The 1-6 Principle

by Charles Poliquin

Like training hard and heavy? You’ll love this classic training plan that uses heavy loads to potentiate the nervous system for great hypertrophy.

The 1-6 principle was first introduced to me at the National Strength and Conditioning Association Convention in San Diego back in 1991 by coach Dragomir Cioroslan, bronze medalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. This set/rep bracket had been used with great success by elite Romanian and Hungarian weightlifters.

This training system had been known by the ungainly name of the mixed neural drive/hypertrophy program.

What is the 1-6 Principle?

The system is based on the neurological post-tetanic facilitation phenomenon as first discussed in strength training circles by German strength physiologist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher from Freiburg University (in order to be a successful strength coach, you must have an exotic-sounding name). In a nutshell, if you do a 6RM (the maximum load you can lift for 6 reps) load within 3-10 minutes of doing a max single, you can use a greater weight that you could have if you hadn’t done the 1RM set.

For example, let’s say you can normally do 220 pounds for six reps on the incline press. However, if you do a max single four minutes prior to doing your 6 reps – which we’ll say for the sake of argument is around 265 – you’ll be able to do six reps at 225-230 pounds. That’s a significant increase.

In fact, many trainees who use this method find that their single poundages improve each wave. In fact, a typical wave for someone who can do 6 reps with 220 pounds on the incline press may 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

This isn’t just a parlor trick. 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.

Finnish strength physiologist Keijo Häkkinen has demonstrated in many of his experiments that long-term strength gains are directly related to how much you increase intensity. Therefore, expect to reach new heights in strength gains with this routine since it makes full use of that intensity increase principle.

This method could also be used by wrestlers or practitioners of some of the grappling sports like Jiu-Jitsu. These individuals are often interested in moving up a weight class while keeping their speed up. Well, this system will not only allow you to gain functional bodyweight, but your power should also go up since the system taps into the higher threshold motor units which are responsible for the production of explosive strength/power.

After I learned about this effective training technique, I returned home and used it with great success with bobsledders, lugers, skiers and speed-skaters who were preparing for the 1992 Albertville Games. Other top athletes have used elements of this type of training with great success, too. For instance, Olympic Gold medalists Valery Borsov and Ben Johnson would squat a 3RM load ten minutes before their record smashing performances in the sprint to make use of this post-tetanic facilitation.

1-6 Principle Workout Program

I won’t tease you any longer, though. Here’s the routine. You should do this five-day cycle a total of six times. Therefore, 30 days are needed to complete this routine.

Editor’s note: For those of you unfamiliar with Coach Poliquin’s workouts, many are divided into A1 and A2 schemes. For instance, on the first routine below, you’d do one set of your 1RM max on Scott EZ Bar mid-grip curls, rest two minutes, and then do a set of 1RM on close-grip bench presses. Then, after two more minutes of rest, you’d go back the the A1 exercise, the Scott EZ Bar mid-grip curls. You might also be puzzled by the “tempo” designation. Don’t worry, it’s easy. For instance, on the first exercise below, Coach Poliquin has indicated a tempo of 40X0. This simply means that you should take four seconds to do the eccentric, or lowering portion of the curl. Then, without resting (0 seconds), you should explosively lift the weight (designated by an “X”), followed by no pause at the top of the movement. Likewise, in other Poliquin-type routines, you might see a 3121 tempo. Again, that would mean taking three seconds to lower the weight, followed by a one-second pause; two seconds to raise the weight, followed by a one-second pause before lowering the weight.


Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Scott EZ Bar Mid-grip Curl 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 40X0 2 min.
A2 Close-grip Bench Press 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 40X0 2 min.
B1 Standing Medium-grip Barbell Curl 4 1,6,1,6 40X0 2 min.
B2 V-bar Triceps Dip 4 1,6,1,6 40X0 2 min.


Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Back Squat 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
A2 Lying Leg Curl, feet neutral 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
B1 Trap Bar Deadlift 4 1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
B2 Standing Calf Raise 4 1,6,1,6 22X0 2 min.



Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Close Parallel-grip Chin-up (weighted) 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
A2 Mid-grip Bench Press 6 1,6,1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
B1 Seated Cable Row 4 1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.
B2 Incline Barbell Press 4 1,6,1,6 50X0 2 min.



Before you bust my balls with hundreds of emails that all wonder why there’s no isolation delt work, rotator cuff work, or forearm work included in this routine, remember that the goal of this routine is to promote large increases in strength and cross-sectional area of the high-threshold motor units. While we’re on the subject, you might also notice that there are no isolation exercises for the scalenes, popliteus, fibular division of the tibialis posterior, or the pterygoid externus lateralis (lower division of course!)!

Therefore for the purpose of “training time economy,” as my German colleague Schmidtbleicher would say, you should focus your attention on compound exercises such as squats and presses. Sorry Richard Simmons fans, there’s no room for one-arm cable side laterals or and triceps kickbacks on this one.

