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10 Exercise Pairs That Were Made for Each Other

author image Linda Melone
Linda Melone is a seasoned writer and certified strength and conditioning specialist specializing in fitness and health. She also holds a B.S. in nutrition. Her work appears on WebMD, MSN Health, Shape.com, AARP, Oxygen and in many other online and print publications.

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10 Exercise Pairs That Were Made for Each Other
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Choosing the best exercises to help you reach your fitness goals depends on many factors. Exercise selection will vary according to your inherent abilities, medical or orthopedic limitations and your overall movement quality, says Jason Machowsky, CSCS, a board-certified sports dietitian and performance specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “In general, paired exercises that work best either allow for a balanced muscle group (push then pull) or involve working one body part while the other rests, such as in alternating upper- and lower-body exercises.” The following exercise pairs will help you reach your goals faster. Add these to parts of your current workouts, or try a full-body workout of supersets.

1. Bench Presses + Push-Ups
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Performing bench presses followed by push-ups works similar muscle groups, making it more demanding. “This technique is best for more advanced exercisers,” says performance specialist Jason Machowsky, CSCS. Called a “compound set” or “superset,” the stress on each muscle is compounded because each exercise recruits the same muscle area. You will need to use less weight and fewer reps because using the same muscles will fatigue them more quickly. Perform a set of bench presses and immediately follow with a set of push-ups, resting for a minute or two only after each compound set. Do a total of three double sets.

Related: 10 Push-Up Variations for a Stronger Body

2. Biceps Curls + Back Rows
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If you pre-exhaust your biceps first, you’ll be less likely to use them on back rows, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. For rows, you should be focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together instead of pulling your elbows back and bending your arms using your biceps, Olson says. Do biceps curls, back rows -- seated cable rows or dumbbells rows -- and repeat for three supersets.

Related: The Ultimate Back-Strength Workout

3. Lunges + Single-Leg Deadlift
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The combination of lunges and single-leg balancing exercises (like a one-leg deadlift) works similarly to the biceps curls and back rows, says exercise physiologist Michele Olson, Ph.D. “You pre-exhaust your hip and gluteal muscles on one side, and then balance on the worked leg (right leg leading lunge, then balance on it doing single-leg deadlifts).” The pre-exhausted muscles will have to work extra hard isometrically to keep you balanced. It’s a great way to finish off your lunging routine, she says. Do lunges on the right leg first: three sets followed by 30 seconds of single-leg deadlifts (but slow reps). Repeat the sequence on the left leg.

Related: 22 New Lunges to Supercharge Leg Day

4. Barbell Biceps Curls + Triceps Extension
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Working biceps and then triceps represents an alternative type of superset. Instead of performing back-to-back exercises working similar muscle groups, this uses an alternating “push and pull” technique, also known as the agonist and antagonist muscle groups. The technique involves performing a designated number of reps for one set and immediately going to the other exercise. By alternating the active muscle groups, you ensure that the same muscle group will not be used for two consecutive exercises and overfatigue them. Do barbell biceps curls (or substitute dumbbells) followed by triceps extensions, rest and repeat for three sets.

Related: How to Train Your Entire Body With One Weight

5. Chest Flyes + Supported Dumbbell Row
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Another example of a push-pull superset, chest flyes require a push and supported dumbbell rows consist of pulling, thereby working the opposite muscle groups: chest and back. Chest flyes using dumbbells should be performed by lowering the dumbbells in a wide arc only until they are level with the shoulders and chest. The dumbbells’ handles should be parallel to each other as the elbows move downward. Keep wrists stiff and the elbows slightly bent throughout the movement. Hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms and shoulders should be in the same plane. When doing dumbbell rows, lean forward onto the weight bench and pull the dumbbells up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do. Do a set of each, rest a minute and repeat for three sets.

Related: 11 Exercises the Best Trainers Won’t Do

6. Dumbbell Chest Presses + Back Squats
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Allowing one area of the body to rest while another works -- most commonly alternating upper- and lower-body exercises -- builds efficiency into the workout because it reduces the amount of passive rest time required, says performance specialist Jason Machowsky, CSCS. These combinations also work well as part of a circuit-training program. For barbell back squats, position the feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and toes pointed slightly out. Maintain a position with a flat back, high elbows and the chest up and out. Keep the heels on the floor and your knees aligned over the feet. For each rep, lower yourself until the thighs are parallel to the floor, you start to round your back or your heels rise off the ground. Do a set of chest presses and squats, rest a minute and repeat for three sets.

Related: Top 15 CrossFit Body-Weight Exercises You Can Do at Home

7. Barbell Shoulder Presses + Lateral Shoulder Raises
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Both shoulder presses and lateral raises work the deltoid muscles, making this a compound set. To perform a seated barbell press, use a grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Use a spotter to help you get the bar off the rack. Keep the wrists stiff and forearms parallel to each other and extend your neck slightly to allow the bar to pass in front of your face as the bar lowers and touches the collarbone. Do not arch your back as you lift the bar. A tip for perfect lateral raises: Keep the elbows slightly bent as you raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides. The upper arms should rise together ahead of the forearms and hands. Do a set of each, rest a minute and repeat for three sets.

Related: 9 TRX Exercises to Sculpt an Insanely Strong Upper Body

8. Back Squats + Deadlifts
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These lower-body exercises done together are a push-and-pull set and represent a heavy-duty lower-body superset. Back squats are the “push,” and the deadlift is the “pull.” For a perfect deadlift, position the bar approximately one inch in front of the shins and over the balls of the feet. Eyes should be focused straight ahead or slightly upward. Lift the bar off the floor by straightening the hips and knees; do not let hips rise before the shoulders. Keep the bar as close to the shins as possible as you raise the bar. As the bar just clears the knees, move the hips forward to position the thighs against and the knees under the bar. Continue until you’re standing tall and straight. Do squats and deadlifts for one set, rest and repeat for three or more sets.

Related: 16 Exercises From the World’s Best Trainers

9. Squats + Donkey Kicks
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Squats combined with donkey kicks mimics a less advanced version of the squat-deadlift combo. Squats primarily strengthen and work the glutes and quadriceps, while donkey kicks focus on the hamstring muscles. When doing squats, be sure to keep your hips back behind your heels and your knees over your toes. Lower down until your hips are parallel to the floor (or further if you have more hip flexibility). For donkey kicks, keep your torso stationary and hips even at all times. Perform one set of each before resting. Repeat for three sets.

Related: 10 Machine-to-Free-Weight Swaps

10. Crunches + Back Extensions
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Crunches strengthen the rectus abdominis, the “six-pack” muscle that runs down the center of your abs, while back extensions work the lower back, glutes and hamstrings, making them great opposing muscle groups to superset. Avoid pulling on your neck when doing crunches, but instead imagine tucking an orange between your chin and collarbone (or make a fist and place it under your chin to mimic an orange-size space) as you curl your torso up and toward your thighs. Back extensions may be done over a stability ball or on back-extension equipment. For the latter, raise yourself up only until your body forms a straight line; avoid swinging or arching your back at the top of the movement. Do one set of each, rest and repeat for three sets.

Related: 21 Sit-Up Variations You Won’t Totally Hate

What Do YOU Think?
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Which twofers do you plan to try? Do you currently work out by doubling up your exercises? If so, which ones? Do you prefer opposing or resting supersets? How else do you maximize your workout time? Tell us in the comment section below!

Related: 10 Compound Moves for Greater Pump in Less Time

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