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Take 2 exercises, perform one after the other with little to no rest and you’ve successfully completed a superset. Despite the name, they’re not all that super, although that doesn’t mean they are useless, far from it.
Supersets can be useful in certain applications and not so useful in others. In this post we’re going to break down how they can be used and the advantages/disadvantages of each.
Same Muscle Group Supersetting
If you were to perform a barbell bench press, followed by a dumbbell bench press then you would be supersetting with the same muscle group. You’d be working a similar movement pattern as well as the chest/shoulder/triceps during both exercises.
If we’re honest, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless you simply want to practice different movement patterns and fit as many into a session as possible. You’d probably be better off just performing one of the exercises for a few more reps. Not only that but you’d probably piss off all the other gym members by using all the equipment.
There is a rationale however for same muscle group supersetting in the form of a compound movement and an isolation movement. Using the example above, it’s quite common for some of the smaller muscle groups such as the shoulder and triceps to give out before the larger muscle groups that you are targeting such as the chest. Therefore, performing a barbell bench press followed by a chest fly to target the chest and eliminate the use of the shoulders and triceps (to a degree) makes more sense.
However, you still run the risk of affecting your strength potential when you come to the second set of your barbell bench pressing. What if you exhausted your chest too much during the flies? If you overdo it on the flies you won’t be able to lift as much when it comes to subsequent sets.
If you did want to isolate the chest, our advice would be to complete a compound lift first and then move onto an isolation after rather than trying to combine them.
Antagonist Muscle Group Supersetting
It’s not all bad news for supersets though and we do recommend them in certain situations. In our experience, to get the most benefit from a supersetting you’d be best off picking antagonist (opposite) muscle groups. Some of the most common supersets being:
Chest & Back
Biceps & Triceps
Quadriceps & Hamstrings
That way, when one muscle is resting, the opposite muscle is working. Effectively eliminating the need to rest between sets.
If you are short on time or simply don’t want to spend hours in the gym then this is a great way to maximise the efficiency of your workout as you can get much more volume into a session.
Why Not Superset Everything?
One caveat to supersetting is that you may not be able to lift quite as much as performing a straight set due to total body fatigue. Traditionally you would perform a set, have some rest (sit on your arse) before performing another set. During this rest, your body is doing very little and the whole body is recovering.
However, when performing a superset your body is constantly working, so while the antagonist muscles may be recovering, your whole body is still working and building fatigue which may affect strength. You are constantly on the go, almost like a circuit.
Without getting too scientific, your body won’t be able to sufficiently replenish ATP stores, the energy system primarily used for exertion up to 10 seconds. If strength is a priority then, particularly at the start of a sessions and for the bigger compound movements (squat, bench, deadlift), it would be wise to stick to straight sets to allow the body and energy systems to recover.
Another caveat you need to consider are the indirect muscles used during antagonist lifts. A typical superset might include a bench press and bent over row, one exercise working the chest with one exercise working the back.
Whilst the chest and back are getting rest between exercises, the shoulders are constantly in use. If you are performing 3 sets of each exercise, that’s effectively 6 sets working the shoulders with little to minimum rest which can have a pretty big impact on your strength towards the end of a superset.
When Would We Recommend Supersets?
If you have limited time to train then you need to weigh up the pros and cons of supersetting and decide whether they align with your goals.
Are you looking for maximum hypertrophy? In which case, supersetting is a viable option as you will be able to get much more volume and exercise variation within the session.
Are you looking for maximum strength? In this situation you may want to limit supersetting completely or perhaps just towards the end of the session so you can concentrate on maximising strength in the beginning.
Our Favourite Supersets
Bench Press & Bent Over Row
Military Press & Lat Pull Down
Incline Dumbbell Press & Chest Supported Row
EZ Bar Curl & Skullcrushers
Leg Extension & Leg Curl
- Allows for more volume and exercise variety in less time
- Should ideally be used with opposing muscle groups
- May not be beneficial for maximum strength (although you can still absolutely build strength doing supersets)
Need one of the team to show you how you can fit supersets into your training programme? Get In Touch
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