Double-Team Training

Antagonistic workouts pair up opposing body parts.


Ali versus Frazier, Batman versus the Joker, Apple versus Samsung— fierce rivalries bring out the best in both combatants. And sometimes antagonists can join together to double their effectiveness. Think Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the Dream Team. Your physique is an amalgamation of antagonists, triceps on one side, biceps on the other. By training them in pairs, alternating exercises or sets, you can achieve a synergistic effect that brings out the best in two opposing forces.


Arnold no-last-name-necessary blasted chest and back together in the ’70s when he was annually expanding his Olympia trophy collection. He liked pumping up the two sides together, and, frequently, he superset them, combining bench presses with pullups and incline presses with T-bar rows. Chest and back is a rare pairing today. Many trainers divide their body into six workouts, so it’s a given they’ll hit chest and back on separate days. Today, the most common antagonistic combo is biceps and triceps. Charles Glass favors this, so his Jedi knights, including Dexter Jackson and Shawn Rhoden, will alternate a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise, going back and forth like that on arm day, keeping both muscles pumped and stretched. To boost intensity, they’ll superset biceps and triceps exercises, alternating after each set. If it works for Arnold, Jackson, and Rhoden, antagonistic is a workout split you need to try.

Antagonistic muscles oppose the actions of each other. When your quadriceps contract, your hamstrings relax and stretch, and when your hams contract, it’s your quads that are taking it easy and elongating. Quads/ hams and biceps/triceps are true antagonists, because they share single hinge joints. Due to the ball-and-socket joints of your shoulders, pecs and lats are not precise antagonists. However, it still makes sense to pair pushing motions for chest with rowing motions for back, since these are opposing actions. Likewise, flying motions can be teamed with rear laterals. Deltoids also have no true antagonists. However, you can combine overhead pushing movements, like dumbbell shoulder presses, with overhead pulling movements, like front pulldowns. Abs can be coupled with lower back. For calves, do at least some work for the tibialis at the front of your lower legs.


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