Triphasic Training is a method I became familiar with a few seasons ago. I incorporated the method within my own training and then implemented it with my team the Newtown Jets Rugby League Club. It is without a doubt one of the most powerful methods I have seen that increases strength, power and rate of force development.
Many of my players added 15-20kg to their squats and about 10-15kg in their bench press within a 6 week period, with one player even adding 30kg and 25kg in each lift. Broad Jump was also significantly up and that season we had a much lower soft tissue injury rate than the season prior.
If used correctly it will also transfer over to the competition exercise, for most readers being Rugby. Triphasic Training is a method developed by Cal Dietz who is the Head Olympic Strength and Conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota. The following information is only a small part from the book Triphasic Training and the way I have interpreted it and used it within the training of my athletes.
So what exactly is Triphasic Training you ask? Nearly all dynamic movements are triphasic in nature. There is an Eccentric, Isometric and Concentric Phase. All contraction types are programmed differently by the brain, and as such are separate skills. To train them optimally we need to emphasise each within the training programme at different times. If we can decelerate and absorb high amounts of force quickly then our rate of force development and explosive power will be enhanced.
In practical terms picture yourself with the ball in a game of rugby and you are about to step an oncoming defender. If you are able to brake and reaccelerate while the defender is still braking you win every time. In most sporting situations there is minimal time to apply this force hence why muscular power is so important. The problem with the vast majority of resistance training programs is that the emphasis solely focuses on the concentric or lifting portion of the exercise. This is why adding Triphasic methods to your training will be so beneficial.
What to do before a Triphasic Block
I use 3 blocks of training preseason for my athletes. A 4 week General Preparation Phase (GPP) followed by a 6 week Triphasic Phase, followed by a 3-4 week Realisation Phase.
A Triphasic block can be extremely taxing on the central nervous system, especially beginning with a block of eccentric exercise. This is why I place a Triphasic block of training after a GPP Phase.
A GPP phase should build general strength and hypertrophy and make an athlete more resilient. There should be a focus on general movement patterns such as the Squat, Hinge, Vertical/Horizontal Upper Body Push and Pull and single leg variations.
Many programs focus solely on the sagittal plane however to reduce injuries we should also focus on transverse and frontal plane. Include exercises such as single leg Romanian deadlifts and frontal lunges. Mobility and stability should be prioritised as well as an introduction of extensive plyometric exercises.
Triphasic Training Block
An eccentric contraction is the lengthening of the muscle under load. For example think the lowering of a squat. Two physiological processes contribute to force development when training the eccentric phase of movement being the stretch reflex and stretch shortening cycle. There are several benefits from adding this type of training into your program. As mentioned earlier the more force you are able to absorb and decelerate the more powerful you are at performing concentric movement.
Focussing on this movement has shown to decrease injury risk as well as reinjury which is one of the most important things in a strength and conditioning program. It is a powerful stimulus for increasing strength and packing on slabs of muscle. Just be careful with the amount of volume at first as it can cause high amounts of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
The following is an example of how we perform an Eccentric Squat movement. Utilising 80% of 1RM in your squat descend down slowly in about 6s. As soon as you reach the bottom in your 6s descent explosively lift the movement up. The same can be done for other exercises such as a Bench Press for upper body.
An isometric movement is when a muscle contracts while not changing length. For example imagine pausing in the bottom of a squat and holding it. In sports it is only small period during the transition from an eccentric phase to the concentric phase. Cal Dietz explains the isometric phase as the energy station that transfers absorbed eccentric energy to explosive concentric contractions. Isometric training increase the number of muscle fibers that fire which is known as motor unit recruitment. It also increases rate coding which is the rate of each of these fibers fire. Working this movement allows us to create maximum intramuscular tension within the working muscles.
An example of an Isometric movement in Triphasic training is as follows. With 80% of 1RM in the Bench Press quickly descend until the bar reaches one inch above the chest. Once it reaches the bottom of the movement aggressively stop and contract the working muscles but don’t move anywhere with the bar. After 3s in the bottom explosively lift back up to the top of the movement.
A concentric movement is the actual lifting of an exercise when the muscle shortens and contracts. For example it is the portion of the squat when accelerating out of the bottom of the movement or a bench press from when the bar touches the chest and is lifted up. It typically is the type of training that athlete’s focus on majority of the time. The concentric movement is the measure of an athlete’s rate of force development (RFD). As mentioned before the faster we are able to move a given load the more success we usually have on the field.
It must be noted that the RFD is aided by the preceding actions of the eccentric and isometric portion of the lift, hence once training those phases the concentric portion feel explosive. Cal Dietz states “Training the concentric phase to perform explosive dynamic movements improves intermuscular coordination, allowing for the inhibition of the antagonist muscle and resulting in maximal RFD”. This basically means the athlete learns to develop relaxation of movement which tends to separate elite athletes from advanced athletes.
Performing Triphasic movements in the concentric block is super easy. Simply perform the movement as fast as possible. For example when squatting descend as fast as possible under control and then once at the bottom lift explosively.
Putting it Together
Your Resistance training program for lower body should occur on High days (see this guide on high-low training to see what constitutes a high day) and be done after speed/agility training. Resistance Training for upper body can be done on Low days.
This is a 6 week training phase- 2 weeks focus on eccentric, 2 weeks isometric, 2 weeks concentric.
For the Triphasic main exercises utilise compound exercises and use about 80% of 1RM for movements with low quality repetitions such as 4 sets of 3 reps.
For eccentric focussed movement use a 5-6s tempo down during the eccentric phase followed by an explosive concentric. 80% of 1RM is used.
For isometric focussed movements use a 3s isometric pause in the bottom of the movement followed by an explosive concentric movement. 80% of 1RM is used.
For the concentric phase simply lift fast with good technique.
Combine the triphasic movements with an explosive ballistic power action and contrast between them e.g. Squat with Jump Squat, Bench Press with Plyometric Push Up, Trap Bar Deadlift with Trap Bar Jumps. Use around 30-40% of 1RM.
I like to use the Squat for Lower body and Bench Press for upper body. Assistance exercises I prefer are usually single leg or hip extension exercises such as split squat variations, glute ham raise, Romanian deadlifts, back extensions etc. Usually leave 2-3 reps in the tank for assistance exercises.
For the main strength exercise on Day 2 perform normal reps. The percentages for loads are outlined below.
Triphasic Template for Rugby Players
Click to enlarge
What to do after a Triphasic Block
Without going into too much detail this should be a block of training which will include special strength exercises and include exercises that will give you the most transfer to your chosen sport. Keir has done a great webinar on specific special strength movements for each rugby position found on the rugby strength coach community. I have used many of these exercises as well as other movements that I think are extremely important such various intensive plyometrics, maintenance of strength, wrestling, sprinting etc.
Hopefully this article has provoked some thought on your strength training for rugby. The methods explained here are only a small part from the book Triphasic Training and the way I have interpreted it and used it within the training of my athletes. If you have any questions put them up on the Facebook page and I will do my best to answer them.