What Is A Superset?
Understand How To Implement For Max Results In 2021
By Zack Mathews
What is a superset is a simple question that can have a lengthly answer.
I could give you the short answer and be done with it, which I will give you in the first section, but not all supersets are created equal and it’s important to know how to program them for your goals.
In this article, you will learn what a superset is and its benefits, along with the top 6 forms of supersets you can do to optimize your results.
A superset is when you perform one exercise and then immediately jump into a second exercise with little to no rest. One of the main reasons to perform a superset is that it allows you to do more work in less time.
Let’s look at an example.
Say you are doing a classic dumbbell chest press and your workout plan has you doing 3 sets of 8 reps with 2 - 3 minutes rest in between each set. Your second exercise is dumbbell rows and has you doing 3 sets of 12 reps on each arm and has the same 2 - 3 minute rest period.
If the chest press movement takes you 30 seconds and you rest for 3 minutes between each round, your total time would be 10 minutes and 30 seconds for those 3 rounds. ( 3 rounds of 30 and 3 rounds of 3 minute rest).
Now you do the dumbbell row and it takes you 1 minute to do each set and you rest 3 minutes. That is 12 minutes total for exercise 2.
Once you were done with your first 2 exercises, your workout time would be around 22 minute and 30 seconds.
Now let’s turn it into a superset.
You do your dumbbell chest press ( 30 seconds), start your 3 minute timer for your rest period, and then jump right into your dumbbell rows (1 minute). Once you get done with that, you’ll have 2 minutes to rest, but it will still be 3 minutes since you did your dumbbell chest press.
Each set would take you about 4 minute 30 seconds, so the total time would be 14 minutes and 30 seconds.
If you do 2 - 4 supersets in your workouts, that could easily save you up to 30 minutes in your workout!
It’s time to get into the different types of supersets you can do!
One of the most popular ways to perform a superset is by choosing two exercises that are antagonist to each other, which means opposing muscle groups.
For example, the antagonist to the chest would be back.
Quads and hamstrings.
Biceps and triceps.
The main reason why you would do antagonist supersets is because the second exercise will not be interfering with the first one in terms of muscular fatigue.
If you have a superset with a bicep curl that is paired with a tricep pushdown, the triceps are not being worked in the bicep curl, and vice versa, so your strength will not be diminished by doing the superset.
Antagonist supersets are best for strength and hypertrophy (muscle gain) goals.
Here are some examples of different antagonist supersets you can do.
Similar to an antagonist superset in the fact that the opposing muscle group is not being worked, one of my favorite ways to design full body workouts is through upper body / lower body supersets.
Doing pushups after goblet squats is great because you aren’t fatiguing your arms while you do the goblet squat.
Doing a lat pulldown and jumping into walking lunges is perfect since you legs will be fresh.
Most of my online clients do full body workouts and these types of supersets are my favorite to make sure their workouts last no more than an hour.
Upper body / lower body supersets are best for strength and hypertrophy (muscle gain) goals.
This is one of my favorites and probably the one that I see very few people do. When most people think of what is a superset pairing I should do, no one thinks about mobility!
Improving your mobility and flexibility is going to allow you to have better form and deeper range of motion, which ultimately will result in more muscle gain and more strength.
Most people don’t realize this, and instead neglect proper range of motion because they want to put more weight on the bar.
For your main lift of the day, pair it will a mobility exercise that will be targeting the muscle you will be working on that lift.
If you are squatting, perform a hip or ankle mobility exercise in between rounds of your squat.
Bench press can have an exercise targeting your shoulders.
Hip mobility exercises or thoracic spine movements are great with your deadlifts.
These types of supersets are great for any goal because we could all use some more mobility practice.
If you have a muscle group that you specifically are wanting to build or that might be lagging behind the rest of your body *cough calves for me*, pairing movements that will give you extra volume on them is a fantastic idea.
In my experience with these types of supersets, I have found it best to keep it to smaller muscle groups that you want extra work with.
Biceps, triceps, glutes, and calves are all smaller muscles that can be sprinkled into supersets that won’t affect your main lifts for the day.
If you want to build your calves, you can do a set of 15 calf raises after every upper body movement you do. If you want to build your biceps and are doing leg day, superset a leg movement with a bicep curl since you know your leg muscles won’t be affected by those curls.
Be smart with your pairings and don’t overdo it with something like doing a set of pushups with every upper body movement you do. That is an easy way to burn yourself out and you won’t be as strong with your main lifts.
A contrast superset is when you perform a heavy strength movement in the lower rep range (4 -6), and then immediately move into a more dynamic, powerful movement using those same muscles.
This is a type of training that many athletes use to improve strength and power.
For the average gym goer, be smart if you decide to implement these into your training.
Some examples would be:
- A heavy barbell squat superset with squat jumps.
- Barbell bench press paired with medicine ball slams
- Deadlifts paired with kettlebell swings
These types of supersets can be explained together because they have the same general concept, just put into a different order.
Instead of choosing antagonist exercises to keep your muscles fresh between exercises, with these types of supersets you will pair the same muscle group, allowing you to fatigue your muscles more.
This type of superset is mostly used by bodybuilders for maximal muscle gain. If your goal is strength, you would not want to do this type of training since your muscles will fatigue quickly.
Let’s take a look at an example of barbell bench press and dumbbell flys. Both are working your chest muscles and you can do the flys after the bench press to keep the volume going on your chest and really fatigue those pec muscles.
Also, you can do the flys before your chest press to pre fatigue your muscles. With a bit of pre fatigue, you might not be able to lift as heavy on the bench press, but all the extra volume from the flys can still help you build muscle.
What is a superset wrap up
There’s your overview on what is a superset along with a few of the different ways you can perform them.
For the general gym goer, I would recommend staying with antagonist supersets, upper/lower supersets, mobility supersets, and lagging muscle supersets. As you get more advanced with your training, you can start adding the others, but you will still get great results by focusing on those 4 mentioned above.
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