You are on page 1of 10

BRIEF REVIEW

AGONISTANTAGONIST PAIRED SET RESISTANCE


TRAINING: A BRIEF REVIEW
DANIEL W. ROBBINS,1 WARREN B. YOUNG,1 DAVID G. BEHM,2

AND

WARREN R. PAYNE1

School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ballarat, Ballarat, Australia; and 2School of Human Kinetics and
Recreation, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, Canada

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

Robbins, DW, Young, WB, Behm, DG, and Payne, WR.


Agonistantagonist paired set resistance training: A brief review.
J Strength Cond Res 24(10): 28732882, 2010Agonist
antagonist paired set (APS) training refers to the coupling of
agonist and antagonist exercises, performed in an alternating
manner with rest intervals between each set. The purpose of this
review is to identify the proposed benefits and possible
underlying mechanisms of APS training and to suggest how
APS training may be exploited. Furthermore, areas deserving of
further research attention will be presented. This review will also
suggest a common terminology (i.e., APS training) for describing
training modalities that alternate agonist and antagonist
exercises. Although somewhat equivocal, evidence exists
supporting the use of APS as a means of enhancing shortterm power measures. Evidence also exists suggesting APS
training is an efficacious and efficient means of developing
strength and power. Time-efficient methods of developing
strength and power would have benefits for athletes and the
general population. Athletes able to spend less time developing
strength and power would have more time to devote to other
aspects of performance or other unrelated tasks. The general
population may be more willing to adhere to less time-consuming
resistance training programs that offer similar results, as
compared to more time-consuming programs. This review
concludes that the practical applicability of APS training in
terms of acute performance enhancement is limited. However,
the use of APS training as an efficacious and time-effective
method for developing strength and power may hold some merit.

KEY WORDS super set, compound training, strength, complex


training, efficiency

Address correspondence to Daniel Robbins, daniel.robbins@sydney.edu.au.


24(10)/28732882
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association

n agonistantagonist paired set (APS) refers to the


coupling of exercises targeting muscle groups in an
agonist-antagonist relationship, performed coincidentally in an alternating manner. For the
purposes of this review, APS training will involve combinations of heavy resistance or ballistic exercises, or a combination of both, in an agonist-antagonist relationship. This review
will briefly discuss the proposed benefits of APS training, the
suggested underlying mechanisms, and possible implications
with respect to APS training in terms of both acute
performance enhancement and the development of strength
and power. Furthermore, the practical applicability of APS
training will be critically discussed to raise interest in
determining how best to exploit it. Directions for future
research will also be suggested. Finally, a common terminology (i.e., paired set) will be proposed.

TERMINOLOGY:

WHY PAIRED SET?

Somewhat confusingly, under designations such as complex


training, compound training, and supersets, APS training
has been prescribed by practitioners as a means of developing
strength and power. The term superset is arguably the most
common designation used by practitioners to describe APS
training. Superset has been used to describe varying protocols
(1,28). Generally, the term would appear to be used to describe
groups of exercises (i.e., usually 2) performed successively
targeting different muscle groups but can be used to describe
protocols grouping exercises targeting the same muscle group.
Because of the somewhat unclear definition of superset, and
the inappropriateness of other existing terms, a more definitive
term is needed (Table 1). Hence, APS is introduced as
a definition limited to agonistantagonist pairs as compared to
the more broad interpretations of terms such as supersets,
compound training, and others.
Empirical research has referred to APS-type training as
complex (2,22,23), superset (14), and paired set training
(21,24). To date, the most commonly used term in the
scientific literature is complex training. A relatively large body
of literature exists pertaining to complex training. However,
complex training involves the coupling of biomechanically
similar exercises performed in an alternating manner and is
based upon the premise of performance enhancement via
VOLUME 24 | NUMBER 10 | OCTOBER 2010 |

2873

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

Paired Set Resistance Training

TABLE 1. Terminology used to describe agonistantagonist paired set training and problems with that terminology.
Why terminology is not
representative of agonistantagonist
paired set training

Terminology

Definition

Agonistantagonist
paired set training

Combinations of exercises in an
agonistantagonist relationship,
performed in an alternating manner,
primarily for the purpose of reducing
training time.
Describes groups of exercises
(i.e., usually 2) performed successively
targeting different muscle groups,
but can be used to describe protocols
grouping exercises targeting the
same muscle group.
Describes pairs of exercises
performed for the same muscle
group with minimal rest between sets.
Describes pairings of biomechanically
similar exercises with the intent
of augmenting power output in the
second exercise via postactivation
potentiation (i.e., excitation of the
musculature to be used in the
upcoming exercise by preloading
that musculature.

Super set

Compound training
Complex training

postactivation potentiation (19). Postactivation potentiation


refers to the phenomenon by which acute muscle force output
and rate of force development are enhanced as a result of
contractile history. A number of varying complex training
schemes have been investigated (9,20,31) and regardless of
muscle group investigated, type of contraction, loading
scheme, or time line between exercises, the investigations
into complex training and postactivation potentiation have
involved biomechanically similar exercises. Furthermore,
investigations into complex training and post-activation
potentiation have focused solely on augmentation of power
output (PO) in the second half of the complex pair, or on
chronic power development in the musculature targeted in the
second half of the complex pair. More recently, 3 investigations (2,22,23) coupling biomechanically dissimilar (i.e.,
agonistantagonist relationship) exercises have, perhaps
erroneously, referred to this scheme as a variation of complex
training. A training modality coupling biomechanically
dissimilar exercises, attempting to capitalize on mechanisms
other than postactivation potentiation, with intentions other
than solely enhancing acute or chronic PO, should perhaps
not be referred to as complex training (Figure 1). That is, APS
should perhaps not be associated with terms such as complex
training or postactivation potentiation. Although researchers
and authors are correctly inclined to relate current research to
past, to continue describing APS training as a form of complex

2874

the

Too broad. Does not exclusively describe


agonistantagonist exercise pairings
performed in an alternating manner.

