Contrast training bridges the gap between explosive/speed (plyometric) based training and heavy resistance (strength) based training by incorporating them together to improve neurological efficiency.
Plyometric training and strength training are often programmed for separately in different training phases or sessions as they are seen as two different training modalities.
Plyometric training being very explosive in nature will generally be completed first in the session while the athlete is fresh, and then resistance training work will either be completed later in the same session or in a different session entirely.
Contrast training is the pairing of a heavy resistance based movement with a light biomechanically similar explosive based movement.
This pairing of exercises is based off the well-researched neurological effect of post-tetanic potentiation (PTP). After a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), the nervous system has enhanced motor unit activation properties that can remain elevated for up to several minutes. This improved neuromuscular activation will help recruit more high threshold motor units. (2) Recruiting more high threshold motor units equals a more powerful muscular contraction.
A simple example of this would be performing jump squats, straight after a heavy set of 3 to 5 back squats
The compound exercise needs to be of a heavy load ideally around 75-90% of 1RM to effect performance in the explosive exercise where reps should be anywhere from 2 to 5 depending on the athlete.
Contrast training is hugely beneficial for combat athletes, as it will allow for higher threshold motor unit activation, which they may not have been able to activate previously.
When performed correctly this will lead to more powerful striking, stronger takedowns and more explosive kicking ability.
Here is a look at a Contrast Training workout for an MMA fighter in preparation for the Australasian Championships.
A1: Incline Bench Press 6 x 5,3,3,2,2,1 30X0, 30
A2: Deadball Push Press, 6 x 5, X0X0, 180
B1: Chin Up, medium neutral grip 6 x 5,3,3,2,2,1 30X1, 30
B2: Deadball Slams, 6x5, X0X0, 180
C1: Flat Bench Press, close grip, 4 x 3 to 5, 30X0, 90
C2: Single Arm Dumbbell Row, pronated grip, elbow out, 4 x 4-6, 3011, 90
The video below demonstrates the B series of the workout.
Here's the lower body contrast-training workout performed later that week.
A1: Barbell Inertia Squat, top 1/2, off pins, 6 x 5,3,3,2,2,1 22X0, 30
A2: Deadball Overhead Toss, 6 x 5, X0X0, 240
B1: Farmers Carry, 4 x 40m, X0X0, 120
B2: Glute Ham Raise, 4 x 3 to 5, 40X0, 120
C: Neck Training
Key Points to consider when designing a contrast-training workout:
- The exercises must be biomechanically similar nature
- The compound movement should be performed at 75-90% of the athlete’s 1RM. However PTP effects have been seen at 60% of 1RM. (1)
- The explosive exercises must be explosive keep reps anywhere from 3 to 5 and focus on speed and explosiveness, this is not conditioning!
- Allow for full recovery between sets, resting anywhere from 2-5 minutes depending on the athlete and exercise used.
- The higher the training age of the lifter, the greater the variation in loads required to generate the desired response. (2)
1. Smilios, Ilias, et al. “Short-term effects of selected exercise and load in contrast training on vertical jump performance.” The journal of strength and conditioning Research 19.1 (2005): 125-139
2. Cazeault, S, 2016, 66 Strategies to Program Design