T Nation

Antagonistic vs Synergistic Muscle Splits


#1

Antagonistic example:
Chest/Back
Arms
Legs/delts
repeat.

Synergistic example:
Chest/Triceps
Back/Biceps
Legs/delts
repeat.

I always see these two setups posted, I'm looking to clarify what's better/special about each of them.

As fas as I can tell,

PROS

Synergistic- heavy compounds hit both target muscles, so you can move on to isolate the muscle more quickly. Workouts can be shorter.

Antagonistic- heavy compounds for one muscle group (chest for example) lessen the natural resistance your chest muscles will give you on back exercises. You essentially get more training frequency, as synergistic muscles get their own day, and thus get hit by more compound lifts.

CONS

Synergistic- slightly less frequency for muscle training. Less emphasis on specific muscles during heavy compounds.

Antagonistic- workouts are a lot longer.

I know that there are much more important things in training, but i'd still be interested in hearing input. What have people done and what did they like/dislike about it? Has anyone tried both and gotten different results?

For example-I've always trained chest and triceps together, and back and biceps together. However, i'd be interested in hearing a case argued for chest/back and arms, as I've never tried it.

in before: do what works for you

I would rather read about a certain training method than try it (at least initially), I'm not going to go out and try something like Sheiko without researching it first, am I?

I'm trying to generate some good discussion here.


#2

One of the things that I dont really like about a Chest/Back day is that it would be very taxing. Doing really heavy presses for chest will take a lot out of you before you get to heavy rows or DL's for back.


#3

See, that makes a lot of sense to me. On my back day, after high rep row and deadlifts, it's a struggle to stay motivated/energetic for biceps. I don't know if i could do heavy pressing after my back workout.


#4

I've done both. Personally prefer the antagonist one you posted, however I throw shoulders on the day I train arms and don't do anything more than side lateral raises, maybe some isolation movements for the anterior and posterior delts.

I don't do it as much as I would like to though. Chest/Back days are indeed taxing to the point I personally won't be deadlifting as part of my back training or do any shoulder pressing. I also alternate between movements ... chest then back, chest then back, etc. It actually makes the session easier for me to get through and I don't really feel worn out until I get to the third rotation.

I actually find also that I have more tendon issues training 'synergistic'.


#5

I think it depends on the body.ppl who use the antogonist style say that if they do chest,since triceps also get hit then there is little juice left for triceps after you are done with the chest exercises since you will be to fatigued to hit triceps.

I myself use synergist since my body is used to high volume work and to get maximum results i need to fatigue the muscles more. By doing chest/triceps i hit triceps extra hard. Since they get alot of volume in one session.


#6

Hmm. interesting.

About the tendon issue point, I wonder if that's due to more volume in a single session for the specific tendons. i.e. chest and tricep work, the tricep tendon will take at least 2x as much T.U.T. as it would during a chest and back day (during which the bicep tendons would take most of the tension during pulling motions).


#7

It all depends what you need to work on and your current level. If you still could do with gaining a good 50lbs or so, it really doesn't matter. Both methods work equally well for bodyweight goals.

If you are closer to your weight potential, then it matters more because of "partitioning" (what muscle group you prioritise for recovery/muscle gains). If you had to bring up your chest for example, you don't have the luxury of deciding whether it will be antagonistic or synergistic...you'll simply train it more often (as an example), when it's fresher, or give it it's own day or whatever.

So it's the split and muscle priorities that dictate what you do, not so much deciding between the two methods. The two methods are more just "what happens", rather than a specific goal in themselves.


#8

So you think you can only do either of these splits up to a certain point or muscular level?
See, (given, I've got a ways to go, being only ~190 at 5'11") I feel like I'd rather set up my split around my estimated recovery time, which would still allow me the luxury of picking a split that can still incorporate concepts like this AND let me prioritize bodyparts.

Example- I currently need to bring up my arms and legs (relative to other muscle groups), thus
Mon-Back/Biceps
Tues-Chest/Triceps
Wed-Legs
Thurs-Shoulders
Fri-Arms
Sat-Legs
Sun-Rest

Do you think that once a trainee reaches a certain point, all training and split choice becomes something you do by feel rather than design?


#9

It's more by results than anything. I hate how behind-the-back rows feel (or whatever you call them), but my rear delts are almost equal in size to my front delts now because of them. I'm sure almost everyone in here has a lift they hate, but they do it religiously because of the results.

Same goes for routines. I really like the synergistic-type routine because I feel like my triceps and biceps get worked hard, but the truth is I make better gains by putting arms on their own day. I struggled to put on some arm size for a long time (they were just over 16" for a good while), and I've put almost an inch on them since I switched to my current program at the beginning of January.


#10

i dont think this is something anyone can tell you to pick one over the other kind of like my post because im sure people have made good gains off of both and you could probably make gains off of either depending on how you build your routine.


#11

Some advanced people still follow "the paper". It just depends on your personality. Some people are more obsessive, others are more "laid back" (if I can use that phrase).

If you can optimise your split for certain body parts, do it, although I feel that it's the frequency/volume that's more to blame rather than whether your split is antagonistic/synergistic. Also, you need to use exercises where you get good mind-muscle connection.

If you're concerned about being 190lbs, spend more time simply aiming for strength increases (all over) and pushing bodyweight up monthly (e.g. 2-4lbs/month...which means being 100% focussed on eating more and more...within reason). Putting more focus on this gives far more progression and is much more enjoyable than worrying more about the split (the lessor important thing). Over-analyse things takes away your focus/joy/faith in the program.

Most could benefit from following a very standard bodybuilding program (e.g. cookie cutter or close), then they can simply focus on getting stronger/heavier rather than worrying whether the program they made up will work "optimally". People can spend years working on the program rather than the more important stuff lol