Same muscle group. Does not describe


agonistantagonist exercise pairings.
Pairs biomechanically similar exercises.
Intention is solely to augment power
output in second exercise.
Underlying mechanism is postactivation
potentiation via preloading of musculature
to be used in the second exercise.

training is arguably erroneous. A quick search in a single


database (Medline) for articles with either complex training or
postactivation potentiation as a key word produced over
250,000 hits. However, as previously mentioned, APS is not
strictly another form of complex training with a major purpose
of eliciting postactivation potentiation effects. One of the
purposes of this review is to suggest a new, more appropriate
term and to create interest in researching this modality. To the
best of the knowledge of this group of authors, only 5 scientific
investigations into APS training currently exist.
Although it may be suggested that another designation to
describe training modalities in which agonist and antagonist
exercises are performed in an alternating manner will further
confuse, the authors argue that a common more tightly
defined terminology is necessary. Agonistantagonist paired
set training would seem to be an accurately descriptive term
to refer to this type of training. It is proposed that both
scientists and practitioners adopt this term.

PROPOSED BENEFITS

OF

PAIRED SETS

Agonistantagonist paired set training modalities have been


suggested as a means to enhance PO in an acute setting (2) and
as an efficacious and time-efficient means of developing
strength and power (2124). The following is a brief discussion
on each of these proposed advantages of APS training.

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

the

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

| www.nsca-jscr.org

incomplete warm-up and thus


acted to further prepare the
musculature for upcoming work.
Perhaps, rather than the augmentation in performance being
a result of an alteration in the
triphasic pattern resulting from
the antagonistic work, as suggested by the investigators, the
augmentation was simply (or
partially) because of a warm-up
effect. It also appears that the
time lines were different for
the control and experimental
groups. A longer rest interval
between sets of bench press
throw was employed by the
experimental group as compared
to the control group and may
have influenced the results.
Robbins et al. (23) observed
nonsignificant
changes
in
power measures over 3 APSs,
in which bench press throws
were preceded by bench pulls
in a population of trained,
university-aged male athletes.
Figure 1. Differences between complex training and agonistantagonist paired set training.
Their research also reported
nonsignificant differences in
electromygraphic (EMG) activity in the APS as compared
Acute Enhancement of Power Output
to a traditional protocol, in which all sets of the first
The execution of antagonist work before the performance of
exercise (bench pull) were performed before all sets of the
a ballistic activity has been suggested to enhance PO of that
second exercise (bench press throw). A nonballistic inactivity (2). However, the findings of Baker and Newton (2)
tervention would not be expected to affect the triphasic
are contradicted by research observing no augmentation
pattern. The lack of augmentation in bench press throw
(23), or attenuation (14), in PO after antagonist loading. The
performance reported in the study by Robbins et al. (23) may
3 studies investigating the potential for acute enhancement
have been because of the implementation of a nonballistic
of PO in an APS setting implemented very different designs
intervention (4 repetition maximum [4RM] bench pull)
which may explain the varying results.
performed with low repetitions (with a tendency to decrease
In a population of trained male athletes (i.e., 24 rugby league
from sets 1 to 3), as compared to the intervention used by
players), Baker and Newton (2) observed an augmentation in
Baker and Newton (2) of 8 ballistic bench pulls. It is also
PO in the bench press throw 3 minutes after a set of ballistic
possible, although perhaps unlikely, that performance was
bench pulls, compared to PO in a set of bench press throws
enhanced to a similar extent in all 3 sets of APS bench press
with no intervention. It was suggested that antagonist
throw. This would not have been observed as a set of bench
preloading may have altered (i.e., reduced the braking period)
press throw without intervention (e.g., before the first set of
the triphasic firing pattern during the agonist power exercise.
bench pull) was not performed. However, the 3 sets of bench
The researchers did not incorporate a mechanistic evaluation
press throw performed under the APS condition were not
(e.g., electromyography) into the research to support the
only similar to one another but also similar to the 3 sets of
hypothesis that antagonist preloading altered the triphasic
bench press throw performed under the traditional
pattern during bench press throw. Furthermore, the prescribed
condition. That is, if some augmentation occurred repeatedly
warm-up may have been inadequate, and therefore, any
and to the same extent over 3 sets under the APS condition, it
perceived augmentation in performance was possibly because
must also have occurred under the traditional condition.
of a warm-up effect. That is, the pretest or baseline set of bench
It would seem unlikely that a similar level of augmentation
press throws may have been performed in a state of
occurred in each set of bench press throw, under both
VOLUME 24 | NUMBER 10 | OCTOBER 2010 |

2875

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

2876

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

the

Acute

8 wks

Robbins
et al. (21)

Robbins
et al. (22)

Value
(outcome)

18 1,034.70
(6394.53)
BPT TH (cm)
18 262.48
(643.00)
BPT PV (ms21) 18 19.84
(61.57)
BPT PP (W)
18 8,903.92
(62,113.07)
Bpull VL (kg)
16 1,060.56
(6467.34)
Bpress VL (kg)
16 1,039.58
(6485.16)
Bpull VL (kg)
16 895.42
(6163.70)
Bpress VL (kg)
16 930.43
(6238.84)
Bpull 1-RM (kg)
8 4.54
(62.97)
Bpress 1RM (kg) 8 5.10
(63.37)
BPT TH (cm)
8 2.73
(615.32)
BPT PV (ms21)
8 0.27
(60.41)
BPT PP (W)
8 229.81
(6226.91)

