Contrast Training – For Strength and Power Development

Contrast Training – For Strength and Power Development

Contrast training involves performing a strength exercise followed by a power movement similar to the strength movement. Examples: a Deadlift paired with a Broad Jump, or Bench Press paired with a Plyometric Pushup. This training method develops strength, and explosive power. For anyone looking for a career in personal training, reach out to the Fit Education team today or read about our Personal Training Courses. Otherwise, read on to find out more about contrast training.

Male athlete doing power pushup and clapping hands together

How Does Contrast Training Work?

Contrast training is an advanced training method that combines high-load strength movements with biomechanically similar plyometric movements. Post-Activation Potentiation PAP refers to the enhancement of muscle function following high force activity. Sports scientists have found that heavy loading prior to an explosive movement induces a high degree of central nervous system stimulation, resulting in greater motor unit recruitment and force, lasting from five to 30 minutes.1 In other words, a heavy strength movement can lead to enhanced muscle function and optimum conditions for performing a subsequent explosive movement that engages the same muscle groups.
It is important to note that when you perform a heavy strength movement, or max contraction, there is always a trade-off between fatigue and the potentiation effect. Athletes who have not made resistance training adaptations will most likely be too fatigued after the initial strength movement to benefit from PAP. The strength movement should be heavy; ie. 4-5 sets of 2-4 reps. Move directly from the strength movement, into the explosive movement.
Studies have shown a great deal of individual variability in terms of when the potentiation effect occurs. The execution of high-intensity contractions prior to competition can enhance performance.
Athletes who cannot immediately take advantage of PAP can still benefit from contrast training, as it allows them to train for athleticism and power during a strength workout. Once a foundation is built and adaptations are in place, athletes can expect their muscles to create more explosive power.
Along with short- and long-term power adaptations, taking advantage of PAP through contrast training is an excellent way to increase training density. This directly affects work capacity and is essential for building the type of anaerobic energy system and muscle endurance that allow an athlete to give maximal effort throughout the course of a competition or practice.

Programming Contrast Training

Overload – Dow what you always did = Get what you always got.
As human beings, we adapt to a training stimulus. Programming and planning is important to ensure progression. To keep making progress in the weight room, you need to create overload. Read more on progressive overload here.
At Fit Education we use phases of contrast training for 3-4 weeks depending on training age, time of the year, and the goal of the phase. We typically use contrast training when the athletes have to peak for an event, or their season. We also use it when an athlete has been training for a while and needs to break up the training and introduce a new stimulus to adapt to. It also helps to vary the training and keep the athlete interested.
It is important to have a foundation of strength before starting contrast training. For a person to be ready for contrast training, they should have trained consistently for at least six months and be lifting heavy weights. This will ensure the body is structurally ready for the additional explosive demands.

Male athlete resting with arms on barbell

Program Considerations

The most important factors to a successful contrast training session are:

The rest of the session
The rest of the session depends on goals and what else is planned for the week. That’s why having a plan is so important. It could look something like this to create a full body workout.

A1Front Squat4410-15 secs
A2Jump for height431-3 Mins
B1Single Leg RDL3-46-810 -15 secs
B2Bench Pull3-48-1010-15 secs
B3Stability Ball Stir the Pot3-41010-15 secs
CStretch and trigger
Example contrast training plan

The reason for including some wiggle room with the number of sets and reps on the second super set is because we have to listen to our body. The goal is to become stronger and more powerful, not to leave the gym totally exhausted and incapable of performing any more work. Performing a ton of accessory work after your contrast training may not be the best approach. Work smarter, not harder.

Contrast Set Pairs

Strength Exercise (Heavy)Explosive Exercise
Bench PressPlyo Push-Up
SquatSquat Jump
DeadliftStanding Broad Jump
Standing Barbell Shoulder PressOverhead Med Ball Throw
Split- SquatSplit-Squat Jumps
Snatch or CleanJump Squat
Example contrast set pairs

Example contrast workout

A1Back Squat @ 90% max3310-15 secs
A2Squat Jump333 Mins
B1Bench Press @ 90% max3310 -15 secs
B2Clap Push Up333 mins
C1Deadlift @ 90% max3310-15 secs
C2Standing Long Jumps333 mins
Example contrast workout

Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for 3 rounds.

Focus on explosiveness during the power exercise. Do 2 x warm-up sets of each pair before work sets.

Female athlete performing plyometric jump over box

Summary: The Three Keys of Contrast Training

  1. Build the Foundation First
    Build a movement and strength foundation before trying this technique. If you’ve already been training consistently and lifting heavy for several consecutive months, you should be ready to take on constant training (as long as your form is also on point and you have experience with the moves you’ll be using in your contrast training).
  2. Move With Intent
    Whether it’s the strength or power movement, you need to move with a purpose. Move the bar as fast as possible and jump as high or far as you can.
  3. Be Smart
    Control the overload. Consistent progress is progress, so don’t make huge jumps set to set or week to week. Be smart with the weights and be smart with programming contrast training. Once you’ve completed a 3- to 4-week phase of contrast training, wait at least another eight weeks before beginning another phase of contrast training

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1. Chiu, L.Z., Fry, A.C., Weiss, L.W., Schilling, B.K., Brown, L.E., & Smith, S.L. (2003). “Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.

Training techniques such as contrast training are covered in the Certificate III in Fitness, Certificate IV in Fitness and Diploma of Sport.

Tagged Bulking UpCert 4 in FitnessCertificate IV in FitnessContrast TrainingHypertrophyPersonal TrainingPowerResistance TrainingStrength and ConditioningStrength Training