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After working with lifters of all experience levels, I've noticed that there are three physical reasons why people fail a lift:

  1. They fail to maintain proper positioning (i.e. they get tipped forward in the squat, their elbows flare out at the bottom of a bench press, they get rounded over in a deadlift).
  2. They fail to maintain quasi isometric contractions long enough to get out of a weak position (i.e. they get stuck on the bench at three inches off the chest, they get stuck on the deadlift right above the knee).
  3. They fail to produce enough force to accelerate past weak joint positions (i.e. not enough speed out of the hole on squats, not enough speed off the chest on the bench, not enough speed off the floor on the deadlift).

If you watch any great lifter hitting his heaviest weights, you'll notice that he maintains good body position and bar path the entire time, and the bar speed is relatively consistent throughout the entire lift. In all, what you have is a controlled eccentric movement that allows for maximal energy storage within the muscle and tendon tissue, a shortened isometric phase in which muscle transitions from one type of contraction to the next, and an explosive concentric phase in which stored energy is released.

When training “weak points,” many times people tend to only look at it from a position of which muscles need to be trained or which joint angles need to be trained. However, the type of muscular contraction being trained is just as important when training for strength development. By addressing the different portions of a lift, you can ensure that you aren't missing any key points in your own progression as a lifter.

Here are three reasons why you should be doing some type of triphasic training:

1. Better Body Positioning

One of the biggest struggles for beginners is learning to maintain the proper body positioning throughout the lift. This is a twofold issue because the lifter has to be able to know what the proper body positioning is and what it feels like and maintain that position throughout the lift. Obviously, proper coaching and cueing are vital, but in my experience, when the weight starts to get heavy, beginners will revert back to poor technique. Physically, these are the motor patterns that their body knows and that are more strongly ingrained. Mentally, when people stop thinking about their technique and start thinking “oh shit, this is heavy!”stuff tends to break down. While teaching a full lift is vital and mandatory for success, developing strength and proper motor patterns in each portion of the lift separately can yield better results in all levels of lifters.

Many people fail to maintain tightness (complete muscular contraction) during the descent of the lift. Instead, they “relax” the weight down. They tend to get out of position easily because they aren’t controlling the path of the bar and are instead letting the bar push them out of position. You will also see a failure to maintain position during the transition from the eccentric to concentric. In the squat, they will fall forward right out of the hole, the elbows will fly backward, the back will round and the knees will cave in. In the bench, they will relax the bar on their chest and flatten out, and when they push back up, their elbows will flare early. In the deadlift, even though there isn't any eccentric portion, lifters will struggle to get in the correct pulling position using an isometric contraction against the bar.

To help build a lifter's ability to maintain proper body positioning throughout the various portions of a lift, focus on one specific portion of the lift at a time. Use four- to six-second eccentrics, forcing the lifter to maintain good positioning and control the entire time. Use three- to five-second isometric contractions at the bottom of a lift or at different joint angles and focus on maintain positioning the entire time. For isometrics, you can use pauses (i.e. pause at the bottom of a squat right at parallel, pause at your shins on deadlifts, pause on your chest on the bench) or resisted isometrics against a static resistance (i.e. deadlifts into pins, bench into pins). I don't recommend eccentrics for deadlifts, and any time you do pauses or eccentrics, make sure that you have spotters available.

2. Fix Sticking Points

When people hit a sticking point in a lift and miss it, there can be multiple causes. They can fail to produce enough force below the sticking to accelerate through it, they can fail to maintain body position at that sticking point or they can fail to maintain tension through a quasi isometric contraction long enough to get beyond the sticking point. Training triphasically can help address all three of those causes.

When we talk about a quasi isometric, we are referring to a period in which maximal muscle contraction is occurring with minimal change in joint angles (or minimal movement of the bar). However, the term "quasi" means that there is still some movement, just not very fast. Many times, if the lifter can maintain tension against the bar long enough, he will be able to move the bar just enough to get into a stronger position with stronger joint angles and complete the lift.

Training a lift isometrically can help overcome this. Many people know that training isometrically can improve strength 15 degrees above and below the given joint angle, but it also improves a lifter's ability to maintain maximal tension over a longer period of time. This can greatly help a lifter “grind” a lift out if he needs to.

