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Total Body Training With Antagonistic Supersets!

It was built to be used, and its function is in its systemic movement - different muscle groups working together in a coordinated fashion - rather than separately in clumsy, isolated motion.

By: Dave Draper

Having spent so many years in the gym, there are many factors I need to consider in the course of achieving results. Most important is my conviction that the body is a functional entity. It was built to be used, and its function is in its systemic movement - different muscle groups working together in a coordinated fashion - rather than separately in clumsy, isolated motion.

Don't Force Yourself

I want to be attracted to working out, not forced to enter the gym as part of day-to-day regimentation. Anyone who trains should have something that builds his enthusiasm and keeps successive workouts interesting so there is a positive anticipation. A variety of antagonistic supersets does all this for me. It's really a nice way to train. Not only that, but it allows me to accomplish the most in the shortest period.

Antagonistic supersets provide a constant, rapid pulse to your training in which little time is spent between sets. You do not prepare extensively for the next set. You work at restoring your breath without letting the blood subside from the muscle area or allowing the burn to diminish or waiting for your heartbeat to go down as powerlifters do or preparing for an identical following set. The variety, the mingled sets, keeps you eager.

I train six days a week, with chest and back on day one, shoulders and arms on day two, legs on day three, tackling two of these cycles before taking a day off. Often, I'll change the variety of exercises, but no matter what they are, they overlap workout days with movements that hit the same bodypart. Admittedly, there's some conflict there in terms of recuperation, but as long as you keep in mind good nutrition and timely rest, it remains a valid concept.

Working Every Bodypart

There is also a manner of working every bodypart four times a week wherein they overlap. This, too, requires a sensitivity to overtraining in that while I'm concentrating on chest and back, the movements and superset combinations I'm using also work my shoulders and arms. The only real day I get to lay off from the upper body is when I work legs.

Realistically, two out of four weeks will find me backing off, in that I will detect the hints of overtraining. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in those weeks will be very intense, but the next three days will diminish in intensity, or I might sustain intensity until Friday, when I may condense the last two workouts and have two days to rest instead of one.


Arnold and I working out with intensity!

There is a scheme to it: I'll never know what Friday I'll condense my workout into a Friday-Saturday session or continue to push on into Saturday. It has to be played by all my feelings depending on my eating habits, the stress in my life, the intensity of my workouts or what I'm looking for that time of year. I do find that, because of my longevity in the sport, I'm able to detect these factors more intuitively.

For chest and back day, this is one possible superset combination: a tri-set of a) dumbbell inclines, b) dumbbell pullovers and c) seated lat rows. The antagonistic principle illustrated here is the pushing movement for the chest and higher angle of the inclines on the chest and shoulders, combined with additional triceps work and the stretching movement of the pullovers (which also get the upper back, deltoids and triceps again), all complemented by the pulling motion from the seated lat cable (which hits the rhomboids, spinatus, rear deltoids, spinalis, erectors, the full length of the lats, mid-back and upper back).

Incline dumbbell presses are done conventionally, but pullovers are from a longitudinal position on the bench, stiff-armed to get a good stretch as far back as possible, then pulling upward and forward, sometimes bringing the dumbbell down over my abdominal region to work my upper back and front deltoids. It's a very complete, full-ranged movement.

Using Your O2

So far, lots of oxygen is being used, since these are done heavy with high reps - 15 for the inclines and 12 for the pullovers - and a lot of blood is being moved through the body. I've burned myself out on the pressing, but I've restored my respiration doing the pullovers. Now I'm getting a good wind back, so I go to the seated lat row. Here, it's not pushing but pulling, and I find this a very compatible movement with the previous ones, and it really keeps the blood full to the upper body - into my chest, my seratus (from the pullovers), upper lats, lots of longitudinal triceps, biceps, peripheral pec area and front delts.

For seated lat pulls, I lean far foward, arch my back, throw out my chest and bring the cable all the way into my mid-section, tugging it in tight, really contracting the rhomboids, until I can feel it throughout my entire torso. The high reps make this tri-set tough; it's not a race but more like a locomotive - very steady with plenty of concentration and thought in between each set to recover your breath.

For my next combination, I break away from supersetting momentarily and do one-arm dumbbell rows, standing, with my free hand resting on my knee and the other hand pulling in a full-range motion up into my hip area. With each pull I can alter it somewhat - maybe five reps into my hip and five a little higher into my shoulder to get the rear deltoid and upper back. Here, I perform four sets of 8 to 12 reps up the rack.

