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Super Sets For Super Strength – Types, Benefits And Common Mistakes

Supersets are a common feature of traditional bodybuilding routines.

They’re in practically every muscle-building magazine, book, and blog, and they’re endorsed by Golden-Era bodybuilders like Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Even if you’ve used supersets in the past, you may not be aware of all of their variations or the numerous methods to incorporate them into your workouts.

Supersets save a lot of time! However, are supersets, beneficial for muscle hypertrophy and strength gains? And how do they compare to more traditional muscle-building approaches such as increasing reps, frequency, or intensity (load)? Is it true that some supersets are more efficient than others? Let’s have a look, shall we?

What Is A Superset?

Girl doing super set at gym

One of the most commonly misunderstood gym terms is “superset.” A superset is defined as “the execution of two exercises that stimulate opposing or antagonistic muscle groups with no rest between each exercise,” according to the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.

This can result in muscle, cardiac, and other health benefits in a shorter workout.

A superset, in the eyes of the ordinary gym-goer, is any two moves executed in rapid succession, although this isn’t the case as there are different types of supersets which you will find out below.

Types Of Supersets

Supersets can be classified into five different groups. The same muscle group superset is the most common type of superset. This is done by alternating between two exercises that target the same muscle area. Supersetting dumbbell curls with barbell preacher curls, for example.

1. Pre Exhaustion Supersets

The most effective type of superset is probably pre-exhaustion. An isolation exercise is performed initially, followed by a compound movement in a pre-exhaust superset. Pre-fatigue is the process of pushing a muscle past its natural degree of exhaustion in order to stimulate more muscle fibers. The only true disadvantage of pre-exhaustion is that the compound workout will only allow you to use a fraction of your regular weight.

2. Compound Supersets

Man performing squats as part of superset

Because you’re doing two compound workouts one after the other, compound supersets might help you gain a lot of muscle in a short amount of time. This is taxing on the neurological system and necessitates additional recuperation time following an exercise. The main problem with compound supersets is that your form might become sloppy, which increases your risk of injury.

3. Isolation Supersets

Man doing triceps pushdown as part of superset

Supersetting two isolation exercises, such as rope press-downs and kickbacks, results in isolation supersets. This is beneficial before a competition or when you want to get shredded and defined. This is clearly not the way to go for gaining muscle mass.

4. Agonist-Antagonist Muscles Supersets

Supersets with opposing muscle groups are really effective since one muscle is working while the other is resting. Because this form of superset permits your muscle to rest for a short period of time, you can increase both strength and size. Biceps and triceps, for example, are a frequent pair of muscles utilized in opposing muscle group supersets.

5. Staggered Sets Supersets

The staggered sets supersets are the last type of superset. When you do a staggered set, you combine a major muscle with a smaller, unrelated muscle. This method helps you to strengthen a weak body area by working on it more each week. For instance, you could add a set of calf raises in between sets of lat pulldowns.

Benefits Of Supersets

  • Supersets help you save time by shortening the duration between two different exercises. You may fit in more training in the same amount of time by supersetting workouts.
  • By reducing the rest period between sets, you can enhance the intensity of your workout by doing more work in less time. This is especially true if you are accustomed to taking extended periods of rest in between sets of exercises.
  • Supersets also help you to improve the intensity of your workout by overloading a specific muscle group during a workout session. Because the muscle is heavily fatigued by two workouts performed without rest, this exercise can be performed without the use of the normal heavy weights.

Are Supersets Beneficial to Your Performance?

While supersets with little or no rest between exercises may be detrimental to your performance, supersets that require you to spend more time between sets of the same exercise may benefit you:

Participants in one study worked on bench press and seated row. The first group undertook standard training, completing all three sets of bench press before moving on to the seated row. Between each set of each exercise, they took a two-minute break. The other group alternated between the two exercises, doing one set of bench press, two minutes of rest, one set of seated row, two minutes of rest, one set of bench press, two minutes of rest, and so on, thereby effectively getting four minutes of “rest” between each set of the same exercise. Both workouts took the same amount of time, but the group that alternated between exercises was able to lift 13% more weight overall than the group who did all sets of one exercise before going on to the next.

A second study, with a similar design, had one group of individuals perform three sets of bench press with two minute break between sets, followed by three sets of seal rows with the same two-minute interval. Another group had the same amount of rest between sets as the first, but switched the exercises, giving them four minutes of “rest” between each set of the same exercise. The group that alternated exercises lifted 27 percent more weight in the bench press and 21 percent more weight in the seal row, despite the fact that both workouts took the same amount of time. 

