Contrast Training [for Strength and Power]

Want to boost your strength and power? Contrast training is for you...

So what exactly is contrast training and how is going to explode your strength and performance?

Key indicators of athletic performance such as jump height and sprint speed are a display of an athletes raw power.

Contrast Training

Power output is a product of the athletes strength, and ability to generate force at high speeds (rate of force development).

Training both strength and speed modalities is more effective at increasing power than training just one.

Contrast training (sometimes referred to as complex training) provides an effective and time  efficient solution to 

increasing both strength and power. It’s been well researched and battle tested.

Understanding how it works is key to implementing it effectively.

I’ll also show how to make it specific to you goals

How contrast training works

This method of training takes advantage of something called post activation potentiation

Performing a maximal effort in a strength movement forces improved neuromuscular mechanisms such as motor recruitment and synchronisation. 

These neural pathways remain excited for a short time after performing the strength movement.

So when the same movement is performed without weight within this time it will benefit from these improved neuromuscular mechanisms, and carry over to an increase in the rate of force development within the muscle. 

And if you didn’t recently swallow and strength and conditioning dictionary, that’s a good thing.

If your goal is athletic development, you should experience this as an increase in the performance of this speed exercise, e.g. being able to jump higher / further than you could do without the strength exercise being performed first. 

Maximising recovery without losing the neuromuscular excitement is the key to getting the most from this phenomenon.

The take away here is getting the rest times right. Try resting for just under 1 minuet between performing a strength and speed movements with a longer rest between sets. 

Exercise selection for contrast training

Strength exercise:

This should be a stable exercise that you can perform to an intensity to maximise neuromuscular recruitment – but don’t work to failure as this would inhibit recovery within the short refractory period required.

This means that you should feel like a maximum effort has been made on the last rep of the first exercise without reaching failure.

This doesn’t mean grinding reps out.

In fact, you want to stay away from an intensity that may mean form and recovery are compromised.

Maximising muscle recruitment can be achieved by performing the exercise as fast as you can.

The use of bands can further improve the cross over of the strength exercise to the speed exercise by requiring a continued effort toward the end of the moment.

Speed exercise:

This exercise should use the same movement pattern as the strength exercise, but is performed explosively to maximise rate of force development.

A maximal effort should be put in to each rep. For example with a box jump the athlete should be aiming to jump as high as they can, not just aiming to land on the box.

Exercise selection examples

Lower body:

Upper body:

Unilateral lower body:

Functional (sprint) based:

Triple extension:

Note: in order for this method to be effective, not only should the movement pattern be similar, but it should use the same kinetic chain method of closed or open, not mixed.

For example if you were to do a heavy bench followed by explosive push ups you would not get the full benefit of improved recruitment due to the difference in neuromuscular recruitment between closed and open chain movements.

Example program:

Lower body:
Start:
A1        5 x banded barbell back squat. 1 min rest

A2        5 x box jump. 3 min rest

Repeat 5 times in total

Upper body:
Start:
A1        5 x Banded Bench Press. 1 min rest

A2        5 x Medicine ball ball chest throw. 3 min rest

Repeat 5 times in total

Adjusting contrast training to suit your needs

To purely work on how much power you can generate in one maximal bodyweight movement keep the sets and reps to 5 and 5 respectively.

This minimises fatigue whilst maximising increases in power development.

This sets and reps scheme is best added to an already busy training schedule.

Start by increasing the reps of the speed exercise to 10.

This will also train an element of power endurance of the chosen movement.

For this effect the athlete should feel power output drop toward the end of each set, reps can be adjusted accordingly as power endurance improves.

This scheme is best used off season with the necessary recovery.

This typically involves four exercises using different loads for the same movement.

For instance: a heavy compound lift, an explosive jump, then a drop set or weighted jump followed by another explosive  jump or even accelerated jump. 

Also know as French contrast training, this method pushes the athlete on more points on the force velocity curve stimulating greater adaptation all round.

This method is best used as a progression once you’ve made significant gains from the basic contrast training program.

Re-educating movement patterns

If dysfunction exists within the movement wanting to be trained, then I’d suggest using slow tempo for the strength movement.

This method still requires a high degree of neuromuscular co-ordination, but will limit the exercise to the strength output of the weakest point (the cause of the pattern dysfunction).

If it’s just a case of re-educating the movement pattern, then the tempo gives the athlete the time to be able to consciously correct the movement whilst providing enough neuromuscular demand to produce the muscle memory needed. 

In this manner the correct movement pattern carries over to the faster exercise due to the activation of neuromuscular pathways for that movement.

This method is best best for athletes returning to sport from injury.

The wrap

Contrast training can be implemented in programming for a variety or outcomes.

It remains a very effective – and time efficient – method of training for strength and power.

While the athlete’s strength will improve from the strength training section of this method alone, the real gains are in the immediate cross over to speed and power which directly improve athletic performance.

To your strong, optimised future,

Coach Dom Kinsey

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