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Phase Potentiation

This blog post is 3rd in a series on strength training read the 1st HERE and the 2nd HERE

First let’s give a basic definition of phase potentiation. Phase potentiation is the splitting of longer periods of a training that are aimed at a specific end goal, into shorter phases that focus on a subset of skills and/or adaptations. Each phase supports, or ‘potentiates’ the next phase of training, rather than

trying to progress all of the adaptations we are seeking at the same time. The analogy ‘being a jack of all trades and master of none’ is a good fit here. Focus on one adaptation in a phase for a set time period and you’ll progress quicker in that area, and if you sequence the phases properly, each phase will support the next.

In sports, the end goal is usually a competition, so the training program uses the date of the competition as the main factor that decides all the months, weeks and days of training that precede it. Essentially take the date you need to be ‘in shape’ for your sport, and work backwards to sensibly plan the training program. If we are a recreational strength trainee then the equivalent of our ‘competition’ is likely a max strength test. This could be a 1RM test, or in our case as calisthenics practitioners looking to unlock advanced skills/movements, our max strength test will either be testing to see if we are able to perform the skill/movement itself or testing if we have achieved a n

ew theoretical 1RM in the progressions that lead up to the skill e.g. we use feet elevated pike push-ups to lead up to attempting a chest to wall assisted HSPU as our 1RM test.

The 3 phases that will appear in all phase potentiation style programs for strength training include Hypertrophy, Strength and Peaking. There can be others, including ‘general physical preparedness’ and ‘power’, depending on the sport/activity but they are less applicable in our case. The purposes of these 3 main phases are as follows: -

Hypertrophy – Add new muscle tissue, using high relative volumes and moderate intensity. Exercise selection will be more varied at this point, you will do some of the main lifts your training to get stronger in but also a higher relative amount of accessory work to build your weak points that could be limiting factors in the next phases. Generally sets will be in the 6-12 rep range and intensity between 65% and 80%, give or take. Depending on how advanced a trainee you are this phase could last a few weeks for less advanced, to several months for those more advanced that need to build more volume over this phase due to them being

closer to their bodies maximum potential muscle mass.

Strength – Take the new muscle tissue grown in the previous phase and train your nervous system, to allow maximal contraction of the new muscle. This facilitates lifting greater loads (my last article explains this in more detail). This is achieved by decreasing average volume (sets x reps) and increa

sing average intensity (weight lifted or difficulty of progression used) as per the examples show in my previous article. Your volume of accessory movements decreases to allow good recovery between sessions for the new high intensities. Reps per set will mostly be 3-6 with intensities increasing to between roughly 80% and 90%. Again this phase could be several week to several months depending on your ‘training age’.

Peaking – Volume is significantly lowered in order to drop as much fatigue from the weeks of training previous. Intensity is highest in this phase to promote the neurological skill of maximal motor unit recruitment, 90% and above of your 1RM and reps of 3 or less. You do very little or no accessory work, focussing on your main

lifts/movements. This phase should be the shortest as the low volume will eventually lead to losing muscle mass gained in previous phases if continued for too long, often just a couple of weeks.

If you peak well you should be well recovered with minimal fatigue and simultaneously you’ll be bigger and stronger than you were when you started the program. Now is the time to go for a new 1RM, or in the case of the calisthenics athlete, test to see if you can hit that handstand push-up, one arm chin-up or planche push-up you’ve been chasing! After you’ve tested, rinse and repeat the process. When you start your new hypertrophy phase the percentage intensities would be similar or the same but as your new 1RM is higher, your loads or progressions of a bodyweight exercise should be higher than when you started your last hypertrophy phase.

Thanks for reading!

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