Antagonist Supersets: More growth in less time

A man performing a set of chest press on a seated hammer strength machine.

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If you’re looking to make progress in your workouts but don’t have a lot of time to spare, you might want to consider incorporating antagonist supersets into your routine. This training technique has many benefits and can help you achieve more in less time, making it an excellent option for busy people.

What is an Antagonist Superset?

First things first, what exactly is an antagonist superset?

An antagonistic superset is a special type of set that involves pairing two exercises that target opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps or chest and back. The idea is to perform one exercise for one muscle group, then immediately perform another exercise for the opposing muscle group, without taking a break in between.

For example, you might perform a set of bicep curls, followed immediately by a set of tricep extensions (the antagonistic muscle in this scenario). This allows you to work both muscle groups without needing to rest in between sets, which can save you a lot of time.

Don’t confuse this type of superset with agonistic supersets, during which the lifter performs two exercises back to back with the same muscle group. These are used for a completely different purpose and lack the time-saving quality of this more traditional version.

Generally, you will complete a short rest period (say, 45-60 seconds) between supersets. This allows for recovery of the first muscle while the second one is being worked.

Examples of Antagonistic Supersets

There are many different combinations of exercises that you can use for antagonist supersets, depending on which muscle groups you want to target. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Chest/Back: Perform a set of bench press or floor press, followed immediately by a set of bent-over rows. This combination targets the pushing and pulling muscles of the upper body.
  • Bicep/Tricep: Perform a set of bicep curls, followed immediately by a set of tricep extensions. This combination targets the opposing muscle groups of the arms.
  • Hamstring/Quads: Perform a set of hamstring leg curls, followed immediately by a set of squats. This combination targets the front and back of the thighs.
  • Delts: Perform a set of shoulder presses, followed immediately by a set of lateral raises. This combination targets the front and side delts.

Remember, the key to an antagonist superset is to perform two exercises that target opposing muscle groups without resting in between. Be sure to choose weights that are appropriate for your fitness level and perform each exercise with a full range of motion to maximize the benefits of this training technique.

Who Should Consider Using Antagonist Supersets?

A man holding a dumbbell.

Antagonistic supersets are particularly great for:

  • Beginners: New lifters who aren’t using super heavy weights usually simply need to learn the techniques and get a lot of reps in. They are usually capable of higher frequency since they aren’t yet able to produce as much force. Antagonistic supersets are perfect for this application.
  • Busy lifters: As mentioned, anyone looking to get a more efficient workout in less time, or anyone looking to complete more work in the same amount of time will immediately notice the benefits of antagonistic supersets.
  • Conditioning goals: One of the side benefits of superset training is that it tends to lead to an elevated heart rate for most of the workout. Those looking to improve their strength and conditioning simultaneously will also get a little boost from utilizing supersets.
  • Intermediate or advanced lifters: If you’ve been lifting for a while, you can benefit from this technique as well. If you’re more advanced, try structuring your workout by starting with a main lift (or two) done in a traditional fashion with traditional rest periods (2-3 minutes between sets).

Then superset your accessory or supplementary lifts that support progress on your main lifts. Structuring your workouts this way leads to a much quicker session overall.

Antagonistic Superset Benefits

Time efficient workouts

Whether you’re trying to do more work in a set amount of time, or trying to shave time off of your workouts, one of the main benefits of this type of superset is that it’s extremely time efficient.

One of the biggest benefits of using antagonist supersets is that they can help you get a super-efficient workout. Imagine for a moment that you’re planning to target two exercises each for the chest, back, biceps, and triceps in a single workout. That’s eight exercises, and it will take you a lot of time (you may even run out of time or need to split the workout into two).

However, if you structure the workout into four antagonistic supersets, you’ll effectively be completing eight exercises in the amount of time it would have normally taken you to do four, cutting your workout time by half:

  1. Bench press / Barbell row
  2. Weighted dips / Weighted pull-ups
  3. Ez bar curls / Skull crushers
  4. Cable push-downs / Cable curls

Since you’re utilizing very short rest intervals, you can complete more work in less time.

Maintain balance

Another benefit is that antagonist supersets can help improve your overall muscular balance. By targeting opposing muscle groups, you can ensure that you’re not overdeveloping one area while neglecting another.

While the theory that muscular imbalances lead to injury is largely flawed, this can have an effect on the aesthetics of various body parts, as well as their efficiency in lifting heavier loads in compound lifts.

Novel stimulus

Finally, using antagonist supersets can help you challenge your body in new ways. In the lifting world, this is often referred to as a “novel stimulus”, and it can lead to a great deal of new muscle soreness. What’s better – it can stimulate new growth in a muscle that’s not adapted to the novel stimulus.

By pushing yourself to perform two exercises back to back without resting, you can create a new level of intensity in your workouts that can help you break through plateaus and make progress toward your goals.

Give it a try!

Antagonist supersets are an excellent training technique that can help you get a more efficient workout and make progress toward your fitness goals. By targeting opposing muscle groups and eliminating the need for rest between sets, you can save time in your strength training program and stimulate new muscle growth. Just be sure to consult with a fitness professional before starting any new workout program, especially if you’re a beginner.