Contrast Training Gives You a Chance to Hone Strength and Power Together
This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
Some things are just better together—gin and tonic, tacos and Tuesdays, Falcon and The Winter Soldier. And when it comes to fitness, science is rapidly discovering the benefits of an increasingly popular pairing: Heavy lifting and plyometrics.
There are many ways to combine strength exercises and explosive power moves in the same workout, but when you superset them—the back squat followed by the squat jump, or the bench press followed by the explosive pushup, for example—it’s called contrast training (in some spaces “complex training”), and a growing number of trainers and coaches swear by it for improving athletic performance.
Contrast training is based on the theory of post-activation potentiation (PAP), which states that “the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions.” In other words, by performing a heavy lift prior to an explosive movement, you can supercharge your nervous system and generate more gravity-defying force.
Yes, that means that you’ll be able to jump higher, throw harder, and push off the ground more powerfully, but there are reasons to perform contrast training beyond the fleeting sensation of feeling like a superhuman. Some research shows that the protocol can trigger faster gains in sprint speed, jump height, upper body power, and strength than performing just heavy lifts or plyos exclusively.
Your move: The key to contrast training is to perform 5 to 10 reps of a heavy lift followed by an equal number of reps of a high-velocity exercise that uses the same movement pattern, such as in the examples mentioned above.
It’s also important not to perform that heavy lift to failure. You don’t want to crush your muscles; your goal is to challenge and excite them—rev their engines, so to speak—and then allow them to unleash that pent-up power in a plyometric movement. If you need more than 10 to 15 seconds of rest between your heavy lift and your plyometric move, you need to reduce your load.
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