Making changes to your workout is a good way to prevent boredom, but also to keep making progress. That is why so many lifters and gym-goers practice the fitness technique known as progressive overload. But most think that progressive overload only entails increasing the weight or amount of reps and sets, and although this is one of the best ways to promote better progress, there are other strength training techniques that can be implemented that will help keep things fresh without having to reinvent your entire routine.
One of the best and simple techniques that help bring life back into your workouts is known as supersets. This training method is even more popular now, in fact, you've probably seen it in action either at the gym or on social media! It's popular for a reason, it helps give your body the challenge it needs to continue making progress and efficiently burn calories. There's actually so much more to love about supersets, and we're going to give you a full breakdown –– From what this strategy is, its benefits, how to implement it in your training routine to promote better muscle growth and even fat loss!
What are supersets?
Supersets are a strength training technique that involves doing two exercises in a row with little or no rest in between them. This means that instead of doing multiple reps of one move and resting in between sets, you pair two exercises together and wait to rest until you've complete both exercises. This helps to cut the amount of time you spend resting in half thus placing a greater challenge on your muscle while cutting down your workout time.
Contrary to popular belief, supersets don't only involve working opposing muscle groups... There are different ways to implement supersets in your routine and in a way that fits your fitness level and goals best.
Types of superset workouts
There are six main types of superset workouts that you can try. Knowing the different types will help you determine which method to use based on your fitness level and what you're trying to accomplish. Also, it's good to change things up and try different supersetting methods as a way to keep things fresh!
- Pre-exhaustion: This superset involves exhausting a muscle group by performing an isolation exercise first and then working it harder by performing a compound exercise immediately after. For example, if you want to grow your quadriceps then you can create a superset by doing leg extensions followed by squats. Just be careful with how much weight you use, in fact, we suggest starting out with a lighter weight. Remember, you don't need to go heavy to make progress. This method of training is designed to challenge your muscles without needing to lift extremely heavy.
- Post-exhaustion: Similar to pre-exhaustion supersets, this method involves performing a compound exercise and then adding an isolation exercise after in an effort to hit all muscle fibers in a particular muscle group. Following an earlier example, this would mean starting with squats and ending with leg extensions. Or for an upper-body example, doing an overhead press followed by lateral raises.
- Compound: Compound sets typically two compound exercises that target the same muscle group, but in a different manner. For example, doing a dumbbell bench press followed by an incline bench press. This method is best for advanced lifters since it requires two compound exercises which means a heavier weight is being used.
- Isolation: This method of supersetting involves doing two isolation exercises back-to-back to completely destroy that muscle group in an effort to build muscle and muscular endurance. For example, performing barbell biceps curl followed by hammer curls with dumbbells.
- Staggered: This superset is better for those just starting out because it's least taxing on your muscles. Staggered sets involve working two completely different muscle groups which allow you to work out a specific muscle that may be lagging in between your sets. For example, performing bent-over rows followed by calf raises. But pick your exercises wisely, there are certain exercises that work muscles indirectly like chest exercises that work your triceps and shoulders. So remember to choose different exercises that work different muscle groups because, like straight sets, this method is meant to allow for full rest and recovery of a muscle group while working other muscles in between.
- Opposing muscle groups: This is the most common and popular superset. This method involves doing two exercises that target opposing muscle groups, essentially letting one muscle rest while the other works. It's similar to the staggered method except instead of hitting a totally different muscle, you're hitting the opposing one. For example, pairing a tricep exercise like tricep extensions followed by barbell curls. You can pair chest and back exercises, hamstrings and quadriceps, and biceps and triceps.
Benefits of supersets
Now that you know the different types and how they work, what are the benefits of formatting your workout this way? Well, there are four benefits that will convince you to start implementing this method into your training...
- They help improve muscular endurance and hypertrophy: Supersets require you to go straight into your next set with little to no rest. Doing this pushes your body and muscles to work through fatigue thus helping build muscular endurance, but also increases hypertrophy (also known as muscle mass). This helps to improve your muscle-building efforts in a different approach that doesn't involve going heavier on the weight.
- They help you burn more calories: How many calories you burn in a workout comes down to the total work you do in your sweat session. Supersets push you do more reps in your workout than you normally would which will give your heart rate up, increase blood flow to your muscles which helps increase your calorie burn and help with fat loss goals. However, that depends on how many additional reps you're able to squeeze in and if you're not using supersetting as a way to rush through your workout.
