Charles Poliquin didn't set out to become a weight-loss crusader, but the guru who made his name sculpting Olympians might be on the verge of permanently reshaping the average Joe. The Poliquin program claims to do what science has deemed impossible—spot-reduce fat, via a custom diet, training, and supplement regimen—and it's gaining serious momentum.
The 51-year-old native of Canada, an exercise physiologist, founded Poliquin Performance in 2001—his clients have won Olympic medals in 17 different sports thanks to his strength and conditioning methods. But in 2006, he redirected his focus to everyday gym-goers with the development of his BioSignature methodology. Poliquin believers have popped up at cutting-edge health clubs all over the world—and recently on the sets of Hollywood action movies. Christian Maurice, a Montreal-based trainer, uses Poliquin practices to shape the bodies of stunt doubles: "For Immortals, I had to make Henry Cavill's double's arms much leaner, so I used BioSig to drop body fat on his triceps." At Equinox in New York City, fitness coach Josh Stolz uses Poliquin to trim the thighs and bellies of clients such as the spiritual guru Deepak Chopra. "Calories in, calories out is a thing of the past," Stolz says. "This is the future."
And yet many in the wellness and scientific fields call it pseudo-science or worse. "I don't give a shit about my detractors," Poliquin says. "I have certification classes all over the world, with waiting lists to get in. If it didn't work, it wouldn't get that traction." Or as Poliquin likes to say, quoting a swim coach he knows: "Do today what others will copy tomorrow."
There are 12 sites in the body where fat deposits develop—each correlates to a hormone that, when present in excess, signals the body to store fat. (Too much of the stress hormone cortisol, for example, piles on belly fat.) Certain toxins, says Charles Poliquin, alter hormone levels in the body (on his site, he writes about the estrogen-mimicking effects of bisphenol A, or BPA, for one). One of his more controversial claims: His regimen will cleanse the body of toxins. Once a client's fat-distribution pattern, a.k.a. his BioSignature, is determined by a test, the trainer prescribes a customized plan of supplements, diet, and workouts.
One seven-day cleanse-and-workout regimen every six months or a three-to-four-day version each month, done under the supervision of a Poliquin-certified coach.
Poliquin's branded line of supplements and powders (available at the company website) will run you over $600 per month, plus the fee for a coach (which can range from $100 to $200 per hour).
Each trouble spot is treated by a cocktail of herbal supplements and vitamins—the dosage depends on client-specific factors, like body-fat percentage—that purport to neutralize and balance hormone levels. The abdominal area is the most commonly treated spot for guys—blame carbs (which cause insulin spikes) and stress (which triggers cortisol). The six-pack-focused sampler includes fish oil/omega-3s, vitamin D3, magnesium, and a pair of adrenal supplements, like licorice root and holy basil.
The Cleanse Diet
Poliquin believes cleanses using the right foods will flush toxins from your system, thus stopping your body from stockpiling fat. All clients follow this strict vegan plan:
Green veggies: Eat as many as you want, whenever you're hungry, but be sure to eat different combinations every day so you don't develop a specific intolerance. Since vegetables are fiber-rich and full of water, they also help you feel full.
Protein shakes: You alternate between Poliquin's for-purchase "medical food" (rice-based protein powders that speed liver detox) and fruit- and/or vegetable-based protein powders mixed in water or juice. Drink as many as you want throughout the day.
Rice: Brown, black, purple, or wild rice is allowed on Day 4 of the seven-day cleanse.
The format will depend on whether you want to build muscle or lose fat. During the cleanse, the sweat regimen is a mix of strength training (high weight, low reps, multiple sets), yoga, and Tai Chi—activities that limit lactic-acid buildup, according to Poliquin. A typical workout schedule: Yoga on Sunday and Monday; 30-minute strength sessions on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; Tai Chi on Wednesday; a massage on Friday to knead out toxins. During non-cleanse weeks, follow a program (again, targeted toward your individual goals) designed by your Poliquin-approved trainer.
Does It Work?
YES: Ben Prentiss of Prentiss Hockey Performance is a 17-year Poliquin practitioner who uses the methods on NHL stars. "Doctors may say there's no such thing, but I have empirical evidence," Prentiss says. And even scientists will admit that someone's got to be first: "People in the gym may know the effectiveness of regimens far before science catches up," says Scott Gordon, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology at East Carolina University.
NO: "Some of Mr. Poliquin's claims are pure supposition, and some are clearly contradicted by science," says Jonathan Cane, an exercise physiologist and a cofounder of City Coach Multisport in New York City. Without peer-reviewed data on these methods, the results may be fool's gold. "Often, short-term weight loss is nothing but a change in water," says Thomas Storer, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of medicine at UCLA.