By Stefan Ianev
Some bodybuilders like the great Arnold Schwarzenegger like to pair antagonist muscle groups together like chest and back while others like Kevin Levrone like to pair synergist muscle groups together like chest, shoulders and triceps. Both methods of programming has their benefits for stimulating hypertrophy and these are both methods I will program into with my Clean Health Fitness Institute clients training.
So which is better? Well both have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Like all things with training there is always going to be a trade-off.
I have always been more of a fan of the antagonist split because I love the massive pump from training chest and back or biceps and triceps together especially when placed in a super-set. Pairing antagonists together also has the added benefit of allowing you to lift greater loads due to a neural mechanism known as reciprocal inhibition.
Reciprocal inhibition is the process of muscles on one side of a joint relaxing to accommodate contraction on the other of that joint. Not to mention you get to hit arms when they are fresh not only can you use a greater load but weekly frequency will increase because they are being hit again indirectly when you train chest and back.
Since the time course for protein synthesis is quite short (24-48 hrs) especially for advanced athletes the extra frequency becomes increasingly more important as you progress.
On the other hand though if you are already training chest and back 2 to 3 times per week and you are also hitting arms 2 to 3 times a week on top of that you are pounding your elbow joint up to 4-6 times per week.
Quite recently I was experiencing quite severe elbow pain. This was on the back end of contest prep where I was hitting each muscle group 3 times a week with up to 20 sets per session for the final 8 weeks. While I made some great progress during that time it did beat the hell out of my elbows.
Following the comp I went back to hitting each muscle group twice a week with about half the volume while still following an antagonist training split. It did not seem to help at all. If anything my elbows were feeling even worse even though I was going light and doing sets of 12 to 15 reps and no less.
This led me to change my training split where I started hitting triceps after chest and shoulders. The volume in terms of sets and reps didn’t change much. I was still hitting about 12 sets for chest and 9 sets for shoulders and triceps each.
The difference was that the volume for the pressing muscles was coming in a bolus dose vs being spread out over the week. This has the benefit of keeping the blood in the same area and by the time you hit triceps they are already warmed up and you are not having to use as much weight due to accumulated fatigue.
Also instead of pressing 4 times a week I was now pressing only twice a week. Within 2 weeks the elbow pain subsided almost completely which led me to hitting a PB on the bench press pain free.
Here I can be seen hitting a PB of 160kg x 2 on the bench press after 2 weeks of letting my elbows heal by training triceps after chest and shoulders instead of on an arm day on their own.
The moral of the story is that there is no best training system or split. If you stay on anything too long you will adapt to the positives and accumulate the negatives. You have to make the best possible decision at any given point based on where you are at. That’s the key to continual progression. CONTACT US today on our industry leading personal training programs.