Tri-Phase Progressive Training
Warning: this is nothing like what you are doing now, or what you have ever done before. I promise. This writing is a compilation of various concepts and theories relating to muscular hypertrophy. It is an advanced program that is not designed for the faint-hearted, or the beginner. As with any new dietary or exercise program, consult your medical practitioner to ensure proper health before beginning this routine.
In short, this program consists of three phases followed by a week of rest, or deloading. The basic, or introductory program, lasts for a total of 13 weeks – 12 weeks of training, plus the week of rest. As one learns how his or her body responds to each phase, future cycles should for optimal growth include shortened or lengthened phases accordingly; this will be discussed in more detail in future installments. Each phase will progressively load, to the point of significant over-reaching (thus over-taxing the body), one of the three main principles manipulated with this cyclical training. They are: Volume, Intensity, and Frequency (the concept of density is less important, in my opinion, and ancillary to these main principles. Further, it is inherently addressed in at least one, and perhaps two of the phases). Most plans unfortunately focus on only one (and some two) of these principles. A few programs seek to balance (unsuccessfully) all three principles at the same time. I have not seen a cyclical approach to loading each of the three principles, which in my opinion will provide the most aggressive approach to hypertrophy to date.
In general, training will vary greatly from full body workouts to single body-part workouts, but in a very specific manner. I have chosen specific exercises carefully, and they have been tested as well, but substitutions can be made if necessary.
CORE PRINCIPLES: THE BIG THREE
* Volume. Phase I focuses on Volume – that is, during phase I, we progressively load the volume of training, per body-part, each week, over a four week period. Specifically, the number of weekly sets per body-part increases, while other aspects of training such as intensity, frequency, and even amount of weight used are held (relatively) constant.
* Intensity. Phase II focuses on Intensity – that is, during phase II, we progressively load the intensity of the training, per body-part, each week, over a four week period. Specifically, the degree to which we approach (or surpass) concentric failure increases each week, while other aspects of training such as volume, frequency, and even amount of weight used are held (relatively) constant.
* Frequency. Phase III focuses on Frequency – here, we increase how often we train each body-part, per week.
In addition to the above three core principles, this program is all about progressive loading. And what I am referring to is the notion of systematically, and regularly, increasing the amount and/or level of work that a muscle gets from workout to workout or week to week. Many training programs use various types of progressive loading. Some merely demand that the weight used is increased regularly. Others progressively load one or more of the above principles. As you will see by comparing your results from the beginning to end of each phase, progressively loading any of the big three principles (properly) will produce results in size and strength. TP-PT, however, progressively loads each of these principles so that they work in synergy and 1 + 1 + 1 does not equal 3, but rather 4.
This will summarize the intended goals of each week for all phases. It provides a bit of guidance about what you should expect to feel so that you know if you are responding properly. Depending on one’s level of fitness, genetics, and drug use, some will find the amount of work or intensity too easy or too difficult for what you want to achieve during a given week. Such persons should take careful notes, and adjust accordingly in the future.
* Week 1: The first week of each phase has a dual purpose – deloading from the previous phase’s over-reaching, and acclimation to the new phase. Recovery is paramount, and I expect a fair amount of hypertrophy to occur during this time from the previous phase; thus rest is important, as is overfeeding, save for those on a strict cut. Maximal growth should have been suppressed (though stimulated) during the end of the previous phase; this recuperative time is when tape-measure changes should occur.
* Week 2: This week the goal is moderate muscular stimulation. A physically unprepared lifter or beginner may find this difficult, and experience significant delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). But the advanced lifter should find this challenging but fairly easy, and experience mild DOMS, if any.
* Week 3: These are difficult workouts. The goal is heavy muscular stimulation. They will be physically and mentally challenging, and would result in a fair degree of hypertrophy if done for extended periods. This week would also have the potential of causing overtraining after extended periods, if done exclusively and without lay-offs. A fair degree of DOMS should be present. The beginner or physically unfit will find these near impossible. Most lifters will find these on par with the typical (demanding) program.
