Ask The Trainer #158 – Comparing Training Splits

Ask The Trainer #158 - Comparing Training Splits


I was wondering what your thoughts are on training back and biceps, chest and triceps together, versus training biceps and triceps, back and chest together? Is there any advantage to doing one split compared to the other?




Hi, Brandon. That’s a great question!  I’m personally a big fan of what’s known as agnostic/antagonist training.

In others words, a back exercise, like barbell rows, would be antagonistic to a chest exercise, like the bench press. Likewise, a bicep exercise, like barbell curls, would be considered an antagonist to a triceps exercise, such as triceps cable press downs.

I’ve experimented with both types of training splits. I can say unequivocally that my strength was always better when I trained opposing muscle groups together.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was known to practice this training strategy. Millions of bodybuilders followed suit. Not because they knew of any scientific rationale behind it, but because that’s what Arnold did—just look at what it did for him!

Evidence Shows It’s Better

Arnold’s example was eventually substantiated by research and experience. Some very compelling studies have confirmed that pushing or pressing strength increased significantly after performing a working set with the antagonist back muscles between the sets of the pressing exercises.

This research wasn’t the least bit surprising to me. Before I really knew anything about it, I always had to do a couple sets of lat-pull-downs to get my back muscles pumped up before I could attempt a new bench press PR. If I didn’t do it, I’d choke just about every time.

As the years passed, my joints began to feel the unpleasant repercussions of attempting to bench press the weight of the planet, so I don’t do it anymore. Although, I do still take advantage of boosting my pressing power by getting a good pump in my back muscles prior to doing my pushing exercises.

Moreover, strength experts have implemented this method of training for many decades to enhance the strength of the athletes that they train.

This Methods Saves Time

Besides more productive gains, training opposing groups together also help you get in and out of the gym a little bit quicker. Especially compared to the more traditional method of training where you perform all of your pressing or pulling exercises in succession.

Besides that, training opposing muscle groups together helps prevent shortchanging your antagonist muscles. I’ve seen this happen thousands of times where some people will do about 20-30 sets of pressing exercises. When they move on to train their back, they end up doing just 1 back exercise because they don’t have any energy left.

Falling victim to this habit can lead to strength imbalances, poor posture, and injuries.

The same can be said for your legs. If you neglect your hamstrings and work your quadriceps more, you’ll eventually end up with a hamstring or joint injury. Not to mention the fact your physique might look goofy if you have a massive chest, but no lats or huge quadriceps, but no hamstrings.

Aesthetics aren’t important to some people. But, I do think most of my readers want a balanced, symmetrical physique. Even the ones who don’t ever plan on stepping on stage to compete in a physique event.

Other Methods Work Too

One final point I want to make on this. I know a considerable number of people who don’t train opposing muscle groups together. Even so, they have still developed amazing physiques.

I want to be sure to mention this so that nobody accuses me of claiming you can’t build a strong or balanced physique without practicing agnostic/antagonist training. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

What I am pointing out is there’s an overwhelming amount of existing evidence that demonstrates how most subjects generally do better by practicing agnostic/antagonist training.

When you use progressive resistance to sufficiently stimulate any muscle, then allow it to recover, it’s going to become larger and stronger. However, as challenging as the muscle building game is, I think most trainees want to make efficient use of their time in the gym as possible.

I wish you all the best in your health and training endeavors!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,

Chad Shaw

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