Advanced Training Techniques: Antagonist Activation Principle

February 25, 2018 by VAHVA Fitness

Learn more about the advanced training techniques and how important they are. Here we cover the antagonist activation principle. 

There is something important related to fitness that over 95% of the fitness world is completely clueless about. 

Everyone thinks they know how to train and everything there is to it, but in reality majority of people are just scratching the surface and barely breaking through.

What makes a massive difference in your training is called a training technique.

Training technique is the biggest difference between someone making amazing gains and someone barely getting any results.

To be able to use these training techniques, you have to be in tune with your body. A lot of people are naturally good at it and as a result are able to make better gains at a faster rate.

These people are naturally more in touch with their bodies and are thus better able to contract and use their muscles. They are more mindful and present in their training which allows them to produce better results than the rest.

Hard work, consistency and genetics surely matter, but so does the mindfulness and body intelligence regarding how well you contract and use your muscles in the exercises.

This is the difference between the "gifted" athlete who almost instantly gets strong and muscular vs someone who is barely producing gains no matter how long and how many years they have trained. 

For many this ability to be mindful is innate and comes more naturally. In science they call this "kinesthetic intelligence". There comes a point when these people will hit a plateau though and they need to develop this skill further. 

The good thing about this is that this is a real skill that can be developed. You can develop your kinesthetic intelligence and become more in tune with your body.

A great portion of our content is about learning how to coordinate your body and become a master of it. Just because you aren't naturally good at something, doesn't mean you cannot become good at it.

We are all capable of this - it's the noise in our head and lack of patience in our training that creates this lack of mindfulness.

The first step is to acknowledge that this body intelligence exists and it can be improved. When you are in the gym, you need to focus on the task at hand. Focus on performing the single repetition the best you can. 

For most people the number of repetitions and how much you lift (which no one cares about) matter more than actually building strength.

This "hurry" of completing the repetitions or lifting a certain amount of weight is what causes this lack of mindfulness. In reality every repetition should be approached with the utmost seriousness. 

These training techniques and principles are fundamentally about being present in your training and learning to use your body in a way that best contracts and activates the targeted muscles.

Almost the entire fitness world has no idea these techniques even exist: everyone thinks scientifically (external point of view) and sees exercises as movements from point A to point B. 

In reality fitness is more a form of art than it is a form of science. 

This means that HOW you do the exercise makes more of a difference than WHAT you do and how OFTEN. This is what we call qualitative training.

Everything that happens BETWEEN the point A and point B during an exercise is what makes the difference. That's how you grow and get stronger.

The better you do a simple basic push up, the better results you will get. At the highest level everything becomes a form of art whether it is fitness, sports or martial arts.

Mainstream fitness, powerlifting, calisthenics and almost every field looks at fitness very superficially. They have selected a simple set of methods and stick to them without developing them any further. 

It's almost like they are waiting for a scientific study to tell them what to do before they have the guts to try something new or a study to prove them right before they practice the ancient knowledge that has been around for thousands of years.

In the fitness world today, form matters but it is an externally dictated form where no one cares about how it feels internally in the body. 

There exist general rules like "use full range of motion", low repetitions are the best for strength and rulebooks about the "perfect push up" without realizing these are just generalization and not absolute laws.

How most people adjust their training to break through plateaus and produce better results is kind of ridiculous. They adjust:

  • Volume (repetitions)
  • Frequency (how often you train)
  • Intensity (how much you lift or the difficulty of the progression)

When their squat numbers aren't going up (which is a bad metric already), they try to increase the volume or frequency to break through the plateau. 

Not many are actually thinking about improving their exercise form, improving their mind-muscle connection or becoming more present. Everyone is obsessed with lifting more and how often they do it instead of improving how they do the lifting itself.

If your training is garbage, doing more of garbage won't suddenly turn the garbage into gold - it may in fact become more garbage.

These things surely matter (up to a certain point), but it's still a shallow low level strategy to develop the body. 

If you focus only on training superficially, you are missing 50% of the equation. 

By utilizing the correct techniques and principles, amount of weight and number of repetitions become almost meaningless because in the form of art it becomes all about learning how to contract the right muscles in the right time in the right way.

In our videos, training programs and coaching we try to make it clear that this quality principle is what will make the big difference in your training.

For example, Movement 20XX online course has all the fundamentals to get incredibly strong, mobile and coordinated but if you do the exercises without any focus and mindfulness, you won’t reach the highest level.

The reason why most of the fitness world has no idea these techniques exist is because they require a high level of understanding and they are hard to prove with science. 

