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Improving Training Efficiency: Contrast Sets


Improving Training Efficiency: Contrast Sets
  Mar. 12, 2015


For most personal trainers, limited training volume is a significant constraint when it comes to helping clients achieve their goals, making time management a key factor for success. One option to aid in time limitations is the use of supersets. While most trainers are familiar with the training system, many are not as versed in contrast sets. Contrast sets are an intermediate to advanced training system using the superset concept for a specific adaptation purpose; improved strength and power.

Contrast Set: A training approach based on the superset concept, used primarily for performance enhancement, emphasizing the combination of neuromuscular crossover between strength and power.

The contrast set is accomplished by performing a compound exercise in a controlled manner using relatively heavy loading 85% 1RM or greater. Immediately following the initial lift, the client will perform an identical movement pattern with less resistance and at a faster speed. Performing the light and fast exercise immediately following the heavy exercise increases fast twitch motor unit recruitment. Increasing the recruitment of type-II muscle fibers will help improve strength and power. According to the literature, a 5% greater adaptation rate is attained compared to each exercise being performed individually. Common contrast sets include:

Bench press followed by medicine ball chest pass or power push-ups

Back squats followed by squat jumps

Front squats followed by box jumps

Key components of contrast sets are:

  1. Contrast sets should be performed towards the beginning of a resistance training session, following a thorough warm-up
  2. The heavy lifts should traditionally be between a 3-5RM
  3. The lighter high speed lifts should be performed for 4-6 reps
  4. The movements involved in both the slow and fast sets should be identical motor patterns
  5. Minimal rest should be used for the superset, but adequate rest tim between sets (120 seconds – 180 seconds) should be taken
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