Supersets - What They Are, Why They Work, and Several Unique
Variations You Can Try In Your Next Workout
By Nick Nilsson
Nick Nilsson is Vice-President of BetterU, Inc., an internet-
based personal training company. He has been training for
more than 16 years and has been a personal trainer for more
than 8 years. He is the author of the training eBooks "The
Best Exercises You've Never Heard Of", "Gluteus to the
Maximus" and "Specialization Training". Go to
IronWorkout.com/Nick_Nilsson.html for more
information on these books.
The Superset is an excellent intensity technique not only
for fat loss but for muscle building as well. Find out what
makes Supersets so super!
The Superset is a very simple concept...basically, you just
do two exercises back-to-back, with no rest inbetween! A quick
example of this is doing a barbell curl then going directly
into a cable curl.
Sound simple? It definitely is. But there are many different
combinations and ways to use the Superset to make it an
incredibly powerful training technique.
Before I get into specific combinations, you need to know
what, generally speaking, makes a Superset more effective
than two regular sets done with rest inbetween. There are
three major reasons why Supersets are so effective for
training (and there are many more specific reasons that apply
only to specific Superset types):
- Supersets increase Lactic Acid production, which helps
boost Growth Hormone (GH) levels in the body. The body
responds to the reduced pH (increased acidity) in the body
from the production of Lactic Acid by secreting GH. GH is a
powerful fat loss and muscle building hormone.
- Supersets are time-efficient. By doing sets back-to-back,
you reduce your total workout time while still doing the same
amount of total work. If you�re in a hurry in your workout,
Supersets can get you out of the gym faster.
- Different Superset combinations can help increase muscle
fiber activation. Essentially, this means you can use specific
exercise combinations to increase the intensity of work on a
specific muscle, helping to develop it faster.
As I mentioned above, there are many different types of
Supersets that fall under the Superset umbrella. I will go
through these different types, telling you exactly why they�re
so effective and giving examples of each that you can take to
the gym and try out for yourself!
Keep in mind when you�re doing these, they are intensity
techniques and should not be used every day. Your body needs
a chance to recover and using these techniques too often can
hamper recovery. My suggestion would be to do workout supersets
no more than once a week for any particular bodypart.
1. The Single Bodypart Superset
This is the typical type of Superset where you use two
different exercises for the same bodypart. An example of
this doing a pulldown for the back then immediately doing a
seated cable row for the back.
The benefit of this is to hit somewhat different fibers of
the muscle from different angles but without giving the
bodypart time to recover from the first exercise. This
forces the bodypart to work that much harder to complete the
It�s a powerful increase in intensity and one that can
dramatically ramp up muscle development.
Here are some examples for other bodyparts:
flat barbell bench press + incline dumbell press
incline flyes + flat dumbell bench press
cable crossovers + push-ups
squats + leg extensions
leg press + lunges
side lateral raises + rear lateral raises
dumbell shoulder press + barbell shoulder press
2. Antagonistic Supersets
Instead of doing two sets in a row for the same muscle, you
will do two sets for directly opposing (antagonistic) muscle
groups. An example of this is doing a bicep exercise then a
Antagonistic Supersets are excellent for allowing you to
compress workout time while maintaining high strength levels.
When you work an opposing muscle group directly after the
original muscle, studies have shown that the nervous system
activation can actually INCREASE strength in the second muscle
group when you work it.
Here are some examples of Antagonistic Supersets:
Chest & Back
flat barbell bench press + bent-over barbell rows
Biceps & Triceps
barbell curls + close grip bench press
Quadriceps & Hamstrings
leg extensions + leg curls
The shoulders don�t technically have any direct antagonist
muscle groups, but you can work with the specific shoulder
exercise movements to do the opposite movement. For example,
you can do dumbell shoulder press then go directly into
pulldowns for the back. You can also do rear delt lateral then
The antagonist muscle to the two major calf muscles is called
the tibialis anterior. It�s a small and relatively weak
muscle compared to the major calf muscles (the gastrocnemius
and the soleus) and not particularly useful for doing
3. Pre-Exhaust Supersets
This type of Superset focuses on first utilizing an isolation
(single joint) movement to "pre-exhaust" the target muscle
group before doing a compound (multi-joint) movement to
allow the secondary mover muscles to push the target muscle
In English, that means you start with an exercise that works
just the target muscle, such as a dumbell flye. When you�re
done, you use an exercise that works the target muscle with
help from other muscles, e.g. the bench press.
