If you’ve been training for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of supersets, an “advanced training technique” that involves doing two exercises back-to-back before resting.

That said, you may not know why they’re useful or how to implement them in your training.

Some say they’re a “hack” for greater muscle growth, whereas others claim they’re just an effective way to finish your workouts faster. 

The truth is that supersets do have some unique benefits if you do them correctly, but they can undermine your gains if you go about them the wrong way. 

In this article, you’ll learn what supersets are, how to do supersets properly to gain muscle and strength, how to incorporate supersets into your workout program, and more. 

What Is a Superset?

To understand what a superset is, it’s helpful to first understand how to perform a traditional strength training workout.

In most strength training programs like Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger, you perform straight sets. This means you perform a set of an exercise, rest, do another set of that exercise, and repeat until you’ve finished all of your sets for that exercise. Then you move on to the next exercise, repeat the process again, and so on until you finish your workout. 

Here’s how this would look if you did 3 straight sets of biceps curls followed by 3 sets of triceps extensions: 

  1. Biceps Curl Set 1 (followed by a ~1-to-2 minute rest interval)
  2. Biceps Curl Set 2 (ditto)
  3. Biceps Curl Set 3 (ditto)
  4. Triceps Extension Set 1 (ditto)
  5. Triceps Extension Set 2 (ditto)
  6. Triceps Extension Set 3 (ditto)

A superset works differently. 

In a superset, you perform one set of an exercise and then immediately perform a set of a different exercise, alternating back and forth with little to no rest in between. Typically, you do this with two exercises that train different muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps, so that one exercise can rest while the other is being trained. 

Here’s what this would look like if you supersetted those same two exercises (for 3 sets each): 

  1. Biceps Curl Set 1 (followed by little to no rest)
  2. Triceps Extension Set 1 (ditto)
  3. Biceps Curl Set 2 (ditto)
  4. Triceps Extension Set 2 (ditto)
  5. Biceps Curl Set 3 (ditto)
  6. Triceps Extension Set 3 (ditto)

This is the most traditional kind of superset used by bodybuilders, but as you’ll learn in a moment, there are more productive ways to incorporate supersets into your workout program.

How to Do a Superset

Let’s look at how to do the most common types of superset and what science says about each.

Pre-Exhaustion Supersets

Pre-exhaustion supersets involve doing an isolation exercise immediately before performing a compound exercise that trains the same muscle group, then resting once you’ve finished the second exercise.

For example, you could do a set of chest flys, which isolate the pecs, then a set of bench press, which also trains the chest, and then rest (usually for around 60-to-90 seconds).

The theory behind pre-exhaustion is that small muscle groups often limit your performance on compound exercises, which means the muscle you’re trying to train doesn’t get maximally stimulated. For instance, in the bench press, your triceps may give out sooner than your pecs, forcing you to finish your set before fully stimulating the muscle you were primarily trying to train (the pecs).

By “pre-exhausting” the target muscle, however, you ensure that it’s the limiting factor during your subsequent compound set, guaranteeing it’s fully stimulated and leading to more growth over time.

While the theory of pre-exhausting sounds enticing, most research shows it’s no better for muscle and strength gain than straight sets, and it may also compromise your performance on some of your most important exercises. Thus, there’s no reason to include pre-exhaustion supersets in your workout routine unless you enjoy doing them.

Post-Exhaustion Supersets

With post-exhaustion supersets, the idea is to push a muscle to technical failure (the point where you can no longer move the weight with proper form) with a compound exercise, then immediately perform an isolation exercise that trains the same muscle with a lighter load to the point of absolute failure (the point where you can no longer move the weight and have to end the set).

For example, you could do a set of the Romanian deadlift, which trains the hamstrings, then a set of leg curls, which isolate the hamstrings, and then rest (usually for around 60-to-90 seconds).

Proponents of post-exhaustion supersets believe this is the best way to activate high-threshold motor units, which are muscle fibers that remain dormant until all other muscle fibers in the target muscle are spent.

There’s no research on post-exhaustion training specifically. However, post-exhaustion supersets resemble another “advanced training technique” called drop sets. As such, we can use the research on drop sets to make an educated guess about the efficacy of post-exhaustive supersets.

Most research shows that drop sets are no more effective than straight sets for gaining muscle and strength, which means there’s a good chance that post-exhaustive training is similarly effective to straight sets. As such, there’s no reason to include post-exhaustion supersets in your training unless you like doing them.

Similar Biomechanical Supersets

In a similar biomechanical superset, you do two exercises (compound or isolation) that train the same muscle back-to-back and then rest when you’ve finished the second exercise.

For example, you could do a set of bench press followed by a set of dips, then rest (usually for around 60-to-90 seconds), or a set of the triceps pushdown followed by a set of the overhead triceps extension, and then rest.

The reasoning behind similar biomechanical supersets goes like this: If doing one exercise causes your muscles to grow, doing two should cause them to grow more. When it comes to building muscle, however, doing more isn’t always better.

That’s because when you train a muscle with two exercises back-to-back, it quickly fatigues. This tanks your performance, makes your workouts feel harder, and forces you to compensate by using lighter weights or doing fewer reps in subsequent sets, which is the opposite of what you want to do to gain muscle and strength.

