Supersets are a staple of classic bodybuilding workouts.

You find them in almost every muscle building magazine, book, and blog, and Golden-era bodybuilders like Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, and Arnold swore by them.

But how effective are supersets?

And how do they compare to simpler muscle building techniques like increasing volume (reps), frequency, or intensity (load)?

Well, the short story is that supersets aren’t inherently good or bad—it all comes down to how you use them. Use them correctly, and they can help you finish your workouts faster without hurting your performance. Use them incorrectly, however, and they’ll probably slow down your progress.

Let’s get started.

Oh and if you like this episode want to be be notified when new episodes go live, then head on over to iTunes, Stitcher, YouTubeSoundcloudSpotify, iHeartRadio, or Google Play and subscribe.

Lastly, if you want to support the show, please drop a quick review of it over on iTunes. It really helps!

Would you rather read about supersets? Then check out this article!

TIME STAMPS:

4:12 – What is a superset?

5:45- Can supersetting help build muscle faster?

6:44 – Are supersets harder than traditional sets and more effective for gaining muscle?

8:00 – Do supersets help you do more reps and help build more muscle?

12:33 – Do supersets give you a bigger pump?

17:23 – What is the proper way to do supersets?

18:00 – Do supersets spike your testosterone?

20:27 – Can you use supersets to help gain strength faster?

26:14 – Can supersets replace cardio?

29:30 – What are supersets good for?

33:07 – How do you superset the right way?

Episode Transcript: 

Mike: [00:00:20] Hey, Mike Matthews here from Muscle For Life and Legion Athletics. Welcome to another episode of the Muscle For Life podcast. And this time around, we’re talking supersets. So if you want to know what supersets are, whether or not they can help you build muscle, get stronger, and lose fat faster.

And if you know the right and the wrong ways to use supersets in your training, then this podcast is for you. So supersets, a staple of all classic bodybuilding workouts. You find them in almost every muscle building magazine, book, blog. And golden era bodybuilders like Franco Colombo, Frank Zane, and Arnold swore by them.

But how effective are they really? And how do they compare to simpler muscle building techniques like increasing your volume, the number of hard sets that you do per workout or per week? Increasing frequency? How often you train individual muscle groups or intensity?

How much weight you’re lifting in terms of percentage of one-rep max? Well, the short story here is that supersets aren’t inherently good or bad. It all really comes down to how you use them. If you use them correctly, they can help you finish your workouts faster without hurting your performance. But if you use them incorrectly, like most people, they probably just slow down your progress.

 

[00:04:08] All righty, so what is a superset? Let’s start there. Well, a superset is a weightlifting technique where you do two exercises in a row with little or no rest in between the exercises. This is why they’re often called paired sets as well. And when you pair more than two exercises in this way, that’s usually referred to as a circuit or a tri-set for three sets, a quad set for four sets, and so on.

You’ve probably also heard the term giant set as well, which usually refers to a circuit of four or more exercises done back to back. Now, sometimes supersets are used to target the same muscle group with the goal of more fully activating all of the muscle fibers. At least that is the purported goal.

 

[00:04:52] And so, for example, you might superset barbell curls with dumbbell hammer curls, which both target the biceps, but in slightly different ways. Now, supersets are also used often to target different, usually opposing muscle groups, and that’s usually just to save time.

So, you know, you might superset the bench press with the barbell rows, which target your push and pull muscles, respectively. And then after completing a superset, you will generally rest for a minute or two before moving on to the next super set or just set exercise or whatever in your workout.

 

[00:05:25] So just to give another example, here’s how this might play out in an arms workout. So you start with a barbell curl for 10 to 12 reps, followed immediately by a triceps press for 10, 12 reps, rest one to two minutes, and then repeat a few times. That’s how most people do their supersets.

 

[00:05:41] Now, can super setting help you build muscle faster? And this is what many people do, supersets because they believe that they are better – that supersets are better for building muscle than traditional sets, traditional training methods. And their arguments usually boil down to one or more of the following.