Don’t worry, though, your delts and forearms won’t atrophy in the thirty days you should devote to this training system. If anything, they’ll grow, because it’ll be probably the first time you’ve ever given them a break.

Since you’re going to be doing a series of 1RM lifts, it’s imperative that you warm up. The warm up should always consist of doing reps with the first pair of the exercises listed in the work out. If you’ve warmed up properly, there’s very little need to warm up for the second pair.

For illustration purposes, let say it’s Day 2 (leg day) of the program and you can max out at 300 pounds in the back squat and 180 pounds on the Atlantis brand of lying leg curls. Your warm-up would then look like this (take only enough time to move from one exercise to the other, adjust the weight, and complete the warm-up set):

  1. Back Squat: 5 reps with 135 pounds
  2. Atlantis Lying leg Curl, feet neutral: 5 reps with 80 pounds
  3. Back Squat: 3 reps with 185 pounds
  4. Atlantis Lying leg Curl, feet neutral: 3 reps with 100 pounds
  5. Back Squat: 2 reps with 225 pounds
  6. Atlantis Lying leg Curl, feet neutral: 2 reps with 120 pounds
  7. Back Squat: 1 rep with 265 pounds
  8. Atlantis Lying leg Curl, feet neutral: 1 rep with 140 pounds
  9. Back Squat: 1 rep with 285 pounds
  10. Atlantis Lying leg Curl, feet neutral: 2 reps with 160 pounds

Take a two-minute rest, then start the workout.

Given that you’re going to be working with maximum poundages, you should probably use a spotter for lifts like presses and squats. Of course, if the thought of doing heavy singles scares you, and you can’t find a spotter, you could modify the routine by adopting a 2,5,2,5,2,5 sets and reps pattern.

Regardless, if it appears that you’re going to fail on your single rep, don’t let your ego take over! It’s better to underestimate your poundage on singles than to use way too much weight and force your partner to do most of the work for you.

While going over the 1,6,1 workout, you might have noticed that the concentric range of each movement is always done explosively (designated by the “X”). This was done deliberately to force you to access the higher threshold motor units. You may in fact find that you’re actually moving the load slowly because of its magnitude, but as Canadian strength physiologist Behm (1995) said, “It is not the intent so much as the actual velocity that dictates the motor unit recruitment.” Therefore, as long as you try to move the weight quickly, you’ll reap the benefits. The recent work of Slovanian strength researcher Gasovic (1998) confirms the need for explosive concentric contractions for strength and power increases.

Another imporant thing to remember is to keep an accurate record of all sets and reps in order to establish short-term goals for every workout. During the course of a proper strength training program, muscles adapt to the stress of lifting by becoming stronger. To be effective, the stress placed on muscles must represent an “overload,” that is, a load greater than the one used in previous activity. Remember though, that the load increase doesn’t need to be immense. For more information on this, you might want to check out the chapter on the “Kaizen Principle” in my book “The Poliquin Principles.”

Given that this workout is so demanding on the nervous system, you might actually find yourself having trouble falling asleep for the first few times you use this program. Don’t worry, this should pass in about six months or so. Nahh, just kidding. You should be fine after two or three days. However, if you want to beef up your nervous system, you may find that a supplement like Biotest’s Power Drive will help you maximize your work capacity by affecting the level and release of such neurotransmitters as acetylcholine and dopamine. It may also even increase testosterone production and offer a host of neuroprotective properties. Take your dosage 45 minutes before the start of your workout.

After 30 days, you’ll mercifully have completed this program. At that time, you should be significantly stronger (and hopefully a few pounds heavier). Regardless, after completing this cycle, I recommend taking five days off from weight training of any kind. When you resume, start with a program which emphasizes a greater number of reps, on average, per set, i.e. two exercises per bodypart for five sets of eight reps on a 3210 tempo.

This program might help you so much that you might even want to give up bodybuilding, change your name to something Slavic sounding, and join the Bulgarian Weight lifting team. The choice is yours.

Small Steps Make a Big Difference

One of the drawbacks to any kind of program where you have to increase your load by small increments is the lack of plates that are smaller than 2.5 pounds. Obviously, when you get to a certain point in your weight lifting career, a jump of five pounds represents a huge leap.

Luckily, several companies make small plates that will make the jumps in weight more manageable. For instance, Eleiko Olympic makes small discs of 0.5 kg and 0.25 kg.

If metric weights aren’t your thing, Ivanko makes pound plates.

Of course, you can always use Olympic bar collars to make small jumps in poundage. I strongly recommend the Olympic Okie Grip Collars. I’ve had mine for over twelve years and they still hold tightly on the plates. They’re definitely a quality product. Each collar weighs two pounds, so adding both of them to a bar gives you a micro-load of four pounds.


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