Tri-Phrase Progressive Training - Part II

So, you are about two wrap up Phase I, and you are wondering what my warped mind cooked up for Phases II and III. Or, you are too beat down to begin thinking about Phase II.

Either way, here it is, for better, or for worse….


During Phase II, the focus will be to progressively tax, and then overtax, the muscles and the central nervous system by increasing the level of intensity with which you train. Intensity, as used here, is the relative degree of how close you come to complete and total failure during your working sets. Or, you can think of it as how close you come to (or go beyond) concentric failure during your working sets. The former is theoretical – we want to push closer and closer to complete failure each week – as it is in practice, immeasurable. The latter is our guidepost, for comparing each week to the previous one.

The weekly training program for this Phase is as follows:


Day 1
Day 2 (Tuesday*) Day 3 (Wednesday*)
Day 4
Day 5
Chest and Calves Back Quads and Hams
Shoulders and Traps Upper Arms


Incline dumbbell bench pressPull-ups Barbell Front Squat (can do back squats if preferred)Seated barbell military press (front)Barbell curlsFlat barbell bench pressClose-grip pull-downsLeg PressWide-grip upright rowsSeated dumbbell curls (supinating wrist)Low cable cross-oversDead-liftsLeg extensionsSide lateral raisesPreacher Curls, MachineStanding Calf RaisesOne-arm dumbbell rowsStiff Leg Deadlifts Rear lateral raisesV-bar press-downsSeated Calf RaisesLeg curlsBarbell shrugsSeated, overhead dumbbell extension (two hands)Cable kickback (no handle, hold below ball)


  1. Each body-part is trained once per week, or only four times over the course of the entire Phase.
  2. Properly warm-up for each exercise before you begin your Working Sets. This will require a more thorough warm-up than the other two stages (for the first exercise), as you will begin with your heaviest set, and you will be pushing toward concentric failure so your weight will be even higher. Here, I would suggest finishing your warm-up with one or two sets that are very close to your heaviest working weight, but for only one or two reps.
  3. Perform three Working Sets of each exercise, always.
  4. All working sets should be in the six to nine repetition range. Here however, you should begin with a heavy enough weight so that you are in the lower end of this rep range. Remember that although the rep range is the same as Phase I, you will need to increase the weight; while last Phase you kept one or two reps in the hole, you will not during this Phase. You need to use a weight that will keep you in the appropriate rep range. Increase or decrease as necessary during the workout, and from week to week.
  5. With the exception of the first week, all sets should be taken to concentric failure and beyond. Remember the goal is failure, so if you accidentally choose a weight that is too light, still hit failure (at 12 or 13 reps or whatever) and don’t stop at 9 reps. However should this happen, be sure to increase the weight significantly for the following set or workout.
  6. Unlike Volume Loading, here the focus is on increasing the weights weekly, so push your limits, but keep your form strict. It is expected that significant strength gains will be realized during this Phase–more than any other.
  7. By the end of the four weeks, I expect that you will be rather drained, mentally and physically, approaching severe overtraining. This will be mediated by the beginning of Phase III.



Weekly Intensity Goals


Week 1 All working sets are stopped one rep shy of concentric failure.
Week 2 All working sets are taken to concentric failure plus one forced rep (or a negative, or cheat rep if you have no spotter) where possible. If you don’t have a spotter, and can’t do this on certain exercises, an alternative is to pause for 10 seconds after failure, then get 2-4 more reps.
Week 3 All three working sets are taken to concentric failure. However, the first two sets are taken beyond concentric failure by performing a drop or strip set; immediately after you reach concentric failure, drop the weight by approximately 40% and perform another 4-8 reps with this lighter weight, again taking the drop-set to concentric failure.


Because it is continuous, this drop or strip set counts as one working set.Week 4Take all three sets of each exercise to concentric failure. However, the first two working sets will have three parts:

(i) Concentric failure (as in weeks two and three);(ii) Partial reps (immediately upon reaching concentric failure perform 4-8 one-half or one-third reps with the same weight); and(iii) Strip-set (immediately upon reaching failure with the partials drop the weight by 50% and get another 6-10 full repetitions).All of this is a single working set. Thus, for your first exercise, for example, perform all three steps in a continuous manner. That was set one. Rest. Then perform set two, by repeating all of these steps again. Rest. Lastly, perform the final (third) working set by only doing the first part (i) – reaching concentric failure.



