MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY shows you how to look, feel and be built for battle…
We all know someone who can lift the entire weights room but can’t seem to get out of their own way. We also know someone who is lightning fast, yet a slight breeze could knock them over. But what is far less common is the annoying but devastatingly dominant mofo who possesses that rare combination of both strength and speed. And that is POWER by definition — equal parts strength and speed. In geek talk this equates to work/time. In Laymen’s terms, it’s simply the ability to move heavy loads quickly.
The problem when training to be all powerful is that it often comes with a higher risk of injury — think Olympic Lifting gone bad. And whether you’re a weekend warrior or a seasoned athlete, injury is the enemy. Enter CONTRAST TRAINING — possibly the most simple and effective yet safest way to develop power.
Contrast training is exactly as its name suggests. You’re essentially pairing a heavy lift with an explosive movement that mimics the mechanics of the heavy lift. Think squats followed by jump squats. Bench presses followed by explosive push-ups. Pull-ups followed by medicine-ball slams. Training in this manner produces a phenomenon known as “post activation potentiation” (PAP). This just means that the explosive capability of a muscle is enhanced after it’s been forced to perform maximal or near-maximal contractions.
Yuri Verkhoshansky, a Russian sports scientist, would describe PAP by asking you to imagine what would happen if you lifted a half-full can of water when you thought the can was full. There’d be a mismatch between your perception of the force needed to move the can, and the actual force required. The can would move twice as fast as you intended, and you can only hope someone else will clean up the mess you made.
With athletes, contrast training builds strength and power simultaneously. When you perform an explosive movement immediately after an exercise that requires all-out strength, you are teaching your body to recruit more motor units for tasks like jumping, sprinting or throwing a punch. And show me an athlete who doesn’t want to run faster, jump higher or hit harder.
For non-athletes, it’s a great way to tap into high-threshold motor units to build more muscle and get jacked AF, or to boost the metabolism to become a lean, mean fighting machine. And while you’re accomplishing those objectives, you’re also changing up your workout in a way that’s fun and challenging.
The How To Of Contrast Training
● For each contrast set, the weight should be around 85-90% of your 1RM so that the lifter performs 1-3 reps of the heavy lift followed by 3-5 reps of the high-velocity movement.
● You should add a 30-second rest interval between the heavy lift set and the explosive movement. This gives the involved muscles time to recover, while still allowing the lifter to take advantage of PAP from the heavy lift.
● The addition of a further 15-second rest after each rep of the explosive movement will allow for maximum velocity on each rep. After finishing your explosive reps, rest for 3 minutes before the next set.
● Since it’s unwise to start off by throwing 90% of your 1RM around, include 3-5 warm-up sets before piling the weight on. However, to avoid muscle fatigue before the work sets, only do enough warm-up reps to get your blood flowing.
Mobility exercises between sets help support optimal alignment, preventing injuries and increasing the effectiveness of the strength-power couplets. I suggest including a calf stretch for 15 secs each side in between your squat based sets, a hip flexor stretch with your deadlifts and a set of prone YTW’s with your upper body push/pull.
The Fundamental Exercises
With a little creativity, you can use contrast training for any movement pattern or muscle group, but for the most part, here are the six basic multi-joint examples…
Lower Body Knee Dominant
Strength Exercise: Barbell Squat (front or back)
Contrast Exercise: Box Jump or Squat Jump
Lower Body Hip Dominant
Strength Exercise: Deadlift
Contrast Exercise: Broad Jump or Banded Kettlebell Swing
Upper Body Push
Strength Exercise: Bench Press
Contrast Exercise: Medicine Ball Chest Pass or Plyometric Pushup
Upper Body Pull
Strength Exercise: Pullup
Contrast Exercise: Medicine Ball Slam
Strength Exercise: Band or Cable Rotation
Contrast Exercise: Medicine Ball Rotary Toss or explosive band/cable rotation
Strength Exercise: Heavy Sled Push/Drag
Contrast Exercise: 20-25m Sprint
The key to making contrast training work for you is to create a genuine contrast between the two exercises you’re doing for each movement pattern. You want to use enough weight on the strength exercise to develop strength, and you want to perform the second exercise with as much explosive power as you can. Each rep of each set should be performed with purpose.
“Action Alexa” is an internationally published celebrity trainer, sports model and nutrition and lifestyle coach with over 15 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and has worked with NZ’s world champion rugby team, the All Blacks. She has qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs and was named as one of the Five Toughest Trainers in Asia during her seven-year stint in an MMA gym in Hong Kong.
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