An in depth look at the 1-6 principle | The best potentiation protocol and how to apply it

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Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • Potentiation protocols are great to enhance maximal strength
  • Take advantage of the nervous system to grow to new levels
  • Original protocol plus 6 variations on how to adapt it for your individual needs

Introduction

If you want to get strong or help your clients achieve new levels of strength, you’ll want to add plenty of potentiation protocols into your toolbox. The 1-6 principle is where it all started for me. As always credit must go to my mentor Charles Poliquin for introducing this to me.

Potentiation protocols are named and designed to trick your nervous into allowing you to utilise heavier weights. Nothing will replace hard work consistently over a long period but using protocols such as this at the right times will allow you to smash through plateaus and ensure continual progression.

Exposing your body, and in particular your nervous system, to a new stimulus is one of the keys to the strength game. The human body ignores constant stimuli so if you keep giving it the same thing, it won’t respond by adapting. In fact, it’s already adapted and is bored with you! Potentiation protocols give your nervous system a new stimulus to respond to and thus, enhanced gains in strength.

The Original Protocol

When I was first exposed to the protocol it was written as such:

  • A1) Main compound lift: 6 sets consisting of 1,6,1,6,1,6 reps, 120s rest
  • A2) Antagonist: 6 sets consisting of 1,6,1,6,1,6 reps, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift

So the protocol uses singles and sixes in an alternating fashion. When you use this repetition scheme you’ll find that the single potentiates the six. So, after doing the set of one rep, when you return to the exercise after the rest period it will feel even lighter than usual. Yuri Verkhoshanksy wrote that is the equivalent of going to pick up a half empty can of coke but expecting it to be full.

Your nervous system will actually be primed and ready for the weight used in the single. So, when you un-rack the weight for the six, it will feel lighter than usual. Another way to think about it is your nervous system is ready to lift 100kg but only has to lift 80kg. The mechanism behind the method is known as the post tetanic facilitation/potentiation.

Protocol Variations

If you consider the meat and nuts of the protocol to be the potentiation of a heavier weight into a lighter weight, you’ll be able to figure out plenty of alternative repetition schemes and methods. I’ll re-write the protocol into a slightly different layout so you understand the point:

  • A1) Main compound lift: 3 x 1 rep, 120s rest
  • A2) Antagonist: 3 x 1 rep, 120s rest
  • A3) Main compound lift: 3 x 6 reps, 120s rest
  • A4) Antagonist: 3 x 6 reps, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift

What you can do to continue to use the skeleton of the protocol is adapt A1 & A3 into different options. A1 being the heavy/potentiation part and A3 being the lighter stimulus. Here are some of my favourite options:

Eccentric only

With this option the potentiation is an eccentric only repetition. An alternative option which is very similar is using hooks/weight releasers.

  • A1) Front Squat: 3 x 1 Eccentric Only rep, 10-0X0, 120s rest
  • A2) Lying Leg Curl (Dorsi to Plantar, Neutral): 3 x 1 rep, 10-0X0, 120s rest
  • A3) Front Squat: 3 x 4 reps, 30X0, 120s rest
  • A4) Lying Leg Curl (Dorsi, Outwards): 3 x 6 reps, 30X0, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift
Heavy Supports

With this option the potentiation is a heavy support. A heavy support is the top range of movement whereby you simply un-rack the bar and unlock your arms/legs an inch. In the example with the tempo 10X5 you un-rack and hold just short of lockout for five seconds. You could increase this up to a maximum ten second hold.

You’ll notice the paired lifts don’t follow the same repetition scheme. Don’t worry, they don’t have to! Here we try to increase volume of shoulder stabiliser work instead.

  • A1) Flat Press (Barbell): 3 x 1 Heavy Support, 10X5, 120s rest
  • A2) Unilateral External Rotation (Elbow on Knee): 3 x 6-8 reps, 4110, 120s rest
  • A3) Flat Press (Barbell): 3 x 5 reps, 21X1, 120s rest
  • A4) Half Powell Raise (Pronated): 3 x 6-8 reps, 4110, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift
Maximal Isometric

With the maximal isometric you can set it up so you utilise three different isometric positions or simply attack your weakest one. In this example we are working on one position at the bottom of the patella with the maximal isometric lasting six seconds. The alternative movement is a full range deadlift from the floor to then help cement the new connections made with the isometric.

You’ll notice no antagonist pairs. Again they’re not always necessary or indicated. With this workout there isn’t too much you’re going to want to pair it with!

  • A1) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Bottom Patella): 3 x 1 Maximal Isometric, 10X6, 240s rest
  • A2) Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Floor): 3 x 3 reps, X1X1, 240s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift
Accommodating Resistance

If your weight selection is on point here you’ll simply remove the accommodating resistance after the potentiation set leaving you with bar weight to perform the triple. There are more sets here due to the lower repetition range of three reps. You can use a variety of accommodating resistance set ups; banded, chains, banded and chains, full speed device, reverse bands.

This is great to also teach someone to learn to grind/push through the concentric part of the movement. The speed will be reduced due to the accommodating resistance making the athlete work harder. This strength quality is referred to as strength-speed work with a lower bar speed of 0.4-0.6m/s.

  • A1) Back Squat: 4 x 1 with 3 x chains, 30X0, 120s rest
  • A2) Kneeling Leg Curl (Plantarflexed, Inwards): 4 x 3-5 reps, 31X0, 120s rest
  • A3) Back Squat: 4 x 3 reps, 30X0, 120s rest
  • A4) Kneeling Leg Curl (Plantarflexed, Outwards): 4 x 3-5 reps, 30X1, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift
Ascending Weights

This option is advanced as it requires the lifter to ramp up due to a descending repetition scheme in the second part of the protocol. So on set one for A2 you will complete 6 repetitions. Set 2 of A2 you will complete 5 repetitions and on the last set 4 repetitions. Repetitions dictate the weight utilised so you’ll need heavier weights as you move through the session.

  • A1) Log Push Press (From Rack): 3 x 1, 12X2, 240s rest
  • A2) Log Push Press (From Rack): 3 x 6,5,4 reps, 12X2, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift
X-Reps

Continuing to now focus on adapting the second part of the session, you can also use X-Reps!

  • A1) Dips: 3 x 1, 50X0, 120s rest
  • A2) Scott Bench Curl (2” EZ Bar, Pronated, Mid): 3 x 1, 50X0, 120s rest
  • A3) Dips: 3 x 4-6 reps (plus X-reps), 40X0, 120s rest
  • A4) Scott Bench Curl (2” EZ Bar, Pronated, Mid): 3 x 4-6 reps (plus X-reps), 40X0, 120s rest
  • B1) Assistance lift
  • B2) Assistance lift

Conclusion

The key factor in getting the benefit from this protocol is to focus on the higher repetition. If we take the original protocol, this is the set of six reps. The single potentiates the nervous system to get more out of these sets. The single doesn’t want to be maximal. Maximal will mean fatigue, submaximal will mean potentiation. So, don’t overcook and get excited that there are singles in your program. Focus your energy on getting more out of the higher repetitions.

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 6/11/2019

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