Looking for a way to level up your workouts? If you've been feeling like you've plateaued or are less than inspired by your usual routine, you can make everything more challenging with a minor tweak that doesn't even involve new exercises.
That minor tweak is known as the superset and is a method used in strength training that helps you accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. If the idea of shortening your workouts while accomplishing more has piqued your interest, read on to learn everything about supersets, from the various types, to their benefits, with input from personal trainers.
Meet the Expert
- Mo Jamjoom and Cory Becker are NASM Certified Personal Trainers for the WeStrive app.
What Are Supersets?
Superset is the term for back-to-back exercises without a break in between. Becker tells us that "they work by taking two exercises you would normally do for 10 reps, for example, and combining them, so you’re doing 20 reps before you take a rest." That way, you get more bang for your workout buck, and Becker says that "supersets are a more advanced technique that can really help you get a few more reps out than you normally would in a set, which can help drive that intensity up in your workout."
What Are the Types of Supersets?
Though the concept of skipping rest in between exercises is the same no matter which form of superset you're doing, there are several different types. The different types of supersets are differentiated by which muscles you're using in your workout.
Same Muscles Superset
In a superset for the same muscles, you'll do two different exercises that work one muscle group. Jamjoom says that the "benefits of a same muscle superset include strengthening the same muscles by two different exercises targeting different parts of the same muscle." He gives the example of a chest press followed by an incline chest press, which would be done back to back without pause. In terms of the order in which to conduct this type of superset, Becker tells us that "usually you perform the harder exercise first for your normal set and then immediately do the next exercise with the same weight." He adds that "this allows you to increase muscle endurance because you’re able to do 20 reps of two variations straight instead of 12-15 reps of a single exercise."
Opposing Muscles Superset
While a same muscle superset has you doing two exercises that work one muscle group back to back, an opposing muscle set will have you perform two exercises using entirely different muscle groups. Jamjoom gives an example of this as a bicep curl followed by a triceps extension and says that "the exercises are opposing in movement, as the bicep curl is flexion of the arm, and the triceps extension is an extension of the arm." He notes that the "benefits of these two exercises performed in a superset are training to activate opposing muscles and resting a muscle when the other is working."
Supporting Muscles Superset
Consider this superset as one that focuses on how muscles work together. A supporting muscles superset involves doing two exercises that use complementary, primary, and secondary muscles. For example, Jamjoom suggests incline pushups and tricep dips for this type of superset. He tells us that "both muscles simultaneously assist in each movement. Pushups work the chest as the primary muscle, and the triceps are secondary to the movement. For triceps dips, the triceps are primary, and the chest is secondary," and notes that the benefits of this "include maintaining tension in both muscles during both exercises with different intensities."
For explosive supersets, the same muscle groups are used for each exercise, but one exercise is focused on weight while the other is about explosive power. Becker says that an example of this is a set of low-repetition high-weight squats followed by ten box jumps. He tells us that by doing this type of superset, "you get both extremes of heavyweight and fast reps to build power. Being able to move something heavy then move that same muscle as fast as you can after helps increase how much energy you can make, increasing power output."
Balance Endurance Superset
This final superset style utilizes the same muscle groups for two exercises, with one chosen to enhance balance. As an example of this, Becker suggests one "perform a stable exercise and then follow with a balance exercise using the same muscle group like bench press then following it with medicine ball push-ups." What's the point of this? He says that "by challenging your proprioception after your muscles are tired from the first part of the superset, you really learn how to control your body weight in that movement."
Benefits of Supersets
As you can see, supersets have the power to enhance your fitness without you actually having to do anything different. They're about how you strength train more than they are about adding anything new to your routine. In addition to the benefit of being time savers, Jamjoom notes that they also "help build muscular endurance and adapt to activating different muscles groups in a set." Becker tells us that doing exercises in supersets takes them "from a normal strength training exercise to also adding strength endurance and metabolic conditioning to your workout as well. If a superset lasts more than 45 seconds, it starts to become a cardiovascular workout as well for the long high heart rate spike which will carry over when you have cardio workouts such as running or swimming."
Who Should Avoid Supersets
Supersets are an advanced workout style. As such, they shouldn't be done by anyone just starting with weights or strength training. Jamjoom says that they should be avoided by anyone prone to injuries since the quick change of exercises and lack of downtime between them can increase injury risk. Becker tells us that you should already be strong with cardio work before trying these because otherwise, they can increase your heart rate for longer than you may be used to. He suggests that you be secure and confident in how much weight you can lift first and notes that supersets can be taxing on the body as well.
Supersets are an advanced workout style that can help you overcome workout plateaus. They feature two exercises back to back, without any rest in between. There are nearly half a dozen different types of supersets, focusing on what muscles you use and how you use them. Supersets shouldn't be done by beginners, anyone accident-prone, or anyone who doesn't have a solid cardio base established. For those of you interested in trying who are advanced enough in your workout regimen, the above info should help you enhance your workout in new ways, without any new skills or equipment needed.
Weakley JJS, Till K, Read DB, et al. The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017;117(9):1877-1889. doi:10.1007/s00421-017-3680-3