Have you ever gotten to the point of not being able to push past a certain weight? Have you reached a training plateau?
Well, I’m about to bring you up to speed on a little known secret in the world of strength and conditioning that is sure to make you stronger and more explosive, allowing you to push more weight with ease! This amazingly effective type of training is known as Contrast Training and is seldom, if ever, used in gyms but very often used in high performance athletic training. This article will show you how you can take the best of elite athletic training and make it benefit you in the gym.
Contrast Training is a workout comprising of one set of a resistance exercise followed by one set of a matched plyometric exercise. For instance, squats followed by squat jumps or bench press followed by plyometric push-ups.
Why Contrast Training?
The logic behind these matched pair of exercises is that the resistance work recruits a higher number of Type IIb (fast twitch) muscle fibers; which, are then stimulated to fire at higher rates by the follow-up the explosive movement.
The result is a better training benefit. Researchers touting this method of training to be beneficial credit a post-activation potentiation (PAP) as the major physiological factor. Docherty et al. explain that the explosive capability of a muscle is enhanced after it has undergone maximal (or near maximal) contractions.[i]
The same authors also propose that PAP may be produced by local muscle changes such as phosphorylation of the myosin light chain. This process is explained by heavy exercise increasing the amount of Ca2+ in the sarcoplasmic reticulum, and the sensitivity of the myofilaments to Ca2+. Essentially more Ca2+ at a cellular level enables more ATP to be produced, which in turn enhances power production.
There are a number of ways to work these power combination sessions into your routine and a number of studies have shown their benefits in athletic performance as well as maximum strength. For instance, research by Fatsouros showed that same day plyometrics and weight training among 41 healthy men yielded a maximum squat improvement of 36kg, compared with 16.4kg for the weight training alone group and 28kg for the plyometric alone group.[ii] In 2003, Baker found that a set of bench press performed at 65% of 1RM improved subsequent bench press throws by 4.5%.[iii]
It’s important to keep in mind that these workouts can be quite fatiguing to your neuromuscular system. As such, to get the most out of your Contrast Training workouts you need to be physically fresh and motivated. Type IIb fibers (which also fatigue very quickly) are not magically recruited by just doing the workout, you have to be focused on the exercises and perform them as explosively as possible.
Try to avoid hard aerobic or anaerobic sessions for at least 48 hours before a Contrast Training session. Once a session has started, do not perform any static stretching exercises as this will relax the muscles and reduce force production potential. It is the quality of execution of each exercise that is important, not the quantity and it is important to ensure quality is maintained by having the correct rest periods. These workouts should be performed a maximum of 2 times per week with 48-72 hours rest between each.
Contrast Training workout
Below you’ll find an example Contrast Training workout. The key is to ensure that you do not perform each exercise to fatigue but rather start by priming your muscles with the weight training strength work and follow it with maximum explosiveness in the plyometric movements within 1 minute.
For each set of movements follow these protocols:
Weight Training movement: 4-6 reps @ 80-90% of 1 RM, 1-min rest, followed by…
Plyometric movement: 4-6 reps as explosively as possible
Rest 3-4 minutes (until you’re fully recovered) before doing the next set.
Set 1: Squats (weighted) followed by squat jumps (no weight)
Set 2: Bench Press followed by plyometric clap push-ups
Set 3: Lat Pulldowns followed by Medicine Ball Overhead Toss
Set 4: Standing Barbell Lunges followed by Step Jumps
By implementing these workouts into your training schedule you will be sure to blast through plateaus, lift more weight, become more powerful, and improve your athletic performance.
Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
[i] Docherty, D., Robbins, D. and Hodgson, M. (2004) Complex training revisited: a review of its current status as a viable training approach. Strength and Conditioning Journal 26 (6) p52-57.
[ii] J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Nov; 14(4):470-476
[iii] Baker, D., (2003) Acute effect of alternating heavy and light resistances on power output during upper-body complex power training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17 (3) p493-497.