6 Powerful Reasons Why You Should Add Supersets To Your Workouts
When I first started lifting, everything was so simple: do 3 sets of 12 on the bench press, and 4 sets of 10 squats. As my fitness level started to increase and I gradually became able to take on a higher workload, I found myself spending 2+ hours per workout session in the weight room – without counting the time spent warming up, stretching & cooling down.
I was training multiple muscle groups a day but I was often left with a lack of time resulting in cutting my workouts short.
One of my biggest gym pet peeves is having to cut a workout short because of a lack of time. Because of this, I became interested in making my workouts shorter and more effective. I wanted to get the same results, but without sacrificing time. This is also when I started combining multiple exercises together to perform supersets.
Wait… what’s a superset?
A “superset” or “supersetting” is when you perform two different exercises back-to-back with little to no rest.
Supersets are a great way to save tons of time in the gym. In fact, they are one of the most efficient training methods you can implement in your routine today.
After doing a lot of research in the science behind supersets, I now know that there are A LOT more valid reasons as to why almost everyone should incorporate some form of supersets to their workouts.
Even with a little bit of training experience, I believe supersets are a game changer for everyone.
Of course, there will be situations where supersets are not suitable, i.e an individual who has absolutely no training experience. From that standpoint, you’re better off with traditional training as your body is still undergoing neuromuscular adaptations that occur with newbie weight lifting.
Also, an individual rehabilitating from a major sports injury is better off with supersets out of the equation until they are physically and mentally fit to do so.
So, Why Should I Perform Supersets?
I’ve researched and outlined 6 powerful reasons why you should include supersets in your workouts. Before I outline these reasons, it’s important to know the different types of supersets & understand some of the terminology that will be outlined throughout this post.
There are 5 different types of supersets that can be performed:
Pre-exhaustion superset (agonist)
A pre exhaustion superset is when you pair an isolation exercise with a compound exercise of related muscle groups. What this is will do is exhaust your muscles before moving on to your main lift. This is a great way of pushing past the point of exhaustion and spark more growth or to increase the activation of one particular muscle.
Ex: Leg extensions followed by squats.
Post-exhaustion superset (also agonist)
A post exhaustion superset is the opposite of pre-exhaustion superset – the pairing of a compound exercise followed by an isolation exercise. This type of superset is more traditional, and allows you to push through fatigue and make you reach the state of complete muscle failure.
Ex: Squats followed by leg extensions.
Antagonist supersets is the pairing of exercises targeting two opposing muscle groups. This allows one muscle to relax while the other muscle is under tension. Since blood is being pumped all towards the same region, it allows your strength levels to remain high during each exercise while creating a killer pump and vascularity.
Ex: Barbell bench press followed by barbell bent over rows.
A staggered superset is the pairing of two different exercises from two completely unrelated muscle groups. This is a great way of staying active during your rest period and cutting time spent in the gym. I find staggered supersets work well with a back and triceps combination followed by a chest and biceps combination the next day.
Ex: Dumbbell shoulder press followed by seated calf raises.
Trisets are the combination of 3 exercises paired together in rapid succession. They add on top of the already high intensity supersets to make you work even harder. A good example of a tri set would be a dumbbell front raise, followed by a dumbbell shoulder press, followed by the rear delt row. In this combination, you see all 3 heads of the deltoid being worked, starting with the front deltoid. The shoulder press hits all three heads of the deltoid and the rear delt row will isolate your rear delts.
Giant sets are the ultimate killer in terms of pushing past the point of fatigue. You’ll have a higher amount of blood lactate settle into your muscles as you work through your sets. Power output will significantly drop while performing giant sets.
You will lift a significantly lower amount of weight because of muscle fatigue.
Giant sets are for advanced lifters only. Strength and conditioning coaches have been using “complex set training” to push elite athletes and powerlifters further down the path of physical excellence. This is usually a combination of more complex compound lifts such as hang cleans & snatch, in order to increase strength and power.
Attention! Supersets are not considered circuit training. Why do I say so? Because circuit training is calculated with time, not with a pre determined load.
Alright, so now that you’re aware, here are the 6 powerful reasons why you should perform supersets.
#1: Instantly Gain Strength
24 college rugby players participated in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The study was to evaluate the effect of alternating agonist-antagonist muscle exercise during complex set training, on power output.
The group who performed antagonist supersets saw an increase of 4.7% in power output during their bench press in comparison to traditional weight training.
How’d they do this? They performed bench pulls during their 3 minute rest period.
To put this into perspective, if your flat bench press is currently at 200 pounds, that means you could potentially add another 10 pounds instantly to your bench, simply by stimulating your back muscles prior to your lifts.
