Lean And Strong Workout Program Using Agonist And Antagonist Supersets

March 22, 2019

deadlifts 405

As you know, it’s important to change your workout routine now and then. In fact, it’s one of the most important things we can do to continue building muscle and getting stronger.

In this post, I’m going to share a full workout program that may be new to you. It’s what I call my lean and strong workout program using agonist-antagonist supersets

This program is for you if your goal is to…

  • Get stronger on major compound lifts(like squats, deadlifts, bench)
  • Make lean muscle gains
  • Get your body in better shape and conditioning
  • Row as much as you bench!
  • Just be a complete beast(you’re probably already a beast, but this workout program will help you become a better beast…or more of a beast!)

If all that sounds good to you, then keep reading, as I’m now going to…

  • Give you a quick overview of the lean and strong workout program
  • Explain what agonist and antagonist training is (and how it will help you)
  • Break down each workout in-depth with all the juicy details so you know exactly what to do

What Is Agonist-Antagonist Training?

Stiff Leg Deadlifts back and hamstrings workout

Agonist-antagonist training means working opposing muscles together. The perfect example is chest and back (or back and chest, as you’ll see later in the post)

  • To make the workout more challenging, you’re going to superset your agonist-antagonist muscles. For example, if you do a set of barbell rows, you would immediately do a set of bench press. That would be one superset.
  • You’ll also be doing stuff between your lower body exercises too. Don’t worry, we’re getting to that soon!
  • This may be hard to wrap your head around at first, at least it was for me. Especially for strength training. We tend to think we need more rest between sets to get stronger. This program debunks that myth.
  • If you give this a try, you will be rowing as much as you bench press. And you’ll also see your squat and deadlift go up. Oh, and you’re going to look a lot better too (lean and strong, not strong and fat!)

Arnold did this type of workout back in the day. His goal was to make sure his body was balanced, especially his chest and back. T-Nation has a pretty cool write-up of Arnold’s agonist-antagonist training here

Lean And Strong Workout At A Glance

Jason Stallworth TheMuscleProgram workout

Below is a snapshot of my most recent lean and strong workout program, which I’m using agonist-antagonist supersets. Prior to this, I was doing giant sets. I’ll explain later, and who I got this initial idea from. 

This is a 5-day a week workout plan. Where you see ‘superset‘ that means to superset that exercise with the one below it. 

Day 1: Deadlifts and Core Workout

Exercise Sets x Reps
Deadlifts – superset 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Decline Sit-ups 5 x 10
Stiff-Leg Deadlifts – superset 4 x 8
Rope Crunches 4 x 10
Good Mornings – superset 4 x 8
Leg Raises 4 x 10

Day 2: Rows and Bench Workout

Exercise Sets x Reps
Barbell Rows – superset 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Bench Press 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Dumbbell Rows – superset 4 x 8
Incline Bench Press 4 x 8
Dumbbell Pullovers – superset 4 x 10
Dumbbell Flyes 4 x 10

Day 3: Arms and Calves

Exercise Sets x Reps
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extensions – superset 4 x 8
EZ Bar or Barbell Curls 4 x 8
Rope Pressdowns – superset 4 x 10
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 4 x 10
Standing Calve Raises 4 x 15
Seated Calve Raises 4 x 15

Day 4: Squats and Core

Exercise Sets x Reps
Squats – superset 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Decline Sit-ups 5 x 10
Front Squats – superset 4 x 8
Rope Crunches 4 x 10
Good Mornings – superset 4 x 10
Leg Raises 4 x 10

Day 5: Rows and Overhead Press

Exercise Sets x Reps
Reverse Grip Barbell Rows – superset 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Standing Overhead Press 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
Weighted Pull-ups – superset 4 x 8
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 x 8
Seated Rows – superset 4 x 10
Lateral Raises 4 x 10

Workout Notes

  • Already have your workout areas where you will be supersetting setup ahead of time
  • You don’t necessarily have to rush to the superset exercise, but don’t waste time (no checking social media, no chatting bros, no arguing about politics, which you shouldn’t be talking about that crap anyway!)
  • Between each round of supersets, rest about 45 seconds to 1 minute
  • Feel free to change up the exercises to your liking, but I suggest keeping the core compound movements in place
  • Also try other weight training methods for the first exercises of your workouts, like my advanced 5×5 workout program
  • I was going to tell you something else, but I totally forgot what it was.

Should You Do Cardio On This Program?

