T Nation

Antagonistic vs. Sympathetic


Which do you guys prefer and more importantly why?

Antagonistic pairings seem to be more en vogue now, working biceps and triceps the same day, working hammys and quads the same day, working chest and back the same day etc.. This pairing seems to be what Thib advocates (Beast building, I haven't looked into his latest work with all the livespills and such).

Sympathetic is what I was exposed to from my friends when I first started lifting. Chest uses triceps as auxiliary so "finish" off Chest day with Tricep work, back and biceps, etc..

What is everyone's take?


My take is that even using those terms in that way is to miss the point completely.

I have trained with every variation possible. I train whatever muscle group needs to be trained and works well within my overall schedule.

What I DON'T do is base how I train off of some arbitrary pairing of muscle groups as if this is magic.



I know you to be a very knowledgeable member of this community so I always weigh what you say heavily, but in what way have I "missed the point completely".. I feel my brief definition of both terms to be satisfactory. In what way did I miss the mark?


I used to train biceps with back. It made perfect sense seeing as my biceps were already being used and I was at a stage of training where training 2-3 body parts a day was optimal.

In other words, I trained back with biceps because I had a very logical reason for it along with the fact that I was making further progress.

I did NOT do it because I was trying to train "sympathetic" muscle groups.

People are literally just making up words now. You have a sympathetic nervous system. You do NOT have "sympathetic muscle groups".

Train with a purpose and for a reason. Do NOT train just so you can utilize the newest catch phrase in a sentence.

Know WHY you are doing what you are doing and you won't have to worry about how many others are following suit.


Doesn't really matter man. I feel that small body part and big body part is good for me, regardless of antagonistic or sypmathetic. I can work calves and back in a day or biceps and chest, doesn't matter, as long as you stimulate the muscle responsibly.

There is no visible difference between the two main "Styles".


I agree, I dont think there is much difference between the two, if you train triceps with chest you get more volume for triceps in one day, if you train triceps with back with back you get more frequency because they will still get some work on chest day.

I have always like to do biceps and triceps together because you can do your exercises in antagonist pairs and your arms still have plenty of strength. But as with X it was more because it felt right than following a specific methodology. I never really bought into the blood shunting type thinking with antagonist pairs.
I pair calves or abs with back chest or shoulders.

I was a little confused by the term sympathetic as well, I would have said synergist.


Haha this was great. x2

never fall for a new trend man, listen to your body and workout what works for you and your body, within limits lol


I also think it depends on if you are trying to bring up a weak bodypart, if I was trying to bring up my chest I personally wouldn't be trying to train back in the same workout.

I guess your frequency and number of days you train comes into pay as well. Because I am on a 5 day split and train everything once per wk(except for calves and abs which get trained twice) doing two big muscles would be more volume than I think is optimal for me.

I think i will always lean toward back tris chest bis if didn't train arms on their own day just because I would hate training with tired arms and light weight.
I have also trained bis and tris with shoulders but I'm focussing on shoulders atm so I don't do that. I'm starting to ramble sorry lol


You're not rambling, your responding. I appreciate it Doyle.

If Sympathetic wasn't the right word I apologize, synergistic? I'm not sure.

I didn't ask about these two different styles because one or both is "trendy".. I asked if any of you have used these methods and to what end. The formula around here seems to be:

1) Someone asks something.
2) Prof X shows up and says something dismissive.
3) Everyone else shows up and says "haha this was great x2".. oh wait, that was just Nate.

I think it's a fair question. Thib has written about antagonistic pairings (Beast Building).

Don't just work hard, work smart and hard. I come on here to get smarter. I agree that some people over think, but if I've got 15 minutes at work to ask a refining question to try to train smarter, whats the harm?

And for the predictable, "Prof wasn't being dismissive, what are you talking about" comment:
"even using those terms in that way is to miss the point completely."
"What I DON'T do is base how I train off of some arbitrary pairing of muscle groups as if this is magic."

I don't see where in my post I said anything about magic, and it sure as heck isn't an "arbitrary pairing", the whole point of this question was to learn more about pairings and see what has worked for whom. So far in 7 responses only Doyle has managed to actually answer my question.



Doyle said the same thing the rest of us did. There is nothing wrong with being "dismissive" if the tangent you are on is a wasted effort to be concerned about over the larger picture.


more importantly, yes indeed PX has used those things of which you speak and gave you an example of why he made such a decision while simultaneously simplifying the concept for you


X didn't dismiss you; in fact he even said he's done all kinds of pairing (as have I).

