Maximize Your Training Time with Antagonist Partnerships - Coach Mark Carroll

Antagonist Partnerships

Jul 19, 2022
Mark Carroll

One of the most time efficient ways to train is through the use of supersets. Most people struggle to have enough time in the gym – I think we can all relate to that feeling! It is hard to get the amount of work you want in the 45-60 minutes you have for a session. 

This is what I believe is a massive factor of how people are utilising their rest periods optimally, because they’re in a rush all the time! To many, resting seems like a “waste of time”. Unfortunately for people with this mindset around it, resting allows for recovery which drives performance in the gym, which then triggers adaptations, which finally leads to progress! 

Rest is a good thing! 

But then comes the all-time question: how do we make the most of our rest periods whilst also still lifting heavy and getting as much work done in the time we have?

I introduce you to my long time programming friend – antagonist supersets, or best to make it even more simpler to understand – antagonist partnerships

When people think of “supersets”, they tend to think of two exercises back-to-back with no rest between them. Even more likely, when thinking about supersets, people generally think of two exercises that both use the same muscle group. Yes, this is also a type of superset (agonist superset), but not the type we are talking about here. 

Generally, when we are referring to supersets, we will have a minimal rest period between the first and second exercise, and then a longer rest period after both exercises are performed. I program these in some of my programs but they will also mean the second exercise of the superset is done in a fatigued state. Obviously, this can be a good thing but also sometimes very counterproductive. An example is this for an A) series would look like this:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 reps – rest 10 seconds 

A2) Leg Extensions: 3 x 10 reps – rest 180 seconds 

As you can see, you perform the squat first and then you have 10 seconds to move to the leg extension and perform the leg extension in a fatigued state. A quad + quad superset making this an agonist superset.

But, what if we want more recovery for that muscle group and also get more work done? 

Let’s say you are training your quads and hamstrings in the workout. You have 4 exercises to do and you know rest periods of 2 minutes are ideal. Your workout may look like this:

  1. High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 
  2. Lying Leg Curls: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 
  3. Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds
  4. 45* Back Extension: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 

How long would this workout take to perform 12 working sets (not including warm ups)?

We will say the time it takes to perform one exercise is 30 seconds, and because split squats use both legs, we will call one split squat set 60 seconds. Let’s add up the time you would need for the 12 sets:

  1. Series = 7.5 minutes 
  2. Series = 7.5 minutes 
  3. Series = 9 minutes 
  4. Series = 7.5 minutes 

All up, this means that your work and rest time to perform your 12 sets with an ideal 2 minutes rest between working sets was 31 minutes and 30 seconds. 

Now, how can we make this more time efficient? 

This is where the use of antagonist partnerships can be very useful. Instead of exercises performed by themselves, we partner opposing muscle groups together. 

Antagonist means opposing whereas agonist means the same side.

Lets partner our quads and hamstrings movements together:

  • Squats + Leg Curl 
  • Split Squats + Back Extensions 

This is a great strategy here for these exercises because when you squat, your hamstrings are not lengthening or shortening. Therefore, they’re not being trained in a meaningful manner for hypertrophy. Then when you leg curl, your quads are not being trained. Likewise, in the split squats and back extensions, the split squat being a quad dominant movement will not be trained in a back extension, whilst the back extension muscles will not be playing a huge fatiguing role in the performance of your split squat. 

So, how does this all work? Let’s write it out:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B1) Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B2) 45* Back Extensions: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

In simple terms, you can see it’s now A1) and A2) which means this is a superset/partnership of two movements. Likewise the B1) and B2) series is another superset/partnership as well. 

You will squat, then you rest the allotted time of 90 seconds. From here, you then perform the leg curl working set. Then, rest for another 90 seconds. This equals 1 set of each! Now, after your 90 seconds rest from the leg curl, you do your second set of squats. Once more, you rest 90 seconds, then perform another set of leg curls. As you can see, this is a partnership and utilising opposing muscle group exercise in your rest period. 

Before we get into the duration of this method, you may think “well, sure… of course your session is more time efficient if you are only resting 90 seconds now and not 120 seconds between sets.”. But, there is a difference: before you were resting 120 seconds between sets of a squat and 120 seconds rest between a set of leg curls. Now, your rest is actually far longer between sets of the same exercise. 

Let’s have a deeper look:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

After you finish your squat set, you’re resting for 90 seconds and then perform a leg curl set which does not involve the quads. This means that whilst you’re doing the leg curls, you’re only training your hamstrings and your quads are still recovering!

Following on from the example above, we have said we will use 30 seconds for an exercise as the estimated working set time. Once the leg curl has finished, you’re then resting for an additional 90 seconds before your next squat set. 

Why does this matter? Because before you were resting 120 seconds between sets of squats. Well, that additional 90 seconds after performing your leg curls (for 30 seconds) means that you are resting your quads for 210 seconds before you do your squats again! This is even better than 120 seconds rest like in our previous example.

Ok so now that we have explained the resting questions, let’s talk about how antagonist supersets are also more time efficient too! Let’s take a deeper look once more:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B1) Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B2) 45* Back Extensions: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

Let’s tally up the total work and rest time remembering that a split squat working set is 60 seconds as both sides are trained individually, and the single exercises are estimated at 30 seconds of work each. 

A1) and A2) series amount of work rest total = 12 minutes

B1) and B2 series amount of work rest total = 13.5 minutes 

That brings the total working time to 25 minutes and 30 seconds! This means that we have not only increased your rest periods from 120 seconds to 210 seconds, but we’ve also decreased the total workout time by 6 whole minutes.

Now THAT is a pretty cool strategy I think! 

This is why I love using lots of antagonist partnerships throughout my programs. No better way to learn than to implement this strategy on yourself or your clients! If you are after a more time efficient strategy to train while still maximising performance, I definitely recommend you try antagonist partnerships.

In the near future, I will cover why certain exercises work well together and why certain movements don’t make sense to partner, but for now I hope this was useful information for you to read as we all try to master time efficiency in our ever growing busy life schedules! 

Smart programming can still lead to time efficiency without the need of sacrificing results! 

Good luck,

Coach Mark Carroll

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