Phase Potentiation Is Probably Overrated and Here Is Why
Phase potentiation is a fancy way of saying that the order of training blocks (phases) matter, in terms of training effect. This principle is pretty much the basis behind periodization (e.g. Bompa’s periodization), especially the Block Periodization Concept, by Vladimir Issurin.
Chad Wesley Smith stated:
“Phase Potentiation is the strategic sequencing of programming phases to increase the potential of subsequent phases and increase long term adaptive potential.”
Mike Israetel et al in Scientific Principles of Strength Training stated:
“The first step in understanding the logic of phase potentiation is the realization that a certain type of training phase now can improve the gains from a different type of training later. That is, training to accomplish some capability can improve the results of training for a different capability later. Thus, the phase of training for the first capability can be said to “potentiate” (or improve) the results of the second capability.”
Brad deWeese (DeWeese, Hornsby, Stone, & Stone, 2015a; 2015b) is also a proponent of phase potentiation:
“Sequenced training (which refers to phase potentiation or block periodization) offers advantages not inherent in other forms of training. For example, prior exposure to strength training and resultant increased maximum strength levels can potentiate speed/power gains during a concentrated load of power training. Data from both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies3–5 indicate that sequenced training, heavy weight training over a few weeks followed by speed–strength training, or combination training (heavy training plus high-power or high- speed training) produces superior results in rate of force development (RFD), speed, and power gains compared to heavy weight training or speed–strength (high power high velocity) training alone. More importantly, evidence indicates that this type phase potentiation (sequenced training) can alter a wide variety of athletic performance variables to a substantially greater extent than either heavy weight training or speed– strength training.3,6”
The phase potentiation gets us to organize training in block sequences, such as the famous Bompa’s strength training periodization:
Figure 1. Bompa’s Strength Periodization
Or using Brad deWeese approach:
Figure 2. Brad deWeese phase potentiation for the enhancement of speed
The logic of such an organization is clear – one needs more training load saturation directed at low number of qualities identified to promote adaptation and improvements in performance. Pretty much all of the authors agree that non-emphasized qualities need to be maintained somehow in those concentrated blocks to avoid de-training. This is pretty logical and wise strategy, when it comes to biology and risk/uncertainty (see Barbell Strategy in Agile Periodization).
But does the actual order of the blocks matter? Would some other order be better or worse, when it comes to realized performance and adaptation gained?
Let’s agree that the specific order of the phases (i.e. the logic behind phase potentiation) is important for the performance realized at the end of the phase sequence. What happens next? Well, we repeat the sequence:
Figure 3. In real life sequence is repeated then
Since the studies exploring a phase potentiation are short in duration (i.e. one phase cycle), the question is – “Does the sequence of the phases matter in the long run?”
I am not aware of the studies exploring this over the long term, but one study, conducted over 10 weeks, can give us a small glimpse that once the phases repeat, the effects tend to be converging to equal or similar (James et al., 2017):
The present results reveal that the development of maximal velocity based expressions is influenced by pre-existing strength level, with greater early stages improvements experienced by those who are stronger. The mechanisms driving the changes in performance are also different between groups, with neural, force-velocity and mechanical adaptations characteristic of improvements in maximal velocity in those with already high levels of strength. This is in contrast to the weaker group who displayed more general adaptations to training (shifts of both force and velocity alongside moderate changes in the magnitude and rate of muscle activation). These findings are of great value to training practices as they reveal that it is advantageous for individuals to attain a high level of strength before emphasizing plyometric, weightlifting derivatives and ballistic training. However, those who are stronger should not remove heavy strength training, as the decay of force producing capabilities likely limited improvements, particularly after 5 weeks. The results of this study might also have important implications for technical training. As many technical factors are dictated by velocity also (27, 38), the findings of this investigation provide evidence that those who are stronger may more quickly respond to technical training.”
Chris Beardsley provided a visual summary of the (James et al., 2017) study in his infographic:
Figure 4. “It’s a common belief among strength coaches that heavy strength training to develop maximum strength should be done before starting ballistic strength training to develop high-velocity strength. This new study casts doubt on whether this idea has merit.” – Chris Beardsley
The study confirms that stronger individuals reached higher training effects with ballistic training, and this can be considered confirmatory evidence for phase potentiation (first develop strength, to reach better ballistic effects). On top of that, the study also showed that the effects tend to converge to similar magnitude, after the phases are repeated.
Although I do not have an evidence in a randomized control study, my belief is that order of training phases doesn’t matter much in the long run. Maybe in peaking phases we can milk out few more percents (which can be of penultimate importance for performance) with specific sequencing, but in the long run (years), I believe that it is the variation and saturation that matter, rather than some specific sequencing order of phases. So don’t be a slave to long term specific sequences – saturate/emphasize the qualities you are lagging at, maintain string of all important qualities and don’t be afraid to vary and randomize. The sequence probably doesn’t matter in the long run.
- DeWeese, B. H., Hornsby, G., Stone, M., & Stone, M. H. (2015a). The training process: Planning for strength–power training in track and field. Part 1: Theoretical aspects, 4(4), 1–10. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2015.07.003
- DeWeese, B. H., Hornsby, G., Stone, M., & Stone, M. H. (2015b). The training process: Planning for strength–power training in track and field. Part 2: Practical and applied aspects, 4(4), 1–7. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2015.07.002
- James, L. P., Haff, G. G., Kelly, V. G., Connick, M., Hoffman, B., & Beckman, E. M. (2017). The impact of strength level on adaptations to combined weightlifting, plyometric and ballistic training. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. http://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13045