A strength phase, also called a neurological phase, is where you build strength and motor unit recruitment you can carry forward into hypertrophy phases.
Imagine you can perform a lift in a hypertrophy phase for a set of 10 with 100 pounds. If your weak link is your strength, then going into a strength phase and building up strength in the 4-6 rep range means you’ll recruit more muscle fibers and go back to the hypertrophy phase lifting either more weight or more reps in that same lift.
STRENGTH PHASE CHARACTERISTICS:
→ Relatively low reps (usually in the 4-6 rep range)
→ Relatively longer rest periods (usually 2-4 minutes)
→ Fairly low time under tension
→ Low fatigue and usually not using intensification techniques like drop sets or supersets
→ You’ll use the heavier loads
Example of a strength set:
Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: 4x4 (1 RIR): 120 Seconds rest between sets
Strength in this case isn’t talking about a powerlifting or even necessarily a “powerbuilding” program.
Most people will automatically think “bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press” when you say you’re in a strength phase.
While those types of exercises do lend themselves well to low reps and heavy weight, in this case you can use very similar exercise selection as you would in a hypertrophy or metabolic phase, but you’re using more straight sets, less intensification techniques, and a different shorter work to rest ratio.
Strength or neuro phases are great for anyone with high stress.
This means someone who has a high amount of psychological stress, big life events, job changes, etc. or someone who has a high amount of physiological stress from dieting, especially dieting on an aggressive calorie deficit intake or for a prolonged amount of time.
One really great thing about a neuro/strength phase is you can shift your focus a bit toward metrics.
Form is still the number one importance here, but within that parameter of good form and executing each rep properly, you can focus on adding weight and/or reps to the lift over time. This gives some short-term gratification in hypertrophy which in and of itself is a very slow grind goal.
Hypertrophy is where you’ll spend most of your time if your goal is to build muscle. This is the phase where you’re focused on maximizing muscle growth.
HYPERTROPHY PHASE CHARACTERISTICS:
→ Moderate rep range (usually 8-12)
→ Moderate rest periods (anywhere from 30 seconds to 120 seconds, depending on the 'compoundedness' of the movement)
→ Most amount of sets to failure compared to the other phases
Example of a hypertrophy set: Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: 3x10 (1 RIR): 90 Seconds rest between sets
The main goal of a hypertrophy phase is mechanical tension, which is tension/pulling on the individual fibers of the muscles, to create a stimulus for the muscle to grow larger.
For anyone with body composition goals (a.k.a. most of our clients), this is where you’ll spend most of your time across the year (assuming you are eating to support hypertrophy.)
Metabolic phases improve the utilization of carbohydrates for fuel, improve systemic conditioning and local conditioning of each muscle.
The metabolic phase isn’t meant to be done in a severely calorie restricted or carb restricted state because of its high glucose (carb) demand.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A METABOLIC PHASE:
→ Relatively higher rep range
→ Higher work to rest ratio
→ Rate limiter is local fatigue/burn or systemic cardio fatigue
Example of a metabolic set: 3x8 Hip dominant squat → Superset with 3x8 45 degree hip extension
To improve systemic conditioning you’ll be pairing or performing large compound exercises with a relatively short rest period between sets to challenge your cardiovascular system and total body recovery.
Improving your systemic conditioning will mean when you go back to hypertrophy training you’ll be able to push harder in sets without getting gassed and needing to end the set due to heart rate instead of being able to fully fatigue the target muscle.
To improve local conditioning in a metabolic phase you’ll be pairing smaller muscle groups or the same muscle group in supersets, i.e. preacher curls supersetted with incline bicep curls.
Doing this will train the muscle to handle more fatigue and train the liver to get better conditioned at converting metabolic waste.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Think of a video game avatar where you’re building your own player. You may have different attributes you can give them like strength, speed, power, jumping ability, and so on.
You’ll have some of these that are maxed out, and some that are lower. Bringing up your lowest one (i.e. the one with the most trainability) is where you’ll make the most improvement overall.
At some point, you reach your threshold for trainability in each given phase. You can think of trainability as the amount of progress/adaptations you have left in you before you start to plateau or even decline (or overshoot your recoverability).