So one, some people say that supersets are harder than traditional sets. Therefore, they are better for building muscle. They produce a stronger muscle building stimulus. Some people say that supersets help you do more reps in each workout. And by doing more reps, by doing more volume, you are going to make better gains over time.

Some people say that supersets give you a bigger pump and that that is intimately connected with muscle growth. And some people also say that supersets really spike anabolic hormone levels, you know, growth hormone, testosterone, and that over time increases muscle gain. So let’s take a closer look at each of these claims and see how they stand up to scrutiny into science.

 

[00:06:38] So we’ll start with: supersets are harder than traditional sets and therefore more effective for gaining muscle. So there’s no getting around the fact that building a great physique does require a lot of hard, uncomfortable work. Very true. No pain, no gain isn’t really practical advice, but it’s not entirely inaccurate either.

If you are not consistently pushing your body and your muscles outside of their comfort zones, so to speak, you are not going to get very far in your muscle building journey. And that’s why many people assume that supersets are highly effective. supersets are difficult.

They are painful, more so than traditional sets. But that does not mean they are better for muscle and strength gain, though. The main reason that supersets feel harder is simply the shorter rest periods. That makes weights feel heavier, that gives you a bigger pump, it more elevates your heart rate.

But studies show that none of those things are powerful muscle building stimuli. None of those things necessarily mean that that workout is going to result in considerable muscle growth. Now, what does result in considerable muscle growth? You will find out in this podcast. Just keep listening.

 

[00:07:54] For now, though, let’s move on to the next claim, which is that supersets help you do more reps in each workout and therefore are better for building muscle. And the first part of this is true, yes, supersets do help you do more reps in each workout if you are keeping the time equal.

By super setting exercise together, you get more work done in the time that you have to work out. And as accumulating volume, total reps, total hard sets, you can look at it in different ways, that is an important part of muscle building. Research has shown that a number of times. It all kind of sounds good, right?

The problem, however, is just as a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to optimizing your body composition, a rep is not a rep when it comes to optimizing strength and muscle gain. In other words, you have higher and lower quality volume and if you want to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, you want to emphasize the former, the high quality volume, as much as possible.

One of the key factors that determines the quality of the reps that you do, the quality of the volume is the intensity or the amount of weight that you are using relative to your one-rep max. And the RPE, the reading of perceived exertion, which really you can just look at as: when you finish a set, how many more reps could you get.

Reps in reserve as another way of looking at that. So the intensity of your workout is how much weight you have on the bar and how far are you pushing yourself in your sets? How close to technical failure are you coming in? Technical failure, of course, is the point where you can no longer maintain proper form to complete a rep.

 

[00:09:37] So if you’re not lifting heavy enough weights and if you’re not pushing yourself close enough to technical failure in enough of your sets, you are simply not getting as much out of your training as you could be. Now, I don’t want to go too far into the weeds here because we have a lot of stuff to cover.

And I will record a separate episode on RPE and RAR. But the long story short and what you know for this discussion is: research shows that you want to focus your weightlifting efforts on loads that range from about 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep max and you want to end most of your sets, one to three reps shy of technical failure.

Now, you can go to absolute failure with certain exercises under certain circumstances. Really kind of depends what you’re doing in terms of your programming and your diet. For example, you can go to absolute muscle failure on a bicep curl safely.

And that can make sense depending on what your goals are and what you’re doing. But going to absolute muscle failure in a deadlift is never a good idea, regardless of what you’re doing with your diet or regardless of how many drugs you’re on, I don’t care, it’s never a good idea.

 

[00:10:45] Now, the only way to do this effectively, to work with these heavier weights and to push yourself hard in your sets is to ensure that you get enough rest in between each set. A number of studies have confirmed this, that if you rest too little, so like one minute in between heavy weight lifting sets, for example, that’s too little rest.

Your performance will rapidly decline. And that means that you will not be able to lift as much weight. You will not be able to get as many reps with the weight that you are lifting and your form is more likely to break down if you do not rest enough in between sets.

