Showing posts with label Fitness 101. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fitness 101. Show all posts

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

When opposites contract - muscle partners

For every movement your body makes, a combination of muscle contractions occur. For each of these contractions there is a relaxation in the opposite muscle. Welcome to the world of muscle pairs.

Virtually all muscles have an opposite. When a muscle is contracting it is known as the agonist. When it contracts, it causes its opposite muscle, the antagonist, to relax. For example if you flex your biceps, its opposite the triceps relaxes. If you flex your triceps the biceps relaxes. This is something called reciprocal inhibition

Agonist and antagonist muscle pairings
The basics of agonist/antagonist muscle action. Picture from

So why should you care about this? Read on...

Table of contents

Supersets and alt-sets

Knowing your prime antagonist helps in the creation of effective supersetting or alt-setting if you goals are not hypertrophy or endurance. Supersetting is were you perform two exercises back to back. If you are seeking hypertrophy or looking to exhaust a particular muscle, then agonist supersets such as bench press followed by chest flyes, is the way to go. Alt-setting is where you are doing two exercises alternatingly, not necessarly as a supeset, but as a way to save time.

If you are not going for bodybuilding or the like, then agonist-antagonist supersetting or alt-setting provides the benefit of the second exercise (focusing on the antagonist muscle to the first exercise) causing reciprocal inhibition, meaning your prime agonist muscle from the first exercise relaxes and stretches, helping improve its recovery between sets.

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Antagonist-stretching is an effective form of muscle stretching whether it is done actively or passively.

An example of actively stretching your hamstrings is by raising your knee up and extending your leg at the knee. This contracts your quadriceps causing your hamstrings to relax and stretch. This kind of active movement is believed to be better for increasing range of motion and flexibility in the stretched muscle.

You could also do this passively, by flexing the antagonist muscle if possible whilst stretching.

Clenching your quadriceps whilst stretching your hamstrings, can allow you to go deeper into the stretch. Picture from Sports Injury Clinic

Interestingly you can mix it up with a form of strectching that seems contrary to the point of reciprocal inhibition. It is antagonist static stretching. An example is if you are doing biceps curls, then you would stretch your triceps between sets. Research shows that this form of stretch can cause an increase of repetitions and agonist activiation during the exercise.

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Split routines

Knowing your muscle pairs helps in the devising of more effective split routines. If you train chest and triceps primarily on what you might call a "push" day, then the next session you train upper back and biceps on a "pull" day. This allows you to avoid overloading the previously worked out muscles whilst given them a stretch through reciprocal inhibition.

Devise more effective and efficient split routines. Picture from The Fitness Bible

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Muscle pairs

It can be quite confusing matching up each specific muscle to its opposite especially when certain actions call different muscles or parts of a muscle into action or relaxation. Thus I'll try to keep this as simple as possible by basing it on the primary motions, common exercises for those motions and the primary muscles. Keeping it simple also helps for devising agonist-antagonist muscle pairings for supersets or split sessions amongst other things.





Spinal flexion

Sit-ups, hollow holds

Rectus abdominus

Erector spinae

Spinal extension

Back extensions, good mornings

Erector spinae

Rectus abdominus

Horizontal flexion

Press-ups, bench-press

Pectoralis major

Rhomboids, trapezius (mid)

Horizontal extension

Cable rows, seated rows

Rhomboids, trapezius (mid)

Pectoralis major

Elbow flexion

Bicep curls, chin-ups



Elbow extension

Dips, triceps extensions



Shoulder flexion

Pull-ups, pull-downs

Latissimus dorsi


Shoulder extension

Shoulder press


Latissimus dorsi

Knee flexion

Hamstring curls



Knee extension

Leg extensions



Hip flexion

Bent-knee leg raise, hanging-knee raise


Gluteus maximus

Hip extension

Hip thrusters

Gluteus maximus


Ankle flexion

Banded foot pulls


Gastrocnemius, soleus

Ankle extension
(Plantar flexion)


Gastrocnemius, soleus


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Lombard's paradox

Now whilst we know how muscles are meant to work and the effect they have on their opposite muscle, there is a interesting circumstance known as Lombard's paradox where this goes out the window. Lombard's paradox is where both the agonist and antagonist activate at the same time, this is commonly seen when standing up from a seated or squatting position.

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Knowing the antagonist muscle to that which you are working out allows you to fine tune your training in various ways. Whether it be more effective alternating sets, stretches, or split routines. Whilst the musculoskeletal system is highly complex and there are a multitude of different muscles and muscle heads activating in any given movement, each with their own antagonist, exercises can be broken down into their prime agonist and the primary antagonist.

If you have any questions then feel free to ask away in the comments or send me some feedback!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Should you RICE RICE baby?

