Supersets are arguably one of the most effective tools in the modern fitness enthusiast’s arsenal, having the potential to yield greater results from less time spent in the gym, given that you do it the right way.
However, many persons that try to incorporate supersets into their routine have no idea what they should be doing, and may inadvertently end up pairing exercises that have no business together. This is why, just as important as taking advantage of them is doing so with the guidance of a proven workout program.
What I’m about to share with you is sure to get you excited, so are you ready? Then let’s journey into the wonderful land of exercise Tinder.
What are supersets?
In simplest terms, supersets (as the name implies) are exercises that are performed back to back and are usually employed as a training technique to increase the intensity of your workout. While supersets are very effective, from my experience I’ve seen numerous trainees attempt to take advantage of it, without knowing the basics of it.
This is a grave error, and one that could lead to injury if you’re not careful, or worse; if you’re ego training. You have no business doing supersets if you’ve only ever heard of it through gym talk. It requires research on your part, or if you prefer, under the tutelage of a personal trainer or coach.
The Different Types of Supersets
It’s actually a very common mistake to believe that all supersets are the same, but after you’ve been lifting for a little while, this technique takes on an entirely new dimension that you could have never imagined.
One the most common questions I get asked by guys on the Hustlerfitness forums is the ideal way to structure their supersets, and the answer to that is “it depends”. Depends on what? First and foremost, you. Your physical health, age, experience levels, and goals also factor into the verdict.
If you’re still wondering, these are the common types of supersets that can be used to amplify your progress:
Compound supersets are the least used of the superset techniques, simply because it results in immense fatigue and inability to effectively perform the exercises. An example of this superset would be pairing compound movements for the same body part, such as barbell bench presses and bar dips.
Both of these exercises heavily target areas of the chest, with strong support from the triceps. However, it is very common for the triceps to become fatigued early in your workout, and as a result, your chest training suffers. You must have a handle on overall muscle group capacity to fully exploit this type of superset.
Pre-Fatigue or Isolation Supersets
Pre-fatigue supersets are great for fatiguing the targeted muscle group, as it takes out a great deal of reliance on supporting muscles. A good example of a pre-exhaustion pairing is a machine flye, followed up by a barbell bench press.
The chest muscles are already pre-fatigued from the flyes (machine flyes are excellent for isolation of the pecs), and when you perform the barbell bench press, it will receive ample fatigue. This is useful for people that complete a chest workout but who believe that the pecs have not been adequately stimulated.
Antagonist (Or Opposing Muscle Group) Superset Training
By far the most popular superset training methodology, popularized by none other than the great Austrian Oak, AKA Arnold Schwarzenegger. This superset type involves pairing opposing muscle groups for the most part, such as the chest and back, quads and hamstrings, or biceps and triceps.
My clients following the Shredded Program learn to do antagonist supersets the right way, as from week 1 I advocate using this technique.
On that note, it is important to realize that the muscles of the back are not one “contiguous” muscle, but rather a collection of specialized smaller muscles. This is why all my clients following the Shredded Program train specific areas of the back on different days, as there are vertical pulling muscles, and horizontal ones, which are trained from different movements.
How to Do Supersets
There are a myriad of ways you can structure and perform supersets, limited only by your experience, imagination, and of course, overall goals. There is no one-size suits all approach to superset training, even though antagonistic pairings are most common and beneficial to the largest number of intermediate trainees.
When structuring your superset, here are a few things to consider:
If you’re new to supersets, start off by pairing opposing muscle groups. This gives you the ability to judge the intensity you will be dealing with and learning how your body responds to the stimulus. You are also likely to kick-start new gains and improve muscle balance by combing muscles that have opposite actions on the joint.
Supersets do not mandate that you take no rest in between sets, as doing so is not always a sensible thing to do.
Sure, you can get away with it if you are pairing two opposing muscle groups with very small muscle overlap, but try doing that when super setting two exercises that target the same muscles and your performance will suffer.
Instead, it is a much better idea to take short rest periods in between exercises, regardless of the specific pairing. Doing so allows for moderate recovery so that the second body part targeted does not receive subpar training stimulation, and also translates to a greater likelihood of hypertrophy.
I advise my clients on the Shredded Program to take rest periods between each exercise, ranging from 30 seconds but up to 90 seconds for larger groups. On certain weeks, I advise longer when focusing on accelerated muscle growth.
In general, you should be careful about pre-fatiguing important accessory muscles before larger groups, even though it is occasionally done as a superset. For example, fatiguing the abs or extensors of the lower back prior to heavy movements like squats or deadlifts can significantly increase your risk of major injury.
Always train in a logical order that allows sufficient muscle stimulation and safety.
What are the Benefits of Supersets?
A Superset can best referred to as an “intensity technique”, which is one that can help take your progress to the next level. That said, you should not jump straight into using them if you haven’t been training for at the minimum, a consistent 12 weeks. Intermediate trainees stand to benefit the most from utilizing supersets.
Here are the benefits of supersets.
Improved Workout Efficiency
When working out, your goal should be to get your exercises in and get out of the gym in as little time as possible. This means less chit-chat, and more heart pumping, air-gasping work! Supersets keep you accountable, as you move quickly from one exercise into another, sometimes with just 30 seconds in between. This translates to shorter sessions in the gym, so you can spend more time doing what you love outside.
Increased Heart Rate And Caloric Expenditure
My clients on the Shredded Program typically report improved cardiovascular efficiency over the course of the 12-week duration it lasts, with a marked decrease in body fat common. When training to lose body fat, a target heart rate is usually determined which dictates the intensity at which you should be working out. Supersets ensure that your intensity is kept high, and can accelerate fat loss if coupled with a short bout of high intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio towards the end of your weightlifting routine.
You need to build muscle to transform your body. One of the main reasons people look to supersets in the first place is to overcome a training plateau, causing stagnation of muscle growth. Supersets are not often the best choice for strength gains if on a plateau, but can kick-start new growth thanks to the added stimulus.
My Tips On Supersets
Before jumping into supersets, here are some of my top tips for best results.
Your training tempo refers to the smooth, rhythm like pattern an exercise movement takes. For example, a common lifting tempo is 2121 (such as exercises A1 and A2 in the Shredded program) which simply means an eccentric phase (or lowering the weight, negative) of 2 seconds, followed by a 1second pause at the bottom, 2 seconds of concentric movement (the wringing phase, or contraction) and a 1 second pause at the top.
Training tempos are important for lengthening the time under tension of an exercise since you will be recruiting different types of muscles fibers by mixing up your time under tension.
Not often thought about, compression of the spinal cord can predispose you to injury and is more likely to occur from poorly constructed supersets. Exercises such as squats, overhead presses, sit-ups, deadlift and bent over rows place great stress on the spine, so be careful about combining too much of these in the same workout.
A superior option is to combine compressive with de-compressive movements, such as pulldowns, pull-ups, dips and reverse hyper extensions.
Wrapping Up: The Best Way to Use Supersets
Supersets can be an invaluable training technique to take advantage of, when performed in the correct way. This means taking into account what we've talked about here -- the right exercises, rest periods, tempo training, exercise flow and spinal compression.
While it's challenging for a beginner to master superset training, workout programs like Shredded, provide results-focused workouts to achieve a lean, muscular physique. The advantage of such a program is that it provides the exact workout programs to follow, meaning faster results in a short period of time.