You’re gonna have to lower the weight, you’re gonna have to do fewer sets or fewer reps, and that stunts progress over time. And this is why studies show that people who rest longer between their heavier weight lifting sets generally gain more strength and muscle over time than people that rest less.

And if you’re wondering how long you should be resting, let’s just call it three minutes. If you’re working with anywhere from like the 4 to 12 rep range, in the lower end of that rep range, if you’re in 4 to 6, 5 to 7, 6 to 8, I’d recommend about three minutes.

It could even be up to four minutes of rest, depending on your heart rate, how you feel, what exercise you’re doing. So if you’re doing some heavy squats and you really busted your ass on a set and you wait three minutes and your heart is still elevated and you still feel a little bit winded, wait another minute.

If you are working in the higher end of that rep range, closer to 10 to 12, two minutes is fair. If you need an extra minute, go to three minutes. So bringing this back to the topic at hand, while supersets can help you cram more volume into your workouts. It’s usually lower quality volume that will not impact your muscle and strength gain as much as higher quality volume would.

 

[00:12:28] The next claim here is that supersets give you a bigger pump and that is conducive to muscle growth. Now, of course, the pump refers to a temporary increase in muscle size that occurs when you lift weights, especially when you use higher reps and shorter rest periods.

When you contract your muscles, metabolic byproducts like lactic acid, hydrogen ions, and phosphate build up in and around the muscle cells. And in response, your body pumps more blood into the muscle to remove these chemicals and to provide oxygen and nutrients. Some of that blood, though, remains trapped in the muscles and voila, you’re now pumped up.

 

[00:13:05] Now, these chemicals don’t just contribute to that pump, though. Research shows that some of them also directly stimulate muscle growth through a process known as metabolic stress. And this is one of the three primary pathways of muscle growth, so to speak.

The other two being progressive overload and muscle damage, with progressive overload being the king. The grand puma of muscle building pathways is progressive overload, meaning that that’s what you need to accomplish more than anything else over time if you want to continue gaining muscle and strength.

 

[00:13:37] Now, supersets are, of course, good for getting a pump and for ratcheting up that metabolic stress because they usually involve high rep sets, short rest periods, which greatly spikes the production of these metabolic byproducts and blood flow to the muscles.

And as a result, of course, these type of sets produce more metabolic stress than traditional sets, especially heavier sets. And that’s why some people theorize that they can result in more muscle growth.

 

[00:14:06] The problem, though, is something actually hinted at just a minute ago, it’s that metabolic stress is not a very strong muscle building stimulus. A number of studies have confirmed this. It’s just not nearly as strong as mechanical tension, for example, which is how hard your muscles have to contract to move a weight.

And progressive overload is a process whereby you continue to increase mechanical tension on your muscles. And, of course, the easiest way to do that is to just add weight to the bar, make them contract harder and harder over time.

 

[00:14:37] So in the case of super setting, of course, it does involve mechanical tension, does involve muscle damage, but it emphasizes metabolic stress over mechanical tension and muscle damage. Whereas heavy weightlifting and strength training in particular emphasizes mechanical tension over both muscle damage and metabolic stress. This is why relying on too much super setting is a mistake.

What’s happening is you’re producing a lot of metabolic stress, which is a weak muscle building stimulus and getting big pumps at the expense of mechanical tension, which is the strong muscle building stimulus. So this is why you have a lot of people that go to the gym and they do a lot of supersets, a lot of high reps sets, a lot of pump stuff, and they leave the gym looking pretty good, but then they deflate in the next day or two and look like they don’t even lift.

I’ve been there. I was that guy for years where I remember thinking, like, “If I could just look like how I look right now with this pump, when I have no pump, after taking a week off the gym, that’d be pretty cool.” And it turns out I had to gain quite a bit of muscle to get there and I had to do a lot of heavy weight lifting to get there.

