What are Supersets? A Small Change with Big Gains
January 12, 2021 Guardian-Elite Fitness
You may be asking yourself, what are supersets? A superset is a strength training variation, combining two or more exercises performed consecutively with minimal rest in between.
Because the superset is designed to make you move from exercise to exercise with minimal to zero rest, you elevate calorie burn through increased intensity. A supersets workout can either include similar or opposing muscle groups.
- Supersets Meaning
- Supersets Workout Core Principles
- Example of a Superset
- Antagonistic Supersets
- Agonist Supersets
- Supersets Benefits
- Saves Time
- Stimulates Muscle Growth
- Increased Fat Burning
- Strength Gains
- What is a Supersets Workout?
- Supersets for Chest
- Supersets for Shoulders
- Supersets for Arms and Biceps
- Supersets for Legs
- Supersets for Back
Supersets are much like a high intensity interval training (HIIT) type workout. However, the difference here is the superset workout is much more focused on resistance training, or in this case, weight training.
A traditional HIIT workout will involve little to no rest in between sets, but have an overall time limit on the workout itself.
The difference here is that supersets don’t have any type of time element to them.
With the exception that you don’t rest in between different sets of exercises. You aren’t racing against a timer.
So, why not just do a HIIT workout? A HIIT workout will generally be focused on body weight movements, plyometric exercises or the use of medicine balls and kettlebells.
A susperset workout like what we’re describing is used during a weight training session, when someone is primarily focused on lifting weight to gain muscle.
The reason why a superset workout can be effective is because it’s combining a few staple principles for someone who is trying to make gains, add muscle mass and burn additional calories.
Remember, the supersets definition is to string two (or more) sets together, one right after another during your workout with little to no rest. The different exercise sets can use similar or opposing muscle groups.
Supersets Workout Core Principles
barbell with weights on it
The staple weight lifting principles we are talking about is progressive overload and compound movements.
A quick overview of each.
Progressive overload is important to muscle gain, because as you lift weights over-time, you will (hopefully) start to gain some muscle. But the gains don’t last. Especially if you are lifting the same weight, for the same reps and sets over and over.
The body will adapt. This means, you need to introduce new ways to challenge your body.
Generally, there are five ways to add progressive overload to your workouts:
- Resistance–More Weight
- Volume–More Reps and Sets
- Frequency–More Training Sessions
- Duration–Less Time Between Sets
- Tension–Time Under Tension
You can see that a superset will definitely use duration in the form of less time between sets and could even use resistance and volume to really shock your body into even more progress.
The second staple is compound lifts. Not every superset requires the use of compound lifts, but these can be very helpful in order to work multiple muscle groups at one time.
If you are using a superset for opposing muscle groups and adding in compound movements too, it could take your workout to the next level. Especially if you are starting to plateau with either fat loss or muscle gain.
Example of a Superset
bench for bench press superset
As described earlier, a superset can be done using similar or opposing muscle groups. It might be preferable to use opposite muscle groups, simply because this will give your muscles time to recover while you perform the second exercise set in the superset.
However, a supersets workout using similar muscle groups can increase hypertrophy (muscle building).
Antagonistic supersets will work the opposite muscle groups. Think biceps and triceps, or chest and back.
For example, using supersets chest and back, you might hit a dumbbell chest bench press for 8 reps and then immediately move into a dumbbell row for the back for 8 more reps.
The advantage here is that you keep the intensity level high, because there is no rest in between these two exercises but you are working two different muscle groups, so fatigue is not as much as a factor.
Agonist supersets will focus on only one or similar muscle groups. The benefit here is that you will be completely exhausting the muscles.
This exhausting of the muscles will increase hypertrophy and muscle fiber growth.
As an example, you would do 8 reps on a dumbbell bench press, then immediately move into a dumbbell fly on the bench.
An example of similar muscle groups might include a dumbbell bench press, followed by a triceps dumbbell kick-back.
Dumbbell supersets are a great benefit because dumbbells themselves are very versatile and can be used for a wide variety of exercises.
This way, you won’t be setting up the next exercise before hand or taking up a lot of real estate at the gym using two different machines or equipment.
muscular man flexing
Superset workouts clearly have their benefits. The list below are the main benefits for adding supersets to your weight training routine.
- Saves Time
- Stimulates Muscle Growth
- Increased Fat Burning
- Strength Gains
This is an underrated benefit of superset workouts. Standard workout protocol might include 6-8 reps, walking to the water fountain, walking back to the bench, waiting 30 more seconds before hitting the next 6-8 reps.
