Updated: Jan 15, 2022
Supersets are a fantastic training technique that you can use when you're short on time or are needing an extra kick from your workout sessions.
But what exactly are they and how would you go about incorporating them into your training program?
How can you utilize them to make twice the gains from your workout, in like half the time?
If you've got any questions about supersets whatsoever, I'm likely going to cover it in this post.
Whether you're a beginner in the gym wanting to learn about supersets of an advanced lifter looking to top up on your training knowledge, there's going to be something in here that you can learn from.
Stick with me and I'll help you learn all you need to know about them!
Everything You Need to Know About Supersets
First of All: What Even Is a Superset?
A superset is a type of intensity technique that’s intended to help you get more out of your workouts in a shorter period of time.
It involves lifters alternating between different exercises in the same set, with very little to no rest in between working periods.
For example, a lifter might choose to superset a bicep and tricep isolation exercise on their ‘arm day’.
The lifter might do a set of 12 reps with ab EZ bar, and then immediately jump into a set of 12 with that same barbell on overhead extensions.
This lifter would then be supersetting between bicep curls and overhead tricep extensions.
Supersets can be done with any combination of exercise, and there are many different types of them too.
I’ll get into that later.
Why Would We Use Them?
Athletes typically use supersets in their workouts when they’re running short on time, and want to get a little bit extra out of their session before they leave.
By supersetting exercises and reducing the amount of time that you spend resting, you can get more gains out of your workout in a much shorter time period.
Because you make your workout so much more intense, your body is going to have to work much harder to keep up and it’ll make up for some of the gains you otherwise would’ve missed out on if you had just left part way through the workout.
Some athletes and lifters will also choose to incorporate supersets into their workouts, regardless of their time availability.
Some people, especially bodybuilders just like the feeling of a more intense workout, and like to feel the more intense ‘pump’ in their muscles.
They like to feel more satisfied with their workouts, and leave the gym feeling like they really worked hard.
The Key Takeaway: People include supersets in their workout routines and programs when they're short on time and need more out of their sessions in a shorter time period. Some people will also choose to include supersets in their workouts for the added intense and burning sensation that they tend to offer you.
The Different Types of Supersets
This is where it starts to get slightly more complicated.
But you'll manage.
I'll try to explain it as best as I can.
The different types of supersets are as follows:
Post exhaustion supersets
Same muscle group supersets
These different types all have their own time and place in various workout routines, and I'll explain each one below.
Post Exhaustion Supersets
This type of superset refers to the pairing of a compound exercise and an isolation exercise together.
Lifters will do the compound exercise first, and then immediately head into the isolation exercise to get more of a burn on the target muscle.
The idea behind this is that compound exercises are generally better for building strength and are better for overall growth.
Isolation exercises are then better for focusing on a specific muscle group and are great for finishing off a muscle group.
By doing the compound exercises first, you give yourself the best chance to make some good gains in terms of both strength and muscle building.
Then, you immediately switch into the isolation movement to finish off the target muscle and really hone in on it.
An example of this would be a chest superset like:
Barbell bench press for chest strength and muscle mass
Immediately jumping into cable flyes (to failure) to add more of a burn onto the chest
Or an example of a quadricep superset might be something like:
Leg press for strength and muscle mass
Supersetting into quad extensions to finish off the quads and add intensity
It's an absolutely fantastic way to significantly increase the intensity of your workout and get more out your muscles in half the time it would usually take.
Hopefully that explains what a post-exhaustion superset is.
This is a style of superset that has you doing a strength exercises first, and then immediately heading into a flexibility/mobility exercise.
The main purpose of this kind of superset is to help you build up your strength as well as your mobility to improve your technique and help keep you moving as efficiently as possible.
You can get some strength work done and build on your lifting capacity, and then immediately head into mobility work for any weak points that you feel are lagging behind in terms of flexibility.
An example of this would be something like:
Heavy sumo deadlifts to build strength
Mobility work for the hip flexors to increase deadlift efficiency and safety
Or another example might be:
Barbell squats for strength
Ankle mobility exercises to improve squat depth
This is a great choice of superset type if you're an athlete that cares about becoming the best overall athlete that you can be, and moving as efficiently as possible in all ways possible.
This kind of superset is exactly what it sounds like.
It splits your body in half and has you pairing an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise.
This type of superset would really only be used during a workout split such as a full body split, where you’re hitting various parts of the body in the same session.
Since upper body exercises usually don’t work the lower body and vice versa, you're not going to experience too much additional fatigue between the sets.
However, it is important that you pick exercises that aren't that taxing on the body.
Otherwise, you will face a lot of central nervous system (CNS) fatigue and you might find it hard to keep training intensely.
For example, if you try to superset a set of heavy barbell bench presses with a set of heavy barbell squats, you're going to die.
Do not try this.
