Go Heavy, Explode, Go Home: The Contrast Method

by Brandon Holder

Exercise Combos for Explosive Power

Build explosive power by combining a lift for strength with an explosive exercise. Great for athleticism and gains. Here’s how to do it.


The Contrast Method for Strength & Power

The contrast method involves pairing a heavy lift with an unloaded (or lighter) power-based exercise. It’s a great way to create explosive power through post-activation potentiation.

It’s simple: Move something heavy for a few reps. Rest briefly. Then do an explosive exercise as violently as possible. Recover and repeat.

This increases neural involvement by using more high-threshold motor units with the heavier exercise. Then you transfer that force output over to a power exercise for explosive reps.

How to Set It Up

Contrast training is an advanced method. Make sure you’re fresh for it by doing it first in your workout.

When selecting exercises, go with appropriate pairs. While you can’t go wrong with combining a big basic lift with any athletic exercise, such as a jump, throw, or sprint, specific pairings are more optimal than others.

Ideally, the exercises you select require similar muscle groups performed in the same plane of motion. Selecting exercises that match this criterion will lead to a higher transferability from the first to the second exercise.

Exercise Pair Examples

These pairing should offer a general idea of matching up specific movement patterns, but they’re not set in stone. Many other variations will work too.

  • Bench Press
  • Medicine Ball Chest Pass Variation
  • Deadlift
  • Squat Jump
  • Incline Bench press
  • Landmine Push Press
  • Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Split Jump
  • Sled Pull
  • Broad Jump
  • Sled Push
  • Sprint

Sets and Reps

  • Do the first exercise – the strength-based movement – for somewhere between 3-6 reps and around 70-80% of your 1RM. There’s some flexibility here depending upon the exercise selected and the individual, but that’s the general range.
  • Don’t go to failure. You shouldn’t be going so heavy that you fail to complete the reps because of muscular fatigue. The 70-80% zone will create a challenge but still allow you to have a high level of intent and complete the exercise with a powerful lockout.
  • The second exercise – the power-based movement – follows a similar template of short reps or distance: 3-6 reps or 10-20 yards. You must perform every rep as violently as possible, taking advantage of the post-activation potentiation effect from the first exercise.
  • Do 3-4 sets.

What About Rest Periods?

Rest is the most important factor when doing these. It’ll make or break the effectiveness of the contrast method. If you rest too little between exercises or sets, you won’t be able to recover enough to maintain a higher power output. This will hinder your results.

Careful, though. If you rest too long, you could disrupt the effectiveness of the potentiation or lightening effect you’re seeking, also hindering your results.

  • Between the first and second exercises: Rest 10-30 seconds. This is just enough time to calmly walk over to the second exercise.
  • Between sets: Rest 3-5 minutes. This will allow you to fully recover before starting the next set. Sometimes the rest period can seem more difficult than the sets themselves, but they’re crucial for the contrast method. And if you’re truly performing the movements as powerfully as possible, you’ll welcome it.

When To Use the Contrast Method

Use the contrast method when you’ve built up a strong training base and capacity. Make sure you have the technical and neural proficiency in the power-based exercise before throwing that into a superset with a heavy lift.

Using the contrast method to conclude a training cycle or peak for an event is most efficient and helps utilize the strength built up from the previous blocks of training in a more applicable manner.

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