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Antagonistic Supersets

7306-smart1Q: What do you think about supersetting opposing muscles? I read that Arnold liked supersetting chest and back, but is the rest too short or too long?

A: Four minutes of rest between sets of the same exercise is generally best for strength, but if you alternate two exercises for opposing muscle groups, you can get by with less  time between sets, provided that you still take four minutes between sets of the same movement. Applying that idea to seated dumbbell presses and weighted chinups, your workout could be designed as follows:


A1) Seated dumbbell presses, 4/0/X/0 tempo, 6 x 4

Rest 120 seconds

A2) Weighted chinups, 4/0/X/0 tempo, 6 x 4

Rest 120 seconds


Breaking down that superset even further, the workout would proceed as follows: set 1 of seated dumbbell presses, rest 120 seconds; set 1 of chinups, rest 120 seconds; set 2 of seated dumbbell presses, rest 120 seconds; set 2 of chinups, rest 120 seconds; and so on for six sets.

Repeat the pattern until you complete all six sets of four reps. Although the rest time between sets is 120 seconds, or two minutes, you actually have more than four minutes of rest before recruiting the same muscle groups again.

If you have the antagonistic muscle groups contracting alternately (flexion followed by extension), as opposed to agonist contractions alone (precontraction of antagonists), you can often enhance full motor-unit activation in a muscle contraction.

Over the past 30 years I’ve found that alternating movements between two antagonistic muscle groups is the best way to train for strength. It makes for shorter rests intervals, a greater total volume of work per training session and a greater recruitment of motor units. I’ve also found that athletes who reach the highest levels of maximum strength strive to reduce their rest intervals and repeat sets of maximum loads—but don’t just take my word for it.

The September 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research included a study that investigated the effects of two types of heavy weight-training protocols, one involving circuit training and another using traditional strength training. The eight-week study involved 33 participants, approximately 22 years of age, who had been performing resistance training for at least 12 months before the experiment.

The researchers noted that both training methods were equally effective in improving maximum strength, peak power and muscle; however, only the circuit-strength-training group experienced significant decreases in bodyfat. Further, the circuit-training subjects completed their workouts faster: 105 minutes of total training time compared to 55 minutes for three sets and 125 to 78 minutes for six sets. In other words, circuit training enabled the subjects to achieve nearly identical results in approximately half the training time.

One of the most dramatic examples of how rest intervals influence a training effect is the German Body Composition program. The shorter rest intervals increase the production of growth hormone, leading to the conclusion that this type of protocol will help reduce bodyfat. Here are sample exercise combinations for each workout day. For each exercise you perform three to four sets of 10 to 20 reps, depending on the exercise. The full routine, along with sets, reps and tempo for each exercise and rest times, can be found in my book Poliquin Principles.


Days 1 and 3

A1) Dumbbell lunges

A2) Lat pulldowns to sternum

A3) Lying leg curls, feet neutral

A4) Decline dumbbell triceps extensions

B1) Hamstring leg presses

B2) One-arm cable rows


Days 2 and 4

A1) Dumbbell squats

A2) Pronated-grip lat pulldowns

A3) Dumbbell semi-stiff-legged deadlifts

A4) Seated EZ-curl-bar French presses

B1) Dumbbell side stepups

B2) Seated rope rows to neck


In German Body Comp training you increase the number of sets each week and shorten the rest intervals, thereby increasing the difficulty of the workout.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most successful strength coaches, having coached Olympic medalists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit Also, see his ad in this issue.   IM


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