Picture from

A staple of injury healing, the RICE methodology has been around since Sportsmedicine Book was released in 1978. It is an acronym for Rest Ice Compress and Elevate and is the go to response when someone suffers an injury.

We've all either used it ourselves or been told by a doctor or physio to. Yet over the years it has come under ever more scrutiny with even the doctor who first came up with the RICE method, Dr. Gabe Mirkin, decades later changing his view on the Rest and Ice parts of it as they can actually delay your recovery.

Table of contents

Movement over rest

Resting your injury makes a lot of sense. With more rest then it will heal better, right? Well, depending on the type of injury and your stage of recovery no it turns out.

If the injury is not a fracture, spinal or a catastrophic injury, then movement is necessary in the recovery process. In fact too much rest can be detrimental.

In 1996, doctors Jim and Phil Wharton released The Wharton's Stretch Book, which argued that movement rather than rest should be performed on an injury. The key reasons being that:

  • Rest causes the muscle to be inactive, thus shutting down and restricting blood flow.
  • Immobilisation of a muscle caused it and everything around it such as tendons and ligaments to atrophy (get smaller).
  • Muscular-imbalances due to compensations the body needs to make to get around an injured atrophied area.
  • That movement at a muscle or joint encouraged "blood flow to oxygenate the area and flush out metabolic waste from the injury".
  • Any careful and gentle movement no matter how small was good for helping improve range of motion after an injury.
Restricting movement could lead to delayed recovery. Picture from Industrial Health & Hygiene News

On the reverse side however too much movement, such as continuing on as normal or trying too much too soon, can exacerbate the injury and increase inflammation. This itself can lead to the injury being stuck in a chronic inflammation phase preventing recovery resulting in tissue atrophy etc. If it hurts or feels strenuous then you're doing too much too soon.

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Warmth over ice

The Wharton's despite their recommendation to substitute movement for rest, still agreed with icing the injured area. Other's however have come out against this part of the RICE protocol including its inventor.

On Dr. Mirkin's website is his article Why Ice Delays Recovery, first published in 2015. A highlight of the key points include:

  • Ice treatment causes blood vessels to constrict and close. These took many hours to reopen deceasing blood flow.
  • This could cause nerve damage and even tissue death.
  • Ice and cold packs reduced inflammation, which also delays healing.
  • Icing for more than 5 minutes reduces a person's strength, speed, endurance and coordination.

According to Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment, published in American Journal of Sports Medicine (vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 745-764, 2005), no randomised clinical trials have proven the effectiveness of icing an injury to aid recovery. This was backed up by a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine of 22 separate studies on the effects of ice on acute muscle strains.

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Alternative to RICE?

There is one alternative to RICE that seems to be gaining traction - MEAT. This acronym stands for:

  • Movement - Gentle movement to help encourage blood flow, improve range of motion, as well to ensure scar tissue forms in proper alignment. Helps prevent atrophy.
  • Exercise - Controlled and specifically prescribed to progressively improve range of motion and strength.
  • Analgesics - For pain relief, however not NSAIDs. Natural pain relief has been suggested as more beneficial.
  • Treatment - A long term solution, such as physiotherapy, to aid in successfully recovering from the injury.
RIC or MEAT injury recovery protocol
Would you like a side of meat or rice with your injury, sir?

Of course this applies to non-acute injuries. The RICE protocol still has merit when it comes to helping reduce swelling and pain in serious injuries such as fractures, torn ligaments etc. though once the injury has settled MEAT comes into play.

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If the injury is not a serious one then resting it can be detrimental to the injured area and prolong your recovery. It can lead to atrophy of the affected area and a loss of strength as well as imbalances.

In regards to icing, it is good for pain relief and reducing inflammation, especially in the immediate aftermath of an injury, however it also delays the recovery process and can actually cause tissue death and nerve damage.

MEAT on the other hand helps encourage the healing process whilst maintaining tissue health, yet RICE does have its place for helping with acute injuries. Thus after four decades RICE would seem to have had its day in certain aspects with MEAT appearing to be the way to go... unless of course you're a vegetarian or vegan.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

COVID-19 and Exercise

Cropped photo of coronavirus by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

The main news headline everywhere across the world is about the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection COVID-19. Many might not realise it but the way you exercise can affect your susceptibility of getting infections and dealing with them.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Common Deceptions - Before and After Pictures

Before and after pictures, a staple of the fitness industry. Everyone has seen at least half a dozen this past week alone no doubt whether on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter etc. Some of these transformations are quite stark and look really impressive really making a personal trainer look great. Whilst in many cases the clients have made good or even great progress, the pictures are not always what they seem.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Training wIth injuries - Long head of biceps

The following is my personal experience in how to adapt to a difficult injury to recover from, that of the long head of the biceps.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

