Building High-Performance Muscle™

Convergent Phase Training
All of the good, none of the bad


Convergent Phase Training

One of my central operating paradigms is the realization that all methods, devices, philosophies and techniques involved in strength training have specific benefits and drawbacks. If your training lacks sufficient diversity, you'll accumulate the drawbacks and habituate to the benefits. And that ain't good.

Interestingly enough, however, even the concept of training diversity has its own set of benefits and drawbacks! For example, for strength athletes, insufficient continuity will negatively impact strength gains, since every time you rotate your exercise menu you have to expend a lot of energy readjusting to the new exercises.

There's a way to reap the benefits of a diverse training strategy without accumulating its drawbacks. It's called convergent phase training (CPT) and here's how it works. Training frequency is three times per microcycle. In the examples I provide in this article, a microcycle is one week; however, it could be as little as six days or as long as twelve days, depending on your particular needs. For example, in-season athletes may benefit from a longer cycle. Each workout consists of a "core" exercise and a circuit. You'll use three core exercises and two circuits.


Core Exercise Selection

The core exercises are selected on the basis of dynamic correspondence. This is similar to the concept of specificity; however, an exercise which dynamically corresponds to your sport skill may not outwardly appear similar to the event! For example, punching with dumbbells in the hands appears to be very similar to the punching done in the boxing ring, at least at first glance. However, it has a low degree of dynamic correspondence.

There are several reasons for this. In order to develop the pecs, delts, and triceps, you need to be in a supine (lying) position so that the targeted muscle fibers are fighting against gravity during the movement. Also, the additional load imposed by the dumbbells requires excessive contribution from the antagonists in order to maintain joint integrity. Lastly, the dumbbells will be too light to develop strength and too heavy to develop speed. A better choice for boxers would be the bench press, with weights that range between 55 and 85 percent of maximum. This exercise properly conditions the muscles which contribute to the boxing punch, although it doesn't appear specific to the skill in question.

The core exercises in the program provided may or may not have a high degree of dynamic correspondence to your sport skills. They are provided for the purpose of illustration only. If you're a bodybuilder not engaged in any other sport, select three multi-joint exercises which represent a large percentage of the body's total muscle mass with minimal redundancy. One example might be the squat, pull-up and bench press. Another might be the deadlift, dips, and rows.


Constructing the Circuits

Each circuit represents half of the body's muscles. I designate muscle groups into the following 2 circuits:

Use the same circuits for four microcycles (one month for the example provided) and then change them for each successive month. When choosing circuit exercises for the next month's circuits, base your choices on eliminating weaknesses. For example, if your squats seem to be limited by poor low back strength, choose exercises, training methods, and loading parameters that will be instrumental in addressing these weak links.

Although I've relied mostly on straight sets for the circuits presented here, there's no reason why you can't employ drop-sets, eccentric training, Tellekinetics, plyometrics, or whatever else you find to be effective. Be creative!


Converging Phases

The name "convergent phase training" refers to the fact that there are two separate rhythms (or phases) that converge on regular intervals, in this case, every two weeks. Here's a skeleton outline of the first two microcycles for the example I've provided:

DayCore ExerciseCircuit
Week One
MondayCleanA
WednesdayBenchB
FridaySquat A
Week Two
MondayCleanB
WednesdayBenchA
FridaySquatB

As you can see, when using CPT, you train two weeks at a time without ever repeating the same workout. Yet at the same time, there's a significant amount of continuity. It's the best of both worlds.

Another interesting aspect of CPT is the unique rhythm that takes place. Muscles used in the three core lifts are trained one time one week, and then three times the next week. For example, in week one of this sample workout, the pecs are trained on Wednesday and in week two the pecs are trained on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. All other muscles are trained twice one week, and once the next week. This represents shock followed by recovery, the way God intended it to be!


Before You Start the Program

Before starting, conservatively estimate one rep maximums (1RM) for your three core lifts. You'll be working off percentages of maximum with the core lifts in this program so you'll know this info.