3. Develop Greater Strength-Speed

As discussed above, the ability to generate great speed out of the bottom of the lift is vital to moving big weights. If enough force isn't generated, a lift will stall and the lifter will fail an attempt.

There are several components involved with creating speed in a lift. First, the eccentric must be fast enough to store large amounts of energy in the muscle and tendons without being so fast that the lifter loses tension and gets out of position. At the top of a lift, the weight possesses potential energy, determined by the mass of the bar (how much it weighs), how high the bar is (the lifter's relative height) and the downward acceleration. Because you can’t change the weight or the lifter's height, the only thing you can do to affect the amount of energy is to control how fast it is accelerated. The faster the bar is accelerated downward, the more energy is stored in the muscles and tendons.

Many lifters fail to be able to maintain tightness while working on maximal downward acceleration, which results in less energy being stored in the muscles. This can result in the lifter getting out of position. Training the eccentric through longer eccentrics builds the lifter's ability to maintain tightness during this phase of the lift. Then quicker eccentrics can be used to continue to develop the ability to lower the bar more quickly.

The isometric portion of the lift has the potential for a lot of energy to be lost if it lasts too long or if the muscles aren't completely contracted during this portion. Box squats with a pause are a good example of how that kinetic energy gained from the eccentric portion of the lift can be lost quickly. Ideally, the isometric portion should be as short as possible and the reverse bar movement should happen immediately. This will allow the greatest transfer of kinetic energy into stored energy to be used during the concentric portion of the lift. You must train the isometric portion of the lift so that overall tightness and energy aren't lost. Train it for an extended period of time and then build up the speed so that the isometric is as short as possible.

Finally, if the eccentric and isometric portions of the lift are done correctly, you will achieve the maximal force production during the concentric portion of the lift. However, you still must train your body’s ability to create force to maximally accelerate heavy weights. This portion of the lift can be trained by itself with presses off of pins, squats out of chains, good mornings out of chains, paused box squats and many other methods. After some time, you will combine all three phases together into a fast eccentric, minimal isometric and explosive concentric.

MORE Triphasic Training for Powerlifting

So there you have it—three reasons why you should be including triphasic programming into your powerlifting training. Here are a few examples of some lifter’s improvements from before and after triphasic training:

Porter Wood

July 19, 2014 at a body weight of 220 pounds

  • Squat, 440 pounds
  • Bench, 260 pounds
  • Deadlift, 490 pounds
  • Total, 1190 pounds

April 25, 2015 at a body weight of 181 pounds

  • Squat, 455 pounds
  • Bench, 260 pounds
  • Deadlift, 525 pounds
  • Total, 1240 pounds

All in all, Porter lost 40 pounds (this was actual weight loss; he didn’t cut anything for the meet) and put 50 pounds on to his total.

Tucker Beal

November 22, 2014 at a body weight of 165 pounds

  • Squat, 475 pounds
  • Bench, 265 pounds
  • Deadlift, 515 pounds
  • Total, 1,255 pounds

4/25/15 @165

  • Squat, 510 pounds
  • Bench, 290 pounds
  • Deadlift, 550 pounds
  • Total, 1,350 pounds

All in all, Tucker added 95 pounds on to his total.

Jim Sadler

November 23, 2013 at a body weight of 259 pounds

  • Squat, 515 pounds
  • Bench, 425 pounds
  • Deadlift, 525 pounds (missed and bombed)

April 25, 2015 at a body weight of 275 pounds

  • Squat, 635 pounds
  • Bench, 500 pounds
  • Deadlift, 575 pounds

Jim added 195 pounds on to just his squat and bench alone and increased the weight on his deadlift by 50 pounds from a missed lift to a good lift.

Christian Anto

July 19, 2014 at a body weight of 181 pounds

  • Squat, 615 pounds
  • Bench, 375 pounds
  • Deadlift, 615 pounds
  • Total, 1,605 pounds

April 25, 2015 at a body weight of 181 pounds

  • Squat, 690 pounds
  • Bench, 390 pounds
  • Deadlift, 660 pounds
  • Total, 1,740 pounds

Christian added 135 pounds on to his total. Also, he pulled 700 pounds in training but didn’t get it on meet day.

Triphasic Powerlifting YouTube Playlist