Tierphasic Training (Part II of III)

By: Matt Van Dyke

This is a continued segment from the previous post and explains the ideas behind the “Triphasic Training Method”. I use this method as a strength building and peaking phase to increase my athlete’s reactive abilities. I decided to leave Iowa State when I was offered a volunteer opportunity with Coach Cal Dietz at the University of Minnesota. This experience has made the biggest impact on my coaching career so far from a programming perspective, and continues to challenge me to come up with new ways to stress my athletes. At the University of Minnesota I was introduced to “triphasic training” and its impact on the stretch-shortening cycle. The stretch-shortening is the most important ability in sports and is the focal point of triphasic training. This cycle contains three phases, an eccentric, isometric, and concentric phase. The goal of triphasic training is to increase this stretch-shortening cycle by training these phases individually. As the stretch-shortening cycle is improved economy of movement is increased. This individualization allows each phase to be trained maximally due to the increased focus on a single adaptation.

Cal has undulated this program in order to ensure there are never too many qualities are trained within the same block. The undulation of the triphasic program allows specific qualities to be targeted and guarantee each adaptation of training wanted is improved optimally. Cal has then taken the undulated method and further enhanced it by putting timed sets in place, rather than a set number of reps. Timed sets are completed in order to train energy systems specific to each sport and regulate the amount of stress that is exerted on the body. This sport specific approach optimizes each athlete’s preparation for their respective event. Days are undulated by intensity and time into three different days. The first is a medium intensity and medium volume, the second day is high intensity low volume, and finally the third day is a lower intensity and high volume day. It is important to note that eccentric and isometric training only takes place on the medium and lower intensity days, while the high intensity day remains a reactive training day at high intensities. Placing the lower intensity, high volume day at the end of the week also ensures high quality work completed over the first two days is fulfilled while the athlete is fresh. Oxidative systems are also trained through the repeated sprint efforts by the athletes of this undulated model.

The first phase of triphasic training is the eccentric phase. This phase of movement is vital for deceleration of the body and is the first segment in this training method.  The supramaximal loads used in this phase maximize the eccentric portion of the stretch-shortening cycle. This is necessary because eccentric movements are stronger than isometric or concentric movements, these strength differences are clearly demonstrated by the force velocity curve. In order to train the eccentric movement phase maximally, which is the main goal of this method, percentages must be high enough to stress the eccentric phase. Eccentric movements cause tendons to absorb the majority of the force as the muscle fights being lengthened, while also causing microscopic damage to the muscles themselves. These high stressors allow the body to adapt and strengthen tendons as well as the muscle, leading to an overall improved and more rapid eccentric movement. Improving the eccentric phase leads to an increased storage of “free energy” within your tendons during this phase. The isometric and concentric phases, combined with this training, will allow that “free energy” to be applied to sport-specific movements.

In order for the body to begin moving again in a concentric manner there must first be a brief complete stop in movement, this is where the isometric phase becomes important. This phase is commonly overlooked due to its brief existence, but is necessary for optimal training. The stronger an athlete is in their isometric phase the less time they will spend completely stopped. This shorter isometric phase also allows more of the “free energy” that was stored within the tendons during the improved eccentric phase to be transferred and utilized in the concentric phase.

The previous two phases set up the concentric phase of this program, which is most similar to “typical” lifting programs, in which athletes go through the full range of motion of the exercises prescribed. Timed sets become particularly important in this phase and push athletes to lift their weights using maximal velocity. Teaching your athletes to move these high loads at high velocities increases their reactiveness and rate of force development, which is much more relatable to athletic events than raw strength. Rate of force development is measured by the ability to produce force as rapidly as possible. As max strength increases the ability to produce more force in a shorter amount of time increases as well, however, there is a plateau effect in elite athletes where increased max strength will not make as big of an impact on performance. Rate of force development is necessary in every sport. Its application to sport is clear in sprinting, in which the foot is only in contact with the ground for 0.1 to 0.2 seconds, while max strength forces are reached around 0.7 seconds. At this point the advantage goes to the athlete that can produce the most force in that 0.1 to 0.2 second span, not necessarily the strongest athlete, although, as I said already, there is a positive correlation between max strength rate of force development.

As the off-season ends, with camps and/or the season approaching, it becomes necessary to train your athletes at, and around, game-speed. This can be done using the “below 55” method. This phase is designed to continue to increase power outputs and rate of force development utilizing light intensities at a maximal velocity, and is undulated just like the previous blocks. This is the most sport-specific training done in the weight room with training velocities at just above, below, and right at game speed, which can be accomplished by training athletes with light weights, at body weight, and accelerated speeds respectively. This block also uses timed sets, training an athlete’s specific energy systems used in their sport. Oscillatory training is utilized in this block to prepare your muscles to fire as rapidly as possible, and also train your antagonist to relax more quickly, allowing an even faster contraction. This is the final peaking phase applied before a season due to its specificity to each individual sport.

The French contrast method is utilized throughout all of the triphasic blocks. This method is a series of three styles of plyometrics, and includes weighted, body weight, and accelerated plyometrics. These are used to improve an athlete’s reactiveness, particularly within the stretch-shortening cycle, and to prepare them for the below 55 training block.

Deload weeks are used after each block and include general preparatory exercises and circuits to prevent residual effects on the aerobic energy systems that was improved prior to triphasic training. The most common circuit used during these deload weeks is the “contralateral circuit”. As I stated above, it allows continued training of the aerobic systems and allows athletes to recover from their previous taxing workouts that have caused over-reaching. This recovery permits super-composition and an improved athlete the following week.

The following table shows the percentages used during each day and phase throughout “triphasic training”.