Superset Your Way To Success


Supersetting your way to success in the gym is easier than you may think.  Supersets are a great way to both increase the efficiency and speed at which you can workout, which results in quicker workout times or more work done per unit of time, but they also are super beneficial for muscle growth and hypertrophy.  You can even see large improvements in fat loss from using supersets frequently as you are performing a lot more work in a short amount of time.

What is a superset?

Supersets are basically doing two exercises back to back with minimal rest period inbetween.  So instead of doing one exercise, taking a break and letting the muscle recover, you're going blast right into another exercise with little to no rest.  This enables you to work the body much faster and get either more sets, reps or overall exercises into a workout program.

How to do it?

The way to optimal position your workouts for supersets is often to combine agonist and antagonist muscle groups, which is basically muscles that work opposing one another (ie. triceps and biceps probably the most common of these).  This sort of breakdown works especially well since you can go from one muscle group to another rapidly without taking a lot of rest.  So you can get the work done in half the time, versus the old school technique of resting 2-3 minutes between sets of an exercise.

While the old school methodology works very well for building up strength levels (and it isn't recommended to superset large, compound movements that you're trying for max loads (85-100% 1-repetition maximum). Although, you can also incorporate heavy compound movements with a much lighter exercise.  Take a heavy set of front squats or deadlifts and pairing them with an abdominal or shoulder exercise.  The whole goal is to get an exercise that doesn't affect the primary lift.  Hard to do when you're doing large movements, but if the load is light enough you can manage doing deadlifts and shoulder press or lateral raises quite easily.  You just don't want exercise that are going to compete heavily with the same muscle used in the first exercise.  That would be a compound set which is another intensity technique that will be broken down in another blog post.

Is Supersetting Circuit Training?

While supersets sound a lot like circuit training, they are not circuits.  Supersets should only be two exercises in order to provide the maximal stimulus to the working muscles.  Circuit training involves having a lot of exercises paired in such a way that you're going through the full body or multiple body parts in a series.  Generally these would have about 4-10 exercises grouped together performed back to back.  While these forms do get you moving and working all the muscles in a short amount of time they are not as effective as supersets.  The intensity level of the superset is the difference.

You're basically trying to work the two movements as hard as possible in minimal time, incurring a bit of fatigue as you go along.  You're really pushing the muscle to mechanical or metabolic failure, versus in a circuit by the time you get around to the same exercise again, those muscles are long since recovered and able to push through another set quite easily.  It's just not as intense as a superset that will really punish those muscles into getting bigger, leaner and stronger.  And when you can work a muscle harder and more efficiently it will have better results than doing a circuit (not that in some populations circuits aren't appropriate or a good workout, but some can be more effective at gaining muscle mass and burning fat than others).

Favorite Superset Pairs

Here are a few of my favorite superset pairs:

Bench Press // Bent Over Rows

These two work as great pairs.  A heavy press and heavy row.  Again you can't go super heavy on one or the other, but you can pick one as the focus point and the other as the secondary exercise for optimal effectiveness and then just switch them up.

Shoulder Press // Pullups

Another great pairing here.  The shoulder press you can go super heavy on without affecting the pullups at all, in fact they will add to one anothers' effectiveness.  This is providing you can knock out pullups with relative ease or at least use a band for a bit of assistance.  But these are a pretty safe and effective combo non-the less.  If pullups aren't your thing, try them with lat pulldowns.  A great subsitute, but not as intense as pullups.

Squats // Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

Now, here are two bigger movements that are paired from a heavy compound leg exercise like squats where you can really load the weight on the bar, but warning to the wise, take it easy on the stiff-legged deadlifts.  A great pairing, but if you lift too much with your back on squats they can be hazardous.  Generally most people go to heavy on stiff-legged deadlifts, so pairing in this way is a good chance for you to work on form and really feeling the hamstrings stretch and contract, while keeping the low back safe.

Tricep skullcrushers // Barbell Bicep Curls

No superset article would be complete without mentioning the most common supersets between biceps and triceps.  You can easily go fairly heavy on skullcrushers, while still having a lot of juice in the tank to power through a tough set of bicep curls.  You may even be able to cruise through these two exercises back and forth without stopping until your arms are thoroughly smoked and sore.  Go, ahead and give it a try.  Remember on all these exercises though, form should still be maintained throughout the lifts to ensure safety.  If you're too tired and are losing reps on each exercise, maybe take a bit more rest after the superset.

Incline Situps // Glute Ham Raises

This is one of my favorites to burn through targeting the front half of the abdominals and then immediately going into a back and hamstring focused exercise.  You can load these up or go at it with just body weight depending on strength level for a good solid burn.


Now, I've got a couple of superset based workouts that you can try.  The first one is a freebie.  If you like it then try some of the others to keep on making those gainz.




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Jess Howland

Jesse "Captain Smash" Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold's Gym. He's a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.