Add Size and Power With Contrast Sets

Want to get bigger and stronger? STACK Expert Lee Boyce shows you how to accomplish your goals using contrast sets.

Back Squat

There are plenty of great exercises that will develop strength and power to help you excel in your sport. And you can take it a step further by pairing exercises into contrast sets.

The premise is quite simple. You trick your fast-twitch muscle fibers into doing more work than they normally would. These are the fibers that are responsible for maximum efforts of strength, speed and power.


To train your muscles to "over-fire," you need to perform a heavy compound exercise followed by an explosive movement that uses the same movement pattern. It works best when you choose a primary compound exercise such as the Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Clean or Snatch, and follow it with a plyometric exercise.

Why It Works

You can check out the science behind this concept, but the best way to understand it is with a practical example.

When I was in college, training as a sprinter, we often used the concept of over-speed training. We performed Assisted Sprints by attaching a resistance band between two athletes. One sprinted ahead and essentially towed the other sprinting behind him for 25 meters. The lead athlete was forced to turn his legs over at a faster rate, which taught his muscle fibers to contract faster. The faster stride frequency eventually transferred to increased speed on the track.

The concept of over-firing the muscles to stimulate over-speed can also be applied to strength and power.

Your muscles are prepared to contract under a load when you perform the secondary explosive movement. Because there is no load, you produce more power than necessary. Continued use of this training method teaches your muscles to contract with more power output without the preceding heavy strength set.

How To

Perform five to eight reps of a barbell movement immediately followed by eight to 10 reps of the unloaded, explosive movement. Rest for three minutes and repeat for four rounds.

Contrast Set Pairs

Sample Contrast Workout

Here's an example of a general conditioning, total-body contrast workout.

  • A1) Back Squat - 8 @ 80% max
  • A2) Squat Jumps - 10
  • Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for 4 rounds
  • B1) Standing Barbell Shoulder Press - 8 @ 80% max
  • B2) Overhead Med Ball Throws - 10
  • Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for 4 rounds
  • C1) Trap Bar Deadlift - 8 @ 80% max
  • C2) Standing Long Jumps - 10
  • Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for 4 rounds
  • D) Barbell Snatch - 3 @ 60% max
  • Rest for 3 minutes and repeat for 4 rounds.
  • Focus on speed and keep the load light.

If one of your goals is to become a more explosive athlete, try contrast set training. Strength and power are amplified when your muscles contract quickly. Do the right thing and explode into new gains starting today.

Looking for more info on contrast sets? Check out these two articles:

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock