Training for any sport takes a lot of time. Not only do you need to find time to practice the skills of your chosen activity, but you also need to work on your strength and fitness.
Depending on your sport, this may mean aerobic and anaerobic cardio, strength, power and endurance training, agility, flexibility and balance work, and injury prevention prehab and rehabilitation.
Fitting all of these things into school or a full-time job is not easy, which is why every athlete needs to look for the most effective and efficient ways to achieve their training goals.
French contrast training is a very effective training method that is perfect for athletes from all sports. It combines two proven training methods for build strength, powerand muscle size at the same time.
In this article, we explain what French contrast training is, how it works, and provide you with a weekly training plan to follow.
What is French contrast training??
French Contrast Training, or FCT for short, is strength and power training built around two different but related exercise methods:
- Complex training: Strength training followed by strength training.
- Contrast training: Heavy exercise followed by light exercise.
It was invented by professional French athletic trainer Giles Cometti and is designed to produce muscular and neurological adaptations for improved athletic performance (1). If you want to run faster, hit harder or jump higher, FCT can help.
As an added benefit, FCT builds lean muscle and can even improve body composition by reducing body fat.
French contrast training includes four exercises done in a loose format. Although each movement is similar and involves roughly the same movement pattern, each exercise uses different load parameters and movement speeds.
This challenges and develops multiple components of fitness at the same time ie.
- A large compound strength movement, e.g. barbell back squat (80-90% 1RM).
- Plyometric or fast high power movements, e.g. squat jumps.
- Speed-power movement, e.g. power clean (30% 1RM).
- Unstressed plyometric or speed movement, e.g. sprint from 10 to 15 meters.
French contrast training can be used to train all parts of the body, but is usually most effective when applied to movement patterns rather than individual muscle groups. For example, you can use FCT to improve hip and/or knee extension for running and jumping or horizontal and vertical thrusts for improved upper body strength and power.
FCT packs a lot of high-quality work into a short amount of time, making it ideal for busy athletes who also need to attend regular team training sessions. Since the training sessions are short, they are relatively easy to recover from, so they should not negatively affect the training of sports skills.
While French contrast training was developed for athletes, it is also an excellent training system for recreational exercisers looking for a fun and effective way to shake up their workouts.
How does French contrast training work?
French contrast training affects your nervous system as much as your muscles. In fact, this effect on your nervous system is what makes it such a powerful training system. To understand how FCT works, you must first know something about the organization and function of the neuromuscular system…
Muscles consist of several bundles muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are then grouped into motor units. Each motor unit is controlled by one motor neuron or nerve. These motor units either work at 100% of their contractile capacity or they don’t work at all; this is known as the all or nothing law.
To change the amount of force produced, your body recruits or innervates more or fewer motor units to achieve its goal.
For example, if you need to lift a heavy weight, your body activates many motor units. But, in the case of low resistance, fewer motor units are engaged.
The maximum amount of force you can produce is limited by the number of motor units you can engage at once.
Untrained people can usually only employ a small number of motor units. Conversely, well-trained individuals can hire more. With training, your body learns to engage more motor units so you can produce more force.
While it is true that larger muscle fibers have the potential to generate more force, your nervous system is equally responsible for force production. This helps to explain why it is possible to be small and strong or large but weak. Strength and power are determined by neurological fitness as much as muscle size.
So how does FCT make you stronger? Good question!
FCT improves a neurological function called post-activation potentiation, or PAP for short. PAP teaches your body to recruit more motor units.
Basically, heavy exercises activate your muscles, and they respond by engaging more force in subsequent plyometric or speed exercises. This “wave” of heavy and light training is repeated during the second pair of movements, resulting in even greater force production.
If you’ve ever tried to lift what you thought was a heavy object only to find it was much lighter than expected, you’ve already experienced the PAP effect in action.
Because you thought you were going to have to lift a heavy object, you mistakenly engaged many more motor units than you needed for the task. As such, you picked up the item much faster than you probably intended.
FCT trains and teaches you how to recruit more muscle fibers on demand. The result is increased strength, power, athleticism and functional hypertrophy.
French contrast training
Now that you know how FCT works, you’re probably ready to try it yourself. You could put together your own FCT workout, but to save you time, we’ve written one for you.
