Contrast Training for More Powerful Fighters
by Moritz Klatten, Champ Performance, Hamburg, Germany
An advanced training method to take fighters to the next level of athletic fitness
In bodybuilding, the toughest body part to train is said to be the calves. The reason is that they are constantly working throughout the day. So in order to make them grow you have to shock them with a variety of training methods. Likewise, as my fighters reach higher levels of strength and conditioning, to make them progress, I need to shock them with advanced training methods. One such method is contrast training.
What is unique about contrast training is it combines two types of training methods within a single set. Those methods are strength training and plyometrics. This approach differs from conventional training programs in which plyometrics either come first in a workout (and are followed by strength training exercises in later sets) or are performed on separate days, (such as in a program of plyo work on Tuesday and Thursday; and strength training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
The scientific explanation for the effectiveness of contrast training is the theory of post-tetanic potentiation (PTP). In simple terms PTP expresses the idea that you can produce a more explosive movement in a group of muscles if you precede it with a strong muscular contraction of those same muscles. The most common application of PTP is in baseball, where batters often swing a heavy bat before they step up to the plate for a pitched ball.
Here is an experiment for you: Step up to a dumbbell rack and curl weights that are about half of your maximum for 10 reps. Rest a few minutes. Now lift dumbbells that are about 90 percent of your max for about 5 reps. Rest a few minutes. Now go back to that first weight and notice how light it feels. When you lifted the heavier dumbbells in the second set, you recruited the powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers. In the last set, although you didn’t need to recruit those powerful fibers when you went back to the lighter weights, the nervous system remained stimulated to recruit those fibers. That is post-tetanic potentiation.
The practical application of PTP in the coaching world is contrast training, as you are alternating between two types of training protocols. Credit for popularizing contrast training should go to Doug Ivan Hepburn. He was a Canadian strongman who won the 1953 World Weightlifting Championships and was the first person to bench press 500 pounds (226 kilos). Hepburn would often begin his workouts using especially heavy weights. Then, he would perform the same exercises with relatively lighter weights to get in his reps.
A Word on Olympic Weightlifting
In the 1970s, Bulgarian weightlifters would use a variation of this protocol with the snatch and clean and jerk, working up to a max and then reducing the weight to get in some reps. They would perform this system frequently and would determine the weights for those multi-rep sets by first performing a max (or near max) attempt. For your purposes when training fighters, daily use of such a system is inadvisable due to the likelihood of overtraining; however, when used on an infrequent basis, it can improve the quality of your fighters’ workouts.
For my fighters, the most common type of contrast training involves performing a weight training exercise followed by a medicine ball exercise. In my book, The Klatten Power Boxing System, I describe many workouts used by champion fighters I’ve trained. Many of these workouts use contrast training. Here is an example of the first two sets of an upper body workout I used with world champions Jack Culcay and Yuriorkis Gamboa.
The first two exercises combine a weight training exercise supersetted with a medicine ball exercise for the upper body:
A1. 45-Degree Incline Bench Press, with Barbell with Bands, 6 x 3, 30X0, rest 10 seconds
A2. Medicine Ball Push (against the wall), 6 x 3, 40X0, rest 240 seconds
B1. Sternum or Front Lever Pull-Up, 5 x 3, 30X0, rest 10 seconds
B2. Overhead Medicine Ball Throw, 5 x 3, 8 seconds, 30X0, rest 240 seconds
For the lower body, I usually combine a resistance exercise such as a split squat with a plyometric exercise. Here is an example:
A1. Dumbbell Split Squat, 5 x 3-5, 40X1, rest 10 seconds
A2. Box Jump, Hands Behind Head, 5 x 10-12, explosive, rest 240 seconds
In the above example the split squats for low reps recruit the powerful fast-twitch fibers (FT). FT fibers are those that are still recruited during the subsequent box jump.
Finally, because contrast training is very taxing on the nervous system, it should seldom be performed more than twice a week to avoid overtraining. Ideally there would be two days of rest between training sessions as well. Using this type of training once every five days or even just once a week may be the best approach for your fighters. I’ve found the ideal time to perform it is during the sparring phase, which brings a fighter up to 7-8 days before a fight.
If you’re looking for an advanced training method to challenge a fighter’s body to become more powerful, the key could be contrast training.
Coach Moritz Klatten’s knowledge and experience as a football strength coach has enabled him to attract an international clientele that includes numerous national team players. Among his success stories are Zlatko Junuzovic, Werder Bremen; Tolgay Arslan, Besiktas; Piotr Trochowsk, Augsburg; Cleber Reis, HSV; Levin Ötztunali, Leverkusen; Assani Lukimya, Werder Bremen; Patrick Owomoyela, BVB; Oliver Hüsing, Werder Bremen; Tomás Rincón, FC Genua; , Raphael Wolf, Werder Bremen; Robert Tesche, Nottingham Forest; Izet Hajrovic, Werder Bremen; Mattia Maggio, HSV; and Michael Gregoritsch, HSV. Coach Klatten is also an accomplished strength coach for boxing. In that sport he has trained four professional world champions, including Juan Carlos Gomez, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Jack Culcay, and three Olympic champions.
Coach Klatten works primarily out of Champ Performance, his own gym in Hamburg, Germany, where he offers strength coaching internships and operates a satellite training service to work with athletes worldwide.His book about strength and conditioning for fighters, The Klatten Power Boxing System,is available at amazon.co.uk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org