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Contrast Sets For Explosive Power

Contrast Sets For Explosive Power

One of the reasons why, although I still use weights, I don’t identify as a bodybuilder, is the one dimensional nature of bodybuilding training.

There are other issues with bodybuilding of course. Physiques that due to excessive drug use are so bloated and ugly as to have totally gone astray from the early bodybuilding ideal of “the body beautiful” is the main thing that comes to mind. Also a body that can do little else other than pose on stage isn’t for me. I need functional strength.

However, that aside, let’s return to the one dimensional nature of the training. The single minded goal of bodybuilding is to get on stage with as much muscle mass as possible and as low a bodyfat level possible. As a result anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal is ignored. I guess that level of focus is to be admired, but for me, seeking functional strength from everything I do, this focus doesn’t work for me.

The attributes I seek to train are seemingly endless, and something more like a crossfit style of workout works better for me. Choosing to take up an sport (even at the most amateurish level) that requires cardio, balance, mobility and explosiveness means that I need to train more like a crossfitter trains, rather than a bodybuilder trains.

at this point, I am sure that I have a few bodybuilders a bit peeved at this. They are the keepers of the orthodoxy you know. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters are allowed to break the orthodoxy, but they’re still weird.

At this point too, I have readers who are going, I came here because I wanted to find out what contrast sets are. I want something that is a new way to train that I haven’t tried before that allows me to train multiple fitness attributes at once. OK, OK, I’d better get to the point then.

The reason I mentioned about one dimensional nature of bodybuilding training in the first place is to contrast it with other methods of training. Bodybuilders generally do a split, where they train a couple of body parts per workout, and then work through the other body parts throughout the week. For example Monday is chest and back, Tuesday is shoulders and arms and Wednesday is leg day.

Now, aside from totally soaking up all your time, so that you simply don’t have any spare for other pursuits or even other aspects of fitness, I don’t even believe it’s the best way to build muscle.

So let’s compare that to the workout I just completed with my training partner. We utilised what’s known as contrast sets. Yes, yes, I know. You told us you were going to talk about these, but what actually are they?

Well the idea is fairly simple (as are all good ideas) and also quite effective. You do a set of heavy weights, e.g. bench press, and then straight after that do an exercise that is light and explosive, for example plyo pushups.  Quite clearly there you can see the contrast. One exercise heavy, one light and explosive.

For the workout we did, that is exactly what we did for upper body. Four sets of heavy bench (around 5 reps per set) with each set followed by a set of 10 to 15 reps of plyo pushups.

Next, lower body. Front Squats for the heavy exercise and jumping frog squats (with a dumbell)  for the plyometric exercise.

This type of workout feels very different and very challenging. It’s confusing to both the muscles and the nervous system. Wait a minute.. I thought we were lifting heavy today, not doing explosive stuff. Oh hang on.. back to heavy again? And so on.

Notice as well.. 2 body parts.. 2 exercises each. Forty five minutes of work and the whole body is done. This the Monday workout. Next time to do weights? Friday. Leaves plenty of time to do yoga and cardio and whatever else you feel like. You’re not a slave to the gym.

Of all the various aspects of fitness, we’ve managed to train a bit of cardio, a bit of strength and a bit of plyometrics for explosiveness.

This workout isn’t going to make you a powerlifting champion, but for sports like rugby or judo, where you need a combination of strength and explosiveness, it’s ideal. It’s also a nice change, and constant change is a given when it comes to progress with exercise.

I recommend giving contrast sets a try. You may find renewed progress.



About The Author


A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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