Agonist Antagonist Training (AAT) is not just good for saving time. It is an excellent program to develop strength. But for it to be effective, you need to know how to do it correctly. Knowing what muscles and exercises will stimulate the reps, strength, and speed of others is important.
Let’s break it down so you can understand this in a non-technical way. The upper body appears to get the best results from AAT because the opposite movements match up perfectly without needing any adjustments. For example, back pulldowns and shoulder presses. Or back rows and bench presses.
For AAT to be effective, the exercises need to be strategically programmed. For example, I see people doing it the opposite way, which is not practical. They program the pressing exercises first before doing the pulling movements. It is more effective and stimulating when you start with pulling first. The idea of AAT is to use the first exercise to stimulate the second. Your back is stronger than your chest, so it has a post-activation potentiation effect (PAP).
How It Works?
Let’s break it down. First, visualize the back pulldown as your back movement. When you pull the weight down to your chest in your back pulldown, that is the concentric movement. When you extend your arms and the weight back up above your head, that is the eccentric motion.
Now visualize your shoulder press. When you press the weight up, it is a concentric motion. And the lowering down is eccentric. Do you see the connection?
The back pulldown eccentric motion extending the arms up is the shoulder presses concentric motion. And the concentric movement pulling down the weight to the chest is the shoulder presses eccentric motion. So, what’s the point?
The point is, that your eccentric and isometric motion is where force and tension are yielded and absorbed the most. The amount of force you produce eccentrically dictates the power you can have concentrically. So doing a back pulldown using your five-rep max before your shoulder press will improve the rep and speed of your shoulder press.
The eccentric back pulldown muscles are the concentric muscles for the shoulder press. And the concentric back pulldown muscles are the eccentric muscles for shoulder press. So by using more weight in the back pulldown concentrically, it enhances the eccentric motion and yield of the shoulder press eccentrically. And the eccentric motion of the back pulldown boosts the concentric power in the shoulder press.
And remember what I said, eccentric force dictates concentric power.
So, since you can pull more weight than you can press, it makes sense to do back pulldowns first. Also, the back muscles are highly activated in your pressing movements.
Benefits of AAT
- Improves the coordination and neuromuscular pattern of the movement.
- Enhances functional movement strength quickly.
- It improves blood flow because it must flow back and forth to different muscles.
- Builds strength quickly.
- It saves time so you can train other aspects of your sport.
Strength Training Workout
Use your five-rep max for each exercise. Perform 3-5 sets. Start with your back muscles first.
- Pullups or Back Pulldowns – Barbell Shoulder Press
- Single Arm Bent Over Row- Single Arm Dumbbell Chest Press
- Triceps Pulldown- Biceps Curls
- Bent Over Row- Bench Press
- Single Arm Back Pulldowns- Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Triceps Pulldown- Biceps Curls
You can choose to do eight reps if you want as well. You can train more speed and explosiveness for both exercises.
Or split the training days: one day, do five reps, the other day, do speed and explosive movements using 8-10 reps.
AAT using PAP For Speed
Here is another highly effective way to use AAT and PAP.
First, do your back pulldowns or pullups using a 4-second eccentric lowering motion and a 2-second pause in the isometric position. You can move as fast as you want concentrically—no need to slow it down. Use your five-rep max. You will only do about three reps.
Rest for about one-two minutes, then do your shoulder presses fast without time under tension. You can use your 5-rep max or cut the weight by 20%. You will do more reps if you choose to stay with your five-rep maximum because of PAP. But it probably won’t be explosive and fast if you are looking for speed and explosiveness.
Remember, as weight goes up, velocity goes down.
For information about eccentric training, PAP, or agonist and antagonist training, check out my book, INSTANT STRENGTH. Or check out my YouTube channel, The Balanced Body.