Of all of the components of a well-developed body, perhaps the two most noticeable are the ever-popular yet often-overlooked symmetry and balance. When training to develop your physique, it’s an absolute must that you understand the importance of training opposing muscle groups.
Think about it. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever see a world-class bodybuilding champion who has well-defined arms but a sunken in chest, or scrawny legs. That’s because these bodybuilders are training not only the right side as well as the left side of their bodies, but also the front and the back, as well as top and bottom. That’s right, 360 degrees of pure training delight.
While you may not set on becoming the next Mr. Olympia, once you understand a little bit of body mechanics, you can then create a better workout plan that targets and improves your weak points.
Understanding Opposing Muscle Groups
Most major muscle groups in our bodies also have what opposing muscle groups (agonist/antagonist pairs). These opposing muscle groups enable us to push things and also to pull things.
Examples include the biceps and triceps, chest and back, and quadriceps and hamstrings.
Muscles can do one thing and one thing only: contract.
Okay, fine. They can also relax. But, relaxing isn’t really “doing” anything, so it doesn’t count as two. The point is that muscles don’t move, they just contract.
And, when one muscle group is contracting, the opposing muscle group is relaxing.
One example is when you perform a standing bicep curl and move the weight upwards, the bicep contracts and shortens, bringing your forearm (wrist) closer to the upper arm (bicep). Meanwhile, the opposing muscle, the triceps, are almost completely relaxed.
Try flexing your bicep while touching the tricep on the same side with your opposite hand, and you’ll notice that the tricep feels soft and unflexed (because it is).
So, if you’re want to perform better and build a more balanced physique, start today by strengthening both your push and your pull muscles.
Training From Every Angle
Despite the millions of images across Twitter and Instagram where the camera angle is always so carefully selected, we all have certain body parts that we wish we could improve upon. Whether you want bigger arms, wider wings or washboard abs, you can structure your workout program to target these areas.
For example, my forearms and legs are generally pretty low in bodyfat while I carry quite a bit of body fat around my waist and belly.. Therefore, I pay special attention to these areas by training abs daily and maintaining a healthy diet.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between self-criticism and taking an honest look at both the good and the bad. The goal should be to look for areas to improve, not to get upset with yourself for not being there just yet.
Beyond appearance, muscle imbalances can be painful, uncomfortable or even lead to injury if not properly addressed.
If you want to improve upon your weak points, you must first acknowledge that they exist. Then, design your goals around improving them.
The biceps and chest muscles are the most common “mirror muscles”, because they’re the amongst the most noticeable when looking in the mirror. That’s why when someone has front side muscles that are much more developed than the back side, it’s likely that they’re not paying attention the areas that need improvement (often this is the legs). Why would you ever neglect the chance to improve?
I mentioned earlier the idea of training your body from all 360 degrees. This doesn’t mean doing upside-down benchpresses or anything. This refers to the incorporation of a wide variety of exercises in your routine that can target all of the different angles of the body. Begin building your exercise repertoire and start training those opposing muscle groups.
Supersets For Super Gains
There’s no excuse to target certain body parts while neglecting the others.
If you’re worried about not having enough time in the gym to train your favorite glamour muscles while still working on your weak points, I recommend the advanced training principal known as a “superset”.
A superset is when you perform two or more exercises back-to-back without rest in between.
Should you work opposing muscle groups or same-side muscle groups? Well, the goal should be to develop both, of course. However, if your goal is maximal development, you should try to train opposing muscle groups.
Because one muscle group is contracting while the opposing muscle group is relaxing, you can work opposing muscle groups in succession to avoid completely burning yourself out and maintain top intensity.
Here are seven of my favorite supersets:
1. Barbell bench press followed by pull-ups
2. Bent-over row followed by barbell chest fly
3. Standing barbell curl followed by skull crusher (french press)
4. Squat followed by stiff-legged deadlift
5. Leg extensions followed by leg curls
6. Close-grip bench press followed by concentration bicep curls
7. Standing overhead barbell shoulder press followed by calf raises
These supersets will help you to build strength in both your pushes as well as your pulls.
Remember that while it’s not possible to completely isolate a muscle group, you can still emphasize a specific muscle area or angle for better development in those areas.
Building Balance And Symmetry
A balanced and symmetrical body performs better and looks better. If you find that you have under-developed muscles, you can take structure your training program to build and improve upon them.
For me, my midsection has always been a problem area, but that’s why I’ve customized my workouts to specifically target these areas. And, much in the same way how pennies saved can add up over time, even just a few small changes to your routine can result in something huge when given a bit of time.
What are some of your strong points and what areas could use improvements? Please share in the comments the exercise routine that turned your weak points into your strongest points!