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Published April 5, 2018

The Open is a time of year when conditioning is at the top of list of training priorities.  We all know that thrusters and burpees will be plentiful, so we prepare for that.  That being said, most of us feel a bit weaker and a little banged up after those five weeks are over.

That’s why we go through a cycle of Triphasic training, popularized by Cal Dietz, as soon as the Open is over.  Basically, all that means is that we take 4 weeks to focus on training the Eccentric and Isometric portions of the major strength lifts.

The eccentric portion of a lift refers to when a muscle is lengthening under contraction, or put more simply, the “lowering” portion of the movement.  Think of this as sitting down into a squat or lowering yourself down from a pull up.

The Isometric portion of a lift refers to the transition point between the lowering portion and the lifting portion of a movement, when the length of the working muscle maintains the same length under contraction.  Think of this as that split second when you have squatted as low as you are going to before you transition to standing up.

The concentric portion of a lift refers to when a muscle is shortening under contraction, or the “lifting” portion of a movement.  Think of this as coming up from a squat or pulling yourself up on a pull up.

We can emphasize the eccentric and the isometric portion of movements by prescribing tempos to them.  If we increase the amount of time spent in the eccentric and isometric phase of a lift, there are a number of benefits that lead to a stronger and healthier body.

Benefits of eccentric training:

  • Training the Stretch Reflex
    • During the eccentric phase of a lift, a stretch is applied and the central nervous system receives information about how much force is required to stop the eccentric lengthening of the muscle. Muscle spindles tell the brain how hard it must contract to overcome a load.  This greater the signal from the muscle spindles, the harder the contraction.  Training eccentrically improves the signaling to the brain to perform a stretch reflex.  This is improving that phenomenon known as “catching the bounce” in a squat.
    • Golgi tendon organs are contained in muscle and tell the brain when to relax. They measure the force being placed on a muscle.  They inhibit muscle contraction to prevent the muscle from creating more force than the connective tissues can tolerate.  Most GTO’s appear to come pre-set with a kill switch set at nearly 40% below what the structure can actually handle before serious damage occurs.  When you train eccentric phase, you are training to maximize the use of muscle spindles and minimize the function of GTO’s.
  • Training the Stretch Shortening Cycle
    • The Stretch Shortening Cycle is responsible for the absorption of kinetic energy within the muscle and tendon. Elasticity is being able to resume a tissues normal length after it has been lengthened.  When a muscle and its attaching tendon are stretched, the elastic energy is stored within these two structures to be used later during the concentric (lifting) phase.  Think of it as stretching a rubber band.  The more energy an athlete can absorb, the more energy they can apply dynamically.
  • Building motor control
    • Slowing down the eccentric portion of a lift allows you to develop better motor patterns by creating a stronger mind to muscle connection of the working muscles, while developing awareness of where your body is at in space.
  • Building tendon strength
    • Slow eccentrics not only increase tendon strength, which leads to the attaching muscle improving its ability to utilize the stretch shortening cycle, but also helps align tendons so that they are running parallel to each other. This is why eccentric training is great for injury treatment and prevention.
  • Building muscle
    • Eccentric contractions can handle much more resistance than a concentric contraction. Most muscular damage is done on the eccentric portion of a lift.  Focusing on the eccentric leads to a larger increase in muscle size with proper nutrition and recovery, and an increase in strength that translates to the concentric portion of the movement as well.  For example, doing slow and controlled pull up negatives are one of the best ways to get your first pull up.

Benefits of Isometric training:

  • The isometric contraction is where energy is transferred between muscle actions. It turns absorbed eccentric energy into explosive, concentric contractions.  Basically, the isometric contraction is responsible for absorbing weight and changing direction.  The more force that is applied eccentrically, the more important it becomes to decelerate and stop the load.
  • By improving isometric strength, you are activating larger, fast twitch motor units and you are increasing the rate at which those motor units fire. This enables more force to be absorbed into the stretch reflex and stretch shortening cycle.  This will improve the athlete’s ability to be explosive as they transition from the lowering to the lifting of the weight.
  • By adding pauses to a movement, you are building control and awareness in the position being held. By pausing in the bottom of a squat, you can become aware of where your weight is at, your posture, the alignment of your knees, etc.  You also develop active mobility in the position being held.  When you can hold a position against resistance, you truly own that position.
  • Adding pauses is also a great way to build starting strength. You don’t want to have to always rely on catching a bounce in a squat or performing touch and go reps on the bench press or deadlift.  It is important to develop strength throughout the entire range of motion.  When you add a pause to a movement, you eliminate momentum and become strong through the entire range of motion.

 

Good Exercises to Use:

  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • RDL
  • Strict Press
  • Bench
  • Pull Ups
  • Rows
  • Dips
  • Push ups

*Note: The tempos prescribed during this type of training will force you to go lighter on these exercises than you are used to.  Make sure you only go as heavy as you can maintain great form and the proper tempo.

Sample Program

4 week Block

Week 1 – Eccentric

  • 3×5 @40X1

Week 2 – Eccentric

  • 4×5 @40X1

Week 3 – Isometric

  • 3×3 @13X1

Week 4 – Isometric

  • 5×3 @13X1

 

How to read tempo:

  • When a series of 4 numbers follows a sets and reps prescription, it applies to the tempo prescribed to the movement
  • The first number corresponds to the number of seconds that should be spent on the eccentric portion of the movement
  • The second number corresponds to the number of seconds that should be spent on the isometric hold in the bottom of the movement
  • The third number corresponds to the number of seconds that should be spent on the concentric portion of the movement
  • The fourth number corresponds to the number of seconds that should be spent on the isometric hold at the top of the movement

For example: @40X1 means four seconds on the way down, no pause in the bottom, X means as fast as possible on the way up, and a one second pause at the top.

 

If you are feeling a little beat up and want a good start to a strength cycle after the Open, give Triphasic Training a shot.  Come back to it three times per year and watch your lifts go up and your injuries heal up.

 

References:

Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz

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