Back in the March '98 issue of Muscle Media, strength coach Charles Poliquin introduced a unique form of training that involved flexion of one limb with simultaneous extension of the opposite limb. For example, you would do a dumbbell curl with the right arm while doing a cable pressdown with the left arm. This method of "reciprocity" training was said to increase neuromotor drive by as much as 10%.
It sounded good at the time, but the method never took off due to a couple of challenges. For one, it only seemed to work for a limited part of the upper body and was difficult to implement for the lower body. Another issue was trying to pinpoint the correct weight so that you could execute at the exact cadence and fatigue both sides at the same time.
So many people gave up on reciprocity training. That's too bad because it works well if done right! You'll need to use microloading implements like PlateMates to get the weight dialed in (no big deal), and it works more muscles than just the biceps and triceps. Here's how to do reciprocity training for the upper body, moving from proximal to distal muscles.
Shoulder Flexion and Extension
Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps at a 2-0-2-0 tempo with 120 seconds of rest. Start by pressing up for 2 seconds with the left arm while pulling down for 2 seconds with the right arm, reverse the motion for 2 seconds each side, and do 8-10 reps in that manner. Once you finish, rest for 120 seconds and repeat, this time pressing up with the right arm while pulling down with the left arm. Do that entire process 3 more times.
Elbow Flexion and Extension
Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps at a 2-0-2-0 tempo with 90 seconds of rest.
Wrist Flexion and Extension
Do 2 sets of 12-15 reps at a 2-0-2-0 tempo with 60 seconds of rest.
Alternating Dumbbell Curls
Here's another way of incorporating reciprocity training that I picked up from Dr. Mel Siff. Take a look at this excerpt from his book Supertraining:
If contraction of the agonists is preceded immediately by a maximal contraction of the antagonists, the force and EMG produced by the agonists is increased, a phenomenon called pre-tension by bodybuilders and reciprocal inhibition by physiotherapists and regularly used in PNF conditioning. This pre-contraction of antagonists apparently diminishes inhibitory activity and facilitates more powerful agonist action in the subsequent contraction.
You can put this principle into action while doing alternating dumbbell curls by pressing the non-curling arm back against the bench (a strong isometric contraction of the triceps) while the other arm is curling (an isotonic contraction of the biceps). You'll be able to curl more weight this way.
With this concept in mind, you could do reciprocity training for the lower body as well. For example, perform dynamic leg extensions while maintaining a static hamstring contraction, or vice versa.
Another option that I learned from exercise scientist Jerry Telle is to perform a high step-up with resistance added to the trail leg (either by an ankle weight or an ankle strap attached to a low pulley). Step up with the lead leg while simultaneously hip flexing the trail leg.
To your success,
John Paul Catanzaro
Posted Jul 26, 2018