Every few years we see a new training fad in the fitness space. Sometimes old school stuff resurfaces with a new label…such as Kettlebell training and bodyweight exercises. You also have a myriad of fitness sites out there that keeps coming out with a variation on a variation on a variation promising you “new muscle growth” or “faster fat loss.”
Well, supersets training is one technique that has passed the test of time. Supersets are simply when you perform two exercises back to back with little to no exercise in between.
It’s that simple.
That’s all it is.
So what makes supersets so…well…super? So much so that they have never gone out of style?
According Jim Ryno, owner of LIFT, a private personal training facility in Ramsey, New Jersey, “…supersetting actually increases the amount of work you perform in a specific time period, since you’re moving quickly from one exercise to another with minimal rest in between sets, which leads to a more intense workout and a higher expenditure of calories. Supersets are a sure-fire way to further boost your metabolic rate and burn fat faster without spending more time in the gym.”
So supersetting helps you:
- perform more work in the same or shorter period of time
- produces an intense workout
- burns more calories
- increases metabolic rate
Well….so does circuit training and interval training.
Why do supersets get the all-access VIP pass to your time and effort?
The short answer to that question is that supersets allow you to train efficiently for different goals. In other words, it is not just for fat loss – but supersets can also be used to build strength and mass.
Don’t believe me?
Ask Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold, in his training book “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” explained the benefits of supersetting were:
- Saved time – able to perform more work in a short period of time.
- Able to handle heavier poundages for mass and power
- Get a greater pump, and keep the pump longer each after the workout
- Greater muscle-density results because you are pushing yourself to the limit
If it’s good enough for Arnold, it’s good enough for me!
Arnold’s Olympia-winning routine was a twice-per day double-split, 6 days per week – all supersets. For example, for his back and chest workout, he would perform 4 exercises for back, 4 exercises for chest, and then the pullover, which is a combination exercise.
The entire workout would take 45 minutes (as opposed to the usual 2-hour bodybuilding love fest). In that 45 minutes, he would complete 45 sets. Can you imagine how little Arnold rested in between each set?
How do I Super Set?
Now that you know how awesome supersets are, lets get into your options on how to do them. There are probably dozens of variations out there, but there really only 2 basic ways to do supersets right:
Antagonistic Super Sets – this is what Arnold did when he performed a chest exercise followed by a back exercise. The concept behind antagonistic supersets is very simple: blood flow to a working muscle is increased between sets by stressing another muscle group in close proximity. So, training chest/back, biceps/triceps, and hamstrings/quads – are all good places to start.
Agonist Super Sets – also known as “agony” sets. The idea is to hammer the same muscle group using two exercises. For example, you can perform hammer curls, followed by a set of incline curls to target the biceps. This method is particularly useful if you are trying to bring up a specific body part.
How do I construct a routine?
There are five key ingredients to constructing a superset routine:
#1 – Select a Training Split
Program design always starts from deciding upon a training split. If you are not a bodybuilder, then a full body or upper/lower split would work for you. If your needs are slightly different, then check out this article regarding training splits: When Full Body Splits Are Not The Answer
#2 – Antagonistic or Agonistic?
Unless you are trying to bring up a specific bodypart, my recommendation is to use antagonistic supersets. Agonistic supersets can also be used towards the end of the workout to train abs, for example.
#3 – Rest between supersets
If you’re just starting off with supersets, then I recommend resting up to 90 seconds between each exercise pairing. As you get better at supersets, you’ll be able to gradually lower the amount you rest between each pairing.
#4 – Length of Time
How long you want to workout will determine how many exercises you use, and how many sets you perform. For example, if you are looking for a quick, 20 minute workout, then you want to select only 4-6 exercises. On the other hand, if you are looking for a full 45 minute workout, then you may want to use 8-10 exercises.
#5 – Exercise Pairings
I’ve written about this topic before in depth. Check it out here: Best Superset Pairings for Individual Body Parts
Moral of the story: sift through the fads and stick to what really works. In my book, supersets are the tried and true training method that guarantees an improvement in your health and physique.