* Week 4: These workouts should be near impossible to complete on both a physical and mental level. These should not be enjoyable, save for the truly sadistic among us. This one week in and of itself should result in significant over-reaching, and will delay hypertrophy until the muscles and CNS are given a chance to recover. This week, and the previous journey up to it, is the key to TP-PT’s ultimate success. Managing the intense CNS and muscular stress is critical.
Exercise selection is an important aspect of each phase. The exercises are picked for a reason – to work synergistically intra-phase, as well as inter-phase. In other words, as I have been preaching, this is truly a twelve week program, not three separate four week programs.
That said, if one is an experienced lifter, and has valid reasons for swapping an exercise (no access to the equipment, an injury, etc.) quality substitutions can be made. This program is not based on the exercises selected. However, I strongly urge you not to swap exercises for no reason, as again, this was put together with care.
This is a very detailed and specific program, with varying requirements. However because of this, it may be very difficult for some people to complete. Some can never lift six times in a week. Others can never afford to spend two hours lifting. So does that mean only 10 out of every 100 of you can do this program? Of course not. We can always (well, almost always – some times you just have to suck it up for optimal results) work around personal issues.
It is impossible for me to list all of the potential problems and all of their resolutions here. But if a little care and a lot of thought are taken, one can resolve almost any issue. One example comes in phase I – most of us will find that in order to keep workouts to a manageable time frame, super-setting antagonistic body-parts becomes necessary at some point. Which exercises you superset will depend on your gym setup and the proximity of certain workout stations.
Another example comes during phase II when drop sets are necessary. Some exercises are not conducive to stripping weight, so a different exercise can be utilized as the drop. For example, instead of stripping weight on the deadlift, one could do deadlifts until failure followed immediately by t-bar rows. Likewise, forced reps during phase II are difficult without a spotter. One can work around this issue by pausing for 5-10 seconds and then completing more reps. Yet another example is where I converted phase II (normally a 5-day per week program) to a 3-day per week program for one individual.
TWICE A DAY SPLITS
As I have long preached, lifting twice daily is about as ideal as it can get (in terms of just about everything – nutrient partitioning, increased intensity, and much more). This is true for any lifting program. However, this is not practical for most of us.
Those of us for whom lifting twice daily is practical, by all means: go for it. With TP-PT it can be especially useful during phases I and III. Any reasonable two-day split will do, but I will provide examples where appropriate.
Properly warming up is an integral, yet under-appreciated and overlooked aspect of training. Without being properly warmed up (both the body centrally and the muscle group(s) to be trained), the workout will be far from optimal in terms of muscle growth. In addition, one is more likely to get injured.
While it is true that the style or method of training will dictate how “warm” one should be, warming up should be given its due attention with any plan. So here I will discuss the basics of warming up, and how one should expect to feel.
It is important to recognize that there is no formula that can be employed by every person in every instance; how much your body/muscle group needs to warm up (properly) may vary from day-to-day. Thus, I will provide general recommendations and markers of how one should warm-up, and how one should feel before undertaking the first working set.
For example, if one is to perform a bench press and the intended first working set is for 335 pounds for 6-8 repetitions (note: in general it is best to begin your working sets with your heaviest weights and not pyramid up in weight), an appropriate warm-up would be:
135 x 10-12
185 x 8
225 x 6
275 x 2
315 x 1-2
For each set the weight will either feel very light, or it might feel “oddly heavy” (depending on the day, and the various factors that might affect such things). If light, then move to the next set. If it feels “oddly heavy” stay with that weight and rep range until it feels (appropriately) light. Likewise, the final warm-up set would be repeated until it feels normal.
The initial light weight, higher rep set (1) helps ensure the proper mind-muscle connection for the exercise; (2) increases total body activity and increases heart-rate, and more importantly, (3) increases blood flow to the body-part to be trained as well as any joints involved.
In general, the more advanced and stronger lifter will need more warm-up sets, as will the older lifter (sorry folks, it’s just the way of life). How many sets are required? How many reps? There is no formula – instead, I’ll explain how you should feel when you are properly warmed-up.
