elitefts™ Sunday Edition

It seems that in the past few months I can't read anything about strength and conditioning without reading about triphasic training. I know that it's based in science, and I know that Cal Dietz, strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota, developed it and is not only a technician with the lifts but a strong dude. So I figure there must be something to this style of training. Being that I'm very intrigued, I decided to talk to Cal (who usually uses too many big words for me) to get some ideas as to how I can continue to learn from this and also steal more good ideas from one of the best in the industry.

TH: Cal, for those readers who don't know you, can you tell me about yourself?

CD: I’m currently a strength and conditioning coach for eight sports at the University of Minnesota, where I've been since 2000. With input and feedback from my assistants on the development process of the athletes, I develop and write all the programs for those sports. There have been many benefits from writing various types of programs for all the different sports. For example, I work with baseball and swimming, which are two sports that can have a potential for shoulder injuries, so my programming aims to reduce injuries in those sports. Taking what I've learned about shoulder injuries in swimming and baseball, I use the same methods for other sports to prevent any shoulder injuries that could arise even though they may not have a high incidence of them.

Also, during my time at the University of Minnesota, I helped found and chair the Sport Biomechanics Interest Group. The group's purpose is to explore the physiological and biomechanical aspects of advanced human performance, encompassing the various aspects of kinesiology, biomechanics, neuromechanics, and physics. This is achieved by utilizing extensive research theories and applied knowledge in the multi-disciplinary field of human performance. It's a collaborative effort involving numerous professional perspectives from diverse areas of academia including professionals from mechanical engineering, biomechanical engineering, orthopedics, and physiology.

I've been very fortunate to come across many experts in various fields, and I've received much value from corresponding with them in regards to helping my athletes perform better. Sometimes before meeting these experts, you have to do many hours of reading to try to understand how they can help you, but you can't be intimidated. It's something you have to just dig into. I'm a little behind right now. The last sixteen weeks of the semester have been very busy with coaching so many athletes. We often say that the first semester is like putting a tent on a circus. The rest of the year won't be as coaching intensive because many of our teams will be in-season.

TH: Where did you get the idea for triphasic training?

CD: The triphasic training system came from a combination of conversations with Dr. Yessis and Mel Siff and various protocols written by Giles Commetti. This was started well over a decade ago, and I was just experimenting with what got me the best results. The results are based on winning and came from testing athletes in sports like baseball, hockey, and basketball. The results from these sports are good performance indicators. However, the true results came in dealing with sports like track and field and swimming. With these sports, everything is measurable in the sense that the results speak for themselves. You may not win a league championship, but if a majority of your athletes hit lifetime bests when they're supposed to, you know that you're doing your job. These are pretty high level athletes for their sports, not young athletes who just get better with the maturation process.

I often find it difficult to determine whether or not the method works in sports other than track and field, swimming , weightlifting, and raw powerlifting. If you're a hockey strength coach and the only sport that you've ever worked with is hockey, I truly can't imagine that you find methods that produce the greatest results because there are so many other variables in your sport that determine wins. We all know that hockey comes down to three things—goaltending, goaltending, and goaltending.

Triphasic training was a constantly evolving process over about four years. I tried every way possible to get the best results. The way I've laid it out in the book seems to get the best results. I've received many great responses, especially in the world of powerlifting, and I plan to produce a powerlifting-specific book using the methods. I've had many powerlifters email me with comments about setting new PRs. Some even tried to set world records.

TH: Ideas are great, but give me some results! Do you use these ideas? Do your athletes?

CD: I've had many results and performance examples, but I'll give an example in strength training. I had a six-foot, five-inch walk-on athlete who came in benching 205 pounds for a double. About sixteen months later, he had a 385-pound raw bench and just missed 405 pounds. I had one athlete, who weighed 185 pounds, bench 200 pounds and squat 275 pounds. Fifteen months later, which included a full season of playing, the athlete benched 335 pounds and squatted 540 pounds raw. We could've made the athletes stronger, but there wasn't any need to work strength more over that time because strength can make you slower and have worse results in sports if you focus on it too much. Now, with that statement, please realize that 99 percent of athletes coming into the college setting are as weak as kittens. To get them to full potential, you must develop their strength for a couple of years and then focus on speed, especially with the female athlete.

