’m know different. The idea, then, that I could set myself up for a guilt free Christmas by overtraining then eating all that was on offer appealed greatly. I mean while everyone else was having seconds of Christmas pud having not exercised for weeks I was trying to super-compensate. To prove it here is a quote from an article on Poliquin’s site:
“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.”
In fact, in the earlier edition published on tnation.com he actually said eat every 90 minutes. I tried hard to stick to this (it wasn’t that hard!
5. Finally, I fell for the psychology. In the tnation.com version of the article the first line reads:
“Honestly, you don’t have the balls to use the advanced training principles I’m about to outline in this article.”
For the most part I like a challenge. The gauntlet was laid down and I accepted (about 4 years after first reading it).
How did my training look?
Here is how I set out the programme.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
A-1. Safety Bar Squat, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
A-2. Glute Ham Raise, 5 x 4-6, 3010, rest 100 seconds
B-1. Chin-Ups, 5 x 4-6, 3110, rest 100 seconds
B-2. Low Incline Rotating DB Bench, 3110, 5 x 4-6, rest 100 seconds
A-1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 10 x 6, 5010, rest 3 minutes between sets
B-1. Arnold Press, 5 x 6-8, 3110 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. Seated Leg Curl, 5 x 4-6, 40X0, rest 100 seconds
B-1. Wide Grip Pull-Up, 5 x 6-8, 3011, rest 100 seconds
B-2. Dips, 5 x 6-8, 3110, rest 100 seconds
Note. There are some slight modifications on exercise selection from the original program based on equipment availability
Another Note. This plan was exceptional for strength gains, but is not ideal for gaining muscle. I have created a muscle gain specific version.
Want to know how I have adjusted this plan specifically for increased muscle mass?
Go here for a the X-MASS Rapid Muscle Gain Plan I’ve created. Including the exact workouts, nutrition plans and supplementation guides.
The most sensible way (you may disagree) to review the process as a whole is to address each one of the bullet points provided by Poliquin and comment on my experiences. Then after that I’ll do an overview of the whole 3 weeks and try to pinpoint the key takeaways.
The article states you should aim to get 20% weaker. While I got weaker on all the exercises by the end I didn’t get 20% weaker on them all.
My conclusion here is that this was due to a learning effect. Some of the exercises involved I hadn’t done for some time. For example, the Trap Bar Deadlift, Seated Leg Curl and Arnold Press. Because of this and the high frequency of training I simply became more efficient at the movements with each session. So I learnt to apply force better in these exercises.
Strength is a skill after all and practice makes perfect. This, therefore, mediated the cumulative fatigue and allowed me to say within 20% of my initial performance.
Exercises such as Front Squats are often in my training. As such, I’m relatively efficient at the movement. This meant that I didn’t have the learning effect buffer. By the last session of the 2 weeks I barely managed to squeeze out 3 reps with a weight I should have got a solid 6 without too much trouble.
It’s expected that individuals may lose 15-20 pounds during this programme. I didn’t. I managed to stay within a couple of pounds of my initial weight. This was due to some herculean eating efforts and some empty calories available over the Christmas period. Particularly, a few slices of my mother-in-law’s Christmas cake. It’s excellent and it would be a crime not to eat it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
For the most part I ate well. Meats and eggs for breakfast with nuts or an avocado. The rest of my meals were mainly following Paleo diet guidelines (this first experiment was several years ago and I have refined the nutrition to work better now! Get a detailed explanation, training program and diet plan here) but in huge quantities. Pre-, during-, and post-training I inhaled BCCAs, creatine, essential amino acids (EAAs), whey protein, and carbs. Here is exactly how I structured the peri-workout nutrition:
- Coffee and 1g tyrosine (45 minutes before). On a few occasions I also had 2 squares of 85% dark chocolate too.
The following were all taken 20 minutes before
- 20g whey
- 5g creatine monohydrate
- 5g leucine
- 5g BCAAs
- 20g BCAAs
- 20g EAAs
- 5g Leucine
- 25g Carbs (from juice)
- 40g whey & casein mix
- 5g creatine monohydrate
- 5g leucine
- 50g Carbs (5g from honey, 45g from dextrose and maltodextrin)
Paranoia of losing weight was probably the main reason I didn’t drop more. I’ve always found it harder to gain muscle but relatively easy to drop body fat. I don’t enjoy watching the scale go down and for a former skinny kid I think I couldn’t bear to watch that happen. Especially not at a rate of a pound a day or more. So I just tucked in to plenty of food time and again and it did the trick.
Update/Note. As I have adjusted the plan to focus more on size gains than strength gains I have created a plan that means you do not lose weight during the 2-week training period, but you still get the rebound gains of 2, 3, or even 4kg of lean mass after the recovery week. These new plans are part of my X-MASS guide. Find out more about these here
Be chronically over-trained
I don’t believe I was genuinely over-trained. Overreached? Yes. Over-trained? No.
