Antagonistic Lifting Routines and Safety for the Shoulders

Biceps curl would be paired with a triceps exercise in an antagonistic workout.
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An antagonistic lifting program is one where each workout focuses on opposite muscle groups. If a workout targets the biceps, it also features exercises that develop the triceps. There are a number of benefits to following an antagonistic lifting program, including time efficiency and the promotion of muscle balances of susceptible joints such as your shoulders.

Antagonistic Workout

    An antagonistic workout is typically laid out in a superset structure. Supersetting means that instead of doing all the exercises, sets and repetitions for one particular muscle group and then moving onto the next one, you switch back and forth between muscle groups every set. In the biceps and triceps workout, for example, you would perform a set of a biceps exercise and then move directly into a set of a triceps exercise. You’d continue to rotate back and forth until all of the assigned sets are completed and then move onto the next pair of exercises.


    An antagonistic workout allows you to perform a greater number of exercises, sets and repetitions in your workout. If you were to focus on one muscle group at a time, you’d have to allow your muscles one to three minutes of rest in between each set. But in an antagonistic workout that features supersetting, when one of your muscle groups is resting, its antagonistic muscle is working. This also helps lifters avoid resting too long in between sets. Antagonistic workouts ensure that each major muscle group receives a similar workload, which in turn helps avoid issues with muscle imbalances.


    Antagonistic lifting workout programs typically separate muscle groups into separate workouts. You can lift weights three to four days per week. An example of an antagonistic lifting schedule would be to work out your chest, shoulders and back on Mondays, your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors on Wednesdays, and your biceps, triceps, abdominals and lower back on Fridays. Exercises are then paired up. For example, on your chest, shoulders and back day, you would perform a set of a pushing exercise for the chest or shoulders, followed by a set of a pulling exercise for the back. On Wednesday, the quadriceps is paired with the hamstrings while the glutes and hip flexors are matched together. During Friday’s workout, biceps and triceps exercises and abdominals and lower back would be superset, respectively.

Shoulder Safety

    Following an antagonistic lifting routine supports keeping your shoulder joints healthy because it better ensures that you avoid muscle imbalances. Every pushing exercise is matched with a pulling exercise. If your workouts were to be chest and shoulder heavy with pushing exercises, your shoulders can be held in a hunched forward position. Having bad posture because of muscle imbalances can lead to back pain. When structuring your workouts, remove the behind-the-neck lat pulldown and the behind-the-neck shoulder press from your workout plan to reduce the risk of shoulder impingement, notes exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld in an article for "The New York Times."

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