Applying The Basic Concept of Triphasic Training

There’s so much information out there on strength & conditioning, performance, nutrition, et cetera, making it incredibly easy to get overwhelmed and, as a result, do absolutely nothing with the (sometimes) valuable information we come across.  Me personally, I read.  A lot.  So much so that I typically have four to five books going at one time.  Here’s what’s currently in my rotation:

  1. Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto (Nutrition)
  2. American Sniper by Chris Kyle (Entertainment – just finished)
  3. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (Mentality)
  4. Simple and Sinister by Pavel (Training – just finished)
  5. Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson (Training)

You’ll notice that I’m not really reading a lot of books from the same “category.”  I’m constantly searching for the little things that will make a difference in my life, as well as the system(s) I use in my gym.  When it comes to training, I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel.  There are plenty of people whom have come before me and provided a wealth of knowledge, and continue to, that make it infinitely easier for us to get from point A to point B with our clients.  Rather, I am looking to best apply the information at hand to make some athletic monsters, efficiently as possible…

This approach has allowed me to introduce the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), different loading schemes, etc… into my system here at Beyond Strength Performance NOVA.

With that being said, you’ve got to have principles.  This applies to everything, but I’m specifically talking about your programming here.  Once you have your principles (hopefully they are based in sound information/ideas themselves!), you can typically break down the information you read into sub-categories that will fit the principles of YOUR programming.  My point is, you don’t necessarily need to use information in the exact way that other people present it, but rather see if you can fit it into YOUR systems, YOUR programs, without losing the basic ideas as they were delivered from someone else’s system.

In reading Triphasic Training, I was immediately intrigued by the application of the 3 phases of muscle action:

  1. Eccentric (almost every explosive athletic movement begins with an eccentric load)*
  2. Isometric (in the transition from eccentric to concentric there is an isometric contraction, minimal as it may be, it’s there)*
  3. Concentric (go time!)*

*All are performed above 80% 1RM

The authors present a 3 phase program, in which the first phase covers the triphasic nature of movement.

The first few weeks (phase one for our example below) focus on timed eccentric loading, followed immediately by minimal time of transfer between isometric/concentric change of direction.  This is GREAT for learning to control a movement.  Eccentric neural grooving is touched on within the FRC system to teach a movement first (after proper mobility is present).  While the approach for this may be a slightly different application, the eccentric phase is a great way to teach control of patterns!

The next few weeks (phase two for our example below) focus on the isometric load through a FAST eccentric, a solid timed isometric, and once again, a strong, explosive, concentric change of direction.  This is great for teaching the individual, and preparing the nervous system to be able to stop movement on a dime before exploding concentrically…

The last few weeks focus on the whole movement being done with maximum velocity across all three muscle actions.

Coach Cal Dietz explains it in way more depth in this video:

YouTube Preview Image

The isometric phase was the most interesting to me, as I recently heard another individual by the name of Bill Knowles speak on this at the Perform Better one-day seminar in New Jersey a few weeks ago.  Bill used the example of a volleyball player jumping up to make a block, landing, and then immediately going up again for another attempt at a block.  If the player is landing “soft,” with a long controlled landing, they won’t be very fast at getting up for the next block.  They need to land controlled, yet with optimal stiffness to be able to change direction and go back up in an extremely fast manner

Have you ever used those drills where you do a box jump, hurdle jump, et cetera, and coached the athlete/been coached yourself to land “quietly” by using a soft absorbed landing?  Why?  Name me an athletic movement that occurs with a quiet, soft landing…  Having a hard time?

Sport takes place with quick, violent changes of direction.  The faster the athlete is at eccentrically loading, isometrically contracting, and turning over into a FAST concentric change of direction, the more successful they are on the playing field.  Still with me?

Triphasic Training
Ben does all that stuff faster than Tommy

So between the wanted stiffness Bill pointed out at Perform Better, and the triphasic training system that the authors presented in Triphasic Training, it all happened to click for me.  You can’t necessarily just do this stuff through repetition.  I’m sure some people can, heck, people do things in spite of the training all the time.  But the majority of us would benefit greatly from the system I’m about to lay out.

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How I’ve Applied the Triphasic Muscle Action Model

Before I get into it, know that this is MY TAKE on applying the model.  It is not exactly how the authors do so in the book…  You should absolutely read Triphasic Training, as I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions that will be answered by the book, as well as learn it THEIR way and figure out if you should/how to apply the information within your system.

As mentioned above, in phase one we focus on the eccentric portion of the lift.  Triphasic Training uses the squat and bench press as the main movements for most of the triphasic muscle action work in their programs, but I will sometimes program combo and hybrid exercises.  More on that later…

A few quick points on our phase one example:

  • This is a simple A/B template for a 3x/week program
    • Week one: A/B/A
    • Week two: B/A/B
    • Week three: A/B/A
    • Week four: B/A/B
  • This is not the entire days’ lifts, just up to the eccentric section
  • I am only applying the eccentric focus to the main compound lifts, typically one to two
  • (3XX) = eccentric in seconds/isometric/concentric

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Phase 1:

Workout A

Exercise Name Week1 Week2 Week3 Week4
A1. Water Pail MB Throw 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 2 x 5/
A2. Plank Walkback w/ Sliders 3 x 8 3 x 8 3 x 8 2 x 8
B1. Barbell Back Squat (3XX) 3 x 8 3 x 8 4 x 8 2 x 8
B2. Rib Grab T-Spine Rotation 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 4 x 5/ 2 x 5/