Bpull VL* (kg)

Variable

4.53

4.53

4.53

4.53

4.53

10

10

10

10

10

10

10

10

Time
21

103.47 (kgmin )
(639.45)
26.25 (cmmin21)
(64.30)
1.98 (ms21min21)
(60.16)
890.39 (Wmin21)
(6211.31)
106.06 (kgmin21)
(646.73)
103.96 (kgmin21)
(648.52)
89.54 (kgmin21)
(616.37)
93.04 (kgmin21)
(623.88)
1.00 (kgh21)
(60.66)
1.13 (kgh21)
(60.74)
0.60 (cmh21)
(60.38)
0.06 (ms21h21)
(60.09)
50.73 (Wh21)
(650.09)

Efficiency

Value
(outcome)

18 1,094.29
(6366.48)
18 260.49
(634.89)
18 19.75
(61.16)
18 9,185.61
(62,004.52)
16 1,105.49
(6448.38)
16 1,107.47
(6660.25)
16 738.08
(6102.57)
16 731.28
(6220.19)
7 2.59
(63.80)
7 4.54
(63.46)
7 8.64
(68.78)
7 0.21
(60.30)
7 274.01
(6152.16)

10.13

10.13

10.13

10.13

10.13

10

10

20

20

20

20

20

20

Time

21

Efficiency
54.71 (kgmin )
(618.32)
13.02 (cmmin21)
(61.74)
0.99 (ms21min21)
(60.06)
459.28 (Wmin21)
(6100.23)
55.27 (kgmin21)
(622.42)
55.37 (kgmin21)
(633.01)
73.81 (kgmin21)
(610.26)
73.13 (kgmin21)
(622.02)
0.26 (kgh21)
(60.38)
0.45 (kgh21)
(60.34)
0.85 (cmh21)
(60.87)
0.02 (ms21h21)
(60.03)
27.05 (Wh21)
(615.02)

Traditional

0.64 (medium)

0.60 (medium)

0.37 (small)

1.18 (large)

1.37 (large)

0.87 (large)

1.15 (large)

1.17 (large)

1.39 (large)

2.61 (large)

8.19 (large)

4.03 (large)

1.59 (large)

ES

*VL = volume load; VL = load 3 repetitions; APS = agonistantagonist paired set; ES = effect sizes; Bpull = bench pull; BPT = bench press throw; TH = throw height; PV = peak
velocity; PP = peak power.
Value refers to session totals in the acute studies and the adaptation effect in the chronic study.
Time is measured in minutes in both acute studies and hours in the chronic study.

Acute

Acute

Robbins
et al. (23)

Robbins
et al. (24)

Duration

Reference

APS

TABLE 2. Efficiency mean 6SD (outcome/time, where outcome is the dependent measure and time refers to the time taken to achieve that outcome) and effect sizes
of the dependent variables under agonistantagonist paired set and traditional set protocols in trained, male collegiate athletes.*

Paired Set Resistance Training

TM

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

the

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research


conditions, as a result of the cumulative effects of the varying
exercise performed before that set. Rather, it would seem
more likely that there was no augmentation in performance.
Maynard and Ebben (14) also failed to observe enhancement in performance in a population of trained, male
collegiate athletes completing maximal isokinetic knee
flexion and extension exercises. These researchers found
a decrease in peak torque, rate to peak torque, and peak
power production in the agonist musculature when the
antagonist muscle group was prefatigued. They measured the
EMG activity of the agonist and antagonist musculatures and
suggested that perhaps the observed increase in EMG
activity of the antagonist (co-contraction) may have been
responsible for the attenuation in performance measures. It
should be noted that the investigators implemented a warmup that included static stretching. It is generally accepted that
static stretching is not advised before performance (6,30).
One could argue that, similar to the Baker and Newton (2)
study, the warm-up was inadequate, and this may have
confounded the results. It is unclear if there is a differential
response in the upper body as compared with the lower
body. A greater level of coactivation in the antagonist
musculature may manifest itself as fatigue and affect that
muscle group adversely when acting as an agonist.
Of the 3 studies to date (2,14,23) that have attempted to
enhance PO after loading of the antagonist musculature, only
Baker and Newton (2) reported augmentation. The study by
Baker and Newton (2) was the only one in which a ballistic
intervention was used in the upper body. If the intent of
a training protocol is to enhance acute PO via an antagonist
intervention, it would seem likely that the nature of the
intervention is important. It may be that in accordance with
the principle of specificity, upper body ballistic movements
can be augmented via an antagonistic ballistic movement.
However, because of the limited and equivocal nature of the
evidence, any conclusions would seem premature.
Strength and Power Development