These are followed by semistiff-legged deadlifts, an exercise I feel is fundamental in the overall strengthening and muscularizing of the body. In my training, it's a practical, everyday way to make the body more powerful realistically than to merely make it appear stronger.

Woodworking & Bodybuilding

That's what I like to do with my body: use it. That's why I love woodworking - applying myself to making massive furniture, because in that I have useful reason for my body - not just to walk the streets in tank tops. For these deadlifts, I'm standing on a block and getting a good stretch in my hamstrings. My knees are slightly bent. It gets everything - back, traps, hamstrings, quads, forearms from the grip. Here, I do four sets of 12.

Next are standing one-arm cable crossovers supersetted with one-arm cable pulls. For cable pulls, I'll go down to my knees and position myself relative to the cable where I can get a good stretch in my lat, pulling the cable into my hip so I'm now getting a pump on the same side from both of these movements before switching to the other. As I slowly pull the cable back, I tug it into my hip, turning my body at the same time to bring into play plenty of lat action. With these two movements you get the chest and lat together, all without releasing the handle. I get 12 reps each way, then I go to the other side of my body.

The final combination for this bodypart is wide-grip chins supersetted with dips, four sets each, with 8 to 10 reps for chins and 12 to 15 for dips. Chins are either behind the neck or in front; dips are either weighted or with bodyweight. Dips work the triceps and some serratus, but I can really feel them in the rhomboids if I situate myself in the correct hanging position.

Trying New Combinations

An excellent alternative superset combination would be bench presses with wide-grip pulldowns. I'm willing to try any combination of bodyparts, although I'm not fond of pushing one day and pulling the next, primarily because I love working biceps and triceps together. Certainly I can be taught a few things, and I really appreciate the theories behind some of the approaches, but I haven't been able to apply them and feel comfortable.

Shoulders and arms day begins with forearms, gripping the Olympic bar on my knees with my thumbs under the first 15 reps, then released to let my fingers extend with the bar for another 6 to 8. I have to be careful to not overtrain or tear an insertion. These are followed immediately by Zottman curls - palms forward, curling up and in - for 6 to 8 reps. These get the belly of the biceps and the brachialis, and strengthen the wrist and cap muscles. Then I will throw the dumbbell overhead and superset triceps extensions for 5 reps, followed by an actual dumbbell pressing movement for 5 reps. This constitutes a long giant set, beginning with the forearms and ending with pressing (three-four sets each), but it enhances durability and vascularity.

Next are reverse-grip cambered bar curls for 8 reps, then I put the bar down and grab an underhand grip and do another six reps. These are followed by French presses with first a regular grip, then a reverse grip to complete the superset, 12 to 15 reps, five sets.

The next superset is a tri-set of regular dumbbell curls followed by overhead triceps extensions with a dumbbell, seated with my back supported, followed by overhead pulley extensions. Again five sets of 12.

For shoulders, it's a behind-the-neck press supersetted with a standing upright hammer raise in which I bring the dumbbell from a hanging position to straight before me to overhead, working lots of front delt, chest, biceps and forearm. It's a heavy movement with good thrust in it, somewhat of a clean with one dumbbell but keeping your arm as stiff and straight as possible. You go up the rack, and as you do so, the more you'll compromise in bending your arm slightly, but it involves the deltoid, trapezius, biceps and entire back.

The next superset is bent over laterals, bringing a lot of back into play, followed with a lying side-arm lateral raise. For legs, it's extensions for 18 to 20 reps supersetted with leg curls for 12 to 15 reps, four or five sets each. These are followed by squats for 12 to 15 reps, staying with one weight, supersetted with leg presses for 20 to 25 reps with a variety of foot positions. Again, four or five sets each.

Experiment

While this is the superset base from which I work, I experiment constantly with different combinations, changing even from one workout to the next, training instinctively and trying whatever I think might work best for that day. Sometimes they might be giant sets with four or five different exercises. Whenever it gets old, I just go to the gym and get something moving and start any combination of things. I give myself a wide margin for combinations, and it inevitably falls into place.

For the past few years, this approach has been popular with me, but I always look back and try to come up with others that were effective, more productive and more condensed. Nothing achieves that total blood-gorged feeling like supersetting. The technique seems to offer a richness of benefits that no other approach can equal: namely, size, muscularity, practical strength and freedom from injuries. The proof for supersetting's validity is there.

Bombs Away,

Total Body Training With Antagonistic Supersets!
ldraper@davedraper.com

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