American Football International

The Best Strength and Power Superset for Athletes

Despite my job title as a strength and conditioning coach, I care far more about power than I do strength.

Whereas strength is the ability to exert force, power is the ability to exert force quickly.

As it applies to sports, power is what bridges the gap between strength in the weight room and performance on the field. Think about it: The ability to sprint fast, jump high or swing with elite bat speed is ultimately a byproduct of power.

However, strength is the foundation and a mandatory prerequisite of power, which makes training to develop both qualities essential. So why not check both boxes at the same time?

Enter contrast training, one of the best ways, if not the best way, to develop both strength and power simultaneously.

How (and Why) Contrast Training Works

The premise of contrast training is simple: perform a heavy strength exercise within the 3-5 rep range, then move immediately into a high-velocity movement that mimics the same biomechanical pattern (e.g., heavy Squats and Box Jumps).

Its effectiveness is largely based on the phenomenon of post-activation potentiation (PAP), which refers to the acute enhancement of muscular contractions due to heavy lifting’s effect on the muscles and central nervous system (CNS).

In other words, heavy lifting excites the body’s fast-twitch muscle fibers and provokes a strong CNS response, which then translates to amplified power production (“potentiation”) during subsequent high-velocity movements.

As Yuri Verkhoshanksy put it, “PAP is like lifting a half-can of water when you think it’s full.”

Here’s why contrast training can be an absolute game changer for athletes:

Contrast Training to Enhance Athletic Performance

The “problem” with contrast training is that it’s almost exclusively associated with different variations of the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. While these big three patterns (squatting, pressing and hinging) are undoubtedly important, they’re hardly the be-all, end-all of athletic performance. As a matter of fact, they fail to address arguably the most pivotal facet of all—being strong and powerful on one leg.

And therein lies the missing link of single-leg contrast training.

Single-leg contrast training is arguably the most “sport-specific” way to build transferrable strength and power to where it matters most—on the playing field. Sports occur primarily on one leg, after all, whether an athlete is sprinting, changing direction and/or jumping/landing on one leg.

There are plenty of combinations that fall into the category of single-leg contrast training:

That being said, there’s arguably no better contrast pairing for athletic performance than Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squats (RFESS) combined with Single-Leg Box Jumps (as shown here with a 2-leg landing):

Why is this pair such a powerful contrast duo for athletes?

In and of itself, the Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat is arguably the best exercise in existence for improving athletic performance and lower body function. On top of building functional strength and addressing weak links (among a plethora of other benefits), they have a direct carryover to sprinting speed.

Single-Leg Box Jumps are one of the simplest and most effective exercises for building power in the lower half, as they have all of the same benefits as regular Box Jumps, albeit with the added value of unilateral work.

Performing unilateral exercises is a valuable way to shed light on any asymmetries, imbalances and/or strength discrepancies that may exist between sides, which makes this particular pairing especially useful as a diagnostic tool.

How to Pair RFESS and Single-Leg Box Jumps

To unlock the full power of this athleticism-enhancing superset, it’s important to use the proper volume, load and box height.

Combine the power of PAP with the individual benefits of both RFESS and Single-Leg Box Jumps—or any other single-leg contrast pairing, for that matter—and the result is an unparalleled superset for improving athletic performance.

Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock

Read the original article in by Charley Gould.

Charley Gould, CSCS, is a former professional baseball player and highly sought-after strength and conditioning coach who works with 100+ athletes, including an elite NCAA clientele and professional baseball players. He specializes in helping all individuals look, feel, and perform like elite athletes. Charley is the head of sports performance at Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA, and writes articles for T-Nation and his website.

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