I'll use my own methods to get stronger, but I can't seem to put a training cycle together. As you know, being a strength coach, it's very hard to be consistent when you get up at 4:30 a.m. The methods and programs in my book, Triphasic Training, are actual programs that I use at the University of Minnesota. Not all the methods are ideal because I still have to make adjustments according to what the coaches need. I thought about rewriting them, but I wanted to be able to say that these were actual programs used for at least two seasons in which we saw success before I placed them in the book.

TH: How would you use this if you were in my shoes with large groups of athletes and a small facility?

CD: Honestly, some people have told me that they're using triphasic training methods to teach their athletes how to perform the major movements, and they've had excellent results based upon the learning curve. We're talking about coaches in the junior high setting. When I heard this at first, it made me nervous, but they weren't using heavy weight, as I prescribed for advanced athletes. I believe I would just pick the main movements—the squat and the bench–and do an eccentric phase followed by an isometric phase followed by a concentric phase. Then, as time progresses and they get an understanding, you can let those phases go into the rest of the lifting that day.

TH: Let me get off subject for second. I know that your women's ice hockey team won the national championship last year. The rumor from a newspaper article is that you gave the speech that put them over the edge. Can you give me details of this talk?

CD: I guess because I work with the team and know what kind of things get them excited and get their engines revved up, I was able to give a speech with many major points and tie in many things throughout their season that brought everything to a head. The same speech most likely wouldn't have helped another team with different experiences. I really can't take any credit because those girls were extremely hungry and ready to win. If no one had said a word, they would've won because nothing was going to stop them.

TH: Sorry, back to the science stuff. What would you say is missing in most strength programs today? We're all missing something or we would all be doing the same program, right?

CD: If you look at most strength programs today, I think many people leave out high quality work. Whether you're working strength or speed, you must work at a high level. I feel that many have went in the direction of working harder. I want to work hard to get the greatest results, but sometimes by doing that people don't realize that the quality of your work, especially in the off-season, is so important for reaching  new levels that you can't forget about it. Everyone works hard. My teams work extremely hard and continuously with little rest at the beginning of the off-season. However, that only builds work capacity so that we can do a large amount of high quality work during the three to four months of the off-season, whether that be speed or strength.

I also feel that most strength programs will work too many qualities at one time. If you have an athlete back squat and then go out and do tempo runs, the organism is being pulled in many different directions for adaptations. You won't get the greatest results from various biological systems all the way down to the cellular level. I'm not saying that you won't get results, but the results won't be as optimal as they could have been. This will be the subject of my second book.

TH: Any other thoughts about triphasic training or life?

CD: I guess I sometimes wonder what direction our profession is headed. I think that we stumble over ourselves quite often as strength coaches. For example, with all the coaching changes that are taking place this year, you hear about these coaches complaining how bad the athletes are at the new school and how bad the old strength coach was. I'm not really sure this helps our profession in any way. I look at my athletes at the end of the season, and when they start lifting again, I would swear that they had never lifted before. Now it only takes a couple workouts to get them back to being dialed in, but this is where I think the mistake is often made. I could get on the phone and rip my own program and say that the last strength coach was terrible. However, I would only be ripping myself and that wouldn’t make much sense, would it?

The main reason for this is that various methods are used in training. If an athlete from a functional training background comes into my type of training, which is very intense and very specific for the sport needs, he or she will look like a bad lifter and vice versa. I could rip the strength coach, but if the athlete hasn't been doing my program, how can he or she possibly know how to execute the lifts correctly? I don't do too much functional lifting because there isn't much specific value for sport. I think it's more general and can be used for building a base, but that's just my opinion. So if an athlete comes to my program from a highly respected functional training program, I won't rip on the strength coach because the athlete is the worst lifter in my gym. He's the worst lifter in my gym because he doesn’t lift like I've trained my other athletes.

TH: Cal, thanks for the time. You made so many great points here. We do hear way too often about how one strength coach had to correct what the last strength coach did, and this has always been a concern of mine. I hope that as a profession we can realize that we're all trying to do what is best for these students. Some are great lifters while others aren't. This doesn't define us as strength coaches; it's just the truth. I still want to know what was so special in that speech between the second and third period, but I guess we can't know all your secrets.