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Opposites Attract: The Benefits of Training Opposing Muscles Groups Together

 

There are countless ways to set up a training split. Some people train the full body together, others prefer to isolate individual muscles. It’s common to program a major muscle group with an accessory muscle such as back and biceps. But one style of training that is undoubtedly underutilized is working opposing muscle groups together through antagonist supersets. Antagonist supersets are workouts used to train opposing muscle groups back and forth. You alternate between an exercise like the bench press and its opposing movement, the barbell row. These can be done in immediate succession or you can take 1-2 minute rests if your main goal is to increase strength. If your gains have plateaued, training the agonist muscle with its antagonist has a host of benefits that could help take your physique to the next level.

Increased Strength

One of the biggest benefits of antagonist training is that strength on the second exercise goes up. Although there had been decades of empirical evidence of this in the powerlifting world and with elite trainers such as Charles Poliquin, it wasn’t until the the last 10-15 years that studies have confirmed this. Before going for a max bench press, competitors would often do a couple reps of heavy dumbbell rows. By performing a “primer” set targeting the antagonist muscle prior to the agonist movement, total motor unit synchronization is increased. This means you are able to recruit more muscle fibers to help, thus increasing strength.

 

Increased Work Capacity and Calories Burned

In addition to increases in strength studies have also shown that the rate of work increases without production suffering. The most dramatic increases in strength come from resting 1-2 minutes between the two exercises, but supersetting has shown the ability to increase workload while preventing any decrease in power. This means you can superset for cardio or fat loss while preserving and even increasing strength. This ends up saving you major time at the gym. Studies also show that antagonist supersetting gives you a significant increase in EPOC, which raises your metabolism and helps burn more calories even after the workout is over.

Decreased Risk Of Injury

Antagonist supersets decrease the risk of injury in a couple different ways. The first is through something called reciprocal inhibition. This occurs when a muscle is placed under tension and the antagonist relaxes. Basically, the body “relaxes” the opposing muscle so the target muscle can fully contract. So right after a muscle becomes tight from contracting, it is then stretched and relaxed through reciprocal inhibition on the next exercise. This prevents tightness and movement dysfunctions from occurring as you progress through your sets. It also ensures that muscles on both sides of the joint are being trained evenly, preventing any imbalances that could lead to injury. One more way antagonist supersets prevent injury is through increased blood flow. By working muscles back to back in agonist and antagonist sets, blood flow is dramatically increased to the area, which helps deliver nutrients and oxygen to the muscles while removing built-up waste products that can lead to a breakdown in form.

Program Setup

So now that we understand the benefits of training in this style, let’s look at a couple different programming options.These programs target strength and building muscle. If your main goal is fat loss, then go with variables in blue.  Make sure to alternate which exercise you start the superset with weekly. Add abs and calves 1-3x per week.

Beginner

As a beginner you should train the whole body frequently to get the best results. It will not take a lot of volume to stimulate change so you will be able to target the whole body 3x a week following this program.

 

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After 1st Exercise Rest After 2nd Exercise
Dumbbell Chest Press
Dumbbell Rows
3 (4)

3 (4)

10

10

90 sec (30 sec) 2 min (60 sec)
Squat
Deadlift
4
4
8
8
2 min (45 sec) 3 min (2 min)
Pull ups
Military Press
3
3
10
10
90 sec (30 sec) 2 min (60 sec)
Ez Bar Curl
Skull Crushers
3
3
12
12
60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (45 sec)
Leg Extension
Leg curl
3
3
12
12
60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (45 sec)

 

Intermediate

If you have at least 6 months of solid training under your belt, then give this intermediate program a shot. It can be run 3 days on followed by 1 off and then repeated. Another option is to run 6 days on and rest on day 7.

Push/Pull Day

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After 1st Exercise Rest After 2nd Exercise
Bench Press
Barbell Row
3
3
5
5
60 sec (30 sec) 2 min (90 sec)
Incline Dumbbell Press
Hammer High Row
3

3

8

10

60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)
Dumbbell Military Press
Wide Grip Pulldown
3

3

10

10

60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)
Chest Flye
Rear Delt Flye
3
3
15
15
45 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)
Dips
Close Grip Pull Down
3
3
12
12
60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)

 

Arm Day

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After 1st Exercise Rest After 2nd Exercise
Dumbbell curls
Skullcrushers
3 (4)
3 (4)
8
8
60 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)
Preacher Curl
Overhead Tricep Extension
3
3
10
10
45 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)
Cable Curl
Cable Tricep Extension
3
3
12
12
30 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)
Drag Curls
2 Hand Cable Tricep Kickbacks
3
3
15
15
30 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)

