Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Review of Triphasic Training By Cal Dietz & Ben Peterson

First things first, this is a real review, I don't know Cal Dietz or Ben Peterson, I'm not an affiliate, I don't get any money from anyone if you decide to buy this book.

Secondly, this isn't a review of the triphasic system as such, but of the e-book. This means I wont be giving away all their intellectual property for free. Although, it would be impossible to review a product without a brief overview of the system it espouses, the details are in the book and I had to pay $39.95 to get it, so you can too!

One of the authors, Ben Peterson, has written a 4 part series explaining triphasic training here, here, here and here. So that would be your first port of call to find out more without laying out cold hard cash.

Triphasic Training - It looks like this

Nuts & Bolts

This is an ebook available from , written by By Cal Dietz - head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota and Ben Peterson - PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota.

It costs $39.95 (whatever that is in pounds at the moment), and for that you get a 387 page ebook. That is a lot of book for your money, unlike some ebooks there aren't pages and pages that are blank, full of filler or adverts.

It is clearly laid out, with good size graphs, tables and photos. It is well designed, for example, the colours they have used in the graphs and tables make them easier to read, understand and help break up the text (some ebooks can be monotonous text, which is understandable if you're writing a fiction book, but books about exercise and fitness need some visuals in my opinion). If you've ever read any of the classic texts like Verkhoshansky's Special Strength Training Manual For Coaches or Supertraining, you'll know that looking at small blurry black and white graphs, pictures and stick men get a bit labourious after a while.

The book also has literally hundreds of hyperlinks to exercise videos and additional video lectures on youtube. This is the one big advantage of ebooks over traditional books in the fitness arena, the text can link direct to a video of the exercise being discussed. I clicked on pretty much all of the links, and only one or two didn't work. I just read that this book is now available in print form, I'm not sure how all these links will look in a printed book. However, I like print books for easily flicking back & forth and marking pages, scrolling back and forth in an ebook is just not the same.

Whoever designed the layout for this book, and spent hours putting all those links in should be commended. This looks like a high quality product.

One last point, the ebook is in pdf format and 'secured' which means I have to type in my 'password' every time I open it, I can understand why the authors have secured their work in this way, but it is somewhat annoying.

Hang on - what is triphasic training?

Triphasic refers to the three phases of a dynamic movement, the eccentric phase, the isometric phase and the concentric phase. Dietz & Peterson contend that the athlete who can do these three phases of the movement the fastest, will be the better athlete. Two athletes may be able to lift the same weight, but the one who does it faster and turns the eccentric phase into the concentric phase the quickest will be the most powerful and reactive. And as we all know, all things being equal, the most powerful athlete generally wins.

Source: Dietz & Peterson (2012)

The authors clearly state at the start of the book that this isn't the only way to train athletes, also they don't dismiss the role of genetics. They are quick to point out that team sports aren't always the best measure of a strength and conditioning program because there are so many variables at play, it is good to see they have mainly based their research on track and field - you either ran faster or threw further.


The book starts with the almost obligatory section on stress, Hans Selye and adaption, which it seems nearly all books on strength training have to mention.

After covering the basic principles it moves onto explain periodisation. The influence of East European sports science is writ large over this tome, with references to Verkhoshansky, Issurin etc scattered throughout the text. The authors nail their colours to the mast early on. There is an explanation of why the Bulgarians were better than the Soviets at weightlifting in the early 1970s, and how the Soviets copied the Bulgarians to later match them. The 'Bulgarian' method is definitely in fashion at the moment, this text unlike some authors and 'gurus' out there actually shows you what the Bulgarians did back then in terms of volume and training session frequency. I found this interesting, as I haven't seen it explained this well before.

Dietz and Peterson then go on to explain why they favour undulating and block periodisation, and why they think it is superior to the mixed method (complex parallel training) and classic linear periodisation. Most strength programs these days seem to employ the mixed method, normally an explosive exercise, a strength exercise and a hypertrophy exercise all in one workout. The authors argue quite convincingly that this method may result in all these qualities being developed sub-optimally. Linear periodisation is out of favor these days, and the authors explain they believe that a certain quality will be lost (for example strength) when you are working on another quality like hypertrophy. They state in their system of undulating blocks this does not happen.

Now of course all this information is available elsewhere, and at this point you are 70 pages into the book and they haven't even got to triphasic training or all the cool exercises and methods you want to read about. However, I think this section on periodisation and principles is well worth reading because of how clearly they explain all these concepts. When you read the likes of Verkhoshansky it can be hard going sometimes, it can lose something in the translation, as often the language is arcane and the spelling mistakes numerous. In someways Dietz and Peterson do a better job of explaining certain concepts and models than the original authors who invented them!

After the section on periodisation, they explain what triphasic training is. The eccentric, isometric and concentric phases all have their own block, followed by high force and high speed blocks. What's interesting is they are using certain techniques you may have seen before but for different reasons and in a more systematic way.

For example, in the eccentric phase, they use tempos, a while back everyone was using things like 1,0,0,4 and then everyone abandoned and started lifting explosively. Dietz and Peterson, use slow eccentrics for a block to get you used to eccentrics, not for any reason such as time under tension but so in the next block you are strong enough and have the control to do a superfast eccentric and then stop and pause in the isometric, like 'hitting a brick wall', after all sometimes deceleration is as important as acceleration in sport.

