How’s this for a lower body routine: back squats with weights for about six to eight reps, followed immediately by six to eight jumping squats with light dumbbells, and then four 15-20m sprints where you walk back to the starting point. Repeat this for three to five circuits.
Similarly, here’s an upper body routine with the same principles of sets and reps: bench presses, followed by a set of explosive push-ups, another set of bench presses at 30 percent of your 1-rep max, and finally a set of depth drop push-ups (putting the shoulders one by one on raised platforms to either sides before dropping to the floor and completing a push-up, which is basically an easier version or an assisted explosive push-up).
These are two examples of what is known as the French Contrast strength and conditioning method, developed by French sports scientist Gilles Cometti. In simple terms, the method combines a weighted lifting set with a plyometric exercise. According to a Sports Illustrated article titled Intense Lifting Is Building Bishop Gorman Gootball Into National Power, it “combines complex (a high load lifting set and plyometric exercise) and contrast methods (a near-maximal load, followed by a lighter sub-maximal load performed as one set).”
Former Mumbai FC and Kerala Blasters footballer and now a fitness professional, Karan Sawhney, can vouch for the effectiveness of the routine. Sawhney runs a fitness studio named The Tribe India, says that he was doing parts of the routine through his career, but never knew what the origin of the methods were. He then got into a conversation with speed and strength coach Shea Pierre. Pierre, who has worked with athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, and has more than half a million followers on Instagram, inducted Sawhney into a 12-week French Contrast training programme.
While Sawhney says he was “destroyed” in the first few sessions, he also realised the efficacy of the programme.“I felt the mind-body connection was ten times higher than what I usually felt because even with fewer reps, the recruitment of muscle fibres was very high. It’s not just the combination of exercises, you also learn technique and the breathing pattern which makes the system so efficient. I could see results within three weeks. My core was stronger, I could jump higher, sprint faster, and lift better,” says the 30-year-old.
Pierre’s programme also triggered something Sawhney calls a “mindset shift”, which uses principles of the late Kobe Bryant’s ‘Mamba Mentality’, where people push themselves a little every day to get even better at what they do, all the while enjoying the process.“You will be working out three times a week for the first three weeks, then go through de-loading for a few weeks, before resuming full-scale workouts again for the next four weeks. Generally, we don’t give our bodies weeks to de-load—where you mostly work on activation and workouts with lighter weights. But this is so important because when I came back from the de-load weeks, I could lift heavier and felt stronger,” says Sawhney.
A research paper on the efficacy of the French Contrast Method and its effect on “explosive strength and kinematic parameters of the triple jump”, published by the US National Library of Medicine concluded that the method was effective for increasing muscle performance, muscle contraction, rate of force development (RFD) and better explosive movements.
An article on sprintingworkoute.com, titled Complex Contrast Training Methods—The Best Training Methods For Sprinters & Speed Power Athletes, lists a number of benefits that any fitness enthusiast will be thankful for, urging them to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “If you only did resistance training or plyometric training, your improvements would be weaker compared to if you utilised both methods in your training. Complex training likely has a better impact on coordination and movement skill compared to traditional resistance training, as you are required to perform exercises with different demands within a short period of time.”
Sawhney agrees, saying that while the loads may differ, long distance runners and sprinters can both use the method to their advantage. And what about the rest of us? “This method is not specific only to athletes. It’s advantages spill into preventive health care. As you grow older, complex-contrast training will help you maintain bone density and retain muscle mass. When you are seeing results and see energy improve it will help you in everything in life. And that is the ultimate goal of any fitness practice.”
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.