 

[00:15:45] And this isn’t just theory, this has been borne out in several studies, including one conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida, which compared higher rep pump training to lower rep strength training.

Both of these protocols resulted in about the same amount of muscle growth, which isn’t surprising given the short term nature of the program and the training status of the people that were involved. But there was a small trend toward greater gains in the strength training group, which I suspect would have grown if the study were longer in nature. If it would have went on for 6 months or 12 months, we would have seen more of a divergence.

 

[00:16:24] Similar results were also seen in another study conducted by scientists at Auburn University, which compared training with weights that were about 30 percent of the subjects one-rep max versus 80 percent. And what the researchers found is that although both groups gained about the same amount of muscle, the group that trained with 30 percent of their one-rep max had higher levels of fatigue that would likely take longer to fully recover from which, of course, reduces the potential workout frequency and performance in each individual workout if you are not fully recovered.

Another problem is that the more super setting that you do in your workouts, the more fatigue you’re going to be in those workouts, which of course, is going to impair your performance in your heavy weight lifting. And it is going to reduce the total amount of mechanical tension that you can subject your muscles to for the rest of the workout.

 

[00:17:15] And all of this is why the proper way to use super setting is to save it for the lesser important exercises, the isolation exercises, and save it for stuff that’s later in your workout. Do it later in your workouts, after you’ve gotten your heavy compound work out of the way and we’ll talk more about that soon.

 

[00:17:35] So to wrap up with this point, while pump training can produce a fair amount of metabolic stress and weak muscle building stimulus, it’s just not nearly as effective at increasing the mechanical tension, the progressive overload. And it can actually interfere with the kind of training that does.

 

[00:19:15] All right, moving on to the next myth, it’s that supersets spike your growth hormone and testosterone levels, and this is super anabolic and it can help you gain muscle faster.

 

[00:19:23] Now, scientists have known for some time that shortening rest periods and using higher rep ranges does generally cause larger increases in anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone. One good example of this is a study that was conducted by scientists at Kennesaw State University and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

And in this study, the researchers compared the changes in testosterone levels between people who did supersets versus traditional sets. And what they found is that the group that rested about one minute in between sets, that was the superset group, had 25 percent higher testosterone levels immediately after the workout than the group that rested about two and a half minutes percent.

And this is why many man and testosterone “gurus” say that you can use supersets to optimize your hormones and build muscle faster. Sounds nice, but the question is, how much do slight, very slight, and very temporary increases in anabolic hormones, how much does that really matter?

And the answer is: while some research has suggested that these effects can indeed be significant enough to warrant the claims that they are worthwhile, that it matters, the current weight of the evidence says the opposite. And that’s really why we have to look at when it comes to scientific research.

You can’t just cherry pick studies and say, here it is. This is it. This is the answer. You have to look at the literature on the whole. You look at the body of research on the matter. Think of it as a scale. You’re placing – okay, on this side of the scale is for the hypothesis, this side of the scales against the hypothesis, and you got to weigh it.

And it’s not just the number of studies that determine the weight, it’s also the quality of the studies. And when I say weight of evidence, that’s what I’m referring to. So when you look at everything, the current weight of the evidence says that it’s pretty clear that temporary exercise induced increases anabolic hormones simply does not translate into much in the way of additional strength or muscle gain in most people.

 

[00:21:24] And a good example that, if I’m taking an individual study, just to illustrate it, is actually a study I just cited. Ironically, the group that rested less in between the sets, the superset group that had the higher anabolic response to the workout, hormonally speaking, gained less muscle during the study than the group that rested more.

 

[00:21:43] Okay, now let’s talk about supersets and strength. Can use supersets to help you gain strength faster? And supersets are usually presented more as a body building technique rather than a strength training technique. But some people do claim that they can be used to get stronger, faster, and the reasoning here is usually pretty flimsy.

It kind of boils down to, well, more reps and more sets over time equals more strength, which isn’t entirely wrong headed, actually, because increasing volume over time is indeed a valid way to increase strength. Research has shown that. That said, as we’ve already discussed, your body does not respond to all volume in exactly the same way.