Assign exercises for each muscle group in each circuit. When choosing circuit exercises for muscles which are also used in the "core" exercises, try to avoid redundancy. For example, if you use the bench press as a core exercise, don't choose a Smith machine bench for the circuits. Use an exercise that's significantly different in as many ways as possible. Some choices for this example might include dips, dumbbell flyes, cable crossovers, or incline dumbbell presses.

Don't work particularly hard on the first week with regard to the circuits. The perceived intensity of the first week should be about 70 to 75 percent of maximum in terms of overall stress and energy expenditure.

Progression, volume control, and testing: On week two, tweak your weights, sets, and reps (on the circuits only) so that your total training volume increases by 10%. Generally, the easiest way to do this is to leave the weight the same and simply add one rep per set on each exercise of the circuits. Then increase volume by another 10% on week three. On week four the volume should be 50% of week three for your circuit exercises. This one week reduction of volume is intended to facilitate a more complete recovery and give you a physiological jump start for the next mesocycle.

You'll do performance testing every fourth microcycle as well. This involves working up to your one rep max for all three core lifts and then dropping back to 80% of that number for one all-out set. This will provide an additional hypertrophy stimulus and also provide feedback on training-induced fiber conversion (i.e. the less reps you can do at 80% of 1RM, the more your transitional fibers are converting to the fast end of the spectrum).


A Sample Program

Here's a sample CPT program to get you started. If any of the exercises are unfamiliar, seem inappropriate to you for any reason, or you simply don't have the right equipment, go ahead and make the appropriate substitutions. I'm suggesting four to five sets of five to six reps on the circuit exercises. However, if higher or lower reps are better suited for your needs, go ahead and tweak it. In other words, the principles involved are more important than the details.

Also, the circuits are meant to be done as conventional circuits. In otherwords, you're going to do one exercise after another (1-6), taking as much rest as is absolutely necessary. You'll then repeat the circuit for the prescribed number of times.

The core exercises should be completed in 15 minutes or less. The circuit itself should be completed in about 45 minutes or less. Most athletes will intuitively rest less between early sets and more between later sets, as fatigue accumulates.

Note: I'm presenting the program using layouts from my Training-Nutrition Manager tracking software (available at http://www.myodynamics.com), so that you can see how I'm tracking and progressing the training volumes.

Also, although the following sample program seems to repeat itself a lot, I want you to see an entire program and get a feel for the big picture. Note the changes in each step. Remember, this is a three month sample program.


Month One / Week One


Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 5 sets of 4 reps (5 x 4) at 80% of 1RM
This is just a clean that starts from just above knee level rather than from the floor.

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise


Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise



Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise


Month One / Week Two


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press: 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Month One / Week Three


Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: : 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Month One / Week Four


Note: Remember, total volume for your circuit exercises should be reduced 50% from last week. You'll also be testing your 1RM for your core exercise then repping out with 80% of that new max.


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

A2) Circuit A: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel)
1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Month Two / Week One


Note:Core exercise percentages are based on new 1RMs achieved last week.


Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise



Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise)


Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercis


Month Two / Week Two


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Month Two / Week Three


Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Month Two / Week Four


Note: Remember, total volume should be reduced 50% from last week on the circuits.


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

A2) Circuit A: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel)
1RM Testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Month Three / Week One


Note: Core exercise percentages are based on new 1RM's achieved last week.

Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise




Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise




Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 5 x 4 at 80% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 4 reps per exercise


Month Three / Week Two


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press: 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 4 x 3 at 85% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 5 reps per exercise


Month 3 / Week Three


Monday

A1) Hang Clean: 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

B1) Bench Press: 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

B2) Circuit B: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Friday

A1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel): 3 x 2 at 90% 1RM

A2) Circuit A: 4-5 sets of 6 reps per exercise


Month Three / Week Four


Note: Remember, total volume should be reduced 50% from last week on circuits.


Monday

B1) Hang Clean: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Wednesday

A1) Bench Press: 1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

A2) Circuit A: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Friday

B1) Half-Squat (slightly above parallel):
1RM testing, then max reps with 80%

B2) Circuit B: 2-3 sets of 5-6 reps per exercise


Conclusion

After this 12 week cycle, take a week off and regroup. When deciding what type of training to do following this cycle, take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, and make sure that the weaknesses are addressed in the subsequent cycle.

Good luck with the program!


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