It has been suggested that APS training is an efficacious means


of developing strength and power (22). Over the course of an
8-week training period, a group of trained, male collegiate
athletes performing APS training were reported to achieve
similar increases in 5 performance measures (1RM bench pull
and bench press, throw height, peak velocity, and peak
power) as compared with the increases achieved by a similar
group which performed a traditional protocol in which all
sets of pulling exercises were performed before pushing
exercises in all training sessions (22). Under the APS
condition, 1RM bench pull and bench press increases were
statistically significant, whereas the increases observed in the
monitored power measures were not, leading the researchers
to hypothesize that APS modalities may be better suited to
strength, as compared to power, development. Although the
increases in the monitored power measures were not
statistically significant under the APS condition, the increases

| www.nsca-jscr.org

were similar to those observed under the traditional


condition. At this time, there is no reason to believe that
APS training holds any advantages over traditional training
schemes with respect to the development of power.
The obvious dearth in research makes any recommendations difficult at this time. With respect to the only
longitudinal study to date (22), it should be noted that the
sample sizes were relatively small (i.e., 7 in the traditional
group and 8 in the APS group), and therefore, the power to
detect statistically significance differences in the dependent
measures under one, or both, of the conditions may have
been limited. Furthermore, it is possible that the relatively
low prescribed training volume (i.e., 1825 repetitions per
muscle group, per session) and frequency (2 sessions per
week) did not provide a great enough stimulus over the
8-week period to produce significant results in all measures,
under both conditions, in the relatively highly trained
participants (i.e., minimum one- and generally several-years
experience). Perhaps longer (i.e., more repetitions) or more
frequent (i.e., more than 2 times per week) training sessions
over the course of the 8 weeks would result in statistically
significant gains being evident. However, it is important to
note that regardless of the relatively small sample sizes, low
volume, and infrequency, statistically significant increases in
both strength measures were observed under the APS
condition, making a strong case for the efficacy of APS
strength training. Although the lack of research makes
recommendations difficult, it does appear that APS training
may hold some merit as a means of developing strength.
Efficiency

Possibly the most intriguing role of APS training may be as


a time-efficient method of developing strength and power. It
has been hypothesized that in the event of similar, or even
compromised (i.e., lesser), outcomes under APS as compared
to other more time-consuming modalities (e.g., modalities not
targeting the antagonist musculature during rest intervals
between agonist work), APS training may be considered
a time-efficient modality (2124). Acute (outputtime21,
where output is the dependent measure, and time refers to
the time taken to achieve that output) and chronic
(effecttime21, where effect is the dependent measure and
time refers to the time taken to achieve that effect) efficiency
calculations were performed in 4 studies (2124) and
determined APS training to have enhanced efficiency as
compared with traditional conditions in which agonist
musculature was targeted before antagonist musculature.
Enhanced efficiency was observed with respect to all but
one of the performance measures in one of the studies.
Furthermore, effect size statistics performed in all 4 studies
supported the determination that APS training enjoyed
enhanced efficiency. Specifically, large effect sizes were
observed in 10 of the 13 performance measures.
Three of the 4 studies that performed efficiency calculations
were acute in nature. As previously discussed, Robbins et al. (30)
VOLUME 24 | NUMBER 10 | OCTOBER 2010 |

2877

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

Paired Set Resistance Training


investigated an APS coupling of bench pull and bench press
throw performed over 3 sets and compared the outcomes to
a traditional protocol and determined that although bench
pull volume load (load 3 repetitions) decreased over the 3 sets,
it did so to a similar extent under both conditions. Bench press
throw performance was maintained over the 3 sets, and was
similar under both conditions. Similar maintenance of throw
height, peak velocity, and peak power in the bench press throw
exercise, volume load in the bench pull and similar EMG signal
under APS as compared with the traditional condition
indicate similar stress was imposed on the musculature in
approximately half the time, suggesting efficiency is enhanced
under APS training. Efficiency calculations and effect sizes from
that study are presented in Table 2. In a subsequent study,
Robbins et al. (24) investigated an APS coupling of 2 heavy
resistance training exercises (bench pull and bench press)
performed over 3 consecutive sets, and reported that although
volume load decreased from set 1 to set 2 and from set 2 to set
3, there were no differences in volume load over the 3 sets, or
over the sessions, in APS as compared to a traditional
condition. Because similar volume loads were achieved under
the less time-consuming APS condition, it was concluded that
APS training was more efficient. Efficiency calculations and
effect sizes from that study are presented in Table 2. Although
there was a significant within-set EMG activity response in the
bench press exercise, EMG activity was not different under the
2 conditions, suggesting that the level of neuromuscular fatigue
did not differ under APS as compared to the traditional
condition. A subsequent investigation involving similar exercises (i.e., bench pull and bench press) compared an APS to
a traditional condition but did so in a manner in which the
time to complete the sessions was constant (21). That is, the
denominator (time) in the efficiency calculation (outputtime21) was similar under both conditions. Over 3 sets,
bench pull and bench press volume load decreased significantly
from set 1 to set 2 and from set 2 to set 3 under both the APS
and traditional conditions. Bench pull and bench press volume
load per set were significantly less under the traditional as
compared to APS condition over all sets, with the exception of
the first set (bench pull set 1) in the sessions. Efficiency
calculations and effect sizes (large) from that study are
presented in Table 2 and indicate APS training, as compared
to the traditional condition, enjoyed enhanced efficiency
under circumstances in which time lines were similar. These
studies only examined APS training performed over 3 sets. It is
possible that over longer training sessions, different outcomes
could result in conclusions deeming APS inefficient (outputtime21). However, with respect to the 2 acute studies with
varying time lines (i.e., APS completed in half the time required
to complete the traditional protocol), volume load would have
to be compromised by more than 50% to deem APS training
inefficient. Such an outcome is perhaps unlikely. With respect
to the study in which time lines were similar, there is no reason
to believe (i.e., lack of supporting evidence) a reversal in the
observed trends whereby volumes loads were significantly less

2878

the

under the traditional as compared to the APS condition over


all sets, would occur.
Under a previous section, Strength and Power Development, the results from a longitudinal study (22) were presented.
Because the increases in performance measures were similar
under both conditions, the reduced time necessary to complete
the APS sessions suggested that APS training is time efficient
with respect to the development of 1RM bench pull and bench
press, peak velocity and peak power. Efficiency calculations
and effect sizes from that study are presented in Table 2.
Although limited, research into APS training that has
calculated efficiency is unequivocal in the determination that
APS training is a time-efficient training modality. Agonist
antagonist paired set training can be recommended to those
desiring to complete training sessions in less time, yet still
achieve similar results as traditional training.

