Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Simple Way to Use Triphasic Training Principles with Bodybuilders, Figure Competitors, Athletes and Everyday Clients.

Triphasic training is a method developed by Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson to train athletes. The book can be purchased here, my review can be seen here, an explanation by one of the authors Ben Peterson can be found here, a video of Cal Dietz explaining it can be found here and there is more good info over at the powering-through blog.

The purpose of this article is to show how triphasic training can simply be applied to training programs for all types of clients. The original book is focused on athletes but I have used the principles with physique competitors, bikini competitors, beginners as well as endurance and field based athletes. I will give examples from real world programs below.

Hopefully, Dietz and Peterson wont think I've taken too many liberties with their training system!

There are key elements that make up triphasic training (in my opinion)
  1. The triphasic element which gave the sytem its name
  2. French Contrast Method and accelerated plyometrics
  3. Oscillatory movements
  4. Timed sets
It's also how Dietz and Peterson organise these into a block periodized program using various percentages of weights. If you want to know how to do this go and buy the book! Here I have stripped out all the percentages and the specific periodization they use to give you a simple applicable version.

This article focuses on just the triphasic element - eccentric, isometric and concentric movement. I will touch very briefly on the french contrast method but for a good explanation and more examples of how to use it go to powering through blog here. I have used oscillatory movement, but won't cover it here. As for timed sets, I haven't used them and without a special piece of equipment called a Tendo unit they are hard to do.

What is triphasic?

The classic triphasic picture - you want to be the blue line. Source:

In a nutshell work on the three elements of a muscle movement, the eccentric (lowering, lengthening phase), the isometric phase (the static part), the concentric (muscle shortening, lifting the weight up phase). In the graph above both athletes are lifting the same weight and have the same 1RM but the blue line is completing the repetition more quickly, the eccentric phase is quicker, the isometric phase is shorter and the concentric is faster and more explosive.

Essentially, training the three elements can make the athlete quicker, more reactive and have the ability to develop more force at a higher rate. In essence, if the two athletes were on a pitch playing rugby or football, the person with the red line would still be slowing down and deccelerating while the blue line person would have already stopped and then exploded in the opposite direction.

3100 - Tempo.

At this point you might be thinking, well, I already know about tempo training and emphasising the eccentric etc. A decade or so ago this type of training was popularised by Ian King and Grand Master Poliquin. But it all got a bit too complex and random for my liking with all sorts of tempo schemes for all sorts of exercises. You used to see the four number tempo written all over programs. So like most people I just stopped using it and thought about lifting as explosively as possible and having some control on the eccentric.

What the numbers mean - in seconds:

3 - the eccentric lowering phase
1 - isometric
0 - concentric
0 - time at top of rep before starting next rep

Then triphasic training came along and showed a much more structured and logical way of using tempo during specific phases and only on certain exercises.

Time Under Tension (TUT). Triphasic could help build muscle?

One of the elements that make muscles grow is time under tension. All bodybuilders know this but as pointed out by Dave Tate in this article a few years ago on T-Nation - very few people know how much time under tension they are getting. They do their 3 sets of 10, but it then turns the time under tension was less than 20 secs, as they have rushed through the reps with poor form. According to the article the  maximum hypertrophy takes place somewhere between 30-45 seconds, and most people generally support the idea of it being just under 60 secs somewhere depending on the load. 

So could lower repetition sets and a relatively high weight but with a slow eccentric help with muscle growth. Seems feasible. And if you are used to always doing 8-12 reps at the same tempo, it is certainly going to challenge and change things up.

For Physique & Bodybuilding.

For example, in the program below there is a 6 second eccentric, if you consider the rest of the repetition takes 1-2 seconds, then 3 reps is going to give you 24 secs under tension. And 6-8 reps with a 6 second eccentric, with total rep time being 7 seconds = 42 to 56 seconds under tension.

Day 1 – LEGS – each block is 2 weeks – warm up before session
Exercise Block 1 -eccentric Block 2 - isometric Block 3- reactive
A Back Squat 2x5 1x3 WU then 3x3 with 6 sec eccentric 6000 0500 drop like a stone – hold isometric explode up 0000 reactive 5x3
B RDL 4x8 - triphasic 4x8 - triphasic 4x8 - triphasic
C Bulgarian split squat 3x10/side 3x10/side 3x10/side
D GHR 3x slow eccentric 3x slow eccentric 3x slow eccentric

This was day one of phase one of a program for a guy who is an experienced lifter, who before was doing the classic hypertrophy training and wants to compete in physique competitions. In the above example, WU= warm up and 6000 means a slow 6 second eccentric and everything else as fast as possible.

