Balance of Exercise for Opposing Muscle Groups

Every exercise has its opposite.
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To build the perfect body, you need to work on everything. It's no good just training your abs and neglecting your lower back, or working your quads but doing nothing for your hamstrings. Not only will this make your physique look unbalanced, but it can lead to injuries too. It's a fine balancing act when it comes to training opposing muscle groups, but it's one aspect you need to get right.


    The proper name for opposing muscle groups is antagonists. Whenever one muscle contracts, its antagonist relaxes. As an example, when you perform a biceps curl, your biceps muscle on the front of your arm contracts and shortens. To enable this, your triceps on the back of your arm relax and lengthen. The opposite occurs when you do a triceps exercise, such as a pushdown or dip.

Balancing Issues

    The main issue with performing more work for one muscle group than its opposing one is that it can lead to injuries. A prime example of this is seen in those who spend all their time in the gym performing bench presses and pushups and little time on upper back exercises. This leads to a very tight chest and weak back, poor posture and shoulders prone to injuries. Having an unbalanced physique doesn't look good either. Nobody wants to be the girl with huge quads but no butt, or great pecs but awful posture.


    While there's no absolute best ratio for balancing opposing muscle group exercises, a good approach to take is a 1-to-1 ratio. For every set you do for one muscle group, perform a set for the opposite one. To keep this simple, on her website, strength coach Nia Shanks recommends splitting exercises into six categories: Lower body pushes, lower body pulls, upper body horizontal pushes, upper body horizontal pulls, upper body vertical pushes and upper body vertical pulls. Pair each lower body push with a pull and for your upper body, balance your vertical pulls with vertical pushes, and horizontal pulls with horizontal pushes. An example exercise for each category would be barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, pushups, dumbbell rows, overhead presses and chin-ups.


    Don't sweat it too much if your total rep numbers are slightly off for opposing muscle groups in a session. If you did 45 pushups but only 40 dumbbell rows, there's no need to worry -- chances are you'll reverse this in the next session anyway. To switch your training up a gear, do antagonistic supersets, where you perform a set for one muscle group, then immediately go into a set for the antagonist with no rest in between. Supersets save you time in the gym and can burn more calories than traditional weight training, writes trainer Natalie Gingerich in "Fitness Magazine." Always check with your doctor before starting a training program and get advice from a qualified trainer if you need help with technique.

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