I remember sitting down with Ben Pakulski for breakfast one morning in Toronto. We were both there for an expo and an IFBB show, and I had walked up to Ben and introduced myself. He said he knew my name from articles published by our mutual friend, Charles Poliquin. And thus, a breakfast date was made.
During our conversation that morning, Charles' name came up, of course. I can't recall everything we shared about our friendship with Charles, but I remember Ben saying this: "He's a man's man."
It's a simple label that we've all heard before. But it's stuck with me years later because it captures Charles perfectly.
With Charles' passing you're probably going to come across a few articles about his accomplishments in the world of strength training and athletic performance. You might read about the NFL and NHL players he worked with, or all of the various gold medal athletes he trained. And in paying homage to him, I appreciate those who honor all of those things about his life's work.
Truly, Charles was a pioneer in his field. It's quite possible that outside of Arnold, no one has influenced more people to pick things up and put them down, and do it well, than Charles did. It's the seven degrees of Poliquin rule: That article you read from that one guy who clued you in to something? Well, he learned about that from this other guy who overheard it from a bro in the gym who one day read something by Charles.
But I don't want to dwell on those things heavily here. Instead, I want to expound on Ben's comment about how Charles was a man's man, and give some insight to who he was as a friend, a father, and a human being. Because to those of us who were fortunate enough to know him personally, the incredible work he did was simply an extension of the incredible man he was.
A Deep Influence From Year One
To find my first encounter with Charles' methods, I have to back up a couple of decades to my teenage years, when I was first getting started in the iron game. I had an insatiable appetite for learning as much as possible about how to grow muscle. I read every magazine and book I could get my hands on pertaining to the subject. It was during these early years that I was lucky enough to come across some of Charles' writings.
Right away, I saw that what set Charles apart from everyone else was his exactness about every facet of training. From rep cadence to movement syntax and execution, each variable had meaning. If Charles had you doing something, there was a significant reason for doing it, and for doing it the way he said.
Case in point, years later I remember Charles talking about working with throwers. He said he could look at how they moved, and how far they were currently throwing. From just those two things, he could determine what two movements they needed to improve upon, by how many pounds they needed to add to them, and what distance that would add to their throw.
That is zenith-level coaching. You can't use science for that. There's no peer-reviewed anything that give you that kind of insight. Obviously, this man knew a few things. I wanted to know a few things, too. So he became my go-to source for deep and informative training principles and modalities, and he stayed that way throughout my career.
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A Master of Connection
Fast forward a couple decades to when I was in the midst of competing in powerlifting and traveling all over to teach other people how to get stronger. I woke up to a message in my inbox on Facebook. It was a link to Poliquin's website, where he had listed out the best coaches in their respective fields.
My name was on that list for strength coaches.
I remember staring at it in disbelief. Surely it had to be some other Paul Carter. I asked the Google machine what other Paul Carters there were in the world of strength development. Turns out, there's a strongman competitor from the UK named Paul Carter as well. It had to be him. It couldn't be me.
But then something unexpected happened a few days later. Charles himself reached out to me to let me know he had listed me on his website for his list of best coaches, and had been reading my work for quite some time. He had read my books, and loved the principles I'd written about for strength development.
Was this real life?
Charles asked for my phone number and called me immediately. It was easily one of the most surreal moments of my life. He told me he was going to be promoting my most recent book, "Base Building," and that he was going to be in Montreal in a few weeks. If I wanted to come up, he would pay for my room and board.
Was this real life, too? Of course I went.
In Montreal I met with Charles, as well as a close associate of his named Juan Carlos Simo. Juan was in possession of the most impressive resting bitch face in the history of resting bitch faces. And his overall demeanor was that of someone who'd just been forced to down a large bowl of pissed-in Cheerios. I wasn't sure what to make of him.
But our first morning at breakfast, Charles told Juan, "You should have Paul down to the Dominican Republic to give a strength-training seminar."
"You will do this?" Juan asked sternly.
"Yes, of course." I replied. And over the course of that week, Juan and I developed a friendship that I still cherish to this day. I've since done many seminars at his gym in the Dominican Republic. And despite his initial impression, Juan is one of the most sincere and loving people I've ever had the pleasure to know.
Another time, Charles once asked me about my relationship with another friend of his, Christian Thibaudeau.
"He's a jackass." I said.
"Why do you say that?" Charles asked calmly.
"We were having a conversation one time and I told him he was looking pretty jacked. And I asked him what he weighed, and he totally lost his shit and said I shouldn't be asking personal questions."
Charles laughed. "Perhaps he was having a bad day. Listen, Christian is a good guy. I can vouch for him. Reach back out to him and make amends."
I didn't want to, but Charles continued to prod me about it. Eventually I did, and sure enough Thibs and I really hit it off. We eventually wrote the "Maximum Muscle Bible" together, have taught alongside one another, and I consider him one of my closest friends now.
There's a theme here. And I promise you that you'll find it with anyone who was close with Charles. Knowing people wasn't enough. He truly loved to connect the people he allowed into his circle. He had an immeasurable passion for them. He gave to them unconditionally, and without reservation.
Expertise Without Ego
Charles also believed he could learn something from everyone. I can't tell you how many times he would call me up and ask me my thoughts on something, to which I'd often reply, "You're the master here, why are you asking me?"
"Because I value your thoughts on these things." It's a simple sentiment, but how many of us are humble enough to express it?
He was transparent in other ways as well. Charles would often call me to tell me about his daughter, Krystal. He would send me videos of her doing judo and at the gun range with him. He was so immensely proud of her, and when he spoke about her, he beamed and gushed with the joy only a father can know, and he wasn't afraid to share it.
When I made the transition from powerlifting to bodybuilding, Charles was the first person to call me after my show to tell me how proud he was of me. He bought every book I ever wrote, and every t-shirt I ever made. Then he'd turn around and promote them without me ever having to ask. When he was having his website redesigned, he would send me pictures to get my input on which ones I liked best.
But yes, he had an edge as well. Charles had access to a mental database of insults that potentially exceeded that of his training knowledge. You'd better have strapped on your big-boy pants when you were in his presence.
The lone instance I can remember achieving anything that felt like "victory" in that regard was when I asked him if he was really scared when Pangaea broke apart.
A Loss Beyond the Weight Room
As word of his passing spread, people wrote and spoke of what a blow it was to lose such a giant in the strength and fitness industry.
But to those of us who were close to him, the loss was much more fragmenting. We lost someone who was always an ear in trying times. Who genuinely cared about who we were to him, and the friendships we had cultivated together.
I can take some solace in knowing that his legacy will live on. Not just through all of the books and seminars he did that improved the strength community, but through the connections he made through all of us.
My desire in writing this was to give some insight to the Charles very few people got to know. Hopefully, it would have made him proud.
Rest easy, Chuck.