PROPOSED MECHANISMS
The mechanisms underlying APS training are not well
investigated and are unclear. To more completely exploit
APS training, it is necessary to better understand the underlying
mechanisms. Mechanisms that have been suggested to influence APS-type training include alteration in the triphasic
firing pattern (2) and phenomena associated with fatigue, such
as increased motor unit activation and increased activation of
synergist and antagonist muscles (2224). Although mechanisms associated with phenomena such as the stretch
shortening cycle have been suggested to be implicated in
agonistantagonist movement pairs, the authors would argue
that the nature of APS training (i.e., the time between
antagonist and agonist exercises and the independent character
of the 2 exercises) precludes the involvement of such
mechanisms. The time between agonist and antagonist
contractions necessary to elicit responses associated with
stretch shortening cycle movements is less than 1 second (11).
Rather, the mechanisms are likely linked to coactivation (2) and
contractile history (2224). The contractile response of skeletal
muscle is partially determined by its contractile history (13).
With respect to APS training, the contractile history of both the
agonist and antagonist musculature must be considered.
Fatigue

Muscular fatigue can refer to a decrease in force-generating


capacity (3,4). A number of mechanisms, including neuromuscular and metabolic, are responsible for the decrease in
force-generating capacity. Metabolic fatigue at the cellular
level can be attributed, at least in part, to the accumulation of
a number of metabolic byproducts, all or some of which may
disturb actomyosin cycling, Ca2+ sequestration and Na+/K+
exchange, thereby resulting in fatigue (8,16). Nonmetabolic
fatigue can also result from intense activity and is characterized
by myofibrillar disorientation and cytoskeletal damage (8).
Agonistantagonist paired set training is arguably more
fatiguing than training modalities in which antagonist work is
not performed during the rest intervals between agonist

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

the

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research


exercise sets. Although the rest interval between like exercises
is similar in APS- and traditional-type protocols, the
training density (worktime1) is greater under APS, and
extended bouts (i.e., more than 3 sets) of APS training are
likely more fatiguing. If, extended bouts of APS training are
indeed more fatiguing than traditional training modalities,
this may help to explain the chronic outcomes reported by
Robbins et al. (22) and subsequent suggestions. Specifically,
the suggestion that APS-type protocols may be better suited
to developing strength as compared to power, and that the
reverse is true with respect to traditional-type protocols. It
was hypothesized that the level of fatigue (i.e., greater fatigue
under APS because of less total rest time during training
sessions) may have played a role in the outcomes (22).
Greater levels of fatigue in subsequent power training sets
would negatively impact movement velocity directly inhibiting a key factor in power development. It is possible that
elevated levels of fatigue, as a result of the increased training
density inherent in APS training, may facilitate strength
development over extended training periods.
Fatigue may act as a stimulus, which leads to increases in
strength (25). These researchers maintained a constant volume
load and varied rest intervals between contractions. They
determined that no rest between contractions led to greater
strength gains than resting between contractions. It is possible
to infer from these findings that in the event volume load is
compromised (using similar rest intervals) under APS- as
compared to traditional-type conditions, this may not
adversely affect chronic gains in strength. In fact, it is possible
that a reduced volume load as a result of fatigue may lead to
greater gains in strength over a prolonged training period. The
principle of specificity suggests this factor (i.e., fatigue acting as
a stimulus) may be less likely with respect to power
development. It is generally accepted that repeatedly achieving
greater POs in an acute setting over a prolonged period will lead
to greater chronic adaptation, as compared with prolonged
training at a lower level (29). That is, with respect to power,
training at a higher level will result in adaptation at a higher
level. Thus, the argument that fatigue may be beneficial to
strength and detrimental to power development may perhaps
explain the chronic outcomes reported by Robbins et al. (22).
The neuromuscular mechanisms by which fatiguing
contractions may lead to increases in strength are unclear.
It has been suggested that training protocols which produce
fatigue result in greater motor unit activation than nonfatiguing protocols and that the level of motor unit activation
determines the size of the training response (25). Alternatively, it has been suggested that fatigue might provide
a more appropriate setting in which to encourage activation
of synergist and antagonist muscles and thereby increase the
training response, or that some relationship might exist
between events related to fatigue and events that trigger
muscle adaptation (25). Robbins et al. (22) reported no
changes in EMG activity pre to posttraining under either the
APS or traditional condition. It is therefore difficult to

| www.nsca-jscr.org

postulate as to the appropriateness of the above suggested


mechanisms, by which fatigue may act as a stimulus for
strength, with respect to that study. Furthermore, Robbins
et al. (22) did not monitor EMG signal during training
sessions under either condition. It is therefore difficult to
comment on the level of fatigue resulting from APS as
compared with traditional training sessions in which
greater than 3 sets are completed.
Coactivation