First, your strength will continue to increase and then peak when you are properly warmed up. Your peak strength is the ideal time to begin your first working set. If strength continues to climb, you were not sufficiently warm. Conversely, if strength already began declining, you spent too much time warming up.
Other markers are that the muscle group should have a nice, but mild, pump. And joints should “feel” lubricated and comfortable, and not achy.
Generally, I recommend two to three warm-up sets, but often when lifting heavier weights, and especially when going to failure, I find four or five sets are necessary. Further, as implied above, the final warm-up set should be damn close to the weight used in the first working set. However, very low reps should be used so as not to encourage any micro-trauma.
Everyone will respond differently to the loading of each of the three principles. Some will handle higher volume better than others, and their bodies will respond better accordingly. Others can train more intensely and they will see better results. Still others respond best to frequency, and can train more often without overtaxing the muscle groups and CNS.
Each phase has been designed to hit the average responder appropriately. And the weekly barometers will provide guidance on where you fit in.
So, the point is, you would do well to take detailed notes, and modify TP-PT appropriately the next time around.
A WORD ON DIET
Whether you are cutting, bulking, or have embarked on a recomp, and regardless of what sort of diet you are on, you would do well to modify your diet, and particularly your protein consumption, on a weekly basis. Specifically, protein and carb consumption should increase each week of each phase, so that you are eating the most during week four. The one exception is that week 1 of each phase (except the first week of phase 1) is a week where exceptional growth will occur (as it was previously suppressed), so protein consumption should still remain (relatively) high.
In the final installment of this article, I will provide details on how Carb Cycling can be modified regardless of one’s goals to optimize TP-PT.
PHASE I: Volume Loading
Phase I begins with a moderate frequency, moderate intensity, but low-volume workout. The workouts are bi-weekly—that is, each body-part is trained twice per week. While frequency, intensity, and other factors are held constant during the course of this phase, total volume is progressively loaded each and every workout to the point of significant over-reaching. While this is a four-week plan, there are eight workouts per body-part, since it is bi-weekly. The workouts are as follows:
If you wanted to perform this workout twice a day, four days per week, an acceptable breakdown would be as follows:
PHASE I TRAINING GUIDELINES
1. Properly warm-up for each exercise before you begin working sets.
2. All working sets should be in the 6-9 rep range. For working sets, pick a weight that when you stop one shy of failure, you will be in the 6-9 rep range.
3. All sets should be stopped approximately 1-2 reps shy of failure. You never want to hit failure during these four weeks.
4. You will likely need to increase the weights from workout to workout (in some exercises, not all) in order to stay in the appropriate rep range.
5. As well, you may need to drop the weight during your workout if it becomes too heavy to stay in the rep range. Thus, you need to use a weight that will keep you in the appropriate rep range at all times. Increase or decrease weight as necessary.
6. By the end of the four weeks, I expect that you will be rather drained, mentally and physically, approaching overtraining. This will be mediated by the beginning of the next cycle.
7. The first two sessions (the entire first week: workouts 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B) you will perform two working sets for each exercise.
8. Each session thereafter, add an additional set per exercise (i.e. sessions one and two (the first four workouts) will be 2 sets x 7 exercises (14 sets); workout 3 will be 3 sets x 7 exercises (21); session eight will be 8 sets x 7 exercises (54 sets). All 8 workouts will have the following number of sets per exercise, per workout: 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
9. In order to keep the length of the workout reasonable, you may perform two exercises for different body-parts simultaneously by alternating sets. However, be sure to rest briefly before each set.
10. Keep track of total workout time, and pick up the pace each week so that (hopefully) workout duration never exceeds 90 minutes.
11. Lifting tempo, or pace, will be dictated by what part of phase I you are in. For the first week for example, you may rest up to two minutes between sets, if you like. But as the subsequent weeks approach and the volume starts to increase, you may find yourself spending only 60 seconds (or less) between sets. You may also find yourself super-setting antagonist body parts in order to complete the workout in a timely fashion.
Lastly, here is a chart for tracking total TP-PT progress:
The next installment of TP-PT, which will be available in about a month, will set forth the specifics of phases II and III.