The French Contrast Method For Strength Training, Explained

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Among the ever-growing list of strength training programs and approaches, the French Contrast Method (FCT) is starting to gain more widespread popularity as an advanced, complex strength training method.

But, what is the French Contrast Method? What does French contrast training entail? What are the benefits of the French contrast training protocol? Who should try the French contrast training approach?

In this guide, we will discuss what the French Contrast Method involves, how to do the French Contrast Method of strength training, its benefits, and the principles for how this training approach works.

 We will look at: 

  • What Is the French Contrast Method For Strength Training?
  • What Is Post-Activation Potentiation of Muscles?
  • How Does the French Contrast Method of Strength Training Work?
  • How Do You Do the French Contrast Method for Power and Strength?

Let’s get started!

People doing deadlifts.

What Is the French Contrast Method For Strength Training?

The French Contrast Method (FCT) is one of the many specific approaches to strength training that is designed to help produce explosive power so that you can lift heavier weights, increase strength faster, and see bigger muscle gains in the gym in a shorter period of time.

In theory, this likely doesn’t sound much different than many of the other resistance training approaches touted to be “the best strength training programs for hypertrophy,” “the best strength training programs for power,” or even the “best strength training plan for gains.“

However, where the French Contrast Method, or FCT strength training, distinguishes itself from most of the other conventional approaches to resistance training is that FCT workouts capitalize on a concept known as post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Shortly, we will explain what post-activation potentiation for strength training entails and why the French Contrast Method PAP emphasis is important.

However, the takeaway is that it is this post-activation potentiation of your muscles that really sets apart FCT strength training as a keystone of the French Contrast Method technique.

A person with a barbell on their back.

This is not to say that any weightlifting workout in the gym or the “best resistance training programs” that are popular other than the French Contrast Method style of strength training don’t make use of muscle post-activation potentiation.

PAP is a natural, inherent physiological principle related to how muscles function. However, the FCT strength training technique focuses on maximizing the PAP stimulus to the muscles for strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy.

The FCT workout method is credited to a French track & field coach known as Gilles Cometti but then became popularized in the United States and more internationally by Cal Dietz, the Head Olympic Strength & Conditioning Coach for numerous sports at the University of Minnesota.

What Is Post-Activation Potentiation of Muscles?

So, what is this post-activation potentiation of muscles, or this PAP concept of the French Contrast Method of strength training all about?

Basically, the post-activation potentiation (PAP) of a muscle is defined as the phenomenon by which “the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions.”

A deadlift.

So, what does that mean exactly?

Essentially, post-activation potentiation of a muscle means that if you require a muscle to contract under heavy loads immediately prior to trying to recruit the fibers to perform an explosive movement, the resultant explosive power and force that you get in that subsequent target contraction is greater than it would’ve been had you not initially exposed the muscle to the load just beforehand.

So, you can think of PAP of a muscle as a tiny warm-up or a pre-investment of energy for a bigger outcome.

Post-activation potentiation is kind of like storing extra potential energy into your muscles for a brief few seconds so that you can then quickly capitalize on that “energy“ that you have banked for a more explosive output.

Now, you won’t be actually storing energy in your muscles with post-activation potentiation in the way that a battery stores energy, but the initial exposure of the muscle fibers to a load helps “turn on“ these muscle fibers or “wake them up.“

Then, when you try to perform another explosive, powerful, or forceful contraction shortly thereafter, you have more of the muscle fibers in that muscle ready to contract and produce force together at once.

This then means that you can have a more forceful, explosive, and rapid muscle contraction because a greater percentage of the muscle fibers in that muscle are going to all contract together with a nice strong, coordinated, rapid, at-the-ready powerful muscle contraction. 

The other key thing to note here is that there are various “rules“ in the way that muscle fibers are recruited and used based on how our bodies work physiologically to conserve energy.

Biceps curl.

According to a principle in anatomy and physiology called Henneman’s size principle, muscle fibers are activated or recruited to contract from smaller to larger as more force is necessary because the large, powerful, fast=twitch type II muscle fibers that are able to generate a lot of force consume a lot of energy.

Because the human body wants to conserve energy for survival, smaller, low-energy-requiring muscle fibers, such as type I endurance muscle fibers, are recruited first when you start lifting a weight or performing some type of movement.

Then, if it is clear that the load that you are lifting or the speeds that you are trying to generate (explosive power) is sustained or too significant for the smaller muscle fibers that are initially called into play, additional motor units with larger, stronger and fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers are recruited.

You won’t get that powerful, super-explosive, and strong muscle contraction right off the bat when you first pick up the weight for your strength set if you have not done any post-activation potentiation of the muscle.

This is because your body will begin at the bottom of the totem pole with the type I, slow-twitch, aerobic muscle fibers. 

Therefore, the end result of PAP strength training workouts like the FCT approach to strength training is that you get more powerful and explosive muscle contractions by pre-activating the type II muscle fibers.

Box jump.

How Does the French Contrast Method of Strength Training Work?

There are two different approaches to harnessing the power of muscle post-activation potentiation: complex and contrast training.

With complex training, you perform your strength and power exercises within the same workout set. 

You might perform several heavy reps in your typical strength range and then some sort of explosive movements so that you have the power for power training.

A prime example of PAP using complex training is with plyometrics.

Complex PAP strength training might do a couple of heavy back squats and then some explosive box jumps right afterward.

The French Contrast strength training approach uses “contrast” to harness muscle PAP.

So, with the FCT protocol, strength and power exercises are each separated into separate exercises that are bundled together into one larger complex FCT workout set.

Basically, you end up doing one large set with the French Contrast training protocol with about 20 seconds between exercises and then rest 2 to 5 minutes between sets.

A dealdlift.

How Do You Do the French Contrast Method for Power and Strength?

There are four components of each French Contrast Method protocol workout set that together have been shown to target and improve the entire strength-speed continuum.

Each French Contrast training workout set involves the following in this exact order with as little time in between each FCT exercise component in this French contrast workout set as possible:

  1. Heavy compound exercise: This is your big strength exercise, like the squat or a deadlift, that is designed to recruit as many muscle fibers (and fast-twitch muscle fibers, in particular) as possible. Generally, perform just 2 to 3 reps with about 80-90% of your 1RM.
  2. Force-oriented plyometric exercise: Rather than trying to focus on speed, this plyometric exercise should focus on trying to generate as much force as possible so the ground contact time or the “stretch/reflex” is extended before the jump. Perform 3 to 5 reps with no more than 60% of your 1RM.
  3. Speed-strength movement: Speed-strength plyometrics aim to produce top force and speed in a balanced way.
  4. Speed-oriented plyometric movement: The best FCT workouts include a speed plyometric movement that may be assisted with bands. This assistance helps because this FCT exercise is all about maximizing your acceleration and speed to drive nervous system adaptations. Perform 4 to 6 reps, focusing on minimizing ground contact time as much as possible.
A box jump.

Your French Contrast workouts should use all four of the FCT workout set components per movement pattern in your workout (squatting, pushing, pulling, hinging, etc.) in this order.

For example, you might do:

  • 3 barbell back squats at 80% of your 1RM
  • Rest 20 seconds
  • 3 weighted vest broad jumps
  • Rest 20 seconds
  • 20m sprint weighted sled push
  • Rest 20 seconds
  • 5 assisted jump squats in the power rack with resistance bands under the axilla to help you just super fast and minimize ground contact time

Do no more than 2 to 4 sets for any given complex (start with just one!), and only do one lower-body and one upper-body FCT complex workout set per workout unless you are very advanced in this training method.

For some great plyometric exercises to boost your power, click here.

A box jump.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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