Contrast Set Training: The Hidden Key to Muscle Growth, According to Science

Learning the ins and outs of contrast sets can be just the trick you need to get past a nagging plateau.

What many people don’t realize about hypertrophy is that it’s basically isolated conditioning supplemented by higher caloric intake to make muscles grow. In most movements in the gym, muscles often benefit from increasing work capacity and overall cumulative volume to ultimately fully fatigue a muscle by the end of a 60-minute session. And truth be told, under that umbrella, there are many ways to skin a cat.

Contrast sets are one less popular method that’s worth its weight in gold. They’re a fantastic way to make muscle fibers not only fatigued but also accomplish more than they would during a traditional set of work. Learning the ins and outs of contrast sets can be just the trick you need to get past a nagging plateau.

Contrast Training: The Science

In simplest terms, contrast sets create one loaded movement (usually compound in nature) and parallel it by following it up with a simulation of the same movement pattern, unloaded. This second effort will “trick” the fast-twitch muscle fibers and their high-threshold motor units into over-firing, since they are needed to recruit more wholly to move the heavy load that just preceded it. It’s a way to get much more out of every set.

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