In a third study, supersets consisting of three sets of bench press were followed (without any rest) by three sets of lat-pulldown followed by 180 seconds of rest before the next superset resulted in 10% more weight lifted than traditional training with 90 seconds of rest between each set: three sets of bench press followed by three sets of lat-pulldown.

Supersets: Are They Beneficial For Muscle Hypertrophy?

Supersets can help you improve your performance, which could signify that when done correctly, supersets can help you build muscular hypertrophy and strength.

Lifting a sufficiently heavy weight for a sufficient number of reps is the most effective way to stimulate muscular growth. You may fit more quality sets into your workout by supersetting, which can lead to increased muscular growth.

The following are examples of some efficient supersets for muscular hypertrophy:

  • Leg curl and leg extension
  • Cable curl with triceps pushdown
  • Bench press supersetted with barbell row
  • Overhead press with the lat pulldown

Pro Tips For Supersets

If you’re going to superset, be sure your priorities are straight before you begin: If you want to improve your bench press strength, don’t overwork your working muscles by doing isolation workouts before your primary lift. A study found out that the participants who trained pec deck before machine chest press, only got roughly half as many reps in the chest press as those who did the same workout but flipped the order of exercises and did chest press first. 

There was no difference in pec activation between the two groups, for individuals interested in pre-exhaustion. The group that did pec deck before chest press, on the other hand, exhibited much more tricep activation in the chest press.

Supersets Common Mistakes

It’s not as simple as combining two exercises and pounding yourself with as little rest as possible when it comes to programming supersets. Here are a few of the most typical mistakes people make while creating supersets, and why they can cause more harm than good over time if done incorrectly:

1. Pre fatiguing stabilizing muscles

Using loaded compound lifts to challenge the core is a terrific approach to integrate body segments and improve overall functionality and performance. However, the anterior and posterior core muscles are phasic in nature, meaning they can only work at peak levels for brief periods of time. The core will become exhausted if two workouts both test it from an isometric or dynamic stability standpoint, increasing the risk of injury and overuse.

A typical example of poor superset practice:  Supersetting a squat/deadlift with an isolation core workout like crunches or the ab wheel is something I’ve seen in commercial gyms. Your core will be on fire if you squat to near-maximum intensity. Not just there’s no reason to kick a horse while it’s down and then add crunches on top but it’s also likely to reduce your performance!

2. Order OF Exercises

Man doing bench press as part of superset workout

The bench press is without a doubt the most popular exercise in the gym. For many people, this is the first, and often only, upper-body exercise they do on a regular basis. The completion of the pull will improve the performance of the push if a posterior-chain exercise is programmed before an anterior-chain activity.

As a result, it’s no surprise that the chest exercise always comes first when putting together supersets. Bro logic would have you believe that if you can’t see your own reflection in the mirror, it doesn’t exist. Isn’t it pretty much useless if you can’t see it? On so many ways, this is incorrect!

The completion of the pull will improve the performance of the push if a posterior-chain exercise is programmed before an anterior-chain activity. Exercises like upper-body pressing and quad-dominant leg work will be more successful by increasing reciprocal inhibition and dynamic stability by activating stabilizers in both the posterior scapular area and the posterior pelvic girdle.

3. Over-compressing the Spine

In improperly structured supersets, it’s normal to see two workouts that both create compression on the spine. Before you begin, divide your exercises into two groups: spinal compressors and spinal decompressors.

Take it easy on your back. You’re probably already sitting in a slouched position for eight hours a day. During a superset, the last thing you need is to put your spine to the test again and over again.
A squat is an example of a spinal compressor. Vertebral segments are loaded, and forces are causing them to close in on one other. A spinal decompressor movement creates more space between vertebral segments. A chin-up or a pull-up with the feet in an open-chain position are two examples.

Consider the following equation when selecting workout combinations for compound or supersets: No Back Pain = Compression + Decompression!

Supersets – How Long To Rest?

The layout of your supersets is determined by your individual objectives. Here are some common goals and ways to program for them based on your desired results. Follow the rest period for your training focus as directed:

Rest Periods (in secs) Between Exercises / Rest Periods Between Sets:

  • For endurance: 10/20 secs
  • For hypertrophy: 15/30 secs
  • For strength: 30/60 secs

Because supersets can be taxing on the body’s metabolism and muscles, they should only be done two or three times each week. Adequate rest and recuperation are essential for long-term strength gains.

Take Away

Supersets can completely change the way you train for strength and hypertrophy. But only if they’re done correctly, with these fundamental program development components.

Don’t get complacent; keep challenging yourself and get more out of the basic compound lifts you already know and love. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel when it comes to fitness. It’s all about getting that wheel spinning as rapidly as possible.


Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant. He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves. Rahul has a master's degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.

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