Doing cardio is really up to you, where you’re at, and where you want to be (talking about your physique!). So be honest with yourself. Do you need to drop more body fat? 

There are two types of cardio I recommend doing on this program, and really any program. And the cool thing is you can alternate these two types of cardio so that you don’t get bored.

  1. Walking – simple, but it works if you walk long enough (30-40 minutes)
  2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is great is you get bored easily doing cardio. Bodybuilding.com has a helpful article on how bodybuilders that need cardio can benefit from HIIT without worrying about losing muscle (as if cardio is going to make you lose muscle!)

I personally prefer to walk for cardio. My wife and I walk outside 2-3 times a week. And when I walk on the treadmill, I make sure I’m learning something (podcasts, YouTube, etc…learn while you burn!)

Compound And Assisting Exercises

This program, both Brian’s and my version, are built on building your strength for your core compound exercises:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Overhead Press

You’ll notice that these exercises are the first in each workout.

Every exercise thereafter are considered assisting exercises. In my lean and strong program, their purpose is more focused on making the workout have some bodybuilding style training.

But you can see that they are still exercising that assist (help strengthen) your main lift. 

About My Version Of Strength and Conditioning Using Agonist-Antagonist Supersets

lean and strong workout program using agonist-antagonist supersets

There are some key differences between Brian Alsruhe’s linear progression strength and conditioning program, and my lean and strong workout program. 

Brian’s program calls for giant sets. This is basically supersetting three exercises. Here’s an example (from his video):

  1. Jump squats
  2. Deadlift
  3. Ab exercise (any)

I tried this for a few weeks but back off to doing supersets with two exercises. I’ve responded quite well to this with strength gains and body composition. So instead, my version is…

  1. Deadlift
  2. Ab exercise (any)

Another difference is I’m also doing some more bodybuilding style exercises, especially for the upper body. And I throw in an extra day for arms and calves (no bodybuilder skips direct arm training!)

You can get away without direct arm training on this agonist-antagonist program. But I also prefer to be in the gym 5 days a week as opposed to 4. Seriously, if I start a workday without the gym, my entire day is screwed up!

Lastly, Brian suggests doing 10 minutes of extreme conditioning at the end of the weight training workouts.  I feel like I get enough conditioning from the workout alone, and I prefer to walk for my cardio. Feel free to choose your poison (uh, I meant cardio!)

Get your conditioning done. Be a better person, get your life together!‘ – Brian Alsruhe.

In the end, Brian’s linear progression program using giant sets focuses more on strength, power, and conditioning. My lean and strong program using agonist-antagonist supersets is a mixture of strength and bodybuilding workouts

Agonist-Antagonist Workout Details (Day By Day)

deadlifts and core workout agonist antagonist training

Now I’m going to help you become more familiar with the concepts of strength and conditioning, and doing agonist-antagonist supersets.

You’re going to get some additional tips for workout, and I will show you just how much you can benefit from this lean and strong workout program.

This is a typical Monday through Friday workout schedule, but you can switch the days around if needed. 

Monday Workout

You’re going to be training your lower body and core for the first workout. And the core focus is on deadlifts. So it’s going to be a heavy and powerful workout!

Deadlift and Core Focused Workout:

  • Deadlifts: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3 – superset with
  • Decline Sit-ups: 5 x 10
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlifts: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Rope Crunches: 4 x 10
  • Good Mornings: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Leg Raises: 4 x 10

Workout Tips:

  • Do some light Yoga or ride the bike for 10 minutes before this workout
  • Set the decline bench up close to your deadlift area
  • You can do your stiff-leg deads in the same area (tried to keep it simple here!)
  • There’s a lot of lower back work in here as well, so make sure you’re keeping your entire body tight
  • If you feel at any point your lower back is starting to round, reduce the weight and maybe reduce the workout volume until your body and muscles become accustomed to this type of training

Tuesday Workout

You’re going to be training your lower body and core for the first workout. And the core focus is on deadlifts. So it’s going to be a heavy and powerful workout!

