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Nearly six months ago I had just returned from a two week trip to Norway.  The trip was rife with walking and hiking and general activity but the quality of the food, total calories and total protein were all abysmally low.  I returned from this trip a lot weaker than when I had left and I was frustrated that my strength gains had not held up over this two week period and I felt like I had taken 6 months off, not two weeks. I did beat up my body a little; which basically means I decided to only wear Chuck Taylor’s on this trip which involved hiking to glaciers, waterfalls and other scenery.  It also never quite got dark in Norway, I could still read by moonlight/sunlight without indoor lighting at 11pm.  My sleep suffered and overall I ended up taking a few big steps backward physically.

When I returned to CT I was ready for something different.  I was training hard and I always have but I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and expending energy without much to show for it.  My bench had gone up a bit at that point as well as my deadlift, but it was hit and miss.  It felt like the stars had to align for me to show any of the gains I had made.

At this time, my friend Mike Ranfone was experimenting with the Triphasic System at his gym and using it to great success with some of his athletes, as well as his own coaches.  Always one for an information dump, I bought the Triphasic Training book and read the whole thing in two sittings.  I will go into greater detail below what it entails but reading through the material I realized three things:

  1. I was disproportionately concentrically stronger than anything else. This in part explains why my deadlift was leaps and bounds above my other lifts.  It is a lift based more on concentric strength (more about the up, so to speak, than the down).
  2. I was eccentrically weaker than I should have been. I could control the weight most of the time, but it would often just feel heavy; the kind where you unrack the weight and think “this probably won’t go well”.
  3. I was weakest in the isometric phase of the lift. This is that brief period in all lifts where the weight is neither moving downward or upward.  Also can be thought of as the amortization phase, the brief period where the energy being stored eccentrically is then transferred concentrically.  Think down -> up.

This period of the lift is where all hell broke loose for me.  Falling forward in the squat, elbows flaring in the bench, back rounding on the deadlift.

Since all these little bells were ringing in my head as I wrote this (or I took the wrong dose of my meds) I realized it was time for something different.  I also truly invested myself in the belief that this program would work for me, not so much because it was a program but because it specifically targeted my weaknesses.

Mel Siff states in Supertraining that the program the athlete believes in will be the most effective.  I think my success was sealed from the start because I believed so vehemently that it would work.

The Basics

The program is set to address the three distinct phases of the lifts.  Hence, Triphasic.  Cal Dietz, the author actually programs in FIVE phases of training but I don’t think they are necessary to address here nor necessary to my particular needs at the time.  The three phases are:

  1. Eccentric – The phase of the lift where the weight is lowered. Think the “down” portion in a squat, bench, row or just about any other exercise.  Most exercises START with the eccentric phase, except for some that start concentrically like pullups, deadlift, curls and so on.  These start with the “up”.
  2. Isometric – The brief period between the lowering and raising of the weight. This requires a lot of attention in my opinion and is one key area people fail in during their lifts:  right off the chest in bench, off the shoulders in a press, out of the bottom of a squat.
  3. Concentric – The “up” portion of most lifts. Usually the phase most people think of when thinking of lifting weights.  Often I find this is the area people are generally strongest but cannot often express it because they fail or lose control during the eccentric or isometric phases.

The Triphasic System breaks blocks of training down to focus on each phase of the lift individually, so 2-4 weeks usually of eccentric, isometric and concentric, in that order.

After an initial run at four weeks of each, I found that it was simply too long to spend on any one area and especially the eccentric and isometric phases achieved the physical equivalent of hitting me over the head and dumping my body in the East River.

After some experimentation, I settled on two weeks of each, essentially creating a six-week program which was eliciting more gain and was fun because each program felt short term and easy to focus on.

Programming

You have a few options for programming your days in the Triphasic System, anywhere from 3-6 days of training usually with 4-5 days being the most common.  I have been doing 5 days a week for months and it has worked really well for me.

Within the two week block of each phase, the portion of the lift you focus on are the first two training days of the week.  Each exercise is done twice during the week and the second day of training that lift goes back to “regular training” where you perform the reps normally without a focus on eccentrics or isometrics; this is referred to as Dynamic.

I found a couple of things on my own and will focus on those here rather than giving every single training option.  When programming the Triphasic days, I set my range for the weight I wanted to use off the 82-87% or 90-97% the author suggests.  I found if I just tried to do 82% the first week and 87% the second week I did not always progress.  Instead, I simply write in on my program the range I want to hit and then anything within that I consider successful.