If only it did, then we could just go in and kind of dick around and get bigger and stronger. Some reps are more anabolic, so to speak, than others. And we also recall that in the case of super setting, we are sacrificing some of that intensity and some of that performance by shortening our rest times, which is good for getting a bigger pump and having more metabolic stress, but bad for achieving maximal progressive overload, which is really what you need to do if you want to get really strong.

If you want to do that, you have to handle as much weight as you can for the given rep range that you’re working in and that requires longer than usual rest periods to ensure that your body and your muscles have fully recovered from the set that you just finished and are ready for another intense bout of exertion.

And super setting, of course, is fundamentally at odds with this. That said, you can focus on increasing your whole body strength while also including supersets in your workout. And we’ll talk more about that very soon.

 

[00:23:25] First, though, we’ll talk about supersets and fat loss. That’s another one that is out there. If you spend any time in these parts, you know that many people say that supersets really help you shred up faster, bring out striations, and so forth. Now, you probably also know that first and foremost, you need an energy deficit to lose fat.

You need a calorie deficit to lose fat. And anything that helps you burn more calories can help you lose fat faster. Yes, of course, because it makes it easier to maintain that energy deficit. Now, many people claim that supersets are better for this, better than traditional sets, because they’re harder, and harder stuff burns more energy, which makes it easier to lose fat faster. And this is partially true.

 

[00:24:06] The primary factor that determines how many calories you burn in a workout is not necessarily how hard it feels. Your rating of perceived exertion does not necessarily correlate with calories burned because that can change based on many factors, internal factors, subjective factors. What determines, most determines how many calories you burn in a workout is how much total work you do in the workout.

So if you’re doing supersets, do more reps in your workouts, then, yes, you’re doing more work and you are going to burn more calories. Depending on how many additional reps you’re able to squeeze into your workouts, this can be significant. Research shows that you may be able to burn as much as an additional 100 to 200 calories per workout by doing a lot of super setting.

On the other hand, if you are using super setting to just get through a workout faster, you’re not going to burn any more energy than you would have if you would have just used longer rest periods. So in other words, if you took what is normally a 60 minute weightlifting workout and you change nothing but the rest times, so you just shorten those rest times, superset of bunch stuff, turn it into a 45 minute superset workout, you’re not going to burn any additional calories.

You have to take the 60 minute workout that normally has a volume of, let’s say, 12 hard sets, and by utilizing supersets, you can turn what was, let’s say, a 9 set workout into a 12 set workout, or what was a 12 set workout into a 15 set workout. If you do that, yes, you will burn additional calories.

 

[00:25:36] But again, to reiterate, if you do not do that, if you just take your normal heavier weight lifting workout, shorten the rest times, that is not going to burn more calories. In fact, you may even burn more calories with the traditional workout because you’re going to be able to use heavier weights in that workout.

And research shows that when you factor in especially the afterburn effect, the heavier weight lifting workout may indeed just burn more energy if the work is equated.

 

[00:26:02] So the bottom line here is that by replacing your heavy traditional weightlifting sets with supersets, yes, you may be able to burn more calories if you make the workout itself more difficult and if you do more hard sets in the workout, but that means that you will not be able to also maximize your progressive overload and thus your muscle and strength gain, which is probably why your hitting the weights in the first place, and which you can accomplish while in a calorie deficit if you are relatively new to weightlifting or proper weightlifting.

 

[00:26:29] Now, if you’re not if you’re an advanced weightlifter who really is not going to be gaining much in the way of strength or muscle while you’re cutting, you should know that evidence suggests that heavy traditional weightlifting may be better for people like us – that’s me, right – who want to maintain maximum lean mass while cutting.

 

[00:26:47] In other words, while we probably are not going to progress much while we’re cutting, we may even lose a couple wraps on our big lifts – that’s what happens to me, at least after the first four to six weeks of cutting – those heavy workouts may help us mitigate muscle loss as much as possible, which, of course, is one of the top concerns for someone like me.

