This is not Field Strong’s first rodeo with French Contrast. John and I tested Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training program on two separate occasions; First, to understand the volume and intensity first hand. The second, after seeing the results, with a mission of generating an at-home version that anyone can follow on their own. Cal’s program called for sets of 2-6 reps up to and beyond 105% your 1RM. Even with a skilled training partner present, this program was no cake walk. The heavy, hard, fast style of training was so far in Field Strong’s wheelhouse we needed a way to give our athlete’s a taste.
After much thought and deliberation with Dietz, John unleashed a single-athlete version of Cal’s Triphasic Training on Field Strong at the beginning of 2020. This was the first iteration of the French Contrast cycle.
Cal’s typical application of his training involves movements that NEED at least one spotter but John was able to select, load, and arrange movements accordingly to get the desired training response and keep the individual athlete safe at home or in a globo gym with the untrustworthy bro-spotters wearing weight lifting gloves curling in the squat racks and posing in the mirrors.
Now, John has unleashed French Contrast 2.0, a 10-week cycle, on the world. Or at least on the people of this world who are following our flagship program, Field Strong.
What is French Contrast
French Contrast 2.0 is underway now and continues to build off the lessons we learned through application for the garage/solo athlete while sticking with the French Contrast potentiation formula:
- Barbell Movement w/ Targeted Muscle Action
- High Force Plyometric
- Speed-Strength Movement
- High Force Plyometric
This is the four-exercise protocol Cal implements in his French Contrast method. He's seen a lot of success pushing the physiological response of an athlete following the training to resemble the response to the demands of sport. Specifically, calling upon the utilisation of alactic and anaerobic work capacity and aiming for an increase of both systems simultaneously (1).
The body has many involuntary self defense mechanisms, such as the stretch reflex built in to protect us from injury. These can be targeted to respond to external stimuli that crazy people like us voluntarily subject ourselves to in order to get stronger, faster and bigger. In Field Strong we lean heavily on these reflexes, especially the stretch reflex. One of the high force plyometric exercises we use is something we call Consecutive Broad Jumps. We want you to jump as far as you can then redirect that force upon landing to propel yourself even farther than your initial jump... and then even farther on the third time!
Understanding the mechanics of plyometric exercises and the stimulation of a rapid stretch, we can take advantage of this for a brief increase in reflexive muscle action potential. This reflexive response potentiates (increases) the activity, thus increasing the force the muscle produces.
Targeted Muscle Action
French Contrast 2.0 is a 10-week cycle that targets eccentric, isometric, and concentric muscle actions. Field Strongers will hit a two week block focusing on each muscle action with some GPP work strategically placed in the program.
The first targeted action is eccentric - the negative or lowering portion of the movement. Most are familiar with this term and its connection to muscle lengthening. During the eccentric phase of a movement, energy from the body loading is absorbed and stored in the tendons of the muscle structure that is then used during the stretch reflex to reverse the movement. Envision a barbell on your back, you begin lowering down until you hit your end range of motion, and when you hit it you notice a little bounce out of the bottom.
As Cal states in his book, Triphasic Training, every dynamic movement begins with an eccentric muscle action (1). Every movement in sport begins with this muscle action so we begin the cycle targeting this action and the structure that protects the athlete during this phase. Eccentric action also improves neuromuscular coordination and allows the athlete to absorb higher levels of force for the muscle actions we are targeting later in the cycle. (1).
An isometric muscle action is where force applied matches resistance, a muscle is contracting in order to maintain the position an external force is trying to take away. This action can occur for a prescribed length of time or the instant an athlete comes to a complete stop before being accelerated in a new direction. Triphasic Training refers to this phase as the energy transfer station of all muscular action, where eccentric energy that is absorbed is redirected into explosive, concentric action (1). Isometric muscle actions target two neuromuscular processes and the structural adaptations, which are coincidentally discussed in great detail in our Power Athlete Methodology - Level One course, linked below.
Cal refers to the isometric phase as the hardest of the three targeted blocks (1), and I agree. Counting to 8 seconds literally takes an eternity! But, knowing the value of this phase, you need to find creative ways to hit the programmed isometric hold times. You learn quickly spotters counting for you are liars and stopwatches take too long to get to :08. I recommend replacing the “one-thousand” in a self count with the term, “Explosivo”. As in, instead of “One-one-thousand... Two-one-thousand” you should say “One-Explosivo… Two-Explosivo…”. After all this is the targeted adaptation here.
After 8 weeks of targeted eccentric and isometric work with some GPP sprinkled in, you’ll finally get to the big sexy, concentric block. Focusing on acceleration during the barbell work here is paramount. It’s the best way to prepare athletes for some heavy, hard, fast training. Concentric action is necessary when developing a program for a Power Athlete. Relying solely on force production in developing a program is a common trap. You end up neglecting the structural adaptations resulting from eccentric and iso blocks on this program. The only way to appreciate the feeling of these adaptations, is to go through it.
French Contrast Programming
This cycle is not only a fun one to program, it is also a great experience for the garage gymer or solo athlete on our Field Strong team in TrainHeroic. Over a 10 week span we break this big, French Contrast 2.0 cycle and break it up into 2 week micro-cycles that each target a different muscle action with carefully selected movements, a balance of training volume with intensity, with plenty of opportunity for athletes to load up and go fast.