Barbell Rows and Bench Press Focused Workout:

  • Barbell Rows: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3 – superset with
  • Bench Press: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
  • Dumbbell Rows: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Incline Bench Press: 4 x 8
  • Dumbbell Pullovers: 4 x 10 – superset with
  • Dumbbell Flyes: 4 x 10

Workout Tips:

  • Don’t bench press more than you row; allow yourself time for your rows to catch up
  • For rows and bench supersets, you can use the same bench, or if the bar is too high to start out for rows, you can hog 2 benches (put the bar on the lower rack for rows – just make sure it’s not International Chest Day or you’ll piss off a lotta people!)
  • Stretch your lats and pecs really good after this workout

Wednesday Workout

If I don’t train arms directly, I feel empty inside…don’t you? So here’s a mid-week arms and calves workout. This will also be a nice break from the heavy workouts. 

Barbell Rows and Bench Press Focused Workout:

  • Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extensions: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • EZ Bar or Barbell Curls: 4 x 8
  • Rope Pressdowns: 4 x 10 – superset with
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 4 x 10
  • Standing Calve Raises: 4 x 15
  • Seated Calve Raises: 4 x 15

Workout Tips:

  • This workout is all about the pump
  • Don’t focus on heavyweights
  • This is an extra day for those of us who enjoy training arms and don’t want to miss a weekday in the gym
  • Have fun!

Thursday Workout

It’s lower body day again, but this time your focus is on squats. You’ll have the same core (abdominal) exercises, but feel free to change these up. I jut do these because I like them, and the equipment to do them is usually available in my gym. 

Squats  and Core Focused Workout:

  • Squats: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3 – superset with
  • Decline Sit-ups: 5 x 10
  • Front Squats: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Rope Crunches: 4 x 10
  • Good Mornings: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Leg Raises: 4 x 10

Workout Tips:

  • Same as Monday, do some light Yoga or ride the bike for 10 minutes before this workout
  • Set the decline bench up close to your squat area
  • Walk around a little before going to front squats
  • Follow the same tips as Monday for your lower back

Friday Workout

You’re going to be rowing again. And you may have noticed in Brian’s linear progression video he says you should row every day! That’s not a bad plan! Your pressing movements will shoulder-driven instead of chest. 

Barbell Rows and Overhead Press Focused Workout:

  • Reverse Grip Barbell Rows: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3 – superset with
  • Standing Overhead Press: 5 x 8, 6, 5, 3, 3
  • Weighted Pull-ups: 4 x 8 – superset with
  • Seated Dumbbell Press: 4 x 8
  • Seated Rows: 4 x 10 – superset with
  • Lateral Raises: 4 x 10

Workout Tips:

  • Getting stronger on reverse grip rows will help strengthen your regular rows
  • Reverse grip rows and overhead presses isn’t 100% agonist-antagonist but it does serve as a push-pull, so to me, this is fine
  • If you can’t do weighted pull-ups or regular pull-ups, use the assisted machine, or you can substitute with lat pulldowns 
  • Get a good pump on that last round of supersets (final two exercises) by focusing on contracting the muscles

How I Built This Lean and Strong Workout Program

I was on YouTube searching for ways to boost your squat and deadlift. But I didn’t want a typical powerlifting routine. My goal was to get stronger, but also remain somewhat lean and muscular. I didn’t want to be strong and fat with a huge gut! 

That’s when I stumbled on a video by Brian Alsruhe. In the video below, he gives you an entire linear progression strength and conditioning program. And the premises are based on agonist-antagonist training. 

Linear progression means progressing up in weight every few weeks. In this case, it’s every 4 weeks where you’ll lower the rep ranges and lift heavier weights.

This is actually the first time I truly tried about agonist-antagonist training. I think I mentioned earlier…this program is tough, but will certainly make you lean and strong. 

It’s clear that Brian knows his stuff…the dude is super strong and jacked. So check out his other videos too. There’s a wealth of strength training knowledge on his channel.  You can subscribe to Brian’s channel here

And Brian, if you happen to read this thank you! 

Additional Muscle And Strength Building Resources

In conclusion, I want to share a few resources that may help you.

There are three things I use when lifting heavy:

  1. Weightlifting belt
  2. Chain belt (for weighted pull-ups)
  3. Wrist wraps

There are also some supplements that I recommend for this type of training:

***The links go to my review page of my top products; there are links on those pages to buy if you decide they’re right for you.

**The Lean Muscle Building Program is a 3-phase weight training program that will help you get leaner, stronger, and add more quality muscle using the agonist-antagonist methods we talked about here. 

It also includes a nutrition and supplement guide to help you reach your goals faster.

Start this program now: Lean Muscle Building Program

**If you’re looking for a mass gaining program instead, then check out my Hardcore Muscle Building Program.

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!