Only once in my life do I feel I have genuinely been over-trained. This was my last year at Harlequins. I suddenly realised if my contract was going to be renewed the major thing holding me back was my size (or lack of). So in a misguided attempt to pack on some muscle (if only I knew then what I know now!!!) I began adding second weight training sessions with my friend at a local gym. This meant that I would train 3 or 4 times a day for 3 days a week, 2 to 3 times another day, and play a game (sometimes 2) each week. Sunday was a recovery session so the only day off was Friday.
This process went on for several months and resulted in me losing weight, gaining fat, feeling slow and sluggish on the pitch, being miserable, losing my interest in rugby, and feeling constantly tired. Some nights I would sleep for 10 to 11 hours and feel lethargic and lazy the next day. Not what I set out to achieve!
Anyway, I still remember the absolute misery of being chronically over-trained. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I actually thought more work might be the solution. The ignorance of youth!
This time round was tough make no mistake but, it wasn’t the nightmare of true overtraining. That took me several months to recover from. Whereas I felt relatively good through a lot of this program and almost back to my old self within the 5 day recovery period.
Experience aching tendons and joints
This I achieved by the Thursday of the 1st week. My right elbow began nagging away. It felt like this was caused by the dips. However, by the second week it had calmed down and wasn’t really noticeable.
My left knee ached throughout most of the last 10 days. Having said that I did injure it severely 8 years ago and have had 3 surgeries on it. So if something was going to complain then the left knee was it.
My left shoulder also had its moments (and continues to do so now). There is a beauty of a trigger point at the base of my left scapular and I think that is probably to blame. I’ve had this worked on weekly by a sports masseuse and it appears to be clearing up.
All in all the joint pain wasn’t too bad. I feared the worse! This may have been helped by the sports massage I got each week. In fact, the first of these was agony. I also incorporated Epsom salts baths and this seemed to do wonders for my recovery and to reduce muscle soreness. Definitely a new favourite of mine!Be brutally sore and train right through it
My back was in bits by the end of the 2 weeks. The massage I got on here was excruciating. However, the soreness elsewhere in my body wasn’t too bad. After a few days it just seemed to be a dull ache all over. I did get a cramp in my right VMO. This was a first and, hopefully, last as it is not only painful but highly embarrassing when you cramp getting off the sofa.
Honestly, no. Was I tired and a little snappy? Yes. A little less enthusiastic than normal? Perhaps. But nothing that could truly be described as depression.
Side note. It is advised to undertake this plan under the supervision of a coach or in a team of 3 as it ensures you do the work required. I set out on this training with my usual training partner, Drew. Unfortunately, after the Thursday (6th) session he injured his back. He tried to work through this on the Friday afternoon session but then had to drop out from the rest of program. This meant training alone.
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at sticking to a plan so was able to complete all the required sessions with a good level of intensity. Having said that there were probably a few small concessions I allowed myself that a training partner wouldn’t have. The main one, in my opinion, came on deadlifts. The programme calls for a 5 second eccentric (brutal!) and I began timing sets to check how closely I got to this. It appears my mental count of 5 was more like 3.5 seconds. I have to say though that on some reps those 3.5 seconds seemed like an eternity.
I don’t believe this had a large impact on my results. The main lesson here is this style of training will likely have a fairly high attrition rate. Squatting and deadlifting 9 times a week is not something often advised. With this in mind if you attempt this program I’d suggest you begin it with a clean bill of health and focus on trying to keep perfect technique at all times.
The 5 days recovery
The article provides guidelines to help you make the most of your 5 days off. I followed these extremely closely. After all if you’ve trained 18 times in 2 weeks then you want to maximise the benefits.
Here is an overview of the 5-day recovery period:
Eat every 90 mins to 2hrs. Alternate solid meals with liquid meals (always starting with a solid meal).
Breakfast should be high in protein and good fats.
Liquid meals consist of protein, carbs and 20g L-glutamine.
Eat and eat and eat!
Update. I have become much more specific and targeted with the calories and macros needed to optimise the process for muscle gain after experimenting with this process for nearly 10 years! Now it’s vital to taper your calories tactically in the recovery period and to use macro-splits that best suit the recovery processes you’ll be going through. Find out the exact ways to calculate the macros you should use here
Use recovery methods such as massage. I had a massage and an Epsom salt bath during my 5 days off.
