I first wrote an article about the principles and application of the Omni-Contraction System for athletes (General Concepts and Progression of the Omni-Contraction System). Being passionate about powerlifting, I've been figuring out how to implement it for a powerlifter. Finally, I've figured it out (or at least it's a start) and developed a program that utilizes many of its principles. Christian Thibaudeau originally developed the system and has made programs using this system. Still, I figured I'd provide my version based on my understanding of the system and how I've personally used the different contractions to improve my powerlifting total.
Eccentric, Isometric, and Concentric Contractions
Why work on all three different contractions? Aside from the deadlift, you use them all in your lifts, that's why!
I find training eccentrically and isometrically very valuable, especially for beginners. Now, beginners can get stronger and improve their total by following any program or training structure, so what makes this program different?
I believe by focusing on different contractions at an early stage of your powerlifting journey, you can create a more solid base right from the start, both in terms of technique and strength. I would argue that most beginners are weak eccentrically and isometrically because they purely focus on what they can lift concentrically.
Therefore, bringing these strengths up will transfer over to the competition lifts. I like to think of a lack of eccentric or isometric strength as a "leak" in our system.
Imagine you're coiling a spring (your muscles and tendons) during the eccentric portion of a lift. The isometric component is the ability to maintain the tension of the spring throughout the range. If either component is flawed or weak, the recoil (concentric) will not be as powerful as it could be because energy (or tension) leaked out.
Essentially, you could be limiting your strength potential if you are eccentrically or isometrically weak. By utilizing different tempos, the lifter will be able to better ingrain their technique. If a lifter performs a slow eccentric or includes isometric pauses in certain positions, they are spending more time in that position and are able to consciously think about how they are set up.
A great example I heard is Ed Coan using 10-second eccentrics to practice technique. He could consciously think about how every part of his body was moving throughout the lift and make corrections if necessary. By slowing down, you are more aware of how you move.
Omni-Contraction Program Setup
This system and program that follows is a mix of concentrated and concurrent styles of training. There are four training sessions, where the first three are strength-based. Each day focuses on an individual contraction, and the fourth day is a low-stress accessory/hypertrophy day. The accessory day is not 100% necessary. However, it is highly recommended because the first three days don't include much assistance work. It's a day to address potential muscle imbalances and strengthen weak muscle groups to prevent injuries and improve the main lifts.
The key to the accessory day is to limit overall fatigue and stress on the nervous system. Sets are performed with an RPE of around 8 (not looking to set PRs), and machines or isolation exercises are emphasized.
Note: I only wrote Week 1-3 for the accessory day because you will not do it on the fourth week. The intensity will be pretty high that week, so overall weekly volume will decrease slightly.
Here is the weekly structure:
Monday: Day 1 – Eccentric Focused Day
Wednesday: Day 2 – Isometric Focused Day
Friday: Day 3 – Concentric Focused Day
Saturday: Day 4 – Accessory Day (optional)
Note: This structure is the IDEAL setup. I understand that scheduling training as such may not always be possible. The goal is to simply give you enough rest between days 1 to 3.
Note: Video links are provided in the program to demonstrate exercises.
12-Week Omni-Contraction Program
Generally, athletes are pretty sore after the first week because they aren't accustomed to using the different contractions, especially emphasizing the eccentric. Also, this is an accumulation phase, meaning it is a higher volume phase focused more on improving work capacity, the tissues loading capacity, and technique. Because of this, sets should not be taken to absolute failure.
For the exercises on the eccentric day, a four-second eccentric (lowering) is used for all exercises. This day is primarily focused on the bench and the squat, considering the deadlift doesn't have an eccentric component. Note, I prefer high bar squatting here, but if you notice your erectors or back are a weak point, switching to a Safety Squat Bar squat for the eccentric would be the better option.
The isometric day is a little more complex and requires you to pay attention to your technique. There are three pauses of two seconds each week for your main lifts (competition squat and Larsen press).
Week 1, pause halfway down during the eccentric, at the bottom position, and halfway up the concentric.
Week 2, there is a pause a fourth of the way down, half way down, and at the bottom (no pause on concentric).