#2: Allows For Higher Frequency
Supersets give you the opportunity to increase the training frequency of a particular muscle group. Focusing on two muscle groups each day opens up other days of the week to smash the same muscle again.
#3: Increased Volume
The structure of a superset workout allows you to increase the volume placed on a particular muscle. Adding just one or two pre or post exhaustion supersets per workout is a great way to increase the volume of your training routine.
Volume load is a way of quantifying the amount of work performed during training. The total volume of a workout is determined by the following formula:
Weight x Reps x Sets = Volume load.
ex: 100lbs x 10 reps x 4 sets = 4000lbs.
Let’s compare these two scenarios
3 sets of 10 bench press repetitions at 100lbs.
Volume load = 3x10x100 = 3000lbs.
3 sets of 10 bench press repetitions at 100lbs + 3 sets of 10 chest flyes at 20lbs using two 10lbs dumbbels.
Bench press 3x10x100 = 3000lbs
Chest flyes 3x10x20=600lbs
Volume load 3000lbs + 600lbs = 3600lbs
As you can see, your volume load has now increased from 3000lbs to 3600lbs. You just placed an extra 600lbs of stress on your pectoral muscles.
You’re doing more, in arguably less time, which bring us to the next point.
#4: Better Workout Efficiency (Save Time)
Pairing multiple exercises together will force you to tap into new muscle fibers and stimulate more muscle growth.
Another study published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research in 2010 evaluated an upper body agonist-antagonist resistance training protocol and it’s effect on two specific outcomes: volume load and efficiency.
18 trained men underwent 3 sets of traditional strength training and the other group performed complex set training.
The first group performed 3 traditional sets of bench pulls, followed by 3 sets of bench press in a 20 minute window.
The second group performed 1 set of bench pulls followed immediately by a set of bench press throws, repeated 3 times – to be completed in a 10 minute window.
Both protocols showed a decrease in total volume load from the first set to the 3rd set. Complex set training gained the edge because they effectively showed twice the efficiency (power output/time).
It’s also important to note that there was no difference in neuromuscular fatigue, meaning you will be AS SORE doing complex set training or traditional strength training.
While soreness shouldn’t be the number one indicator of a good workout, it is a good measure to determine the amount of stress placed on the muscle for one particular training session.
All this to say that supersets can help you achieve your desired results in half the time.
By the way, I’d like to emphatically point out that being time efficient will not replace hard work. Efficiency will never trump hard work. Be engaged in your workouts and perform the exercises at a proper tempo with good form.
#5: Higher Intensity & Burn More Calories
Performing supersets is just an excellent way to spice up your workout, make things interesting, and make you look like a beast.
They will keep your body in action for a longer period of time. Supersets decrease inactive time in the gym thus helping you tap into more calories.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research April 2010 studied the metabolic effects of agonist supersets vs traditional resistance training in young adults.
10 active young men performed supersets for one week, followed by traditional training the next week.
This study’s results:
- Greater energy expenditure during supersets – You will burn more calories throughout your workout.
- Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption greater after supersets – You’ll burn more calories up to 24 hours after your workout.
- Average blood lactate measures were significantly greater during supersets – Can you say killer pump?
I personally never had to worry about performing cardio because basketball drills were enough to elevate my heart rate for a prolonged period of time. With the right pairing of supersets, I believe the need to step on a cardio machine to lose weight or burn fat can nearly be completely eliminated.
#6: It’s Just More Fun
If you have a workout partner, supersets are a great way to have fun together at the gym and keep both partners busy at the same time. And perhaps, not everything needs to be for scientific reasons right?
BONUS #7: More Type II-b Muscle Fiber Recruitment
If you’re an athlete, you might have previously followed a workout program that require you to do an insane amount of plyometrics *cough* Air Alert, or one that entices you to do strength work on one day, followed by plyometrics the next day.
Resistance training along with plyometrics can be paired together in order to effectively recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers.
To develop rate of force (how fast you create force or “explode”), you need to target exactly that – your type II-b muscle fibers; They’re the ones that provide the most force explosively allowing for maximum power.
Any action you undertake during fast paced sports are performed by these muscle fibers. Type I muscle fibers are used in your everyday actions, walking, picking up a pencil, etc.
Traditional resistance training + plyos is considered complex training. This is the way to go.
Resistance work activates the central nervous system which makes more type II-b muscle fibers available for the explosive exercise. This can increase your training results.
Here’s a couple examples to give you a better idea of what I mean: barbell back squats followed by dumbbell jump squats or barbell bench press followed by plyometric push ups.
This is applicable to strength, speed and vertical leap. All 3 areas or training can benefit from complex training.
Try combining your strength & plymometric training in ONE training session. The results might shock you!