Thus, similar biomechanical supersets probably aren’t as effective as straight sets for gaining muscle and strength, so there’s no reason to include them in your program.

Antagonist Supersets

Antagonist supersets (more accurately referred to as “antagonist-paired sets”) involve alternating between two exercises that train opposing muscle groups and either resting a short while between each exercise or slightly longer once you’ve finished your second exercise.

For instance, you could do a set of bench press (which trains your chest, shoulders, and triceps), rest for ~1 minute, then do a set of pull-ups (which trains your back and biceps), and rest another ~1 minute. Or you could do a set of bench press, immediately followed by a set of pull-ups, and then rest 2-to-3 minutes.

Principle among antagonist supersets’ benefits is that they allow you to perform the same amount of work in much less time without your performance skidding, making antagonist supersets a time-efficient and effective way to train.

What’s more, some research shows that antagonist supersets can even improve your performance on both exercises more than using straight sets. (The exception to this would be full-body exercises like the squat and deadlift, where antagonist supersets should be avoided.)  

Alternate-Peripheral Supersets

In an alternate-peripheral superset, you perform two completely unrelated exercises back-to-back and either rest a short while between each exercise or slightly longer once you’ve finished your second exercise.

For example, you could do a set of leg press (which trains your entire lower body), rest ~1 minute, then do a set of Arnold press (which trains your shoulder and triceps), and rest another ~1 minute. Or you could do a set of leg press immediately followed by a set of Arnold press, and then rest 2-to-3 minutes.

Scientists haven’t studied alternative-peripheral supersets extensively, but the scant research we have suggests they’re about as effective as antagonist supersets, making them a viable strategy for getting your workouts done faster.

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What Is a Superset Workout?

A superset workout is a workout that’s mostly (if not entirely) composed of supersets.

As we’ve already seen, performing traditional supersets doesn’t boost muscle growth the way many people expect. However, if you do the right type of supersets—antagonist and alternate-peripheral supersets—you can expect to perform about as well as you do in traditional training and significantly shorten the time it takes to work out. (And possibly improve your performance in the case of antagonist supersets.)

Thus, antagonist and alternate-peripheral supersets are the only types of supersets I recommend including in your superset workouts.

I also don’t recommend using antagonist and alternate-peripheral supersets for all of your sets in your superset workouts.

While most research shows that antagonist and alternate-peripheral supersets don’t hinder your performance, some research suggests that your performance may decline a little if you include highly demanding full-body exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench press as one of the exercises in a superset. 

Since performing at your best and getting progressively stronger on these exercises is paramount for gaining full-body muscle and strength, I recommend sticking to straight sets for the squat, deadlift, and bench press.

Let’s look at how to put this all together . . .

The Best Superset Workout Plan for Hypertrophy and Strength

Below is a 3-day full-body superset workout routine that’s perfect for time-pressed people.

It works so well because it has you doing all the most effective exercises for training your entire body and uses proven superset protocols, so you finish in as little time as possible.

There are two ways to perform the supersets in this workout: 

  1. Perform the first exercise in the superset, rest 60-to-90 seconds, perform the second exercise, rest another 60-to-90 seconds and repeat, or . . .
  2. Perform the exercises back-to-back, rest 2-to-3 minutes when you finish the second exercise, and repeat.

Both approaches work well, so give each a try and stick with whichever works best for you. 

Superset Workout

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3 Tips for More Productive Superset Workouts

1. End every set 1-to-2 reps shy of muscle failure.

In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, you need to take most of your sets close (but not all the way) to muscle failure, which is the point at which you can’t complete a rep despite giving maximum effort.

To ensure you’re taking your sets close enough to failure, ask yourself this question at the end of each set, just before re-racking the weight: “If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good form?”

If the answer is more than two, then you should increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging. If the answer is one or zero, then you should reduce the weight or reps to make your next set less challenging. This ensures you’re including the right balance of volume and intensity in your workouts.

2. Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.

For instance, let’s say your workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of deadlift (as this one does). If you get 6 reps for a set, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) pull it for 6 reps, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps with your new (higher) weight on your next sets, reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you can stay within your target rep range (4-to-6) for all sets.

Follow this same pattern of trying to add reps or weight to every exercise in every workout. This method is known as double progression, and it’s a highly effective way to get fitter and stronger.

3. Take the right supplements.

You don’t need to take any supplements to gain muscle and strength, but the right ones can help.

The best supplements for building muscle and boosting your performance in your superset workouts are:

  • 0.8-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. This provides your body with the “building blocks” it needs to build and repair muscle tissue and help you recover from your workouts. If you want a clean, convenient, and delicious source of protein, try Whey+ or Casein+.
  • 3-to-5 grams of creatine per day. This will boost muscle and strength gain, improve anaerobic endurance, and reduce muscle damage and soreness from your superset workouts. If you want a 100% natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients that will help boost muscle growth and improve recovery, try Recharge.
  • One serving of Pulse per day. Pulse is a 100% natural pre-workout drink that enhances energy, mood, and focus; increases strength and endurance; and reduces fatigue. You can also get Pulse with caffeine or without.

(And if you’d like even more specific advice about which supplements you should take to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)