Jump Higher and Run Faster with Contrast Training

TAGS: Yuri Verkhoshansky, athlete speed, athlete power, athlete strength, plyometric training, supertraining, rate of force development, weight training

Improvements in an athlete’s strength, power and speed are common goals in the offseason for the majority of sports. If those aren't goals, then it’s not a sport. (That is a joke...maybe). There have been a lot of articles written on contrast training, but after reading them, the protocols they provide are just wrong. I’m happy to see smart coaches out there writing articles and providing a bunch of fancy words (which I will do), but the sets, reps and volume guidelines are wrong in my opinion. The reason I say this is because of the results I have gotten with my athletes. I am still working on how to apply the same concepts in the best way for strength sports. So these principals are based on athletics. There are several methods that exist to increase strength and power in your athletes. This is just another tool for the tool box and is not an end-all, be-all.

Now, what is cool about our profession is that we can manipulate so many variables to see if they work. From intensity to rest periods, the gym is our lab, so don't be afraid to play around with things. With my athletes, I have utilized the following guidelines to help them peak for competition, training camp, and for combines.

Now here comes some science stuff. I first was introduced to contrast training when reading Supertraining by Yuri Verkhoshansky years ago and quickly started to play around with different protocols with my athletes. If you don’t know what Supertraining is or don’t own a copy, I suggest you go to the elitefts shop and purchase it. Now.

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First, strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force or torque at a specified or determined velocity. Power is work per unit of time (force times distance divided by time) or force times velocity (distance x time). In layman’s terms, power is the product of strength and speed. So if an athlete is powerful, they can generate force quickly and if an athlete can develop force quickly then they will be able to demonstrate a high rate of force development. Rate of force development (RFD) is the rate at which strength increases or the rate at which force can be produced. RFD is one of the most important neural adaptations for the majority of athletes today.

Traditional weight training with relatively heavy loads (80-90% of 1RM) for few repetitions (1-5) has shown the ability to improve an athlete’s strength while loads of 50-60% of 1RM, performed ballistically, will result in increased maximum power.

Plyometrics are very high intensity exercises where our muscles and the structures around them are rapidly stretched and then quickly contracted. Plyometric training has been advocated for years as a means to improve muscular power and RFD. They are easier to each then most barbell exercises but are extremely CNS intensive. So, I’m asking you to please introduce plyometrics slowly and to closely monitor the volume. We need to focus on quality over quantity of a movement. These are not to be used as conditioning. They should be done early in a workout. Also there needs to be full recovery between sets in order to perform them at the highest intensity each set.

Performing a maximal or near maximal contraction before the synchronized activity causes post activation potentiation (PAP). PAP is where the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. In theory, it appears that the previous contraction of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. In other words it increases the force exerted by a muscle due to its previous contraction.

The purpose of contrast training, which is also known as transfer training, is where we take a strength movement followed by a speed movement or skill. The idea here is that we’re attempting to excite higher threshold motor units by performing a strength exercise which puts us in a heightened state and transfer this into a synchronized activity. This activity is typically sprinting, jumping, throwing, or a skill related to their sport.

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General Rules/Guidelines

  1. The strength exercise should never exceed 20 seconds. Since this is for athletics, try and keep it under 10 seconds. This will keep the exercise more neural and short bursts under 10 seconds are common in just about every sport.
  2. If using barbell exercises, use weights 85-95% of 1RM.
  3. The concentric portion should be as fast as possible where the intent should be.
  4. Rest 10-20 seconds between strength exercise and sprint/jump/throw.
  5. Not waiting 10 seconds can increase chance of injury while waiting over 20 seconds you risk not getting the transfer we are looking for.
  6. Take full recovery between sets, anywhere from 3-5 minutes. This is where you need to ask your athletes how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10. The athlete should feel in between 8-10 before they are ready for their next set. When this number starts to drop near five, I like to call it so we don’t risk injuring. Also this is a good time for active recovery.
  7. Perform anywhere from 5-12 sets.
  8. This is used for peaking and should not be used for long periods of time. 3-4 weeks max
  9. This is the workout.
  10. This is usually performed on our dynamic days.

Exercise Pairing Examples:

  • Squat and Jump
  • Squat and Sprints
  • Bench and Med Ball Throws
  • Military Press and Med Ball Throws
  • Prowler and Sprint

Example Workouts

Example One

This is a workout I used getting an elite level football player ready for camp. What we used here was an extremely heavy prowler where it was pushed as fast as possible on the turf. Then the athlete got into a forty start position and sprinted unweighted ten yards. Getting the weight right was the most difficult part. When we finally got the weight right, the athlete said it felt like he was running on a cloud.

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Example Two

This is a workout I used getting an elite level volleyball player ready for camp. What we used here was an extremely heavy squat where it was moved as fast as possible. After the squats the athlete performed box jumps. Any type of jump can be used. I’ve used vertical jumps, broad jumps etc. Your imagination is the limit.

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