Week 3, there are three pauses on the eccentric, and none at the bottom or the concentric.
Week 4, there are no pauses. Check videos on the program for demonstrations. The reason for the pauses is to get comfortable in all positions and to be conscious of positioning. By altering the pauses with each week, the weight/intensity will naturally increase due to the pauses being at more favorable positions.
The concentric day is simply to accumulate a lot of volume on the competition deadlift and bench. Reps are kept low to ensure you get a high amount of first reps but high enough that the muscles fatigue. Also, the rest periods are pretty short, AND FOR A REASON (so respect them!).
The accessory day is OPTIONAL but highly recommended, especially in this first phase. Days 1 to 3 are primarily focused on the main lifts with only a small amount of assistance work. This fourth day will allow you to work on smaller muscle groups that will help your joints and tissues feel better.
The goal of this day is not to set PRs, so the RPE stays at around an 8. Therefore, the intensiveness and neurological demand of the session are lower, allowing you to recover for the other, more demanding sessions. All movements should have a controlled tempo and should be executed with the intention of focusing purely on the muscle; therefore, the use of very strict form is required.
Now that you have completed Phase 1, you should be accustomed to the training style of using the different contractions.
The same format is applied to Phase 2 as it was in Phase 1. However, the methods used, intensity, and volume change. Phase 2 is considered an "Intensification" Phase, meaning the intensity is increased, and the volume is decreased. The real fun starts!
The eccentric method used in this phase is called "super-slow" eccentrics. However, what you'll notice is that each week, the eccentric tempo decreases in length, starting with a 10-second eccentric moving to a 4-second eccentric.
Simply by changing the tempo, the intensity/weight will naturally increase.
For the isometric day, the competition squat is replaced with pause competition deadlifts. I first started using pause deadlifts when I was working with Ben Pollack, and they instantly became my favorite deadlift builder. When I decided to try coaching myself, pause deadlifts added 40 pounds to my deadlift in 16-weeks (from 545 to 585 pounds).
The other main lift is a pause competition bench, with a pause on the chest. The length of the pause changes from three seconds down to one second in the last week. For both lifts, you'll notice that a near-max triple is done on Week 4, followed by three back-off sets with 90% of the load used for the top set. If the Copenhagen plank on Knee variation is too easy, progress to the regular Copenhagen plank with the foot on the bench.
The concentric day is simply about hitting a near-max top set of three to five reps, followed by back-off sets to add in more volume.
This phase is programmed for you to hit a substantial five-rep PR on the fourth week. It's mentioned that the pins for the barbell pin press should be set to start in the bottom position of the bench, but you can place the pins wherever you feel your sticking point is.
The accessory day is included to add in some low-intensity isolation exercises to help with recovery but also strengthen the tissues to address muscle imbalances. This day is NOT performed on the fourth week, as the intensity should be very high, and we want to drop some volume.
Finally! Phase 3 is the final phase of the program. We're four weeks away from testing and hitting big PRs.
Day 1 is the eccentric day and it'll serve as a form of dynamic effort day. The goal is to move a lighter weight with as much acceleration as possible. IDEALLY, you would want to use bands (probably a micro or mini band for bench, and an average band for the squat) and have roughly 20% of the load come from band tension.
The reason for the bands is that they provide the eccentric method, overspeed eccentrics. To perform these, lower the weight as fast as you can without deteriorating your form and exploding concentrically.
How overspeed eccentrics work is by increasing the total energy applied to the system (you and the barbell) and eliciting a much stronger stretch reflex due to the transfer of the elastic energy from the bands to your muscles and tendons. This increase in total energy results in a large amount of force produced at a faster rate. However, if you do NOT have access to bands, the next best option is chains. If chains aren't an option, straight barbell weight will be just fine. The key here is to MOVE EXPLOSIVELY (both eccentrically and concentrically).
Note: The loads can be based on the numbers hit in Phase 2. Take the top weight of Week 4 from Phase 2 for the high bar back squat and the max triple of the competition bench from Phase 2. Enter the numbers in a 1RM calculator and use the estimated 1RM to determine your weights.
The isometric day utilizes two different isometric methods. First, the competition sSquat is done with a simple two-second pause in the bottom position.
Similar to the pause deadlifts, I love pause squats as a way of teaching to brace and hold the bottom position hard, which is normally where someone might try to bounce and lose proper positioning.
The second method is functional isometrics used for the bench press. How these are performed is by setting up two sets of pins to specifically target a certain range of the bench. Week 1 will focus on the bottom position, Week 2 on the middle position, and Week 3 will work the lockout.
For each set, you will perform six reps with a load of an RPE 8-8.5.
After the sixth rep, you will push as hard as possible into the top pin for a 6-second count. This is an excellent technique to bring up strength quickly.
Note: If you train in a gym that doesn't have a rack suited for the functional isometric bench, replace it with 2-CT PAUSED CLOSE GRIP 1-3 BOARD PRESS (starting with 1-board press and adding a board each week).
On concentric day, it is all about heavy top sets and accumulating volume with the back-off sets. The reps are progressively getting lower, so you become more comfortable with heavier loads just before testing.
The accessory day is slightly different in this phase as it is only being done on Week 1 and 3. The reason is that the intensity is very high this phase, and we're looking to start deloading heading into testing, so overall training volume and frequency will decrease.
A final note about this phase is that Week 4 is a deload/peak week, so pay attention to the notes on the side. For example, there are no bands or chains on Day 1, there is no pause for the pause competition squat on Day 2, and there is no bench on Day 2. The reps and intensity are also altered to allow full recovery heading into "competition."
Tips for Peak Week (Week 4 of Phase 3)
Here are a couple of tips that I find very beneficial in helping me peak for competition.
No Caffeine During Peak Week
This is by far my favorite tip and has shown to be the most effective in my experience. During training, we take our pre-workout stimulants, we hit the ammonia caps or smelling salts, and we get super amped to hit big numbers. That's great, but it plays a significant toll on our nervous system, or more specifically, our muscle's ability to respond to neural stimulation. Long story short, chronic stress on the nervous system from training and taking stimulants (and life in general) causes our beta-adrenergic receptors to become desensitized, meaning they do not respond as well to adrenaline. This, in turn, forces our bodies to produce more adrenaline!
The bad news is adrenaline is made from dopamine, and with the increase in demand for adrenaline comes a depletion of dopamine. This depletion in dopamine can cause a lack of motivation and decreased energy levels (overtraining/overreaching). SO, by cutting out stimulants and following the other tips, you can re-sensitize the receptors and restore dopamine levels. What will happen is that when you reintroduce a normal dose of caffeine, along with the nerves of testing, you will experience an enormous boost of adrenaline and an increase in performance.
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
I don't necessarily mean sleep 10 hours a night. Simply including a small 20-45 minute nap in the afternoon can be beneficial, especially if you follow Tip 1 and lack energy from not consuming caffeine. Sleep will accelerate the recovery process, both for the muscles and the nervous system.
No Music or Less Stimulating Music
This is more so "protection," so you're not urged to push yourself. I don't trust myself enough in the gym, so I choose my music carefully to prevent myself from getting too amped and making a wrong decision.
The trainings aren't too exciting, I know, and you're starting to feel more recovered, so you will get an urge to go heavy and test yourself. Resisting that urge is much harder when the music is playing, so either play less stimulating music or no music at all. Just do your sets and get out so you can continue to recover.
To learn more about the system, I would highly recommend you check out Christian Thibaudeau's content, as it's where I learned many of the principles behind this program. If there are any questions regarding the program, exercise selection, or even if you disagree with what I'm saying, please don't hesitate to message below, send me a DM (@maxdaigle4) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly.
PS. If you follow the program, I would love to hear about your experience and what kind of progress you made!
Max Daigle is currently finishing his undergrad at McGill University in BSc. Physiology, with a Minor in Kinesiology. He played NCAA Division 1 hockey at the University of Vermont before transferring to McGill, where he played two seasons. Max is the assistant strength coach at Axxeleration Performance Center, under the mentorship of Mark Lambert (Head Strength Coach Tampa Bay Lightning NHL) and Sebastien Lagrange. Axxeleration Performance Center is a private gym just outside Montreal, Quebec, that works primarily with hockey players.