Coactivation refers to the concurrent activation of agonist and


antagonist muscles (7,18). The antagonist musculature slows
the movement initiated by the agonist musculature in such
a way as to allow for controlled movement. It has been
suggested that this concurrent activation may increase joint
stability, aid in the prevention of injury and help to control
limb position (4,5,10,11,26). Thus, coactivation may work to
improve (e.g., through movement control) or inhibit (e.g.,
through stiffening) performance.
Augmentation of subsequent agonist contractions might be
attributed to a number of possible antagonist contractionrelated mechanisms. These mechanisms might include (a)
alterations to the triphasic pattern of ballistic contractions; (b)
antagonist prefatigue decreasing resistance to the intended
movement; and (c) enhanced activation of agonist because
of reciprocal innervation. The following paragraphs will
attempt to discuss each of these possible mechanisms in
relation to the current APS literature.
Alteration of the triphasic coactivation pattern (i.e., shortening of the antagonist braking period) as a result of antagonist
preloading has been suggested as a possible mechanism
responsible for performance enhancement (2). Research into
APS training as a means of enhancing acute performance has
focused on movements involving high rates of power
development (2,23). These movements are commonly performed in an explosive or ballistic manner. Ballistic movements
have been associated with a triphasic pattern whereby there is
an initial burst from the agonist musculature, followed by
a burst from the antagonist musculature, and then a final burst
from the agonist musculature (32). Arguably, a shortening of
the antagonist braking burst would allow for a larger aggregate
agonist firing period and could conceivably result in performance enhancement. Unfortunately, the researchers (2) who
put forward this theory did not incorporate the measurement
of EMG activity data into the research design to support this
postulation. Therefore, any suggestion that PO may be
augmented via the alteration of the triphasic pattern as a result
of antagonist preloading is speculative at this time.
Prefatiguing the antagonist may decrease the resistance to
the intended movement resulting in enhanced performance of
agonist force output. It is possible that this, rather than
alteration of the triphasic pattern, may have been responsible
for the enhancement in PO observed by Baker and Newton
(2). One might wonder why a similar augmentation was not
observed by Robbins et al. (23) or Maynard and Ebben (14)
VOLUME 24 | NUMBER 10 | OCTOBER 2010 |

2879

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

Paired Set Resistance Training


as the antagonist musculature was prefatigued under the
protocols implemented by both groups of researchers.
Perhaps the time line of any decrease in resistance resulting
from prefatiguing of the antagonist was not captured because
of an inappropriate rest interval between antagonist and
agonist activity. Alternatively, the load or type of contraction
may have been inappropriate or at least was inappropriate in
conjunction with the rest interval. It is also possible that
factors such as training status, training age, chronological age,
genetics (i.e., fiber-type composition), anthropometry, relative strength, or absolute strength may have played a role.
Enhanced activation of the agonist musculature because of
reciprocal innervation (12,15,17) could result in augmentation
of PO. Again, it is possible that this mechanism, rather than
alteration of the triphasic pattern, may have been responsible
for the enhancement in PO reported by Baker and Newton
(2). Perhaps if a submaximal intensity bout of antagonist
contractions was used by Robbins et al. (23) or Maynard and
Ebben (19), then a reciprocal innervation-induced activation
of agonists would prevail over lingering fatigue affects.
Although the above-discussed mechanisms associated with
coactivation are generally accepted, evidence that these
phenomena can be manipulated through APS training to
result in performance enhancement does not exist. At this
time, any suggestions as to how coactivation and associated
mechanisms can be exploited via APS training are speculative.
Research incorporating mechanistic approaches (e.g., EMG)
is necessary to draw conclusions as to the role of coactivation
in APS training.

EXPLOITATION OF PAIRED SETS


It has been hypothesized that APS training may be exploited
to achieve short-term enhancement of PO (2) and to achieve
chronic adaptation through training and thereby improve
performance (23). Factors deserving of consideration before
attempting to capitalize on APS training in an acute or
chronic setting will be presented in this section.
Acute Enhancement of Performance

Before any attempt to enhance acute athletic performance


through the manipulation of antagonist contractile history via
APS training, a number of variables need to be considered. The
training variables requiring consideration include type of
contraction (i.e., isometric, concentriceccentric, multijoint,
etc.), intensity, volume (i.e., repetitions, sets, cadence, time
under tension), rest interval(s) between possible multiple sets,
rest interval within the APS couple, and responses of varying
muscle groups. It is also possible that, as with many training
modalities, interindividual variability could further confound
any attempt to manipulate antagonist contractile history for the
purpose of enhancing performance. Because interindividual
variability exists, a number of categorical variables would also
need to be considered. These include training status, training
age, chronological age, genetics (i.e., fiber-type composition),
anthropometry, gender, relative strength, and absolute

2880

the

strength. Before any conclusions can be made as to the


efficacy of APS training in a warm-up protocol designed to
enhance performance, further scientific research is necessary.
Strength and Power Development

