Building size, strength, speed, and explosiveness can be accomplished through a variety of training techniques. One of the more challenging and advanced protocols is referred to as contrast training.
Ahead, we’ll discuss what contrast training is, how it works, and what benefits it has for your growth and development in the gym.
Let’s start at the top.
What is Contrast Training?
Contrast training is pretty simple to grasp.
Essentially, you perform a set of heavy lifts, (typically in the range of five to ten reps), and then follow it immediately with an unloaded, explosive movement that mimics the same movement pattern as well as the same number of reps.
An example of contrast training would be to perform a set of heavy barbell back squats for 5-8 reps and then as soon as you complete the squats, rack the bar and immediately perform 5-8 bodyweight jump squats.
Another example could be performing a set of heavy barbell or dumbbell bench press followed immediately by plyometric push-ups.
After this contrasting pair is complete, you would rest 3-5 minutes and repeat for the prescribed number of sets.
How Does Contrast Training Work?
The “magic” to contrast training lies in a phenomenon known as post-activation potentiation or PAP.
Essentially, PAP states that the explosive capability (potential) of a muscle is increased after it performs a maximal or near-maximal contraction. In other words, your muscle is more explosive after you lift a really heavyweight.
This is due to the fact that lifting heavy “primes” the CNS, increasing neural drive, which translates to your ability to recruit a higher number of muscle fibers during the unloaded movement.
This phenomenon is backed by research which has shown that using a heavy-loaded (80%-95% 1RM) exercise paired with a similar lighter-loaded plyometric movement allows an individual to generate a higher Rate of Force Development (RFD).
Basically, if you squat with a relatively heavyweight, you should be able to jump higher than you would if you had just performed the jump alone.
Now, it should be noted that contrast training (and PAP) can be extremely taxing on the CNS, inducing high levels of fatigue. As such, it’s imperative that you implement PAP judiciously into your weekly training and don’t go overboard with the volume.
What Are the Benefits of Contrast Training?
Contrast training is used first and foremost by athletes to increase overall power output. In the world of fitness and athletics, Power = Force x Velocity, which means power output can be enhanced by increasing force or velocity.
Contrast training helps with both force generation and speed, making it an ideal tool for athletes looking to improve power and explosivity.
But, that’s not all, contrast training also helps build muscle and strength, too.
For non-competitive athletes and casual gym rats, contrast training offers a phenomenal way to tap into high-threshold motor units, which are the ones best suited to hypertrophy (muscle growth). Plus, contrast training also helps boost the metabolism which can be great for those seeking to improve their body composition.
Lastly, contrast training may be a great way to inject some freshness into your training routine, helping to break a plateau and increase your enthusiasm for training. All of us have experienced a sticking point at one point or another during our training, and it can be extremely frustrating.
Contrast training offers a fun, challenging, and exciting way to shake up your routine, spark new growth, and shatter plateaus both in performance and body recomposition.
Basically, contrast training is for you if you want:
- Better athletic performance
- Greater CNS activation and neural drive
- Increased fat loss
- Lean mass gains
- Improved coordination and agility
- Higher metabolic rate
Contrast training is an advanced training technique that can help improve power, strength, and muscle growth. It can be used by both competitive and noncompetitive athletes, as well as more experienced gym rats looking to break a plateau or take their performance and body composition to a new level.
Contrast training requires a high degree of effort and concentration, which means it’s best performed at the start of your workout when you’re fresh.
Finally, remember that contrast training sets work best using a heavy compound exercise followed immediately by an unloaded bodyweight exercise that uses the same movement pattern.
- Robbins, D. W. (2005). Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), 453–458. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-14653.1
- Tillin, N. A., & Bishop, D. (2009). Factors modulating post-activation potentiation and its effect on performance of subsequent explosive activities. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 39(2), 147–166. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200939020-00004