Contrast Sets For Strength & Performance Gains

Aug 20, 2021

Using ‘contrast sets’ (or complex sets) is a concept that stems back as early as the 1950s. The premise was to in essence utilize both sides of the force velocity curve within the same session alternating between a both force and velocity modalities. This would allow the trainee to utilize postactivation potentiation (PAP) whereby one exercise benefits the other (in this article a plyometric variation potentiating a bilateral lift.)

PAP is the after-effect of performing plyometrics in conjunction with heavy bilateral work. This short-term performance improvement is fleeting, depending on what study you read lasts anywhere from 3-30 minutes, but instead of worrying about what they found in a lab, we can always rely on what actually happens in the trenches with our training.

For my perspective, this form of training yields an incredible immediate training effect. So much so that if you were able to bottle it it would fly off of the shelves faster than toilet paper did last March. 

By definition, complex training is a form of training that alternates stretch-shortening cycle tasks (SSC) within the same session which results in an acute after-effect known as PAP (Potach, 2016). 

The legendary sports scientist Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky discussed the efficacy citing multiple studies on Complex Training in “Supertraining” stating that “athletes showed the multi-faceted loading improves strength, speed of movement, and endurance to a greater extent than unidirectional exercise (performing one singular modality at a time) (Korobkov et al, 1960). 

Overall, the proposition that training multiple biomotor abilities within the same session is plausible and the reality is that maximal strength development connects to all other non-related biomotor abilities like endurance, is a very real phenomenon.  

Moreover, as far as bioenergetics are concerned, this form of training relies heavily on the ATP-PC system which has the ability to generate the most amount of force in the shortest possible, but with that also comes with higher level of fatiguability and longer recovery periods between bouts to fully replenish high-energy phosphates that power this work are necessary.

Contrast Training Variations

Before we get into the good stuff, a few things to note that will be important for you to know.

  • Allow for 48-72 hours recovery between sessions
  • Use aerobic measures to bridge the gap between your main sessions – more on that here.
  • Rotate maximal effort variations weekly to reduce risk of injury
  • Utilize both partial ROM and full ROM lifts
  • Utilize different loading parameters ie. max effort vs. dynamic effort – more on those methods here.
  • GPP work can still be a part of your training plan.
  • Specialty equipment and accommodating resistance can be used if you choose but is not required.

Back Squat & DB Squat Jump + Box Jumps

8 Rounds of:
Back Squat with chains, building in weight x 1
DB Squat Jump + Box Jump x 2
Rest 2-3:00 between rounds.
*Goal: 4 singles over 85% of 1RM

Pin Bench Press & Band Assisted Plyo Push-ups

8 Rounds of:
Pin Bench Press, building in weight x 1
Band Assisted Plyo Push-ups x 3
Rest 2-3:00 between rounds.
*Goal: 4 singles over 85% of 1RM

Trap Bar Deadlift & Seated Dynamic Box Jumps

5 Rounds of:
Speed Trap Bar Deadlift @75% of 1RM x 2
Seated Dynamic Box Jumps x 2
Rest 2:00 between rounds.

Bench Press & DB Hang Power Snatch

8 Rounds of:
Bench Press, building in weight x 1
DB Hang Power Snatch x 2 each
Rest 2-3:00 between rounds.
*Goal: 4 singles over 85% of 1RM

Anderson Front Squat & Kneeling Jumps

8 Rounds of:
Anderson Squat, building in weight x 1
Kneeling Jumps x 3
Rest 2-3:00 between rounds.
*Goal: 4 singles over 85% of 1RM

Jerk & Medball Chest Presses

8 Rounds of:
Split Jerk, building in weight x 1
Medball Chest Presses x 3
Rest 2-3:00 between rounds.
*Goal: 4 singles over 85% of 1RM


These are just six combinations of many, but moving forward I would consider all of the points mentioned above for your selection and avoid haphazardly throwing these in your own programming or a clients’ program.

Overall, we have many training tools at our disposal and what works best for the individual will vary. These may be the tool you or your client needs to crack a plateau!