Speaking for X and myself (hopefully I'm right and he doesn't mind), our "take" as you put it ("What is everyone's take?") is that everything works and has it place, and you should not settle with just one, but use all and figure out when you should use one or the other (e.g. when X said he did back with biceps when he had a logical reason to do so).

Being so black and white is illogical and will get you nowhere.


I appreciate the feedback everyone. This topic isn't really generating what I wanted. I wanted to hear first hand accounts from people who've done chest/tricep work, and firsthand accounts of people who've done chest/bicep work... and why they did the things they did. I like hearing opposing viewpoints and coming to informed decisions myself.

I have no interest in getting into internet arguments. If you think I am illogical and getting nowhere then do us both a favor and just hit the back button. Refrain from responding. I am open to criticism. I love constructive criticism, and you have to make mistakes in order to progress. I just think that this convo has been driven off-course by vague "dude don't get bogged in the details" vanilla statements that are so easy to make and quite cliche. Thats just it, I made a topic about a very SPECIFIC thing. I WANT to get bogged down in the details.


I thought it was funny.....and I gave my own opinion also. Way to douche up my morning.


Was this your opinion, "never fall for a new trend man"... because it was actually just a paraphrase of what Prof X said as well. I'm sure if you ask real nice he will let you follow him around and repeat some other things too.

You douche up your own morning.


I did chest/triceps because it got me to grow, then did chest/back because the chest/triceps stopped working so well and I needed a change.

I always thought chest/back and biceps/triceps got me better results due to all the blood being in the same area.

However, it all comes down to "Who knows?". I still got results with either split...guess it's all placebo.


There was another half to that sentence, you sound like you may have an insecurity problem or something, I read your other thread and it seems like you have a hatred for anyone bigger than you or in better shape.

edit: It's an online forum, don't take things to personally, shit gets repeated and stupid things are said. If you want to possibly take something from it, take that I said listen to your body.


It is a fair question and many knowledgable people have written about organising your training in such a way as to maximise training outcomes.

Agonist / Antagonistic pairings take advantage of 'Sherringtons law' or recipricol inhibition to maximise recovery and increase training intensity. I have used it successfully in horizontal pushing & pulling and vertical pushing & pulling set up's.

I find that doing big lifts like squats and deads there is less room to apply this principal because essentially your fcukd after each set. While shooting for strength I do these exercise on their own but stretch the antagonist muscle groups in between sets. On higher rep routines or trying to focus in on a muscle I'll add in a small movement complimenting the bigger one e.g. leg curls & deads OR leg curls & squats.

I mostly apply this principal as a way to speed up the routine because theres never enough hours in my day plus I cant stand to sit around inbetween sets unless I really need to!

Sympathetic is a term I associate with sympathetic nervous system. I use the term synergist pairings and this is how a lot of people train e.g chest then triceps or back then biceps. This also is a good set-up and can be flipped over and used as a pre-exhaust routine where the focus is placed on the synergist first e.g. calf raises before deads, which is one I like.


Dude your being an asshole. You could have spent time readin posts for input without demanding it. Info is freely given, but the onus is on you too look. One way or another your going to have to organize your workout somehow, Px already said he paired back and bis cause back hits bis. If you looked at other threads, you may be able to come to your own conclusion that some people workout antgonisically (chest/bck) some go synergistically (back and bis) and some people don't workout.

further, how do you train?

edit: thibs does not recommend syergistic or whatever as being especially efficient. He gives options, and many are effective. There are too many ndividual variables to pick one for sure


Synergistic is actually the word you're looking for, you can be sure.
Triceps, for example, are synergist muscles for chest work, like bench.

Although you didn't say "magic", you're asking as though there's a definete answer to which is better, antagonist or synergist muscle pairings.
The principle of individual differences is pretty much the only answer; people respond to and like certain pairings better than others.

For me, I pair antagonist muscles, synergist muscles and even upper and lower body muscles together.
I used to do back and biceps, but that didn't work for me, so now I do hams and biceps.
Doing chest work doesn't hamper my ability to do triceps work so I keep that pairing on the same day.
And today I did biceps and triceps.

There's no formula or "what's better", just what you like, what works for you and what you can do.