Or if you’re like me or you’ve been lifting for a while, you have you have more or less all the muscle that you want when you’re cutting, you just don’t want to lose muscle. You want to lose fat and not muscle. And that’s, of course, the case with everybody, but intermediate and advanced weightlifters have to pay more attention to it because our bodies are not as responsive to weightlifting as people who are new, who can build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

 

[00:27:31] Now, what about supersets and cardio? Can you just superset your workouts instead of doing cardio? And this is something I get asked fairly often. And I understand. If you’re into lifting weights, you’re probably not so into cardio. And, you know, I get it.

I wrote a book called Cardio Sucks, but I’d say my sentiments have changed. Now, I actually kind of like my cardio workouts. I do two to three cardio workouts per week right now. It’s become my maintenance routine and I do enjoy them.

 

[00:27:55] Now, even if you like doing cardio, though, you only have so much time that we can give to our vain pursuit of building the perfect body. And cardio has to take the back seat there because resistance training just does so much more for our body composition, of course, than cardio does.

And this is one of the reasons why many people claim that you just don’t need to do cardio. If you just make your weight lifting harder by including supersets, you can skip cardio. And that’s not exactly true. While supersets mimic cardio, you know, they can leave you in a sweating, heart pounding, kind of breathless mess, it doesn’t mean that they are equally effective in terms of what is happening in your body physiologically as cardio.

 

[00:28:34] And we can find evidence of this in a study that was conducted by scientists at Southampton Solent University with two groups of strongmen and powerlifters that were following two different types of training protocols. One group did high rep low weight squats and deadlifts with short periods, so superstates basically. And the other group did high intensity interval training cardio sessions on an exercise bike, which are very difficult.

And after eight weeks with the researchers found, is that both groups had gained about the same amount of leg strength, but the cardio group had improved their aerobics fitness significantly more. So in other words, lifting weights faster was not as good for the cardiovascular system, for their aerobics fitness, than just doing cardio. And other studies on the matter have reported similar findings as well.

 

[00:29:26] So the bottom line here is that, yes, strength training does many wonderful things for your body, but it can’t provide all of the same benefits as cardiovascular training. There is a benefit to including some cardio, an additional benefit, to including some cardio in your routine.

Again, I like to go back to Predo’s principle, not because it’s cliche, but because it actually is a useful tool. Right? So take your exercise, take the time that you have to exercise, spend 80 percent of it on your resistance training, training your muscles, getting stronger, and spend 20 percent of it on your cardiovascular fitness and you’ll have it made.

 

[00:30:02] And just in case you are wondering, on the benefit, the difference in the benefits of the strength training and the cardiovascular, cardio of at least moderate intensity burns more calories per minute than weight lifting. It also wins in the realms of blood lipids, blood pressure, heart health and blood glucose, which, of course, are just generally conducive to good health and to overall well-being.

And of course, you do get some benefits from weight lifting as well, but cardio is more beneficial in those ways. So the story here is superstates can’t really replace cardio. And in some ways nothing can. You either do cardio and you reap the benefits or you don’t.

 

[00:30:41] All right. So now that we have thoroughly torn supersets down, now that we have cut them down to size, let’s talk about a better kind of superset, a better way to superset, because as you have probably concluded by now, they just aren’t very useful in the way that they’re normally practiced.

They aren’t better for muscle growth than traditional sets, they make it harder to handle heavy loads, and to add weight to the bar, and they really don’t save that much time. I mean, does 15 minutes really matter that much in your day? Probably not. So what are superstates good for then?

 

[00:31:14] Well, I like them when they’re used to create what are called antagonist paired sets. So as Dr. Eric Helms, who is a member of my supplement company, Legion’s Scientific Advisory Board, as he explains, and I’m quoting him here, “an antagonist paired set (APS) is performing one set on an exercise and then instead of performing a second set on that exercise, after resting, you perform a set on an exercise that is the antagonist of the muscle group trained on the first set.”

