Every lift involves a concentric, eccentric, and isometric muscle action. Triphasic training employs the concept of loading each muscle action with the purpose of creating a specific training adaptation – power production. By doing this, we can program triphasic training into programs and lifts to enhance an athlete’s performances by teaching them to more efficiently produce power. In addition to enhancing performance, triphasic training has the ability to expose possible limitations or weaknesses an athlete may have.
Cal Dietz, a strength coach at the University of Minnesota, developed the idea of triphasic training in 2003. A passage from Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson’s Book “Triphasic Training” recalls the exact moment the idea triphasic training was born. It involved noticing two similar athletes (track throwers), with very similar builds and lifts, but different rates of force development. One athlete out threw the other, even though their maximal lifts were on par with each other.
To examine the why, Dietz borrowed the force plate from the engineering department and analyzed the two thrower’s bench presses. He found that one thrower was better at absorbing the force eccentrically at a high velocity. This then correlated to a farther throw due to faster stretch shortening response. The ability to load the muscle more efficiently eccentrically (downward phase) allows for more force to be produced concentrically (upward phase). This concept is what spurred the idea of triphasic training, which is breaking a dynamic movement into three planned out phases to facilitate power production.
Cal Dietz, image from XLAthlete.com
What Is Triphasic Training?
It’s important to note that this is a very advanced training topic that takes time to fully understand and grasp. Before you can begin to apply triphasic concepts in your workouts, there needs to be an understanding of how triphasic training breaks down dynamic movements into the three muscle actions.
Eccentric phase – This is the downward motion of movements where muscle lengthens, or the deceleration phase. Think about the lowering in a back squat, bringing the bar to the chest on a bench press, and lowering yourself in a pull-up.
Isometric phase – This is the moment where the lifter is in between the lowering and upward phase. Often accompanied by a brief halt and change in direction, think, the bottom of the squat before standing back up.
Concentric phase – This is the upward motion in a lift where muscles contract, or acceleration phase. This is the stand up in a squat, the press in the bench press, and the upward portion of the pullup.
These three phases represented in a tempo format in a workout program would resemble something like, 300 or 600. The three and six represent the eccentric phase and the zeroes are the isometric and concentric phases. Now you’re thinking, “This looks a lot like tempo training.” You’re right to an extent, it applies similar concepts, but triphasic training is employed to teach force absorption into power production, as opposed to tempo that mainly stresses time under tension (TUT).
Ask The Experts
I recently reached out to Cal Dietz, who connected me with one of his close associates Matthew Van Dyke, who’s the Associate Director of Sports Performance at The University of Denver. Van Dyke has ample coaching experience and co-authored two books: “Triphasic Training, A Highschool Strength and Conditioning Manual” and “Balance of Power.”
Jake Boly: How has triphasic training changed since it was first implemented in 2003? For example, are there better times to use it in various training phases in programs now that were found through trial and error?
Matthew Van Dyke: Triphasic has changed in many aspects since its initial implementation. However, the biggest change from the initial manual is the reduction in time under tension utilized with every exercise. At this point all training sessions are completed in a “high-quality” fashion. That means the longest set competed is now 10 seconds in length. This allows an athlete to gain specific adaptations to the highest extent, particularly in their maximal strength development. By reducing the time under tension, or volume experienced, an athlete is capable of utilizing and completing higher loads within their training cycle.
Boly: What are the three most important variables to consider when using triphasic training in your program?
Van Dyke: The consideration of quality versus capacity training and understanding of their use in programming is one critical aspect. Understanding that if maximal level outputs remain the primary goal, whether that be force, or the rate at which that force is produced, every coach and athlete must use a high quality method to achieve the greatest adaptations (as discussed above). The implementation of the block, as well as the modified undulated training models are two other vital aspects of improving performance. As athletes adapt, or become more accustomed to their training, greater and more specific stressors must be applied to continue to achieve improvements. The block training model considers each of the physical skills (strength, power, speed, etc.) and improves each on an individual basis for a training phase. This maximizes the amount of stress placed on that one physical skill and also prevents the body from being “confused” by multiple physical skills being trained simultaneously. The modified undulated training model utilizes the same strategy, but on a weekly basis. This ensures an athlete sees one, specific stressor each day. When programmed correctly, this improves the adaptation to the physical skill being trained to the highest extent.
Boly: Have you found a certain sport responds best with triphasic methods? Power oriented sports obviously, but any specific athletes that typically adapt really well?
Van Dyke: I wouldn’t say there is one specific sport that achieves the greatest changes due to triphasic training, but rather a type of athlete. As all athletes require the use of their stretch-shortening cycle, triphasic will improve that skill to the highest extent through the utilization of the muscle action phases and the french contrast model utilized. However, for athletes to utilize the high quality models for maximal improvements in performance, they must have some basic level strength. A beginner athlete should refer to the original triphasic programs as they provide greater time under tension and volume to continue to improve basic strength and other motor/movement patterns. However, as an athlete progresses they can begin to focus on higher quality training to maximize their force level outputs.
Applying Triphasic Training
Once you have an understanding of the three phases of dynamic movement and all of the factors triphasic training entails, you can begin to apply this training style in your workouts. In reality, this training style can be used in every phase of your training plan if done correctly. Below are two examples of how I would use triphasic training for a newer weightlifter who needs to develop a solid base of muscle. As a weightlighter improves, triphasic tempo can be decreased to become more explosive.
Compounds: Loading a compound movement can be a great way to teach the body how to handle heavier loads. By increasing the eccentric or downward motion, we learn to pack muscles more efficiently and handle the imposing demand on the nervous system. By doing this we can develop our ability to load muscle properly and still have the energy to concentrically perform after the initial load.
Example: Heavy back squats with a triphasic tempo of 400 (practice absorbing the weight).
Accessories: If you find a certain aspect is lacking in a compound, then programming triphasic concepts for accessories can be useful. For example, if you find hamstring strength is lacking in your back squat, using triphasic accessories may help their development and power production.
Example: Barbell Romanian deadlifts (RDL) with a triphasic tempo of 600 (hamstring development and explosiveness).
- This training concept is one of the many ways that have been used to develop power in the weight room, it is not an end all be all, PAP is another style we’ve discussed.
- The main focus and goal of triphasic training is to teach force absorption to create a powerful concentric movement.
- Every coach will have their own interpretation of this method and programming style for power development.
- Triphasic training can be used in every training phase, dependent on the needs and wants of the program, sport, and athlete.
Feature image from @Gopherstrength Instagram page