Lift Heavier, Move Faster: A 30-Minute Speed and Strength Workout

Contrast training will build bigger muscles with explosive power. Credit: Getty Images

Many gym-goers follow slow-rep bodybuilding programs to increase muscle. These mass-building workouts, devoid of explosive movements, result in punches and sprints that are slower than molasses — bad news if you need to move in a hurry.

But there’s a sneaky, often overlooked technique of pairing exercises that can earn you strength and powerful speed. It’s called contrast training, and it allows you to delay the predictable loss of speed and power that occurs as you age. It requires that you perform an old-school strength exercise (bench press, squat, or deadlift) then do a power move that targets similar muscle groups (plyometric push-up, vertical jump, or broad jump). The strategy works thanks to something called post-activation potentiation, or PAP. That’s nerd-speak for what happens when a muscle is supercharged after it performs an all-out effort.

The idea: To run faster, do something like a barbell squat with the maximum weight you can lift for five reps, then rack the bar and immediately perform three all-out vertical jumps. (I say “idea” because research on the subject is a mixed bag, with some studies suggesting PAP works well for boosting explosiveness, while other studies report lesser benefits.)

Strength and conditioning coaches swear by contrast training simply because PAP’s explosive combo can be used to boost the effectiveness of a dynamic warm-up or to improve workout efficiency — in other words, you get more work done faster, and spend less time in the gym.

The Contrast Training Workout

Do two rounds of the following routine. For the first strength move in each set, choose a maximum weight that allows you to perform five technically perfect reps. (If form gets sloppy, lower the weight.) Lift the weight explosively, and take a couple seconds to lower it. Then do three reps of the bodyweight exercise, with perfect form, as fast as possible.

Hip Hinge Couplet

Push Couplet

Pull Couplet