Instead, you should look to choose exercises that aren't that taxing on the muscles and central nervous system.
Exercises such as the seated dumbbell shoulder press and the goblet squat would be fine to superset.
Or, isolation exercises like the bicep curl and the calf raise would be fine to superset as well.
This kind of superset is a great way for people to achieve more total workout volume without having to commit too much more time into the gym and without causing too much of a drop in your workout performance.
Same Muscle Group Supersets
This is a kind of superset that allows you to really focus on a single muscle group and make sure it gets the majority of your attention during the session.
Many people will use this kind of superset to fix up lagging body parts and help even out muscular imbalances.
Basically, it involves you pairing two strength training exercises together, and having them both target the same muscle group.
You may notice that the first type of superset I mentioned: post exhaustion supersets actually fall under this category.
By doing two exercises back to back without rest, you can really shift the focus onto one particular muscle group.
An example of this could be a back superset like:
Pull ups for back strength and muscle mass
Superset into straight arm pulldowns to isolate the back and finish them off
Or more commonly, you’ll pick two exercises that each target different parts of a muscle group.
For example, a bicep superset would look something like:
EZ bar curls for overall bicep growth
Dumbbell hammer curls to build up the brachialis, long head and forearms
This kind of superset is a great way to really focus on a singular muscle group and is usually used to lessen muscular imbalances.
For example, if you've got much stronger triceps than biceps, you may want to add an additional superset for your biceps whilst keeping your tricep training the same for a couple of weeks.
This would gradually even out the muscular imbalance, and then you could return back to the same training volume for both muscles once you're satisfied with the proportions.
Alright, now this is where it starts to get a little technical.
I’ll start by explaining what antagonistic muscles are.
Every muscle group is paired with another muscle group, and they always move together.
Whenever one muscle group is lengthening or protracting, the other is shortening or contracting.
For example, the chest and back are a pair of antagonistic muscles.
During a barbell bench press, the chest stretches at the bottom when the bar is on your chest, and contracts at the top when you arms are locked out.
The back does the exact opposite.
The muscles of the back are shortened at the bottom end of a bench press, and are stretched when you push the bar up towards the ceiling.
In antagonistic pairs, the muscles are always doing opposing movements to each other.
Other examples of antagonistic pairs would include:
The biceps and triceps
The quads and hamstrings
Abs and spinal erectors
Calves and tibialis anterior (the muscle next to your shins)
Glutes and hip flexors
This kind of superset works well like the upper/lower supersets because the two muscle groups in the superset are never going to be actively resisting weight together.
There is never a time when the biceps and the triceps would be resisting weight during the same movement, and so they won't tire each other out too much during their individual exercises.
This kind of superset is a great way to achieve more total workout volume in a shorter time period, without compromising your workout performance all that much.
In fact, if you choose to do this superset with two isolation exercises such as the bicep curl and the tricep extension, it actually won't cause all that much extra fatigue at all.
So any time you're doing an upper body workout or a full body workout and you're short on time, you can always remember that antagonistic muscle supersets are a great way to get more workout volume in without causing too much fatigue.
Are Supersets More Effective Than Regular Training?
The answer to this question is going to depend on your goals and what you're trying to achieve through your workout, as well as your individual situation and circumstances.
For example, if you're a person that's always pressed for time and doesn't usually have more than 75 minutes or to so to commit into the gym, then it's going to be a pretty good idea to include supersets into your workouts often.
Otherwise, you might find it hard to achieve adequate workout volume throughout the week without going over time and running late for your other commitments.
However, if your main priority is to build strength/muscle or you really care about your performance in the gym, then supersets aren't actually going to be a good addition to your workouts.
You might've grasped this concept already earlier, but supersets often cause a slight drop in your training performance due to a lack of a rest period between your sets.
This effect is amplified if you pick exercises that are more taxing on the body (generally free weight compound exercises), or you superset two exercises that both work the same muscle (more muscle fatigue).
And with goals such as strength and muscle gain, your training performance really does matter.
In order to gain strength, you have to lift heavy. It's a skill.
And as with any skill in life, the only way to get better at it is going to be to practise it.
However, if you're constantly supersetting during your workouts and not giving yourself a chance to rest, you're going to find it very tough to train at the intensity you intend to.
You might be stuck to lifting well below your one-rep max for only 2-3 reps, when you know you should be able to lift much more.
You're still training hard, but you're not training as much for strength anymore.
Because the truth is, you have to lift heavy.
And it doesn't matter what else you've done leading up to that set, if you're not able to lift heavy you're not going to build as much strength as you like.
Over the course of several months and years, this is likely going to lead to A LOT of strength gains that you've missed out on due to supersetting too often.
What If I'm Short on Time But Still Want to Gain Strength?
Now if you're short on time but you still want to gain strength, then this is where things start to get tricky.
You'll either have to superset and cause your training performance to drop, or cut your workout short.
