Everything to Know About Adding Supersets in Your Training
by Evelyn Valdez·
When we're not motivated to work out, especially after a long break, refreshing our routine does just the trick. Many personal trainers recommend adding supersets. In fact, these are some of the first exercise variations new bodybuilders will learn, but the benefits of supersets are viable across all fitness levels.
Supersets will challenge you in ways you've never been before! Going from one exercise to another without a break helps you achieve massive health gains in a much shorter session. See for yourself why supersets are such a popular option for those wanting to increase their muscle mass and burn more fat!
What are supersets?
Supersets are about going from one exercise to the next without resting in between. It's a well-known strength training technique to heavily boost muscle growth and build muscular endurance. It also allows you to do more exercises while cutting down the amount of time you need to do them.
With supersets, the number of reps you do is much lower than you might do in an average workout. The standard is about 5-10 reps within three or four rounds of supersets. Depending on your goals, you can perform full-body supersets or a type of superset targeting a certain body part. There's often a misconception about what's considered a superset. Contrary to what some may say, supersets can target the same and opposite muscle groups. What matters is how the exercises are split.
Types of supersets
There are 6 main types of supersets you can try, and you don't only have to commit to only one! You can test different supersets, and figure out which ones work best for you, your fitness level, and goals.
Opposing muscle groups sets
Working out two different sets of muscle groups back-to-back is one of the most common forms of superset exercises. These are also referred to as antagonist supersets or upper body/lower body splits. While one muscle group remains at rest, you're simultaneously working out another one. It's important to remember though, after completing both exercises, to rest your entire body for at least two to three minutes. With some muscle groups, like your arms, you might not need as much rest time. But if you don't recover enough strength, you'll quickly notice a decrease in your performance.
Here are some muscle groups and exercises bodybuilders like pairing together for antagonist supersets:
- Biceps and triceps
- Seated dumbbell curls/ Lying dumbbell tricep extensions
- Cable curls/ Tricep pushdown
- EZ barbell curl/ Close grip bench press
- Back and Chest
- Seated chest press machine/ Seated row machine
- Barbell Bench Press/ Barbell Bent Over Rows
- Wide grip dips/ Pull-ups or Chin-ups
- Quads and hamstrings
- Front squat/ Romanian deadlift
- Barbell squat/ Leg curl
- Hack squats/ Low back extension
With pre-exhaustion supersets, you're working out the same muscles, but performing two different exercises. This involves doing an isolation exercise followed by a compound exercise. Now you might be asking, how are these different then from regular isolation supersets? The main reason is that by doing a compound exercise, the targeted muscle worked in the isolation exercise isn't working alone. This way, you end up working the muscle harder. We don't suggest lifting heavy in the compound exercise because, the truth is, you don't really need to in order to push your muscles to their limit. Supersets are designed to allow for moderate and lighter weights while still building muscle.
Some common pre-exhaustion exercises include:
- Legs- Leg extensions and squats
- Shoulders- Front dumbbell raise and overhead press
- Back- Lateral pull downs and seated row
- Chest- Cable crossover and push ups
- Triceps- Close-grip bench presses and cable pushdowns
- Biceps- Dumbbell bicep curls and concentration curls
These supersets are not for the faint of heart and require a high level of fitness. Post-exhaustion supersets involve performing a compound exercise and an isolation exercise to exhaust a particular muscle group. This is basically pre-exhaustion supersets in reverse. The compound exercise fatigues the targeted muscle while the isolated move exhausts the muscle fibers even further. These tend to deliver better results compared to isolation supersets, but your choice depends on your fitness level and how much intensity you want in your workout.
Examples of post-exhaustion supersets:
- Bicep- Chin-up and seated zottman curl
- Triceps- Diamond push ups and overhead tricep extensions
- Legs- Leg press and leg extension
- Chest- Barbell bench press and dumbbell fly
Beginner's tip: Following a weighted compound exercise with a weighted isolation exercise can put a lot of stress on your muscle at once, so if you're just starting out take it slow. One way to do this is by using a resistance band to finish off the superset. For example, after doing a military press (killer shoulder exercise) finish it off by doing front raises with a long resistance band! You'll feel the burn on your shoulders, and you can always use a heavier resistance to take things up a notch before switching to free weights.