As an example, at the start of the Triphasic training, my bench press was 230lbs.  So I set the training range at each phase as 82-87% and worked within that.

So instead of:

Week 1:  82% of 230 at 190lbs

Week 2:  87% of 230 at 200lbs

I simply wrote in:  Week 1-2:  Anything within 190-200 lbs.

I did this because some phases I had a hard time with 190 from Week 1 and some phases I was using 200 during Week 1, so the range kept me from being too hard on myself if I didn’t hit a specific number.

I wrote up a brief table of how the week is broken down.  Remember a few things:

  1. Two weeks on each phase
  2. Four days of training with an optional fifth day
  3. Two days of the week focus on Triphasic (eccentric, isometric, concentric)
  4. Two days of the week focus on Dynamic (i.e “regular” reps)
  5. The weight used is in a percentage range.

Four to Five Day Model

Training Week: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 - optional
  OFF
Focus Lower Body Upper Body Lower Body Upper Body Total Body
Load 82 - 87% 82 - 87% 90 - 97% 90 - 97% 75 - 80%
Applied Means Triphasic Triphasic Dynamic Dynamic Dynamic

Loading

Block   Load Tempo Sets Reps
Eccentric   82 - 87% 5 sec Eccentric 4  - 5 3
Isometric   82 - 87% 3 sec Isometric 4  - 5 3
Concentric   82 - 87% Dynamic 4  - 5 3

Setting Up Your Training

There is a lot more that can be incorporated from here if you want to dive down that rabbit hole.  Working in jumps, plyo pushups, band work and a plethora of other options to complement this training is great.  However, I did not find one or the other here to really make a difference in my training and strength.

I prefer to get better at reactive jumping since I am slow as a turtle by nature so I incoroporated more depth jumps, single leg jumps and hops into my program.  It is what I need to improve upon and what I am invested in.

Ultimately, simply performing the main lifts in the three distinct phases will garner much of the results.  When all is said and done, despite how confusing this looks on paper at first, the implementation is quite simple.  Below is a sample of two weeks training for each phase using just the main lifts, the accessory work we will discuss following.

The Triphasic Training Day

Exercise One Rep Max
Squat 320
Week 1 Week 2
Percent Range 82 - 87% 82 - 87%
Weight Range 260 - 280 lbs. 260 - 280 lbs.
Sets 4 4
Reps 3 3
Focus 5 sec. Eccentric 5 sec. Eccentric

You can see that Week 1 and 2 are almost the same except I would simply try to move up within the weight range I set for myself.  The Isometric and Dynamic Phases would operate the exact same way except in the Isometric Phase the reps would be performed with a 3 sec pause in the bottom and the Dynamic Phase the reps would be performed as fast and explosively as possible.

I believe the shorter blocks of two weeks allow you to go hard on the loading and then move on before getting too beat up.  When I performed 4 week phases, I felt like garbage by week 3 or 4 and actually was seeing a decrease in strength so this shorter version was my solution without sacrificing loading or volume.

The Dynamic Training Day

As I mentioned previously, each week has two days focused on the Triphasic methods (eccentric, isometric or dynamic) and two days focused solely on heavier dynamic repetitions.  Since these days stay dynamic and the loading range stays constant, I instead chose to change the rep ranges as I moved through the blocks.

Block 1:  Sets of 3

Block 2: Sets of 2

Block 3: Sets of 1

Exercise One Rep Max
Squat 320
Week 1 Week 2
Percent Range 90 - 97% 90 - 97%
Weight Range 290 - 310 lbs. 290 - 310 lbs.
Sets 5 5
Reps 3, 2 or 1 3, 2 or 1
Focus Dynamic Dynamic

The only thing that changes for this day of training is that we drop a rep from each set as we move through Blocks 2 and 3.  I found this to mentally help me as I knew I could go heavier since I was decreasing reps but also keep from getting stale always performing 3 reps and nothing else.

Dropping the reps ensured I would move up at least 5 – 10 lbs. per Block so I went in each time to the gym confident I was improving in some way.  This may not be necessary for everyone but it made sense to me.  I like things that make sense!

From above, I may start on the low end during Block 1 doing 5 sets of 3 at 290lbs and then do 5 sets of 2 with 300lbs in Block 2 and finally 5 sets of 1 with 310lbs in Block 3.

 

What A Sample Week Looks Like

Block 1 – Eccentric Phase

Day 1:     Eccentric     82-87% 260 – 280lbs.