Of course, before you start lifting weights, you need to spend a few minutes preparing your muscles and joints for what you’re about to do. Start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio followed by some dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for the body parts you’ll be training.
Finish your warm-up with a few ramped sets to acclimate your muscles to the weights you’ll be lifting and the exercises you’ll be performing. For example, for the bench press, do:
- 10 repetitions 20 kg (empty bar)
- 8 repetitions 40 kg
- 5 repetitions 60 kg
- 2 repetitions 80 kg
- 5 repetitions 100kg (1st working set)
While FCT forms the backbone of each session, we’ve also included some additional exercises to fill in any gaps not covered in the main exercises.
Exercise 1 – Dominant Knees (Squat Pattern)
Exercise 2 – vertical press (overhead press)
|Military print (80% 1RM)
|15-20 seconds between exercises, 3-5 minutes between rounds
|Vertical throw of the medicine ball
|Barbell biceps curl
Training 3 – Dominant hip
Exercise 4 – Horizontal push
French contrast training guidelines
Get the most out of your FCT workouts by following these guidelines:
1. This is NOT conditioning training!
Just because FCT looks like circuit training doesn’t mean you should rush from one exercise to the next. Instead, take your time, catch your breath, and make sure cardiovascular fatigue doesn’t interfere with your performance.
If in doubt, go a little slower to ensure you can give each exercise maximum effort. If you’re really out of breath, you’re not taking enough time between exercises or circuits, which will compromise the effectiveness of your workout.
2. Low repetitions, maximum effort
Despite only doing 3-5 reps per set, you should still put your all into each exercise. Do all your reps as powerfully as you can, trying to move the weight as fast as you can. Avoid grinding reps and stop the set if you notice the speed of movement starting to drop. Training slowly trains you to go slower!
3. Stop failure
While there is a time and place to train to failure, FCT is not it. Training to failure always means slowing down your rep rate, and you may even experience some form breakdown.
FCT works best when you focus on quality of movement rather than quantity. It’s always better to break your set with a few reps in the tank so you can put more into the next exercise.
4. Try the complexes first
If you’re new to this type of training, ease yourself into a few weeks of the complex. The complex is a strength exercise paired with a similar strength exercise and is significantly less demanding than a full French contrast workout. Complexes are still challenging and productive, but far more forgiving than FCT.
Examples of complexes include:
- Bench press + plyo push-ups
- Deadlift + Power Clean
- Pull-ups + kicks with a medicine ball
- Squats + squat jumps
5. Do not do FCT for too long without a break
Despite being based on short bursts of exercise, FCT is very intense and will take a toll on your muscular and nervous systems. So don’t do it for too long without a break, or your performance might start to decline.
French contrast training works best when done in blocks of 4 to 6 weeks. Follow our (or your own) FCT training for about a month, then enjoy a light load week. This will help you avoid overtraining and excessive injuries.
6. Gradually increase the load and volume
The FCT is much busier than it looks. As such, you should avoid doing too much too soon. Start with weights that are within your limits and do relatively few sets – 2-3 is enough. Then, as you get used to this type of exercise, you can gradually increase the load and training volume.
However, remember that the first few sets are the most productive, and subsequent sets have far less impact on your strength and power. In addition to being less efficient, these extra sets produce more fatigue and require more recovery time. As such, you may achieve better results if you do fewer sets.
French contrast method – rounding
French contrast training is an effective and time-efficient way to build strength and power. It combines heavy strength training with lighter explosive strength exercises to improve post-activation potentiation or PAP. This teaches you to engage more motor units for better power development. Combining complex and contrast training, FCT is a very practical training system.
On the other hand, FCT is very demanding, so it is not very suitable for beginners or anyone with poor recovery abilities. Even more advanced exercisers should keep their FCT training sessions short, with training blocks of around 4-6 weeks before starting to load.
However, French contrast training is ideal for athletes looking to build strength and power in the most time-efficient way possible. It is perfect for everyone who cannot commit to longer types of training.
1– PubMed: The effect of the French contrast method on explosive power and kinematic parameters of the triple jump among high school female athletes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6815088/