Take testosterone boosting supps. Most testosterone boosters make outrageous claims for little return. I used MyProtein’s T Matrix (at double the recommended dose). The ingredients list has merit and, even better, it was half price! This proved handy given the added expense of Christmas, not to mention funding a “Man versus Food” style eating habit. I also took 3 servings of D-Aspartic Acid a day. This has shown some promise in the scientific literature as being useful in boosting testosterone levels. (Now I simply suggest using Zinc Balance by Jarrow)
Given the battering muscles, joints and tendons taking a joint supplement was suggested. I chose MyProtein’s Joint Plus. The ingredients of this product are also sensible and well thought out.
Take 10g of Inositol before bed to help “reset neurotransmitter levels in record time.” I have seen great success with clients that struggle to sleep by utilising Inositol. It seems to work especially well for those who tend to fall asleep ok but, then wake with their mind racing and full of ideas. I used Poliquin’s Uber Inositol. My sleep during these 5 days was good. Having said that my sleep is usually pretty good so it was hard to tell how much of a difference it made.
The results or as the salesman Poliquin puts it…”The Spoils of War”?
Essentially, this programme promises to push you to breaking point, rest and recover for 5 days, then come back and smash your PBs. All with a nice increase in bodyweight.
As an example, Poliquin uses Andre Benoit. Andre is a former Olympian who now takes the lead teaching on many PICP courses and runs his own gym. I have met Andre several times and he’s a really nice guy with a truck load of knowledge and experience. Anyway, after completing this type of training he weighed 172 pounds, came back and did three wide-grip pull-ups with 126 pounds of added weight. For the metric among you that’s doing three pull-ups with 57kg strapped to you while weighing 78kg. Impressive to say the least!
How did I fair? Well, I gained 7 pounds (half a stone) of body weight in 5 days. In that time my chest increased by 1.5 inches and my thighs each gained a quarter of an inch. These are places I’ve struggled to add mass of late so I was delighted. However, there was no real change in my neck, arm or calf measurements. Oh yes and my waist increased by a quarter of an inch too. Less desirable!
I was happy with these numbers. I know I can shift the added waist measurement in no time. The tricky part is making the gains on my chest and thighs stick!
How about strength?
I put 10kg on my 6 rep max (RM) Safety Bar Squat and Low Incline DB Bench Press. In fact, with the DB press, I could get 10 reps with a weight that had previously kicked my ass for 6 reps. My pull-ups and dips 6RM both improved by 18 pounds. I was also able to get a few extra reps at the same weight with these exercises. My Arnold Press and Front Squats didn’t show such great improvements from the start of the programme. The difference between the last front squat session and after my 5 days off was better though. I was able to get 6 reps with a weight I could only get 3 reps with at my weakest.
To represent the results the following table should illustrate more clearly.
|Body Weight||+7lbs (3.2kg)|
|Safety Bar Squat||+10kg|
|Low Inc DB Press||+10kg (5kg each hand)|
|Arnold Press||No change|
|Front Squat||No change|
Overall I’m pleased with the results. I can’t help feeling that there is a more time efficient way to make these gains. Having said that I’m up to an all-time PB for me on some of these exercises so the programme did exactly as promised and helped me break through some training plateaus. (Since this article was first published 6 years ago I have experimented and made the changes to improve upon these results dramatically when it comes to packing on muscle mass!)
Did I enjoy the experience? Yes, immensely.
Would I recommend the programme? Yes. If circumstances allow it.
You would need to have time to train 9 times a week and prep lots of food. You would also need minimal stress in other areas of your life. I would also suggest that you have several years of training under your belt. This after all was designed for elite athletes to break plateaus. If you’ve just been benching a few times a week at Fitness First then there a thousands of programmes you should try before this one.
So all in all if I were to recommend this for you, you would have to be an athlete, a student with a good athletic training background, a serious trainee who is off work (perhaps on gardening leave), someone who has a the flexibility in their schedule to make I to the gym twice per day, or a personal trainer with some additional free time.
Is it optimal? Long-term…no! This is not a way to train for months on end. Short-term…Yes! For the most dedicated, hard-working, and driven individuals out there this can be a phenomenal short-term strategy to make rapid progress!
Find the optimal super-accumulation program for building muscle here.
Following this plan is like taking a nuclear missile to a knife fight.
Does it work? Yes.
Could I have got the same from less?Not in such a short timeframe. Possibly over a period of several months. But that wouldn’t have been so interesting or as much fun. And that, for me is the key. I had a blast with the 3 weeks it took to complete the whole process. I relished the challenge, ok some days I didn’t and had to drag myself through workouts, but on the whole I enjoyed it. It was satisfying to see my weights rebound quickly past previous bests. It also showed me I was able to tolerate a far higher training volume than is seen as reasonable. Finally, it allowed me to conduct an experiment on myself and this appealed greatly to my inner nerd!
This may not be your idea of fun but if you love training then I’d say give it a go and see what’s possible in just 3 short weeks. Use my updated version (available here) if you want to build the most muscle possible in a few short weeks. If you do then be sure to let me know how you get on.
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