Before designing APS training schemes aimed at developing


strength and power, many of the same variables (training and
categorical) considered with respect to acute performance
enhancement would need to be taken into account. Depending
on the combination of exercises, an APS protocol may be
intended to develop strength or power or hypertrophy or any
combination of these (Figure 1). Training variables will tend
to differ depending on the type (i.e., strength or power or
hypertrophy or combination) of APS protocol and the goal(s)
of that protocol.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Based on the above discussion, some recommendations can be
made regarding APS training with respect to acute performance
enhancement, chronic development of strength and power and
time efficiency. With respect to acute performance enhancement, 2 discussions are warranted. Firstly, a discussion as to the
practical applicability of APS training as a means to enhance
performance precompetition, and secondly as a means by which
to train at a higher level and thereby adapt at a higher level.
As a means to enhance competitive performance in an acute
setting, APS may be of questionable benefit. The evidence
suggesting that antagonist preloading results in enhancement
of power focused performance is limited and equivocal. If
antagonist contractile history can be manipulated to result in
acute enhanced performance, the question of feasibility is
raised. It would be a considerable task to determine training
variable parameters for countless different athletic profiles.
Assuming training variables were determined in conjunction
with categorical variables, a myriad of other implications could
For example, possible practicality problems could include (a)
the availability of equipment at the site of competition; (b)
coordinating the potentiation and fatigue time lines within the
competition time line; and (c) cumulative effects over the
course of repeated trials (e.g., high jump).
Issues of transferability could also arise. Whereas a certain
stimulus may act to enhance performance of a given activity, it
may not act to enhance performance of a different activity.
Experiments would be necessary to determine the applicability of APS to various athletic activities. Furthermore, any
suggestion that antagonist preloading be employed before
competition with the intention of enhancing competitive
performance would seem problematic without first determining a number of training variables appropriate to that
competitor or group of homogeneous competitors. Given
the issues of practicality and equivocal nature of evidence to
date, it would seem problematic to prescribe an APS-type
warm-up protocol before competition without further research confirming the effectiveness of such a modality.

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

the

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research


Theoretically, if PO could be consistently augmented in an
acute training setting, enhanced adaptation may occur. As
a means to develop power in a gym setting, issues with
practicality are less pronounced. Presumably, equipment is
available and time lines can be controlled. However, even if
APS training is feasible in a training setting, evidence
indicating it is advantageous in terms of acutely enhancing
PO remains limited and equivocal. Any suggestion that
antagonist preloading results in power performance enhancement is premature.
Although limited, evidence exists suggesting APS training is
an efficacious means of developing strength and power. The
suggestion by Robbins et al. (22) that APS training may be
better suited to strength, as compared to power adaptation, is
interesting and deserves further attention. Practitioners
working with athletes or the general population may be well
advised to consider APS training as a means of developing
strength. With respect to the development of power,
practitioners may wish to be more cautious. Although Robbins
et al. (22) reported similar increases in power measures under
the APS, as compared to the traditional condition, the
presented effect size statistics (Table 1) suggest that perhaps
APS training is not particularly well suited to power
adaptation. Although APS training would appear to be an
effective method of developing strength, recommendations
with respect to power adaptation may be ill-advised at this
time. Before the completion of further research, APS pairings
designed to develop strength (e.g., combinations of heavy
exercises) may be more appropriate than pairings aimed at
developing power (e.g., incorporating ballistic exercises).
Perhaps the most confident recommendation can be made
with respect to APS training as an efficient training modality.
The results of research to date (see Table 1) overwhelmingly
suggest that APS training is a time-efficient method by which to
develop strength and power. In the absence of significant
differences (acute or chronic) between traditional modalities
and APS training, it could be argued that APS training elicits
results similar to those of more traditional training methods but
in a more time-efficient manner. Resistance training modalities
that aim to enhance musculoskeletal conditioning have been
associated with improved health and a decrease in the risk of
chronic disease and disability (27). Athletes and trainers face
a number of challenges in preparation for competition, and the
general population faces challenges with respect to the
maintenance of health and wellness. Time is a constraint, and
one such challenge, for athletes and the general population.
Efficient resistance training schemes that do not compromise
efficacy, or increase efficiency, could be advantageous to not
only athletes but also the general population.
Attempts have been made to examine the practical
applicability of APS with respect to enhancing acute athletic
performance, the efficacy of APS training as a means to
develop strength and power, and as a time-efficient training
modality. The results discussed in the literature regarding the
enhancement of acute performance are equivocal, and the

| www.nsca-jscr.org

task of determining possible parameters allowing for


consistent enhancement of acute performance is a daunting
one. With respect to chronic adaptation, some evidence does
exist to suggest that APS training is at least as beneficial, and
more time efficient, as other comparable training methods
designed to develop strength and power (22). At present, the
existing body of literature would seem to suggest that the
practical applicability of APS with respect to enhancing acute
athletic performance is limited. Agonistantagonist paired set
training may be an efficacious and efficient method of
developing strength and, to a lesser extent, power.
Practitioners and researchers need to be aware that the
recommendations presented above follow from the limited
evidence available. To better understand possible benefits of APS
training and the associated underlying mechanisms, further
research is necessary. There are many questions that remain
unanswered, and researchers are encouraged to take a mechanistic research approach to further elucidate the potential
benefits of APS training. Areas deserving of future research
include (a) acute power augmentation in the upper and lower
body; (b) strength and power development in the upper and
lower body; and (c) APS training aimed at hypertrophy.
Within these areas are a multitude of unanswered questions
related to the appropriate type of contraction, intensity, volume,
rest intervals between possible multiple sets, rest interval within
the APS couple, and the responses of varying muscle groups.
Individual- or group-specific categorical variables also deserve
attention. Researchers are further encouraged to consider time
efficiency regardless of the question and design. Some questions
that remain unanswered include the following: (a) Can
antagonist ballistic movements enhance subsequent agonist
PO in the upper body? Lower body?; (b) Can APS be used to
develop strength in the upper body? Lower body?; (c) Can
APS be used to develop power in the upper body? Lower
body?; and (d) Can APS be used to develop hypertrophy in
the upper body? Lower body?. With respect to these questions,
the appropriate loading scheme and rest interval between
agonist and antagonist work and between sets would need to be
determined, creating a number of subquestions.

