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Balance It Out

Explore the supersets:

When you hit the gym, it’s tempting to do only your favorite strength exercises — and often, “favorite” means moves that are fun and comfortable. But favoring only a few isolated, similar movements and neglecting opposing and complementary ones can create muscular imbalances.

If, for instance, you perform only pushes — pushups, squats, overhead presses, glute bridges, dips, and the like — you won’t build fully functional overall strength, says Kansas City–based strength-and-conditioning coach Jay Ashman, developer of the Ashman Strength System. Over time, these muscular imbalances can lead to discomfort, pain, and even injury.

Ashman is a former Strongman competitor who also played baseball and football. He uses a combined push–pull approach in his own training and with clients because it’s time efficient, well balanced, and effective.

Push exercises work the muscles you use to move weight away from your body, specifically the pectorals, triceps, fronts of the shoulders, and quadriceps.

Pull exercises target the lats, biceps, hamstrings, and other muscles that enable you to bring weight toward your body. You’ll feel these muscles kick in anytime you do pull-ups, bent-over rows, deadlifts, or biceps curls.

You can schedule your push and pull moves on separate training days, or tackle both types of movements in a single workout.

The following workout, designed by Ashman, pairs push and pull movements in a superset format. One superset couples a lower-body push with a lower-body pull; another pairs an upper-body push with an upper-body pull; and a third incorporates core stability and conditioning. Core and conditioning work will help integrate the upper- and lower-body moves; plus, it adds a fat-burning boost by ramping up your heart rate.

Once you can perform the workout as described, you can use the format as a template to build your own push–pull routines.

The Workout

Perform this full-body push–pull workout in three supersets. Complete the two movements in each superset for the prescribed number of repetitions or time, and then rest once you’ve finished both exercises.

Select weights you can lift with good form for the noted number of sets and reps. “Focus on form over speed by controlling the tempo,” advises workout designer Jay Ashman. For example, count to two as you lower the weight and repeat that same count as you raise the weight.

The routine — which you can perform up to three times per week — will take approximately 45 minutes to complete.

Superset 1: Lower Body

Complete three or four rounds, resting 45 to 60 seconds between rounds.

Push: Goblet Squat

This squat variation is gentle on the back while working the quads and glutes.

  • Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest, stand with feet hip width apart.
  • Push your butt back and bend your knees to lower yourself into a squat. Keep your torso upright and knees in line with your toes throughout the movement.
  • Drive through your heels to push up as you rise to standing.
  • Perform 12 to 15 reps.

Pull: Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift

Home in on your hamstrings and focus on proper hinge technique.

  • Stand with feet hip width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging straight in front of your body.
  • Push your butt back to hinge at the hips, allowing the weights to lower as you keep them close to your body.
  • Lower the weights until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and your hips no longer move backward. Squeeze your glutes as you return to the starting position.
  • Perform 12 to 15 reps.

Superset 2: Upper Body

Complete three or four rounds, resting 45 to 60 seconds between rounds.

Push: Dumbbell Bench Press

Target your chest, triceps, and shoulders with this classic upper-body strength builder.

  • Lie face-up on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, positioned at chest height.
  • Press the dumbbells straight up toward the ceiling.
  • Lower the weights with control until your elbows dip just below the height of the bench. Keep your arms close to your body and your feet planted throughout the movement.
  • Perform 12 to 15 reps.

Pull: Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

Build upper-back strength and counteract the hours you spend slouching at your desk.

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, hinge at the hips so your chest is about 45 degrees from the floor.
  • Draw your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows toward your hips to pull the dumbbells toward your rib cage.
  • Lower the weights with control until your arms are straight.
  • Perform 12 to 15 reps.

Superset 3: Core and Conditioning

Complete three to five rounds, resting 30 to 45 seconds between rounds.

Core: Wide Straight-Legged Sit-Ups

Build core strength across a full range of motion by straightening your legs.

  • Lie flat on your back with legs extended in a wide V; reach your arms toward the ceiling.
  • Engage your core as you sit up tall, keeping your legs on the floor and extending your arms straight ahead.
  • Lower slowly back down to the floor.
  • Perform as many good-form reps as possible in 60 seconds.

Conditioning: Dumbbell Thrusters

This move will get your heart pumping and work your upper and lower body.

  • Hold two dumbbells at shoulder height, then squat down as low as you comfortably can.
  • Use the power of your hips and glutes to explode back to standing, pressing the dumbbells overhead in one fluid motion.
  • Lower the weights and repeat for as many good-form reps as possible in 60 seconds.

(See “How to Do the Thruster” for additional details and variations.)

Build Your Own Push–Pull Workout

Using the push–pull workout as a template, you can build your own supersets by subbing in other moves that fall under the same category.

Lower-Body Pushes

Lower-Body Pulls

  • Good Morning
  • Fire Hydrant
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Leg Curl
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Single-Leg Deadlift
Upper-Body Pushes

Upper-Body Pulls

Try Another Push-Pull Workout!

Build balanced, full-body strength with this four-part push-pull workout routine.

This originally appeared as “Balance It Out” in the December 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Chad Holder

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