Exercise Week 1 Week 2
A1.  Squat w/ 5 sec Eccentric 4 sets of 3 4 sets of 3
260 260 260 260 265 265 270 270
A2. Depth Jump 4 x 5 4 x 5
X X X X X X X X

Day 4:    Dynamic       90-97% 290 – 310lbs.

Exercise Week 15 sets of 3 Week 25 sets of 3
A1.  Squat (performed dynamically)
290 290 290 290 295 295 295 300 305 305
A2. Jump Squat 5 x 4 5 x 4
20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20

You can see that all I did was work within the range I set for myself.  Usually the first week of the block I shoot for the lower end of the range to leave myself room to move up but there were plenty of times I was 10lbs over the minimum and felt great, which is why I like using the range so much.  On Week 2 I even allow myself some room on each day to move up 5 or 10lbs in the last couple of sets if things are feeling good.

Since the first squat day is more of the “volume” day, that day should be reserved for using exercises in slightly higher rep ranges and staying away from grinding out reps or going too heavy.  The second squat day is our “heavy” day so our assistance work can be lower in reps, heavier in weight and closer to our max in that particular exercise since the goal of that day is different.

Because each lift is performed twice each week, I did not get hung up on doing lots of exercises and lots of sets and reps.  Most often my volume day consisted of 4 sets of 4-8 front squats, 4 sets of 8 rows, some core work and sled pushing.  My heavy day I would work 4 sets of 5-8 romanian deadlifts, low rep glute ham raises, more core work and even some curls to break things up.

I found less was more with this type of training, I even moved away from 5 sets of 3 on my triphasic day to 4 sets of 3 and was recovering better.

Your upper body days follow a similar suit where there is a volume day and heavy day and you should program your accessory work accordingly, staying higher rep and away from failure on your volume day and going heavier and harder on the heavy or dynamic day.

Notes and Making It My (your) Own

  1. Each Dynamic or “heavy” day of training, I ended my session with one or two 12 sec Isometrics of the main lift as heavy as I could hold with good form.  I started with 30 second holds but the load was too low for my liking and I found 12 seconds to be my sweet spot.  I kept this a constant over each block and tried to simply move up 5 – 10lbs each week,  I started week 1 with a 12 second hold with 155lbs on my squat and recently finished a cycle with a 12 second hold with 225lbs in the bottom of the squat.  It works.  The key is just one or two sets and not loading too much, too soon.
  2. The second day of bench pressing I found to often beat me up too much if I just did more bench variations as my assistance work. Rather, after the main lift on my dynamic day, I performed overhead presses, push presses, behind the neck presses, half or tall kneeling KB presses and so on.  Not only did my overhead pressing get a lot stronger but I think this in turn helped my bench.  It was a win win and I felt more recovered.
  3. I kept reverse band benching in my program almost every week on my triphasic day as a secondary exercise. We used to use this when I was training with my powerlifting friends but I never realized the true benefit of this exercise.  Not only does it allow you to use heavier weights but the bands teach you to press fast.  That, and the bands keep some of the load off the bottom half of the lift, sparing your shoulders some aggravation.  Doing reps on this leaves you with noodle arms; be warned!
  4. Ramping my weights for most exercises just seems to work better for me. I have a hard time just doing sets across like 4 sets of 8 with 200lbs and progressing the next week then if I started a bit lighter and added 5 or 10lbs per set.  I do this mostly for my assistance work and it has paid dividends.  Partially mental and partially physiological but it works so who cares?
  5. You can use the Triphasic means for all sorts of exercises. I experimented with it on my pullups, Romanian deadlifts and even on curls.  It works on all these too.  The sets and reps don’t always work out the same; for instance on curls I would do a 3 second ISO on the way up AND the way down for 6 reps but the theory is the same.  Play around with it and have fun.
  6. I needed to eat WAY more than I was before. Not only did my hunger increase but my carbohydrate needs skyrocketed and I had to step up my game.  Currently sitting at 550 grams of carbohydrates a day.
  7. Sleep is still paramount. 5 hours of sleep sometimes just won’t cut it when you have to hold a heavy squat for 3 seconds in the bottom at 6:45am in the morning.  Bench I could get away with but if I short-changed myself on sleep, the squat and deadlift really suffered.  Eccentric and isometric work is very taxing, do not discount the low reps and sets as not much work.  This program will hand you your ass if you aren’t careful.  Well, it will anyways, but at least you’ll be ready for it.

 

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2: I will outline a sample program.

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