Training techniques and principles are skills done with intuition and they are something you cannot easily measure. They are intangible. Just because they can’t be exactly measured, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Most people think mind-muscle connection is a myth but everyone who has mastered it, knows it is one of the most important techniques to produce results.

When it comes to fitness world and VAHVA Fitness, it is not just our exercise selection that separates our content from the rest, but the fact that we continuously develop our training principles and methods.

If you look at other fitness entities, they are always doing the same exercises and following the same methods. Every fitness channel is basically the same thing with a different face.

There are very few in the business who are real craftsmen and who want to improve their craft. This is why we cannot be easily categorized into any group because we actually do our own thing.

In the past we have already talked about high level training techniques and principles such as the mind-muscle connection, focus and tempo.

There are a lot more training techniques that will change how you see training and how you see fitness. Here is a new training principle for you to practice:

Antagonist Training Principle

standing bicep curls for mass

In the bicep curl with the antagonist training principle, you are contracting the antagonist muscles (triceps) to guide and stabilize the joint movement.

Agonist muscles are the muscles that perform the task and work against the gravity in the exercise. For example, when you do a bicep curl, your bicep is the agonist muscle that is contracting and performing the action.

Antagonist muscles are the opposing muscles that often relax when you contract the agonist muscle. In the bicep curl the antagonist muscle is the tricep muscle on the other side of the arm.

In the antagonist training principle you are using and contracting the antagonist muscles to guide the joint movement during the descending (eccentric) phase.

Normally this wouldn't happen or would only happen to a very small degree. For example, when people lower the arm in the bicep curl, they let the gravity do the work and just slow down the movement with the agonist muscle (biceps). 

In the antagonist training principle you are using the antagonist muscles to add further control and stabilization to the eccentric phase.

This will train the antagonist muscles amazingly well, allow you to perform the exercise safer and also make the exercise significantly harder. 

To do it right, you have to use mind-muscle connection and be present in your repetition. You have to use your mind to contract the right muscles, because otherwise they will remain largely inactive. 

In the bicep curl, when you lower the arm, you are contracting the tricep muscle to guide the arm down. You use both the agonist muscles (biceps and brachialis) and antagonist muscles (triceps) to control the joint and eliminate the effects of gravity.

This antagonist training principle applies to every exercise out there. For example in the push up, you use your back muscles such as lats, traps and posterior deltoids to guide yourself down. 

antagonist activation push up

Once you are at the bottom, you push yourself up with the agonist muscles (chest, triceps and shoulders) while still stabilizing with the antagonist back muscles.

In the exercises like overhead press, you don't just lower the weight down to your chest. Instead you use the lats, serratus anterior and trapezius muscles to guide the weight down. 

Basically you are eliminating the effects of gravity and creating force with the antagonist muscles to add control and difficulty to the movement. 

Antagonist training principle will make any exercise more difficult to perform. It will develop your coordination and mind-muscle connection but the physical effects are also real.

You will develop the strength and size of the antagonist muscles and increase your athletic ability. Exercises also become safer to perform and produce significantly less joint discomfort. 

With the antagonist training principle, a push up that is commonly used to develop the anterior side of the body can be used to develop the posterior side of the body.

In the traditional sense it makes no sense - how can you use the push up to develop the back? But it surprisingly works and works very well. Stabilization is real strength work and will produce real strength gains.

Antagonist training principle is an advanced technique, because in order to do it right, you already have to know how to use mind-muscle connection.

Beginners should start by forgetting repetitions, weights and progressions altogether and start focusing on how they do the single repetition.

Start feeling your body and practicing how to contract your muscles during the exercise. It's an intuitive feeling process that develops with practice - ideally you will practice this with every training session. 

This way, training becomes a form of art and you will have the capability to reach the status of pro athletes who many have this talent naturally in them. 

Train hard, stay safe.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

You may also like

I’ve worn barefoot shoes for 15 years – How to increase your foot strength by 57%!

I’ve worn barefoot shoes for 15 years – How to increase your foot strength by 57%!

These Simple Isometrics & Stability Exercises Unlocked My Agility

These Simple Isometrics & Stability Exercises Unlocked My Agility

Superior Athletic Ankles & Feet (Strength, Mobility, Stability, Power)

Superior Athletic Ankles & Feet (Strength, Mobility, Stability, Power)

How to Contract Your Complete Abdominals

How to Contract Your Complete Abdominals

8 Challenging Animal Walks | Develop The Most Mobile & Limber Lower Body

8 Challenging Animal Walks | Develop The Most Mobile & Limber Lower Body

5 Ancient Methods For Ultimate Physical Development

5 Ancient Methods For Ultimate Physical Development
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}