Technically, yes. You'd have to choose between those two options.
However, there is one more way that you could go about this.
You could do your heavy lifting at the start of your session when you're the freshest, and take as long as you need to.
Then, you can include supersets for the rest of your workout and keep the training intensity high.
This is going to allow you to build maximal strength, whilst still getting as much training volume in as possible and maximizing your gains with the circumstances you're in.
What About Building Muscle?
I already mentioned this earlier, your performance in training really does matter in terms of building muscle.
The amount of weight you're lifting and the number of reps that you achieve actually does have an influence on how much muscle you can build.
Let me explain.
The primary mechanism for muscle growth is mechanical tension.
In the most basic terms, that refers to the amount of weight you're lifting and the number of reps that you achieve with that weight.
The heavier you can lift, the larger your muscles are going to be (90% of the time).
And put simply, the end goal of any strength training program geared towards muscle growth should be to get stronger.
If you're able to double the amount of weight that you can bench press for a rep range that's conducive to hypertrophy, your chest, shoulders and triceps would have growth in size.
And yes, there is a direct relationship between muscular strength and muscle size.
This has been shown in many scientific studies.
Take this one by Lei Chen for example, which concluded that: "muscle mass and muscle strength are positively correlated, independent of the associations of age and gender with muscle mass and strength."
So you have to lift heavy and progressively overload/get stronger in order to make long term progress with muscle growth.
However if you're constantly supersetting during your workouts and aren't giving yourself a chance to lift relatively weights, you're not going to be building muscle at the most optimal rate.
The most optimal way to train is to lift heavy, train intensely and rest adequately between sets so that you're able to get as close to your performance in the previous sets as possible.
Remember, supersets should really only be done when you're short on time and really need to try and fit more volume in when you're in a hurry.
But Don't Supersets Increase Workout Intensity? Doesn't That Get Better Results?
Yes, supersets do increase the intensity of your workout by making you do more work in a shorter period of time.
You're going to feel more of a burn in your muscles and might even feel more satisfied with your workouts like I said people do earlier in this article.
However, it's important for you to know that just because an exercise or technique provides more of a 'burning' sensation, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's the most optimal for growth.
That burning sensation is actually the result of metabolic stress, which is the second most important driver of muscle growth (after mechanical tension).
You'll still be able to build lots of muscle with intense workouts that include lots of tough supersets, but it's just not going to be fully optimized towards your goals.
The same idea applies to the debate between shorter rest periods vs. longer rest periods, which you should read about by clicking here.
If you prefer to train this way and it helps you stay more committed in the gym, that is completely fine.
However if you want to train scientifically and you want to see the best possible results, then constantly adding supersets for no real reason isn't going to be a good way to go about doing this.
If this all sounds too confusing, you can get our team to create a fully personalized workout program for you, and remove all of the guesswork and confusion for you.
All you have to do is follow the program and you'll be well on your way to the body of your dreams!
Go and check out that feature by clicking here.
The key Takeaway: Supersets are a great training technique to implement if you're running short on time and need more out of your workout quicker. However, they're generally not optimal for building strength/muscle, and there's no real reason to include them in your program if you don't need to. Never choose training novelty over training efficiency and effectiveness.
How to Incorporate Supersets Into Your Training Program
If you've done your research and have decided that supersets are still a good addition to your program, or you just prefer to include them, then you'll wan to keep on reading.
Depending on your choice of superset (the 5 different kinds), your approach towards incorporating them into your program is going to differ.
However, no matter the superset that you go with, you're going to want to remember that they will all cause a slight-moderate drop in your training performance.
You're going to want to keep the number of supersets in your workouts to a minimum.
Do as many as you need to achieve the right training volume, but don't do any more than you need to.
You still want to maximize your gains, even if you're short on time.
Remember to do all your heavy lifting first in the session, and try to keep supersets away from those sets if you can.
And then you should look to include as many supersets as you need on the rest of your training routine, starting from the least taxing exercises and moving upwards.
That's about all I can tell you without any personalized information about you.
If that sounds too confusing, you can actually get the specialized team at Gympulsive to help you out with all this for a very affordable price.
Wrapping It Up
Supersets are a great addition to your workout program if you're short on time and need a little extra kick from your workouts, but don't have any more to commit to the gym.
However, it's important that you learn and understand when and where to include supersets, as they can actually cause diminishing returns and hinder your progress if you don't implement them correctly or implement then when you shouldn't be.
If you've got any questions that you want help with answering, just let us know via the 'chat' feature on the bottom right of your screen!
And if you found this article helpful, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people and help more learn about their fitness journey!
For even more high-quality, exclusive fitness content, join Gympulsive Pro to gain full access to the site and for us to personally help you out with your program!
Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your day!
"Make sure your worst enemy doesn't live between your own two ears." - Laird Hamilton