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Upper body, lower body, total body, single muscle groups — if you thought these were the only ways to structure your strength workouts, then you’re in for a treat: antagonistic supersets, which pair up opposing body parts, are a great way to invigorate a “same old, same old” training plan.
Train For Harmony
Some examples of antagonistic muscle pairs include the quads and hams, your abs and lower back, and your bis and tris, but this particular workout takes back moves and follows them with chest exercises, allowing you to reconcile lopsided strength in your upper torso. This method allows your lats, traps and rhomboids to rest during your pectoral exercises, and in turn gives your chest a time-out as you perform your rows. And to push your limits even further, this workout closes with a two-for-one finisher: the bent-arm barbell pullover, which trains both your lats and your pecs using one single-joint move.
Anthony Wall, MS, director of professional education at the American Council on Exercise, explains that placing the back first in this training series is important, as the majority of what we do in life involves front-dominant muscles. “Traditionally, the chest would always come first in a routine,” he explains. “There’s no logic behind it – that’s just how bodybuilders did it.” Women and men alike should focus on strengthening their back to improve poor posture — one of the many side effects of spending too much time in front of the computer screen.
Super Quick, Super Results
This routine’s fast pace will also have you in and out of the gym in no time flat. “With supersets, you can really get an effective workout in a short amount of time,” notes Wall. “In a traditional workout, you may not be able to do as many reps because you fatigue more quickly.” He also points out that the rest periods in regular workouts tend to be longer, adding to the overall time of your routine.
Science provides us with insight into more body boons. A much-sourced piece of research from the University of Colorado had female participants complete demanding supersets pairing opposing muscle groups, and while the volume of work they completed was fantastical (50 sets per session!), other studies with less strenuous sets have noted similar results: your metabolism will still be hitting a high note hours after you are through.
One final tip: don’t go too heavy on the first two exercises. Wall says that for the row, you would need to be seated to safely lift a large amount of weight. Keep it light and focus on stability and completing the movement with proper form.
Complete the workout in the order laid out. Exercises with the same number are to be completed as a superset (one set of each move done in succession, leaving only enough time to set up the next exercise, and working both sides where needed). Rest 60 seconds between supersets and 30 seconds between your pullover sets.
Cable Row with Static Squat
Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, gluteus maximus
Set Up: Attach a V-handle to a universal machine and set the pulley at waist height. Grab the handle, take a few steps back, and lower into a squat.
Action: Hold the squat position as you pull the handle towards your navel; at the end, your elbows should be tucked close to the sides of your body. Slowly extend your arms to return to the start, keeping your core tight and chest lifted to prevent the weight from pulling you forward.
Tip: This is a great move for applying the principles of progression and regression, says Wall. Beginners, omit the squat and stand (cable set to chest height); to make it harder, do a squat with each row, standing as you extend your arms.
One-Arm Cable Press with Static Lunge
Target Muscles: pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings
Set Up: At a cable station, secure a D-handle at waist height and hold it in your left hand. Turn around to face away from the weight stack. Take a big step forward with your right foot and bend both legs to lunge.
Action: Press the handle forward at shoulder height, until your elbow is straight but unlocked; slowly return your hand to the starting position. Complete all reps on your left side, then switch positions and repeat.
Tip: As with the row and squat, Wall suggests adjusting this move to suit your level: stand with the pulley set at shoulder height if you are new to exercise, or begin by standing with your legs staggered and drop into a lunge with each press, if you are more advanced.
One-Arm Seated High-Cable Row
Target Muscles: rear deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids
Set Up: Set a bench in front of a high-cable station with a D-handle attached. Grab the handle with an overhand grip and sit on the end of the bench facing the station, with your arm extended towards the anchor.
Action: Pull the handle towards you, allowing your elbow to flare out to the side. Hold for one count before returning to the start. Finish your set, then switch sides and repeat.
Tip: Maintain a tall and vertical torso: moving forward and back from the hips doesn’t isolate the target muscles quite as well.
Kneeling High-Cable Flye
Target Muscles: pectoralis major (upper aspect), anterior deltoids
Set Up: Attach D-handles to both sides of a cable crossover station, and set them to chest height. Hold a handle in each hand and kneel between the two sides; extend your arms up and out in a “V” shape.
Action: Keep your elbows slightly bent as you flex your arms at the shoulders to bring the handles in front of and slightly higher than your head. Open your arms slowly to return to the start, and repeat.
Tip: Don’t flex your elbows to complete this move — it’s a flye, not a press!
Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi
Set Up: Stand near the loaded end of a T-bar, bend your knees and hinge forward from the hips to grab the V-handle positioned under the bar. Extend your legs, leaving a slight bend in the knees.
Action: Pull the bar up towards your chest, keeping your arms tight to the sides of your body. Pause, then extend your arms to return to the start, and repeat.
Assisted Parallel Dip
Target Muscles: pectoralis major, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids
Set Up: Kneel on the pad of an assisted dip machine and hold the parallel bars to either side of your body. Bend your arms to bring them to 90-degree angles as shown.
Action: Lean forward slightly as you extend your arms, until they are straight but unlocked. Slowly bend your arms to return to the starting position. Repeat for the remainder of your set.
Tip: Have shoulder issues? Skip this move, says Wall, and opt for push-ups. And remember: the more weight you put onto the machine, the easier this move becomes.
Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover
Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, triceps brachii
Set Up: Lie on a bench and hold a light barbell with an overhand grip. Extend your arms and bend your elbows to bring your forearms parallel to the floor.
Action: Maintain the 90-degree bend in your elbows as you move the barbell behind your head, moving only from your shoulders. Stop when you’ve gone as far as you comfortably can, then return the barbell to the starting position.
Tip: Rotator cuffs or shoulder issues? Do cable straight-arm pulldowns instead.