Note, I didn't use percentages like in the original triphasic. In my experience guys who train at higher rep ranges rarely go near maximal or have no idea of what their 1RM is, therefore after warm up, I instructed him to build up to a heavy 3 reps. If using percentages you want to be somewhere between 80-90%, above 90 will be too heavy.

With the RDLs 8 repetitions with the triphasic principles is hard! And this rep range is way higher than Dietz would use with athletes. In retrospect 6 reps would have been hard enough.

Block 2 is isometric. This helps to recruit high end fast twitch motor units - the type rarely recruited by traditional hypertrophy training. Not only do In think this gets the person amped up for the rest of the training session and fire up the nervous system, I think in later phases it will help them to recruit more muscle, lift more weight which can only be a good thing.

In Day 4 of the phase 1 program for this client see how the first exercise is triphasic and a compound movement and the following exercises are more traditional exercises and rep ranges for hypetrophy. (Please, note the exercises selected were based on these clients specific needs, injury profile etc)

Exercise Block 1 - Block 2 - Block 3-
A Incline BB Press Triphasic triphasic triphasic
B 1 Cable flye 3x12 3x12 3x12
B2 Cable rear delt 3x15 3x20 3x25
C1 TRX Y 3x10 3x10 3x10
C2 TRX Press up 3x10 3x10 3x10
C3 Stir the pot 2xmax 2xmax 3xmax

In my experience bodybuilding guys love the triphasic element, they find it extremely taxing, it brings a strength element to their training but it feels like hypertrophy training. A slow eccentric lower into a squat or holding a bar an inch of your chest for 5 seconds and then exploding back up brings a quality element to the training. No cheating or bouncing off the chest with this. Every rep counts.


Of course with complete beginners we're not loading them up with 85% of a 1RM and then doing some heavy reps. With beginners I am really using the triphasic principles to get them better at moving and controlling the rep, it could be bodyweight only or with a kettlebell for goblet squats.

And with beginners you can do a couple of weeks of each phase or doing them all in one workout. For example:
Set 1: Bodyweight squat or goblet squat at whatever normal speed is and look at depth
Set 2: Slow eccentric phase, 6 seconds, can use a box to ensure consistent depth, emphasize the technique and exploding back up
Set 3: If everything is looking ok, drop down into as isometric hold for 3-5 seconds and drive back up
Set 4: Reactive - reps as quick as possible.

Repetitions of 5-8 work well. Experiment.
Again this really helps the beginner focus on quality reps and technique rather than just going through the motions.

Hockey Player.

This was a program for a county/ national level Hockey player. One day of the program had triphasic training in. The other days consisted of foundational plyometrics, power exercises, conditioning and agility drills as well as mobility. This athlete still had a full time job so had to fit his training outside of hockey practice in his lunch break, so realistically only had 30mins or so for each session. Hence, on the program I indicate that if he runs out of time to only do the triphasic squats on this day even if he does nothing else.

Session 2 – leg strength emphasis

Exercise Block 1 -eccentric Block 2 - isometric Block 3- reactive
A Back Squat* 2x5 1x3 WU then 3x3 with 6 sec eccentric 6000 0500 drop like a stone – hold isometric explode up 0000 reactive 5x3
B RDL 3x6 – triphasic as above 4x6 - triphasic 4x6 - triphasic
C Calf raise 1 leg 2x10/side slow eccentric 2x10/side slow eccentric 2x10/side slow eccentric
D GHR 2x max slow eccentric 3x max slow eccentric 3x pulse
*key exercise, do this if nothing else if you run out of time!

This block of training was 6 weeks, like all the triphasic training, 2 week blocks work well. In phase 2 we added in French Contrast Method and Sports squat (see video of sports squat here). Note, the sports squat is a narrow stance squat that is favoured by Dietz and Peterson as being more sports specific, as the feet width is more like your natural gait width, it also means you may not be able to go as low or lift as much weight.

DAY 1: French contrast method MONDAY
Exercise Block 1 – 2 weeks Block 2 - Block 3-
A1 Sports Back Squat
Rest 15 secs
A2 Split lunge jump
Rest 15 secs
A3 ½ Weighted squat jump
Rest 15 secs
A4 Single leg hop
Then rest 4 mins
3x3 @ 85%+


3x5 @30% RM or weighted vest







Accelerated band jump 4x5-8
In the rest period do prehab work
Choose from
1. cable face pull
2. band pull apart
3. hip flexor mobility
4. wall scarecrow
5. or any exercise from recharge day
10-12 reps As block 1 As block 1

For a more in depth explanation of French Contrast and how to do it for upper and lower body see powering through blog  here or Triphasic training itself. In essence it is a form of contrast and complex training, where a heavy exercise is followed by a bodyweight plyo then a another heavy exercise (but not as heavy as the first) and then another plyometric - a faster plyometric than the first one. In the program above in block three, an accelerated plyometric is added at the end, as is done in triphasic training, this is a more overspeed plyometric. This is one of the few programs to also mention a percentage of weight as this athlete was used to such things.