This take on distributing a program allows for variability in applied stress ensuring that the athlete is constantly challenged at a sufficient level to promote constant adaptation over a 10 week period. If you are new to Field Strong, you will get to experience a lot of new movements in the eccentric and isometric microcycles that may be new for you. Not to worry, as mentioned above, these movements target neurological and structural adaptations arranged to create a high learning environment.
This cycle will follow the principles of Triphasic Training and the sequencing of blocks found by Cal’s best practice of application. Cal arranges this training into specialized blocks of concentrated work that focuses on specific performance traits - strength, power, or speed.
The four principle of Triphasic Training you will experience throughout the French Contrast 2.0 cycle include (1):
- High Training Loads - simply put, overload an athlete disrupting homeostasis and causing adaptation.
- Focus on a Minimal Number of Training Targets - focus on a single performance adaptation (strength, power, speed) during a block.
- Consecutive Development of Training Targets - training days in a week are laid out to promote adaptation and development.
- Long Lasting, Delayed Training Effect - daily exercise order is imperative to allow training loads to spark desired adaptation within a block. Done well, a program can allow multiple adaptations to peak over the course of a cycle.
French Contrast Training Example
A smaller scale contrast method was applied during Field Strong’s Potentiation cycle. Training called for a combination of plyometric movements such as jumps, dynamic movements like Oly lifts, and a heavy Primal movement like a Back Squat. Still operating in grouping movements in three’s, most targeted training days on this French Contrast 2.0 cycle will have two groupings of three movements following the formula below:
- Barbell Movement w/ Targeted Muscle Action (i.e. eccentric, isometric, concentric)
- High Force Plyometric
- Speed Movement
- Speed-Strength Primal (Squat, Lunge, Step Up)
- High Force Plyometric
- Speed Movement
You will notice a slight variation in Power Athlete’s implementation of French Contrast than Triphasic Training’s presented above. Following the French Contrast approach of pairing heavy sets of both barbell and accessory Primals to improve the utilization of the stretch reflex and the rate of force development on the program with light weighted plyometrics and body weight speed movements.
This small adjustment to Cal’s program allowed us to successfully hand this off to an athlete to train solo on a Triphasic style without the aid of a spotter while reducing the risk of overtraining for athletes who don’t dedicate their 23 hours outside of the gym to recovery. Plus, each training day starts with targeted prep work, and closes with carefully planned accessory work or conditioning to follow French Contrast combos.
More About Field Strong
Field Strong is a performance based training program for field and court sport athletes, fighters and anyone who is looking to put pinnacle performance in front of anything else. John Welbourn, 10-Year NFL Veteran and Founder of Power Athlete, exposes members of Field Strong to the advanced training techniques that contributed to his career playing professional football.
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New to Field Strong?
Are you a new athlete on Field Strong? Welcome to Power Athlete’s flagship program for developing athleticism! Strap yourself in, each cycle is going to include doses of the advanced training techniques that contributed to John Welbourn’s career playing professional football.
First things first, follow as current in every cycle as possible. If you start the program midweek or mid-cycle, begin following the program on Monday’s workout of the current week. Mondays set up training for each week and are the pillars of each cycle on the program. Training current with the rest of the team is paramount. Typical active recovery days are scheduled for Wednesday and Saturdays, so use these days during the week to catch up on missed workouts from earlier in the week.
If you miss a day, adjust your training week to hit Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday’s posted workouts.
If you will ALWAYS miss a day, like a Tuesday, shift your training days accordingly to ensure you are not missing Tuesday's training. i.e. move Monday’s training up to Sunday and Tuesday’s training to Monday. Or, push Tuesday’s training to Wednesday in place of the active recovery work, then continue as scheduled Thursday. These are just examples. Many of your teammates on Field Strong follow the program one week behind to adjust their schedule to complete the training listed on Mondays and Tuesdays on the days they have the most time to execute the full workout.
A typical training day will take 70 minutes, with some days pushing 90 minutes. NEVER skip your assigned warm up and prep work. Follow the training day as written in-order and cut the accessory, conditioning, or extra credit if time runs out. Most accessory work can be added to another training day in the week when you do finish the training early.
If you need to sub a movement because of issues with equipment availability, space, injury/dysfunction, or skill level, then tap on the movement in your app at select Swap Exercise from the menu.
Need help on selecting the right movement? Maybe you still have questions? Feel free to hit up your teammates for suggestions on any of this in the training feed in the TrainHeroic app.
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Ep. 274 w/ Cal Dietz - Strong Feet, Strong Butt
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Ep. 232 w/ Cal Dietz - Triphasic Training for the Athlete
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio Ep. 352 w/ Dr. Keith Barr - The Future of Muscle Tissue
BLOG: Field Strong Equipment Starter Kit by Carl Case
BLOG: Amortization Phase by John Welbourn
BLOG: Primals and Planes of Motion by Tex McQuilkin
- Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic training: a systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance. Hudson, WI: Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise.
MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
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