 

Leg Day

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After 1st Exercise Rest After 2nd Exercise
Squat
Romanian Deadlift
4
4
6
8
60 sec (30 sec) 2 min (60 sec)
Leg Press
Glute-Ham Hyperextension
4
4
10
10
45 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)
Leg Extension
Leg Curl
4
4
15
15
30 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)
Weighted Forward Lunge
Single Leg Machine Glute Kick Back
3 (4)

3 (4)

12

12

30 sec (0 rest) 60 sec (60 sec)


Advanced

This template is for the advanced trainee who has 3+ years of solid training experience. Once you achieve a certain level of conditioning it is harder to create enough stimulus to force further change. By changing from 2 exercise supersets to complex training we are able to increase muscular endurance which translates to more time under tension, and to further growth. You will also train your CNS system to withstand a beating which means better recovery and more time lifting before you start to lose form. When starting this program try a 2 on and 1 off approach. If recovery is adequate, you could increase it to 4 on and 1 off.

Vertical Pull/Press

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After Each Exercise Rest After Last Exercise
Weighted Chest Dips
Close Grip Pull Downs
Behind Head Military Press
Behind Head Pull Down
3

3

3

3

8 (10)

10 (12)

10 (12)

12 (15)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Machine Shoulder Press
Underhand Pulldown
Alternating 1 Arm Arnold Press
Alternating 1 Arm Cable Pull Down
3

3

3

3

12 (15)

12 (15)

12

15 (20)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Lateral Shoulder Flyes
Standing Cable Fyes to Sides
Cable Front Raise
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown
Reciprocal alternating shoulder presses
Low Trap Flyes
2 (3)

2 (3)

2 (3)

2 (3)

2 (3)

2 (3)

15

15

15

15

12 (15)

12 (15)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)

Legs

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After Each Exercise Rest After Last Exercise
Squat
Deadlift
4
4
5 (8)
5 (8)
60 sec (30 sec) 2 min (60 sec)
Hack squat
Romanian

Deadlift
Heavy Medicine Ball Slam
Kettlebell swings

3 (4)
3 (4)

3 (4)

3 (4)

12
10

15 (20)

15 (20)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Leg Extensions
Seated Leg Curl
Sissy Squats
Lying Leg Curl
Hip Adduction
Hip Abduction
3
3
3
3
3
3
15 (20)
12 (15)
12 (15)
15 (20)
15 (20)
15 (20)
30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)


Horizontal Pull/Press

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After Each Exercise Rest After Last Exercise
Incline Barbell Press
Underhand Barbell Row
Dumbbell Chest Press
T Bar Row
3

3

3

3

6 (8)

6 (8)

10 (12)

10 (12)

30 sec (20 sec) 90 sec (60 sec)
Cable Chest Press
Low Cable Row
Cable Chest flye
Cable Back Flye
3 (4)

3 (4)
3 (4)
3 (4)

12 (15)

10 (12)
15 (20)
15 (20)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Machine Chest Press
Machine Row
Machine Chest Flye
Machine Rear Delt Flye
3

3
3

3

12 (15)

12 (15)
15

15

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)


Arms

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest After Each Exercise Rest After Last Exercise
Chin ups
Close Grip Bench
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Dumbbell Tricep Skullcrushers
3
3

3

3

8 (10)
6 (10)

10 (12)

10 (12)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Cable Curl
Tricep Pushdown
Lying Cable curl to forehead
Overhead Cable Extension
3
3

3

3

12 (15)
12 (15)

15

15

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)
Cable Drag Curl
Cable Kickbacks
Concentration Curl
1 Hand French Press
2 (3)
2 (3)
2 (3)

2 (3)

15 (20)
15 (20)
12 (15)

12 (15)

30 sec (0 rest) 90 sec (60 sec)


Wrap-Up

One thing you will notice with this style of training is the intense pump achieved. Antagonist training will force blood into the area, resulting in some massive skin-splitting pumps. If you like the feeling of your muscles trying to burst out of their skin try a N.O booster like Sheer N.O. before this workout. And because this training is so intense, make sure to take steps to properly recover by getting adequate post-workout nutrition and sleep and by supplementing with Sheer Recovery. Now that you have an idea of the benefits and how to set it up, give antagonist training a shot and see if it is able to take your physique to the next level.

T-Nation: Arnold’s Agonist-Antagonist Training

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