REFERENCES
1. Anning, J. A practical comparison of different lower body resistance
training modes. NSCAs Performance Training Journal, 7.1. Retrieved Feb. 7, 2008, from http://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/
Issues/0701.pdf.
2. Baker, D and Newton, RU. Acute effect on power output of
alternating an agonist and antagonist muscle exercise during
complex training. J Strength Cond Res 19: 202205, 2005.
3. Barnett, CH and Harding, D. The activity of antagonist muscles
during voluntary movement. Ann Phy Med 2: 290293, 1955.
4. Basmajian, JV and DeLuca, CJ. Muscle Alive. Their Functions Revealed
by Electromyography (5th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins,
1985.
5. Behm, DG. Muscle force and activation under stable and unstable
conditions. J Strength Cond Res 16: 416422, 2002.
6. Behm, DG, Bambury, A, Cahill, F, and Power, K. Effect of acute
static stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement
time. Med Sci Sport Exer 36: 13971402, 2004.
VOLUME 24 | NUMBER 10 | OCTOBER 2010 |

2881

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.

Paired Set Resistance Training


7. De Luca, CJ and Mambrito, B. Voluntary control of motor units in
human antagonist muscles: coactivation and reciprocal activation.
J Neurophysiol 58: 525542, 1987.

21. Robbins, DW, Young, WB, and Behm, DG. The Effect of an Upper
Body Agonist-antagonist Resistance Training Protocol on Volume
Load and Efficiency. J Strength Cond Res, in press.

8. Green, HJ. Mechanisms of muscle fatigue in intense exercise. J Sport


Sci 15: 247256, 1997.

22. Robbins, DW, Young, WB, Behm, DG, and Payne, WR. Effects of
agonist-antagonist complex resistance training on upper body
strength and power development. J Sport Sci 27: 16171625, 2009.

9. Hrysomallis, C and Kidgell, D. Effect of heavy dynamic resistive exercise


on acute upper-body power. J Strength Cond Res 15: 426430, 2001.
10. Kellis, E and Kellis, S. Effects of agonist and antagonist muscle
fatigue on muscle coactivation around the knee in pubertal boys.
Electromyogr Kines 11: 307318, 2001.
11. Komi, PV. Stretch-shortening cycle: A powerful model to study
normal and fatigued muscle. J Biomech 33: 11971206, 2000.
12. Levine, MG and Kabat, H. Cocontraction and reciprocal innervation
in voluntary movement in man. Sci Wash DC 116: 115118, 1952.
13. MacIntosh, BR and Rassier, DE. What is fatigue. Can J Appl Physiol
27: 4255, 2002.
14. Maynard, J and Ebben, WP. The effects of antagonist prefatigue
on agonist torque and electromyography. J Strength Cond Res
17: 469474, 2003.
15. Moore, MA and Hutton, RS. Electromyographic investigation of
muscle stretching techniques. Med Sci Spor Exer 12: 322329, 1980.
16. Noakes, TD, Lambert, EV, and St Clair Gibson, A. The ATP
paradox-Why muscles do not develop rigor during exercise. Med Sci
Sport Exer 33: S95, 2001.
17. Patton, NJ and Motenson, OA. An electromyographical study of
reciprocal activity of muscles. Anat Res, 170: 255-268, 1971.
18. Psek, JA and Cafarelli, E. Behaviour of coactive muscles during
fatigue. J Appl Physiol 74: 170175, 1993.
19. Robbins, DW. Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: A brief review. J Strength Cond Res 19: 453458, 2005.
20. Robbins, DW and Docherty, D. Effect of loading on enhancement of
power performance over three consecutive trials. J Strength Cond Res
19: 898902, 2005.

2882

the

23. Robbins, DW, Young, WB, Behm, DG, and Payne, WR. The effect of
a complex agonist and antagonist resistance training protocol on
strength and power output, electromyographic responses and
efficiency. J Strength Cond Res 24: 17821789, 2010.
24. Robbins, DW, Young, WB, Behm, DG, Payne, WR, and Klimstra, MD.
Physical performance and electromyographic responses to an acute
bout of paired set strength training versus traditional strength
training. J Strength Cond Res 24: 12371245, 2010.
25. Rooney, KJ, Herbert, RD, and Balnave, RJ. Fatigue contributes to the
strength training stimulus. Med Sci Sport Exerc 26: 11601164, 1994.
26. Solomonow, MR, Baratta, R, Zhou, B, and DAmbrosia, R.
Electromyogram coactivation patterns of the elbow antagonist muscles
during slow kinetic movement. Exp Neurol 100: 470477, 1988.
27. Warburton, DE, Nicol, CW, and Bredin, SS. Prescribing Exercise as
Preventative Therapy. Can Med Assoc J 174: 961974, 2006.
28. Wathen, D. Strength training and spotting techniques. In: Essentials
of Strength Training and Conditioning. Baechle, TR, ed. Champaign, Il:
Human Kinetics, 1994. pp. 435400.
29. Wilson, G, Newton, R, Murphy, A, and Humphries, B. The optimal
training load for the development of dynamic athletic performance.
Med Sci Sport Exer 23: 12791286, 1993.
30. Young, W, and Behm, D. Should static stretching be used during
a warm up for strength and power activities? J Strength Cond Res 4:
3337, 2002.
31. Young, W, Jenner, A, and Griffiths, K. Acute enhancement of power
performance from heavy load squats. J Strength Cond Res 12: 8284, 1998.
32. Zehr, PE and Sale, DG. Ballistic movement: Muscle activation and
neuromuscular adaptation. Can J Appl Physiol 19: 363378, 1994.

TM

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.