- They help you save time: Supersetting helps maximize your time spent at the gym or working out at more! You are able to fit more exercises into your usual workout time frame thus helping it be more time-efficient and burn more calories. You can also use this training method as a way to cut back on your time at the gym. If you're really in a rush, but want to get a good pump in then incorporate supersets into your workout, just keep in mind that it’s not going to help you burn massive amounts of calories. But it will help you accomplish more in less time and burn a good amount of calories as opposed to skipping the gym altogether!
- They help breakthrough workout boredom: Variety is an extremely important part in any good training plan. Although every lifter should consistently practice progressive overload on key compound lifts and focus on increasing the weight, there are times when you just can't or you're just bored of your usual routine. Supersetting is a good way to make things more fun than doing the same exercise over and over to achieve muscle fatigue.
Tips for adding supersets into your workout routine
Learning how to use supersets for better workouts isn't all that difficult once you understand the different types of supersets - which we've already broken down for you! There are many ways to go about supersetting, but we want to make sure that you know how to actually incorporate this training method into your workout the best way possible. Meaning, in a way that maximizes performance and results while reducing your risk of injury.
Here are four of the best tips you should consider following if you want to ensure your superset workouts are effective...
Use traditional sets for heavy compound lifts
Although you can do compound sets (supersets involving compound lifts), you should try to avoid them. Certain compound exercises require your full body to help with the heavy lifting, supersetting these exercises will decrease your performance which diminishes your results. Which compound exercises should you avoid? That depends on which ones you do the most, but the ones we recommend to avoid using in a superset are deadlifts, barbell squats, barbell chest press, barbell bent-over rows, and pretty much any of your heavy compound lifts that involve barbells! Typically, barbell compound exercises are important for strength and muscle-building which is why you don't want to compromise your performance or progress on them by combining them with another exercise.
Basically, if you're trying to achieve any type of maximum load for a lift, then focus only on that one lift. Trying to add more work to it will only compromise your form, performance, and lead to any injury! And as an extra tip - start your workout session with your heavy compound lifts before hitting your supersets. Heavy compound lifts require maximum energy and performance, so prioritize those lifts before trying to exhaust your muscles through a superset.
Rest at least 1 to 2 minutes between each superset
Supersets involve doing a higher amount of reps with no rest to help fatigue your muscles, but you don't want to decrease your performance for the next set! To avoid poor form, technique, and injuries, have a longer rest period between each superset. Even if you're working opposing muscle groups that don't directly interfere with one another, you are going to be tired after each set, and if you're tired and not fully prepared for the next set then your performance is going to decrease.
We suggest resting between one to two minutes between each superset. If you're working bigger muscle groups like the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings then take a full two minutes.
Choose muscle groups that don't interfere with each other
Although there are supersets that involve muscle exhaustion, you shouldn't do them all the time. In fact, we suggest prioritizing supersets that involve hitting different muscle groups that don't interfere with each other. However, if you are an advanced lifter who wants to exhaust a muscle in an effort to get better results then stick to a pre-exhaustion superset, but remember to not combine it with your key heavy compound lifts (stick to lighter dumbbell exercises).
Prioritize staggered and opposing muscle group supersets. Here are a few safe ways to pair exercises for different muscle groups:
- Biceps and triceps
- Chest and back
- Quads and hamstrings
- Back and quads
- Triceps and back
- Shoulders and calves
There are many ways to go about it! You can combine upper and lower body exercises for full-body workouts, or choose opposing muscle groups for your split workouts.
Incorporate cardio to get your heart rate pumping
Supersetting doesn't only have to involve weight lifting and resistance training exercises, it can also include cardio-focused exercises for those who want to get a better calorie burn! Plus, adding cardio helps to add intensity, but also overload your muscles thus helping them grow. A few examples of cardio and strength training exercises that get your heart rate up include kettlebell swings, jumping lunges, box jumps, jumping squats, med ball slams, and battle ropes. Just keep the above tips in mind if you plan to incorporate cardio to avoid any unwanted injuries and to ensure that your performance isn't lacking!
In summary, supersets are a small change that you can make in your workout routine that can make all the difference. Not only does it help keep your workout routine fun and fresh, but it also is a way of practicing progressive overload and can help you break through a workout plateau you might've hit from not adding enough variety. Just keep our tips in mind so you can incorporate supersets safely into your routine and in a way that fits your fitness level, goals, and preferred training style!