 

[00:31:45] So let’s get into the jargon here. Technically speaking, when a muscle contracts, it’s considered an agonist. And the muscle that produces the opposing motion is considered the antagonist. Therefore, an antagonist muscle is simply one that performs the opposite function of another. So, for example, when the biceps work to flex your elbow, the triceps are the antagonists because they do the opposite, right?

They extend. And the reason the body works like this is if both of these muscles, if the biceps and the triceps were to fire hard enough at the same time, that would cause serious damage to the muscles themselves, to the tendons, to the bones, and this is why your body generally inhibits one muscle group while another one is firing. And there are exceptions to this, but it’s generally how the body works.

 

[00:32:31] So the difference here between antagonist paired sets, the better superset, and the traditional superset is this: with traditional supersets, you’re increasing fatigue in a single muscle group. With antagonist paired sets, though, you are training two muscle groups and you’re simply doing more sets in less time by shortening rest times without greatly increasing the fatigue in either one.

So in effect, with antagonist paired sets, you are using your sets for one muscle group as the rest periods for the other, which are naturally unengaged while the agonist is in the driver’s seat.

 

[00:33:03] So you do your biceps set, your biceps are being worked, and then you go do your triceps set, and because of how your body works, your biceps are naturally unengaged here. And while you’re training your triceps, that is, your biceps rest, so to speak.

 

[00:33:18] This also works for muscle groups that aren’t antagonistic but are far enough away from each other, that training one just doesn’t impact the other. For example, I like to superset shoulder and calf exercises because it saves time and I don’t really see any sacrifice or performance on either because like a side raise or a rear raise and a seated calf raise are not very demanding exercises. They are very isolated in terms of the muscles they are working and they don’t place much strain on the body or much demand in terms of overall force production or energy production.

 

[00:33:53] And this isn’t theory either. Antagonist paired sets have been validated in scientific research. For example, a 2010 review for researchers at the University of Ballarat concluded that antagonist paired sets allowed their athletes to finish their workouts in less time while using weights that were just as heavy, and in some cases even heavier than traditional programming. So, as you can see, that overcomes all the limitations, allows you to get your workouts done a little bit faster and not sacrifice performance.

 

[00:34:23] So with that in mind, let’s look at how to do this the right way. How do you superset the smart way? So first, I recommend that you use traditional sets for your heavy compound lifts. Do not use antagonist paired sets for these compound lifts. I mean, you can if you’re an advanced weightlifter, you really know you’re doing, you really know the limbs of your body, but I don’t recommend it and all other cases.

Because the exercises like the squat, the bench, the deadlift are really full body exercises. The squat is not just a leg exercise. A deadlift is not just a back exercise. Right? So what that means is when you superset an exercise like that with anything else, your performance is going to decline at least slightly both ways.

And given how important it is to get strong on these key compound lifts, I think it’s not worth compromising your progress on them just to finish your workouts a little bit faster. And this is why studies show that it’s best to do your heavy compound sets in a row with no other exercises in between. Research shows that that results in better progress and so I would not recommend trying to pair them with isolation exercises.

 

[00:35:32] So, for example, that means your workout might go like this. So you do your bench press first, right? You do your three hard sets, heavy sets of bench press. Now you move on to barbell curl, which you’re going to superset with tricep extensions. So you do one set of barbell curl and then you do your set of tricep extensions and you go back and forth between the two.

 

[00:35:53] Okay, the second thing you need to know about doing supersets correctly is: you want to make sure that your super setting muscle groups that don’t interfere with one another. And this means antagonists, of course, we talked about that, but O also mentioned that it includes muscle groups that are far enough away from each other, that they are not connected in function.

So what that means then, is you can pair exercises for many different muscle groups like biceps and triceps, or quadriceps and hamstrings. Right? Agonist, antagonist. Chest and back, shoulders and back, back and quads, calves and shoulders, shoulders and quads, triceps and back. You get the idea.