All this day consisted of for this athlete was the french contrast and the corrective exercises done while resting, as he only had 30 mins or so to train. Other days consisted of more lateral movements needed in a sport like hockey, dynamic effort weights and shock method plyos.

Note, how I did not introduce French Contrast or sports squats until phase 2 - so 6 weeks of foundational training even with an athlete with experience of plyometrics and explosive work.

The Marathon Runner/ Duathlete.

This was a training program for a marathon runner/ duathlete trying to break into being elite. He had already achieved a sub 2.30 marathon, coming third in Warsaw and wanted to win a big city marathon and powerman duathlon. He later went on to win Phuket marathon and Powerman UK long course in 2013.

Unusually for an endurance athlete this guy had a background in strength training and Olympic weightlifting, so wasn't your typical weak endurance athlete. Still phase 1 of the program there was no triphasic, in phase 2 the sports squat was introduced - as this stance was applicable to the width of running and cycling gait; and in phase 3 triphasic and French Contrast was introduced (see below). So 12 weeks of training before I introduced French contrast and triphasic.

Endurance athletes are some of the most challenging to program for, as in this case for example, running and bike training can be up 15-20 hours week, training twice a day. And then on top of that there was mobility, plyometrics, strength and some other power training. So bear in mind this is a small but important part of the entire training plan. This athlete also had oscillatory training as part of their training program.

Day 1 – each block is 2 weeks
exercise Block 1-eccentric Block 2- isometric Block 3- concentric
Sports Squat
15sec rest
Split Lunge jump
15sec rest
Barbell half squat jump
15 sec rest
Single leg long jump
3-4min recovery*
WU 1x5 1x4 then 3x3
6 second eccentric


Back squat – drop fast into bottom position – 5 sec iso hold – explode up
Set reps the same
Sports squat – reactive – fast as possible in all phases
*during recovery TRX Y 3x10 3x10 3x10
GHR 3x6 3x6 3x6
Rollout with 2 DBs 3x10 3x10 3x10

The Bikini Competitor.

This is the program I probably take the most liberties with the triphasic principle, and you could argue that I am just using tempo in a traditional sense.

It does seem to be an issue with some women, that it is very hard to get them to train near a repetition maximum. Ask them to lift the heaviest weight they can 10 times and they will, then ask them to lift the same weight for 20 reps and they will, they were no where near their 10 rep max the first time round. One way to increase the difficulty is to add in an eccentric element and an isometric element to make the repetitions more challenging. In the case of this competitor there were certain weak areas she wanted to work on, and also the competition she entered had a fitness testing element as well  - consisting of maximum box jumps, bench press, and various other elements - hence the structure of some of the days below. She went on to win her age group in the bikini category.

DAY 2:








On another day I also utilised walking lunges with a pause isometric. The slow eccentric RDLs worked really well in developing the hamstrings.

Best Triphasic Exercises.

To simply implement triphasic training pick a compound exercise (though, now I think about it I think you could do it with barbell bicep curls - don't hate me too much Cal & Ben!) from the list below. It should normally be the first and/or second exercise or both in your training plan. If Olympic lifting, personally I would put the explosive lift before the triphasic exercise.

These exercises work well:-
Squat -  especially box squat/ bench squat options to get consistent depth on eccentric phase
Sports Squat - sports specific stance and nice for reactive concentrics and in French Contrast
RDL - you may need to where straps
Bench Press/ Incline Press
Military Press - I haven't tried - could work
Pull ups/ Chin Ups - slow eccentric makes this very hard even bodyweight. On the isometric days, drop like a stone but stop before your arms are straight, so you are still holding the position with muscle tension with a bend in the arms, use various angles, and then try to explode back up - a 3 sec pause is hard. On the reactive days people may mistake you for a crazy kipping crossfitter.
Deadlifts don't work, and it should go without saying it doesn't work with Olympic weightlifting

Pauline Nordin: This picture has nothing to do with triphasic training but my girlfriend thought this article needed a picture of a hot woman


Please be aware that the training programs I have outlined above are not like the ones in the triphasic training book, this is my own take on it using the elements and principles of triphasic.

Not every exercise or phase has to be triphasic, but it is a good way of getting some strength training into programs, help technique, gets time under tension where needed and sets the tone for the rest of the workout.

I've had good success with this method, let me know if you have tried it and what the results were.