The net result is that you first exhaust the pecs with the
flyes. When you move to the bench press, the pecs get help
from the triceps and shoulders to help keep moving the weight,
pushing the pecs much harder than they would normally have to
work when doing the bench press.
The result of this is much faster muscle development!
Here are some other examples of Pre-Exhaust Supersets:
dumbell side lateral raises + dumbell shoulder press
pushdowns + dips (bench or parallel bar)
leg extensions + squats
barbell curls + close grip pulldowns with the torso vertical
4. Giant Sets
The Giant Set is another very simple concept. Instead of
doing just two sets for a Superset, you do three or more sets
in a row for that bodypart using different exercises!
Giant Sets are generally done just targeting a single bodypart.
They are very intense and shouldn�t be used too often. The
goal with the Giant Set is to really shock the muscles,
forcing the body to activate many more muscle fibers than it
normally would to perform these exercises.
In fact, you can even use the same exercise twice in a Giant
Set to really shock your muscles!
Here are some examples of Giant Sets:
incline barbell bench press + flat bench press + decline bench press
chin-ups + wide-grip pulldowns + seated cable rows + hyperextensions
squats + leg extensions + leg press
Hamstrings (here�s a case where you can use the same exercise twice in the Giant set):
leg curls + stiff-legged-deadlifts + leg curls
Some Giant Set combinations are not as practical, however.
For example, if you do a Giant Set for back, you may not
have the back strength (or grip strength) to finish with
5. In-Set Supersets
This is a unique type of Superset where you basically mesh
two different exercises into a single set. There are a
number of very effective variations of this that are
EXTREMELY challenging, including one of my very favorite
techniques for building powerful triceps.
In a nutshell, you will do one rep of one exercise then one
rep of a different exercise, alternating reps until you can
no longer do any reps of the weaker exercise. At that point,
you finish with as many reps as you can do of the stronger
exercise. It�s a very intense technique!
This type of Superset maximizes training intensity and allows
you to work several different aspects of the muscle at the
same time, dramatically increasing workout efficiency.
Here are some examples of the In-Set Superset:
dumbell flyes + dumbell bench press
barbell rows + deadlifts
regular dumbell curls + hammer curls
lying barbell extensions + close grip bench press
Finish by doing as many close grip bench presses as you can!
This is the sequence of an in-set superset - lying tricep extension then up to the start position, then close grip press, then to the start, then back down to lying tricep extension. When you can't do anymore extensions, finish with presses to failure.
A Unique 3-Bodypart Combination � Biceps, Shoulders then Triceps:
Start with one dumbell at a time the first time you try this.
The coordination can be tricky. The weight you use for each
of the three exercises is similar enough to make this a very
effective and timesaving combination.
Begin with a regular dumbell curl. At the top of the curl,
you then perform an Arnold Press for your shoulder (where you
start with the dumbell in front of you in a top-of-curl
position, then swing your elbow out to the side as you press
up � your hand ends up facing forward). At the top of the
press, immediately go into an overhead dumbell extension.
Reverse the order to bring the dumbell back down to the start
position: extend the arm to the top of the tricep extension,
perform the lowering phase of the Arnold Press to the top of
the curl position, then lower the weight doing the down-phase
of the curl.
When you are comfortable with the execution, you can move to
doing both dumbells are the same time. For an extra challenge
and test of your skill and coordination (or simply for your
friends to have a good laugh), try doing this exercise reverse-
What that means is while you are curling up your right
dumbell, you are performing an overhead tricep extension with
the left dumbell. Then, as you do an upwards Arnold Press
with the right dumbell, you are doing the lowering phase of
the Arnold Press with the left dumbell. Then, as you are
doing the lowering phase of the Overhead Tricep Extension with
the right, you are lowering the curl with the left.
When it comes right down to it, Supersets are a VERY effective
training technique. Give one of these Superset methods a try
in your next workout. You�ll be amazed at how powerfully
they crank up the intensity of your training!
Here is the sequence of movements - reverse to bring it back down to the start position.
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