When resistance machines are your best friend

When most people start off with resistance exercise, the first thing they are usually shown is a resistance machine. Indeed they form the basis of most people's workouts in places that have them such as leisure centers etc. After a while that person will learn that free-weights are actually better for you than machine based.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Ratcheting up the intensity - metabolic condition (part two)

Following on from my post Ratcheting up the intensity - metabolic conditioning, here is the update on the effects of my metabolic conditioning routine now that it has ended.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Fruit and vegetables - how to get your portions

Photo by Dean Xavier on Unsplash

One thing we are all told to do is eat our recommended portions of fruit and vegetables every day. In the UK, this is at least 5 portions. It seems like a small number however for many people it is not easy to achieve. I know, I was one of them.

Indeed, for about 20 years of my life, from roughly the age of 5 to 25, I never ate any fruit or vegetables. Nowadays I meet or surpass the recommended number of portions and find it quite easy as well.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Ratcheting up the intensity - metabolic conditioning

With the conclusion of my recent strength-endurance phase a fortnight ago I decided to embark on a phase of metcon (metabolic conditioning) to improve my cardio-respiratory system and ramp up my metabolism into a calorie burning furnace. Two weeks of such a routine has now passed and I thought I'd share some thoughts:on it so far.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Planes of motion and axes

An important but often awkward or difficult concept of exercise to get your head around are the planes of motion and associated axes. These refer to the different dimensions and axes that body motions occur in.

Working out in all three planes of motion helps improve your neuromuscular efficiency, meaning greater cohesion and co-ordination between your muscles and central nervous system.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The importance of your gym gear

An aspect of exercise that can have a significant impact is what you wear whilst performing a work out. Most people are happy enough to simply buy and wear gym gear that appeals to them and there is nothing wrong in that, it helps display your persona and character. Yet sometimes it is worthwhile to judge whether it is what’s best suited for what you are doing.

Below I will share some personal experiences I've had over the years.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Tic-Toc - The importance of keeping time

Photo by Linda Perez Johannessen on Unsplash

During any phase of training one of the most important acute variables which is often overlooked is keeping track of your time under tension. For most average gym goers the tempo of each specific part of a repetition is an after thought if even a thought. Some might willingly focus on faster tempo's for speed and power, whilst others focus on slower to work the muscle more.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

New Year's Resolutions

Cropped photo by Chris Gilbert on Unsplash

Well a week has passed since New Year's arrived and how many of you made a resolution or two? And how many of you are still biding by them?

I myself have made a few, most of which I know I can do as I have done them before but I have gone with a couple of new ones for the challenge. I'll elaborate on them a bit more later on in this post. First of all however I would like to address the problem of the New Year's resolution.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Kipping handstand push-ups

Kipping handstand push-ups (HSPUs) are something I have seen more and more of over the past few months in my part of world. Sadly this is another exercise that gained popularity thanks to CrossFit.

Why sadly? Kipping HSPUs are supposedly for building hip and shoulder power, however for most people it is simply a cheat way to perform handstand push-ups. What is so wrong with this? From most clips of people performing kipping HSPUs I have seen from my locality and on YouTube, there is an incredible lack of proper instruction by trainers on form and the prerequisites needed to even contemplate performing such a high-risk exercise.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The reward in looking back

Last night I came across a DVD I had purchased back in 2005, David Carradine's "An Introduction For Beginners To Kung Fu & Tai Chi". The star of the television series "Kung Fu", the late David Carradine is more famous in recent times for his role as Bill in the Kill Bill movies.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Why less can really be more

Less Is More scales from

The inspiration for this post came from a discussion I had yesterday with an acquaintance about the gym. Basically it shows how important it is to know what exactly you are doing in the gym rather than just doing a specific routine as that is what you have seen others do or think that is what you need to do.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Workout Journals

One of the most important things anyone serious about exercising needs to do is write a journal! Whether you only write a few lines or a whole essay writing a workout journal is quite possibly one of the best things you can do.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The importance of setting SMART goals

Goal setting is a highly important aspect of personal training and fitness in general. Without having set goals your training can become aimless and progress can stagnate. Having goals works hand in hand with the principle of specificity, which states that we get better at what we train for.

Ultimately, only you know what you want to achieve. If you go to a personal trainer, it is not the business of personal trainer's to dictate your goals. Rather the aim for a personal trainer is to help you achieve what you want.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Implementing balance training

Following on from the why's and the benefits of balance training detailed in my post Balance your way to fitness, it is important to focus on how to implement balance training into your routine.

Balance your way to fitness

A seriously overlooked aspect of health and fitness is balance. We all know about needing to improve our cardiovascular health, our strength, as well our flexibility, especially for when we get older, but balance is just as important.