While taking time to let your muscles recover is perfectly fine, and can play an important role, it’s not exactly the most efficient use of time.
Supersets greatly reduce overall time spent, because there will be no rest in between exercises. Simply put, you can get more done in less time.
Stimulates Muscle Growth
Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, is the break down and rebuilding of muscle fibers through weight training. The most effective way to promote hypertrophy can be to stimulate a mix of muscle fibers.
One way to do this is to strategically pick the number of reps for each exercise, while keeping the weight at about 70% of your one rep max. Adding in a superset will increase the intensity and stimulate muscle growth.
Increased Fat Burning
Supersets will get your heart pumping. They are meant to be high intensity, and the main benefit of high intensity workouts is that you’ll trigger your metabolism to burn even more calories and fat.
You can even continue to burn additional calories for 24-48 hours after you’ve finished your workout, through what is called Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).
Using a antagonistic superset to lift heavier weight for lower reps, can promote strength gains.
We know that lifting heavy will build strength. Using the antagonistic superset will give the muscles time to recover while you perform the next exercise in the superset.
What is a Supersets Workout?
dumbbells on a dumbbell rack
We now know what makes a workout a superset, but you might not be sure what exercises you should be using for different muscle groups to make a supersets workout. We’ll go through different examples for all the main compound muscle groups.
Be mindful with each superset workout, that you have the next exercise already set-up or easily accessible. This way you’re not spending time setting up weight or a station before starting. The idea is to go straight into the next exercise with very little to no rest.
Supersets for Chest
Supersets for chest can take on many different forms. You could use a compound lift like the bench press followed by a cable machine fly that is more of an isolation exercise.
If you wanted to stick to compound lifts, try the flat bench press, followed by a decline bench press.
Here are the similar muscle groups for chest:
Chest Superset 1: Chest-Only Agonist Superset
Cable Chest Fly and Dumbbell Bench Press
Chest Superset 2: Chest-Shoulder Agonist Superset
Dumbbell Fly and Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Chest Superset 3: Chest-Back Antagonist Superset
Incline Bench Press and Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Supersets for Shoulders
Supersets for shoulders can use a barbell, dumbbell or isolation movement with a cable machine. For our example, we’ll use dumbbells.
Here are the similar muscle groups for shoulders:
Shoulders Superset 1: Shoulders-Only Agonist Superset
Barbell Shoulder Press and Dumbbell Front Raise
barbell shoulder press
front shoulder raise
Shoulders Superset 2: Shoulder-Triceps Agonist Superset
Triceps Rope Pull-Down and Lateral Raise
tricep rope pulldowns
Shoulders Superset 3: Shoulder-Legs Antagonist Superset
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press and Leg Extensions
Supersets for Arms and Biceps
The full arm superset workout will include exercises for the biceps and triceps.
Keep in mind however, that the biceps and triceps are opposing muscle groups. The bicep-triceps superset workout is very common and effective.
Similar bicep muscle groups will include:
Biceps Superset 1: Biceps-Only Agonist Superset
Concentration Curl and E-Z Bar Curl
E-Z Bar Curl
Biceps Superset 2: Biceps-Traps Agonist Superset
Dumbbell Shrugs and Preacher Curl Machine
Biceps Superset 3: Biceps-Triceps Antagonist Superset
Seated Dumbbell Curl and Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
seated dumbbell curl
Supersets for Legs
Supersets for legs can include any of these muscle groups:
Opposing muscle groups for the legs might include quads paired with hamstrings, or quads with calves.
A compound lift like the squat or deadlift might make use of nearly all of the leg muscles, but you can pair a compound lift with an isolation lift to complete the antagonistic superset.
Legs Superset 1: Legs-Only Agonist Superset
Deadlift and Leg Press
Legs Superset 2: Quads-Hamstrings Agonist Superset
Back Squat and Hamstring Curl
Legs Superset 3: Calves-Back Antagonist Superset
Calf Raise and Lat Pull-Down
Supersets for Back
A back superset workout can include any exercise for the lower back to the upper back. Biceps and Traps will be considered similar muscle groups too.
Back Superset 1: Back-Only Agonist Superset
Pull-Up and Lat Pull-Down
Back Superset 2: Back-Biceps Agonist Superset
Bent Over Row and Standing Barbell Curl
Back Superset 3: Back-Chest Antagonist Superset
Dumbbell Reverse Fly and Dumbbell Bench Press