Percentage's and the funniest exercise you will ever see

It is obvious from reading this book that Dietz is a meticulous coach, as he says there is no 'undulating wheel o' fun, Oh look! Lets do box jumps!' (p38)

Everything is planned, organised and thought out, percentages of 1RM are used in each block (albeit a wide range) and the rational is clearly stated. For example, as stated in the text, Fred Hatfields research shows that power output is highest at 78% of 1RM,  once you know this, it gives you a starting point from where you programming should go. Again the Russian influence can be seen, some coaches love percentages, other coaches never use them. It would be possible to use the methods in this book without getting overly concerned with percentages in my opinion.

Bear in mind, you are at this point 128 pages into the book and still no sign of a program. Again, for me, this wasn't a problem, I liked all the in depth explanations and rationale, other people might find this a drag.

As well as the triphasic method, some other techniques are introduced. One is the Oscillatory (OC) method, this is a very short range fast movement, which you may have seen before, but again the rationale here may be different. The idea of this is to get the muscle to contract and relax very quickly and change between eccentric and concentric quickly. This fits in with some of Stuart McGills observations that the best athletes can switch there muscles on and off quicker, hence his 'pulsing training', you must learn to contract and relax.

This concept has resulted in the funniest exercise you will ever see, here . If you ever see anyone doing this in the gym, let me know! I have used OC bench press with people, but I wont being doing the glute version!

Dietz has also come up with something called Antagonistically Facilitated Specialised Method of training (AFSM). Basically, in this phase, you move fast all the time through the movement, and do what I am going to call 'supercharged plyometrics and shock method'. You also do exercises for time rather than reps. It was good to see in this section that Dietz and Peterson had some recommendations for endurance athletes (800m plus) and wasn't solely focused on the sprints and American sports.

These all seem like innovative concept to me, and the authors are bringing something new to the table which is grounded in good theory.

The most complex spreadsheet ever!

If you think a training program that uses a format like

A1 Split Squat 3x10/side
A2 RDL 4x8

is complicated, then you are in for a shock. Dietz has managed to produce the most complex training spreadsheets ever! No, that's not a magic eye picture, its a workout. There is a whole section explaining how to interpret it. I'm sure his athletes understand it, but the average Jo(e) looking at it might be a bit confused.

This is stark contrast to some programs out there, compared to say Nick Hortons super sparse program for a rugby player, which is essentially clean, snatch, squat, RDL and repeat; the triphasic program looks like advanced math.

In reality, I think there is a middle way, I don't think your program has to be uber complicated to get results, and if its too simple and boring, people lose interest. I've managed to use some of the triphasic methods without having to create a whole new colour coded spreadsheet.

As with any system, you don't have to adopt it wholesale, but take the parts that work for you and that can be incorporated into your programming. For example, Dietz and Peterson use Tendo units to measure bar speed/ velocity. Chances are you don't have a Tendo unit, and you probably aren't going to use timed drop offs to measure performance, but that doesn't mean you couldn't use the AFSM methods.

Bits and Pieces

Peppered through the text are some interesting 'Coaches Corner' sections covering things like recovery methods, breathing, plyometrics, one or two legged training and why they like the sports squat so much ( a narrow stance squat). These were interesting sections and added an extra dimension to the book.

The authors certainly favour the squat as their fundamental exercise. Even though there are a couple of Olympic lifting variations used,  they are conspicuous by there absence. I would be interested to know whey they don't use the Olympic lifts that much to develop power, is it because of the time taken to teach technique? From the exercises choices and database, it seems they are not wedded to one type of exercise, and they are more than willing to adopt exercises that first appeared in other sources and which other coaches have made famous. Their flexibility in trying new things is refreshing. Remember, Dietz is a professional coach measured on results, if it doesn't work, he probably wont use it. Thats not to say its the only method.

The book finishes with several template programs for sports like American football, hockey and swimming. Several options in terms of days per week are also given, though the authors favour three times a week, they give 2,4,5 and 6 day options.

Should You Buy It? 

In the youtube video lectures that are linked in this book Cal Dietz doesn't come across as a natural presenter ( as opposed to Gray Cook or Charlie Weingroff, who are exceptional presenters but I've never really got on with their writing style) but he seems like a natural coach. And like the best in their field, he doesn't appear to be standing still either.

Dietz and Peterson ( I don't know who wrote what) are excellent writers and their ability to explain complex training ideas is second to none. Their explanation of block periodisation and even things like 'rate coding' and 'rate coupling' make this much more than just another workout book. And in many ways is superior to the original source material.

Some ebooks are rubbish, you pay $19.99 for 20 pages of poorly written text and a program you could have downloaded for free off the internet or made up yourself in about 10 seconds.

Triphasic Training is the antithesis of this. I would say it is well worth $39.95, considering how much I've paid for some other text books. There are some genuinely innovative ideas in this book.

If you are a recreational trainer or just want to get big, then this probably isn't the book for you.

If, however,  you train athletes or are interested in performance training I would get this book. You may not adopt the entire system wholesale, but there will be ideas and methods you can implement straight away.

Addition Dec 2013: Go to my post here to see how to implement some simple triphasic training in your programs.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt the best training book around. I can attest to it with my own results!