 

[00:36:30] And when I superset, here is how I like to do it. So what I do is I’ll do two heavy compound exercises with traditional sets. I finish every set for each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. And then I’ll do antagonist paired sets for two or three accessory exercises.

So for a leg workout, you know, I might do this: I might start with a barbell squat, a back squat, or a front squat. I’ll do my warmup sets and then I’ll do 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85 percent of my one-rep max. I’ll then rest three minutes in between those sets. Move on to my Romanian deadlifts, my RDLs, do the same thing, 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps with heavy weight.

Resting 3 minutes in between each set. And then I will pair a leg press with a hamstring curl. So the leg press of course, is primarily a quad exercise. I’ll do 3 sets here, let’s say if I’m working in the 6 to 8 rep range with about 75 to 80 percent of a one-rep max. And I will rest just maybe one and a half or two minutes in between these sets.

And then after that rest period, I’ll go to do a hamstring curl, let’s say I’m also working in the 6 to 8 rep range, I’ll be doing three total sets. I’ll do my hamstring curl. Wait a minute and a half, two minutes. Go back to the leg press. So you can see it’s not a major change.

It saves a little bit of time, though, and I don’t see any decline in performance. So might as well. And it does allow me to push myself a little bit harder, depending on what I’m doing in my programming in the time that I have. So I can use that time to – I can use it to either get through my workout faster or cram in a bit more work into my workout.

 

[00:38:07] And my final tip for super setting correctly is: make sure that you’re resting at least one two minutes in between each superset. Don’t just go straight from one exercise to another, even if the muscle groups don’t directly interfere with each other at all. So in the case of quads and hamstrings, let’s say leg press and hamstring curl, yeah, I mean, of course the leg press is primarily a quad exercise, it engages the quads more than the hamstrings, but of course the hamstrings have to work.

So if you go straight from the leg press and the hamstring curl machine, you’re going to notice that it’s a bit harder than if you wait a minute or two. But I recommend that you also wait a minute or two if you are super setting, even like shoulders and calves, two muscle groups that have nothing to do with each other.

Because even though side raises, rear raises are not difficult exercises, they do result in at least a little bit of fatigue, which is going to carry over into that next set into that next exercise. You’re just not going to be able to, in the case of – let’s say you’re doing a leg press and a barbell curl, right?

You are not going to be able to curl as well for a minute or two after doing a set of leg press. So you want to just let your heart rate settle and you want to kind of mentally prepare yourself for another hard set, even if it’s on a different exercise. And even if it’s a less difficult exercise.

And that’s why it is best to rest at least one or two minutes between your supersets and you want to make sure that you feel fully prepared for each set. Personally, I like to rest between a minute, a minute and a half between my biceps and triceps. Like if I’m super getting to smaller groups, I’ll rest a minute to minute and a half. And if I am super setting two larger groups, then I rest a minute and a half to two minutes.

 

[00:39:48] And that’s it. Really. That’s all you need to know about supersets probably for the rest of your life. The bottom line is: the way that most people do it is not very productive, but if you super set correctly by pairing muscle groups correctly, you can get more work done in less time.

If you wanna do that, if you want to make your workouts harder, and if you can’t just stay in the gym longer, or you can simply make your workouts shorter and get through your workouts faster. And to do that, of course, you simply alternate between agonist and antagonist muscle groups like the biceps and the triceps or muscle groups that are far enough away from each other that are connected and you rest about a minute or two in between those sets.

And also, don’t forget that I do not recommend that you do any super setting with your big heavy compound lifts, use traditional sets for those so you can make maximal progress. Save the super setting for later in your workouts with isolation exercises or with compound exercises that aren’t as difficult, something like a squat or deadlift, and aren’t as vital to your overall progress.

Because remember, as a natural weight lifter, the most important thing is gaining strength over time. Getting stronger in the given rep ranges that you are working in over time. If you can do that, you will continue to gain muscle and strength.

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

+ Scientific References

Readers' Ratings

No Ratings

Your Rating?