Also known as agonist/antagonist training, this type of routine was a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger (and many of the other 70s bodybuilders), who always believed that training opposing muscle groups made sense. And you certainly can’t argue with the results it gave him.
So what does an opposing muscle groups routine involve, and what makes it such an effective way to train? In this article, I’ll answer those questions, and I’ll also give you an example of a workout routine that you can use to get started with straight away.
What Is the Opposing Muscle Groups Routine?
As its name suggests, an opposing muscle groups routine is one where antagonistic muscle groups are trained together in the same workout.
So that means chest and back are trained together, quads and hamstrings are trained together, and biceps and triceps are also trained together.
Calves and abdominals are usually trained with quads and hamstrings (i.e. a lower body day), and shoulders are normally trained with biceps and triceps.
So that makes for a great three way split routine, where chest and back are trained in one workout, legs and abs in another, and shoulders and arms are trained in a third workout.
The three workouts are then alternated over however many weekly training sessions you choose to do.
So if you can only get to the gym three days per week, you would simply do each workout once per week on its own set day, e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is not the best way to do it, however, as each body part will only be trained once per week, and as I’ve said before this is not optimal for muscle growth.
So a better way would be to train four days per week, and alternate the workouts over your four training sessions. So you might do Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, or Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. It doesn’t matter, as long as you never train more than two days in a row.
Or alternatively, you could use the rotating five-day cycle, where each workout is done over a five day period, i.e. 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off. This is probably the best way to do it, as it means that each body part is being trained once every five days, which is about ideal for the more experienced trainee. It also ensures you never have to train chest and back the day after shoulders and arms – or vice versa.
Why Use an Opposing Muscle Groups Routine?
By training opposing muscle groups in the same workout, you get better intra-workout recovery than you would get if you were training related muscle groups, like in the push/pull/legs split.
This means you’ll be able to put maximum effort into each body part – something which may not always be possible when training related muscle groups.
For instance, if you are training shoulders after chest, your shoulders will already be pre-fatigued to some extent by your chest work. This does not happen in a routine that focuses on opposing muscle groups.
Another advantage of using an opposing muscle groups split is that it ensures you’re doing roughly equal work for both sides of your body, so that you build and/or maintain muscular balance. Muscular imbalances are common amongst gym goers who do too much pressing and not enough pulling, or perhaps too much quad work and not enough hamstring work.
There is one small disadvantage, though, and that is that there is more of an overlap between workouts. But this should not be a problem if it’s set up properly, as it’s only an indirect overlap. And, as I’ve said before, some of the smaller body parts (particularly biceps) respond well to more frequent training anyway.
An Example Workout Routine
Here’s a great example of an opposing muscle groups split that’s well structured, properly balanced, and sure to give you exceptional results:
Workout 1 – Chest & Back
- Bench Press 3 x 6–8
- Bent-over Row 3 x 6–8
- Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 8–10
- Pull Ups 3 x 8–10
- Machine Flyes 2 x 10–12
- Cable Row 2 x 10–12
Workout 2 – Legs & Abs
- Squats 3 x 6–8
- Romanian Deadlifts 2 x 8–10
- Leg Press 2 x 10–12
- Leg Curl 2 x 10–12
- Calf Raise 3 x 8–10
- Cable Crunch 2 x 12–15
Workout 3 – Shoulders & Arms
- Overhead Press 3 x 6–8
- Lateral Raise 2 x 10–12
- Barbell Curl 3 x 8–10
- Lying Triceps Extension 3 x 8–10
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2 x 10–12
- Triceps Pressdowns 2 x 10–12
The sets listed are your work sets. Always make sure you warm up properly before these in order to prepare your body for the heavier work, and to help prevent injury.
Another useful aspect of opposing muscle group workouts is that they lend themselves perfectly to doing alternating sets.
Alternating sets, where you alternate back and forth between sets of one exercise and sets of another, are a very time-efficient method of training, and they also help you maintain strength between sets more effectively than you would if you were doing straight sets of a single exercise.
So, for example, you could do a set of bench presses, rest two minutes, and then do a set of rows. Again, rest two minutes, and then do another set of bench presses – and so on.
You’ll notice that, in the above workouts, all the exercises can be paired up in this way, except squats and Romanian deadlifts, which should be done as straight sets.
Who Should Use the Opposing Muscle Groups Method?
The opposing muscle groups routine is an excellent training method for both intermediate and advanced trainees. But it’s not really a beginners program, and if you are just starting out, you’d do better with a full-body workout routine, performed three times per week.
Then, when you’ve been training for a while, and have made some good gains, you’ll probably find you’ll make better continued progress if you switch over to doing upper/lower splits.
But at any time past the beginner stage, you may find that the opposing muscle groups split suits you better. Or you may wish to alternate upper/lower splits with the opposing muscle groups split, in order to experience all the benefits that each method has to offer.
Either way, the opposing muscle groups workout routine is an extremely effective method of training that should give you exceptional results, provided you combine it with the right diet, some proven supplements (not essential but certainly useful), and sufficient rest and sleep. Best of luck.