Strength & Conditioning pt. 5 French Contrast Training

16 Apr

Introduction

Following up on the past two articles that covered velocity based training and plyometrics, I would like to share with you, perhaps the best method of training that develops an athletes rate / speed of force production and athleticism.

French contrast training is a brilliant method that can be applied to almost every movement pattern in order to increase force out through the desired vector you wish to train.
Meaning it’s specificity can be very high, with that the transferability, especially within elite athletes.

Developed by Track & Field coach Gilles Cometti.
The concept of French Contrast training is based on a combination of complex and contrast methods. The idea is to use four exercises to induce physiological responses of the athlete and train along the force – velocity curve.

French Contrast Training (FCT) is more complex than potentiation clusters, though they can also have their place within a programme, however in my elite athletes and within my own training, I like the bulk of it to be FCT and to deload on potentiation clusters.

Potentiation Clusters (PC) are two exercises in the style of a superset, one that forces the body to producing large amounts of force, generally through the strength speed %’s on the force velocity curve, for 1-3 reps which supposedly has a potentiating effect, an effect that stimuates the neuromuscular system but doesn’t fatigue it, creating an effect of readiness to then 20-30secs later performing a high intensity, fast plyometric/ jumping activity and repeating this over with 3-4minutes in between.

However, what I had noticed in the 7-8 years of performing potentiation clusters, was that it became very difficult to overload this process effectively, meaning I was fairly athletic, getting stronger slowly but I never felt I was loading my body enough to provide a stimulus to adapt.
It was about 2-3 years ago I came across French Contrast Training (FCT) on Instagram and it made complete sense, a method of training with high intensities/ velocities and at varying %’s on the Force Velocity curve. 

I do however switch back to PC during the competition season as a method to stimulate but not fatigue.

Methods of French Contrast Training

Depending on the athlete or the element you wish to develop, you can be flexible with the exercise selection but I believe the order should remain strict.

Each set would have 4-5 mins recovery, ensuring the athlete is fresh and each exercise between 20-30 seconds.

Exercise 1.

Heavy lift 80-90% max for 1-4 reps

eg. Front Squat

Rest 20-30 secs

Exercise 2.

High Force/ Reactive Plyometric exercise 3-4 reps

eg. Depth Jumps for Height

Rest 20-30 secs

Exercise 3.

Speed- Strength oriented lift

eg. DB jumps for fast contact times and height w/ 20% of Bodyweight 3-4 reps

Rest 20-30 secs

Exercise 4.

Speed oriented plyometric jumps 4-8 jumps

eg. Band assisted plyometric jumps or repeated vertical jumps

Rest 4-5 mins and repeat 3-4 sets.

This method would focus on developing vertical force production.

Below is a video with a slightly different variation, focusing on the posterior chain.

 

Results of FCT in Elite Athletes

The most common question I hear amongst coaches in the sport science world is, how does *it* effect elite athletes?
Many studies, if not most, are tested on untrained subjects, which has many drawbacks and can’t easily be applied to well trained individuals.
Fortunately, along with all the anecdotal evidence from coaches on the web, Elbadry et al. 2019 studied the effect of the French Contrast Method on Explosive Strength and Kinematic Parameters of the Triple Jump Among Female College Athletes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6815088/

The following paragraphs is cut from their abstract.

‘The primary purpose of the study was to investigate the impact of the French Contrast Method on explosive strength and kinematic parameters of the triple jump among female college athletes. Ten female college athletes from the Helwan University’s track and field team participated in this study. Participants were assessed before and after an 8-week training program for upper and lower body explosive strength. No significant differences were observed in anthropometric characteristics’.

‘Explosive strength variables (Sargent jump test, countermovement jump, and seated medicine ball throw) increased significantly and kinematic parameters of the triple jump improved’.

The results indicated that eight weeks of the French Contrast training can improve both explosive strength and kinematic parameters of the triple jump.’

French Contrast Method for Beginners and Youth Athletes

Many of you may under the impression that this method may only be used for experienced athletes and elements of it should be, but the general approach of high intensity work at contrasted speeds need not be limited to the elite.
I’ve had success with young athletes applying the same principles.
The guys at Juggernaught Training Systems summarise it nicely if you have any doubts.

While the FCM is simply one method that is utilized by Cal Dietz (1), it is also a neuromuscular driver toward improvement in qualities for any given athlete. This holds water, especially if the athlete is at a young training age. While they may not provide the intensity seen in a maximal strength deadlift, motor units will be firing, and good movement is reinforced.

For starters, the FCM can be utilized by using a loaded movement pattern, plyometric, weighted plyometric, and an assisted plyometric.

How you go about loading these movement patterns is your discretion but the safest way to use heavy loads would be using a sled or prowler.

For great detailed breakdown of FCT with Juggernaught Training Systems follow the link.

Get Stronger and Faster with the French Contrast Method

Specificity in Sprinting 

As an increase in explosive strength and rate of force development can directly influence sprint speed and acceleration.
The physiological benefits are specific and movement patterns are pretty close to specific too. However if you have a sled and a variety of weights you can apply the same principles, with great results.
However with these, I would suggest doing them prior to the competition season and introduce clusters between competitions to reduce fatigue.
As the nature of accelerating requires the athlete to get faster on each step, the distance travelled with the sled, I suggest the distance of the sled to go from short to long as the weight goes from heavy to light.

For example.

  1. 80% of bodyweight on sled  for roughly 4-6 steps.
  2. Block start to 20m
  3. 20% of bodyweight on sled for roughly 20m
  4. Block start to 40m.

I suggest a walk back recovery and then 5-6 minutes before starting the next set and the number of sets is usually dictated by the athletes.

Summary 

There any many benefits to FCT and very little drawdowns if they’re performed correctly during the training programme.
One thing I would suggest is to monito fatigue or have the athlete understand that the exericse stops when the fatigue and performance drops.
I only suggest working up to heavier weights if the athlete feels fresh and has an easy week of training ahead.

For example, the first 2 sets, post warm up for exercise 1, using the front squat could be on 100kg for 4 reps, then for set 3 105kg and set 4 110kg.
As long as the athlete is working within the Max Strength % of the force velocity curve, they will continually develop their maximum strength.
They need not chase PB’s in training in order get stronger, very often this leads to burn out and if an athlete has lifted too heavy in their gym programme, I will be obvious during the next track session.

It’s also important to bare in mind that structurally athletes are built and develop differently, if they’re incredibly quad dominant and their top speed is their limting factor, they may benefit more from a posterior chain focused FCT programme.

If you have any questions regarding your training and athletic develop, I’m more than happy to offer advice.

Connell.