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Workout B

Exercise Name Week1 Week2 Week3 Week4
A1. Axe MB Throw 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 2 x 5/
A2. Iso Lunge – Static Pallof Press 3 x :30/ 3 x :30/ 3 x :30/ 2 x :30/
B1. Bench Press (3XX) 3 x 8 3 x 8 4 x 8 2 x 8
B2. Rib Grab T-Spine Rotation
3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 4 x 5 2 x 5/

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A few quick points on our phase two example:

  • This is a simple A/B template for a 3x/week program
    • Week one: A/B/A
    • Week two: B/A/B
    • Week three: A/B/A
    • Week four: B/A/B
  • This is not the entire days’ lifts, just up to the isometric section
  • I am only applying the isometric focus to the main compound lifts, typically one to two
  • (X3X) = eccentric/isometric hold in seconds/concentric

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Phase 2:

Workout A

Exercise Name Week1 Week2 Week3 Week4
A1. Lateral MB Throw 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 2 x 5/
A2. Plank Reaches w/ Sliders 3 x 5 3 x 5 3 x 5 2 x 5
B1. Barbell Back Squat (X3X) 3 x 5 3 x 5 4 x 5 2 x 5
B2. Kettlebell Arm Bar 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 4 x 5/ 2 x 5/

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Workout B

Exercise Name Week1 Week2 Week3 Week4
A1. Reverse Transverse MB Throw 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 2 x 5/
A2. ½ Kneeling Rip Pitchfork 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 2 x 5/
B1. Bench Press (X3X) 3 x 5 3 x 5 4 x 5 2 x 5
B2. Kettlebell Arm Bar 3 x 5/ 3 x 5/ 4 x 5/ 2 x 5/

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The third phase would simply be the full movements performed as explosively as possible…

Now, this is a VERY basic template in terms of sets/reps, and that’s for example purpose.  Don’t over-analyze this aspect.  It’s a blog post, not a book.

As I said before, I will sometimes use combo exercises for the triphasic muscle action as well.  Here is an example with the isometric focus in mind (sorry his feet got cut off by iMovie):

YouTube Preview Image

So there you have it- a simple, practical model to apply the BASIC concept of the first phase of Triphasic Training. Have questions?  Want me to expand on anything?  Drop a question/comment below and I will be sure to answer…

Progression Through Perseverance,

Chris (28719)

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Chris Merritt
Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
Chris Merritt
About the author

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA
7 Responses
  1. Cameron

    Thank you so much for explaining this. In the video it said day 1 85% day 2 90 & above and day 3 80%. Can you tell me the rest in between, does this apply to all the other exercises as well (or just Olympic and powerlifts)? Also, should you always be training the concentric explosively and how often should you work hypertrophy and other aspects

    1. Chris Merritt

      Cameron, this is my response of how I use it… it’s funny, as we apply things we tweak them more and more over time. Cal has the convenience of at least partially controlling his athletes’ schedules, where as I do not. So, for me to say that day 1 is x%, 2 is y%, and 3 is z%- I may not see them across the week as I would like. So, I use more of a RPE approach on a day-to-day basis with my application. As for every lift, no. I use this one to two compound movements early on in the training session. Hope that helps!

  2. Ian

    Chris, what percentages are you performing your eccentric and isometric work at? I’m assuming the percentages must be slightly different from the book because I believe Dietz keeps his reps on the lower side. Or are you just keeping a close eye on quality of movement and selecting the weight based on that? I’ve found that the percentages in the book seem to be a bit high for many athletes to safely handle.

    In my opinion the quality can drop off very fast when using the percentages listed in the book. In order to handle the percentages in the book it seems as though athletes need to have great core and low back strength to be able to handle the extended eccentrics and the force of a fast eccentric followed by a sudden isometric contraction.

    1. Chris Merritt

      Depends on the individual… Like you said, we watch the quality of movement and happen to have a goal for a set number of reps. Hopefully through the warm-up sets and tracking progress over the previous blocks of training (I’m not doing this with beginners) we have a solid idea of where they will be for the day. You may have also noticed I’m keeping a pretty basic rep scheme across the month in the example. So, we may in actuality slightly underestimate week one, set one, but I’ve got two more sets to figure it out, as well as the rest of the month to progress the load.

      We also obviously use feedback from the athlete… If they are one to three reps in and it feels too light, I have no problem stopping the set, adjusting fire, and writing it off as another warm-up.

      On top of all of that, I run a semi-private training environment, seeing up to six people at a time, with at least two coaches on the floor at a time. I probably have the luxury of seeing a little more of what each and every individual is doing as compared to the collegiate setting that Dietz is in…

      As for reps, it depends on the goal. I’d be perfectly fine with the percentages/reps they recommend in the book for a somewhat advanced lifter, being that the whole point is to learn to control serious forces. If I wasn’t doing the example over 10-12 weeks I would probably be more comfortable sticking to 3-5 reps at greater than 80% of each triphasic phase for 2-3 weeks each.

    2. Chris Merritt

      And to answer the core strength question… They absolutely do. We are using the FMS on every single individual that comes through our doors, and the most basic goal would be symmetrical two’s across the board with very general GPP before we are moving on to anything like this.

      We used tempo prior to reading Triphasic Training with just about everyone and I believe the eccentric should still be slow for a beginner to learn controlled movements/patterns when proper mobility/stability are present…

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