Here, the focus is on progressively taxing, and then overtaxing, the muscles and the CNS by increasing workout frequency (i.e. how often each muscle group is trained per week). The goal, as always, is to keep all other training parameters/stimuli constant over the four-week period while progressively increase training frequency. To effectively load training frequency, we will alternate between two types of full-body workouts. The reason for this is two-fold – to utilize more exercises, and to stave off boredom. For each exercise, in each workout, you will perform two working sets; here a working set is performed until you are one to two reps shy of failure.

Warm-up each body-part immediately prior to the related working sets. Warm-ups should be thorough, but need not be as thorough as during the Intensity Phase. Train each body-part before moving on to the next. However, if you want to pick up the pace you can train two body-parts concurrently by alternating between two exercises for different body-parts; but the point is, you do not perform one set of each exercise before beginning again. That is, this is not a depletion workout, but rather one that is designed to build muscle by inducing adaptation to progressively more frequent stimuli.

The workouts are designed to be synergistic in and of themselves, and also with each other. They are:



Incline Barbell Press
Standing Barbell Military Press
Wide Grip Dips (weighted if necessary)
Close Grip Bench Press
(Back) Squat
Stiff Leg Dead-lift
Barbell Row
Chin Up
Standing Dumbbell Curl
Superset: Cable Curls and Reverse Cable Pressdowns
Superset: Calves (standing) and Traps (Barbell Shrugs)


Close Grip Pull-downs
Seated Cable Row
Standing Barbell Curl
Leg Press
Leg Curl
Hack Squat
Low pulley Cross-overs
Bench Press
Close Grip Bench Press
Lateral Raises
Superset: Calves (seated) and Traps (Dumbbell Shrugs)

The following chart details when each workout should be performed. The day of the week used is an example and can be adjusted appropriately.


Week 1 Monday = A Thursday = B
Week 2 Monday = A Wednesday = B Friday = A
Week 3 Monday = B Wednesday = A Friday = B Saturday = A
Week 4 Monday = B Tuesday = A Thursday = B Saturday = A Sunday = B





  1. Properly warm-up for each exercise before you begin working sets, as discussed above. Perform two working sets of each exercise, always.
  2. All working sets should be in the eight to ten repetition range. Here I would recommend using a weight that would keep the repetitions at the high end of that range. Because you will be performing less working sets than in the previous phases, the rep range is slightly higher.
  3. All sets should be stopped approximately one to two reps shy of failure. You never want to hit failure during these four weeks. Use a weight that will keep you in the appropriate rep range. Increase or decrease weight as necessary.
  4. Like the other phases, by the end of the four weeks, I expect that you will be rather drained, mentally and physically, approaching serious overtraining. This will be mediated by the week off between cycles and the beginning of the next cycle.


Well folks, there you have it, the entire program from beginning to end. It has taken me quite some time to develop this program from when it was merely a seed in my head, to what you have read here in Mind and Muscle.

TP-PT, I am sure, seems quite rigid. And I suppose it is, at least how it is laid out. However, the heart of Tri-Phase Progressive Training is not rigid. Follow its core principles, and it is quite malleable; indeed, learning how your body responds, and which stimuli it prefers, is critical to long-term success and optimal results.

As such, I would recommend that for your first cycle of TP-PT you stay the course as closely as possible. Subsequently, you can feel free to substitute exercises, (slightly) alter the rep range, and so on. You can even manipulate how you load volume, intensity and frequently, so long as it is done progressively.

Lastly, even the duration of the phases can (and indeed should) be altered. In fact, this will be necessary to optimize results. Just because everyone should load volume, intensity, and frequency, does not mean that everyone should do so in equal, four-week phases. That is an artificial structure placed on core concepts to put the program to use. As I have laid it out, it will be most beneficial for most people. Still, that leaves lots of room for individual optimization.

The final installment to this three-part series will discuss who should alter the program (most of us), and how it should be altered (in general), as well as results from what is left of the folks who have been tracking their progress with TP-PT. However, you’ll have to wait a while, as the final installment will not be available until the August issue of Mind and Muscle.

Tri-Phrase Progressive Training – Part II

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