Doing isolation supersets is almost like performing a standard workout, but you're still completing two back-to-back exercises. These are great if you're looking to target a weaker muscle without focusing too much on other muscle groups. It's a great option for beginners who have never attempted supersets. Doing these will prepare you for compound sets as you develop your fitness level and improve your muscular endurance.
Examples of isolation supersets
- Biceps- Barbell curls and hammer curls
- Legs- Calf-raises and leg extensions
- Chest- Seated cable chest flys and dumbbell incline bench flys
- Shoulders- Standing dumbbell lateral raises and one-arm front cable raise
- Triceps- Lying triceps extensions and decline dumbbell tricep extensions
Compound sets are when two compound exercises work out the same muscle group by hitting it at different angles. This variation tends to involve more heavyweight, so it's usually recommended for more advanced bodybuilders or professional athletes. You also are only performing two exercises instead of three more, but you can switch up the number of reps you do based on how much weight you're lifting. If your goal is to increase hypertrophy, compound sets will get you there.
Examples of compound sets:
- Legs- Squats and lunges
- Shoulder- Overhead shoulder press and Arnold press
- Chest- Barbell bench variation and single-arm bench press
- Back- Pull-ups and deadlifts
- Biceps- Inverted rows and close-grip chin ups
How to incorporate supersets into your workout
In reality, you're already fully prepared to start performing supersets with your strength and resistance training. It's just a matter of pairing the right exercises with the type of superset workout you want to try first.
Another reason for incorporating supersets into your workout is to save time. Having a job, going to school, or caring for your kids doesn't always leave enough space in your schedule for an hour-long workout. Supersets allow you to target multiple muscle groups and help you burn more calories.
One thing you should remember when choosing supersets is making sure you aren't exhausting your muscles all the time. While you are trying to challenge your muscles, you don't want to overtrain. Overtraining can keep you from working out for months just so your body can recover properly.
Things to avoid when performing supersets
As effective as supersets are, you need to be careful when mixing exercises and using different muscle groups all at once. You want to be sure you avoid these mistakes when incorporating supersets into your full-body workout.
- Compromising your technique in an effort to rush through the sets. Supersets will definitely exhaust your muscles, but you should never sacrifice good technique to finish a set. Having proper form is the most important part of exercising, especially if you're a beginner. It's far too easy to get seriously injured when you aren't watching how you're lifting or grabbing weights. If you feel too tired to continue, it's always better to stop and give your body the rest it needs, even if it means cutting your workout short.
- Not eating after a superset workout. You've probably heard before why you should eat after working out, but you especially want to eat right after doing supersets. These workouts really tear at your muscles, so you'll need to have a protein-rich diet to help rebuild the tissue and increase muscle hypertrophy.
- Don't shorten your rest periods in between sets. You're going to need more rest if your body completes back-to-back exercises. A regular set doing one exercise doesn't wear you out as much. You'll quickly notice, however, that giving your body less time to recover in between supersets will burn you out. Now, depending on your fitness level and the intensity of your workout, only you can be the best judge as to how much rest time you need.
- Doing supersets requiring various types of equipment at the same time. You will end up using all kinds of equipment for different types of supersets. However, you may find it's easier to choose superset exercises that use the same equipment unless you have your own home gym set up. You could waste a lot of time waiting around at the gym for certain weights and machines, especially depending on the time of day you workout.
Step out of the box by customizing your supersets!
When you feel like you aren't making headway with your weight training, it can lower your motivation and make you believe you're not doing enough. Supersets can help bust up any workout plateau that isn't providing you the results you want. You'll be able to build an entirely new strength training strategy matching your new goals and break the monotony of old routines.
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