Use Antagonist Supersets to Enhance the Overall Quality of Your Workouts

A “lack of time” is cited as the main reason so many people do not go to the gym at all. But even those who do go to the gym regularly use this excuse as well, to explain why certain things are “missed” in their workouts. I’ll tend to hear things such as: “I didn’t stretch today because I didn’t have time.” Or, “I didn’t have time for my post-workout cardio because I would’ve skipped too much of the strength portion of the workout.”

Essentially, due to workout organization inefficiency, important aspects of a well-rounded workout are skipped because of a perceived lack of time. By implementing Antagonist Supersets throughout your workout though, you can create a highly time efficient workout with a much greater metabolic output, thus allowing more time for exercises or activities that are usually skipped.

What is a “Superset”?

A superset is when two exercises are performed back to back with little to no rest in between. There are many styles of superset exercise combinations, however, the first one I’d like to focus on in this blog is antagonist supersets.

Antagonist Supersets

Training opposing muscle groups with little to no rest in between, is considered an antagonist superset. Some examples would be a Chest Press followed by a Row variation. Or, a Shoulder Press followed by a Lat Pulldown variation. Antagonist supersets are very common, but sometimes failed to be implemented. Regardless of your training frequency or goals they can be inserted into any workout.

Greater Workout Efficiency

There is absolutely no reason you can’t complete a phenomenal workout in 45 minutes to an hour. One of the best ways to create a more efficient workout is to look at how your exercises are being grouped together. While supersets can technically be done with any exercise grouping you’d like, opposing muscle groupings enhance your workout efficiency exponentially.

Antagonist supersets allows for the rest of one muscle group to occur while the other is being trained; meaning, your total rest time does not need to be nearly as long as it normally would. Therefore, you’ll be getting more work done in less time- leaving time for additional stretching, core work or cardio (3 areas that are most easily neglected due to not having time).

For example, if you’re supersetting an Incline DB Bench Press with an Incline DB Row, while you perform your chest press, your back muscles are resting and vice versa.  If you were doing just a straight set (no additional exercises) of Incline DB Bench Press, your rest time might be 60-90 s. By performing a superset with an Incline DB Row, almost half of that 60-90 s. rest time will be spent performing your row.

Improves Metabolic Output

The longer your body is working under stress, the more calories it’s burning due to the added intensity.  This phenomena is what’s known as time under tension and is one of the keys to muscle growth, but also to fat loss as well. Compared to doing straight sets, when you do 2 or more exercises in a row, you naturally increase your time under tension, which then accordingly enhances your metabolic output. Due to the added stress of performing a second exercise, your heart rate is going to remain higher for a longer period, also leading to more of a caloric burn.

No Strength Compromises

An additional advantage to pairing up opposite muscle groups is the ability to completely exhaust a muscle group directly. When agonist (assisting/similar) muscles are paired together, you wind up exhausting them indirectly. For example, if I paired a Chest Press with a Rope Tricep Pressdown, that is an example of an agonist superset- because the triceps assist in the bench press. The disadvantage of this combination is: because you’re indirectly already working your triceps during a chest press your set of pressdowns will be sub-par, further fatiguing your triceps. Subsequently, the additional fatigue the triceps endure doing a pressdown, will now negatively impact your next set of bench press.

While there’s nothing technically wrong with agonist supersets – they very much serve a purpose that will be touched on in a future blog- you just need to understand that it’s going to be significantly harder to progress your weight in either of those moves with assisting muscles paired together in a superset fashion.

Most importantly though you lose the advantage of workout efficiency. Because you’re training assisting muscles together, your rest time is going to have to remain relatively normal if you want any sort of quality out of the next set- therefore you lose the efficiency aspect that supersetting opposite muscle groups possess.

Sample Superset Combinations

  • Incline DB Chest Press/Incline DB Row : In this combination you’re working your Chest and Back which qualifies it as an antagonist superset. This is probably one of the easiest supersets in terms of set up as well. Usually you should row more weight than you press, so all you need is a second pair of dumbbells waiting underneath the bench, then with almost zero rest time, transition right into your rows. Depending on your training goal, your additional rest time shouldn’t be that much longer than grabbing a new set of dumbbells for your next set.
  • DB Push Press/ Half Kneeling Single Arm Lat Pulldown: In a push press your primarily working your shoulders while a pulldown is working the Latissimus Dorsi (the back). This is another relatively easy set up as well- regardless of what kind of Lat Pulldown variation you choose, all you need is your pair of dumbbells right next to the cable station and you can transition very easily from one exercise to the next.
  • Split Lunge/Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl: In this superset you’re working primarily quads in your Split Lunge then following it up by working your hamstrings during the Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl. Be sure on your hamstring curl to not overextend the lumbar spine (lower back) at the top position of the curl. This is an “easy set-up” superset as well because you can basically take your dumbbell and swiss ball and go anywhere in the gym.
  • Rope Hammer Curl/Rope Tricep Pressdown: Another extremely simple set up working your bi’s and tri’s and only needing one rope attachment at a cable station. On both exercises, always be sure to keep your elbows tight to your sides to effectively isolate your muscles.

Final Thoughts

When you’re creating your own antagonist supersets, keep in mind the ease of transitioning between each exercise. Each of my sample supersets I chose because you can basically do any of those pairings during the absolutely most packed gym. The hardest thing about supersetting anything, is doing so in an overly crowded gym at peak hours. That’s when you especially need to make sure you’re using the same bench, same kettlebell, same cable station for both exercises- otherwise your frustration levels will rise quickly, when people unknowingly move or use something you need for your superset.

Your entire workout also doesn’t need to be supersetted in order for it to be efficient. Many times, I’ll do straight sets for the big movements such as Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses, Weighted Pullups, etc…then as the workout progresses, drop into an antagonist superset fashion. Always keep in mind, there’s almost exclusively gray area in regards to “what’s the right way to do something,” so experiment with implementing supersets in a way that works for you!

Doing your workout with antagonist supersets sprinkled in will be a nice change of pace, especially if you’ve never done it before. Like anything, I usually suggest trying a change for minimally 4 weeks and see how your body responds. If you like the efficiency and how your body feels overall, then stick with it!

If and when your workouts get stale or feel slow again, that’s when you look for a different method to organize your workouts. Give an antagonist superset a shot this week in one of your workouts and see how much more quality work you can get done in a shorter amount of time!

And remember to hit important things like stretching, additional core work or a cardio piece with the extra time you have!

Yours in Fitness and Health,


Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

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