An intro to Supersets…

There are myriad ways to structure your exercise sessions. But when effectiveness and efficiency are paramount, supersets are definitely worth checking out

Getting and staying fit is not exactly a super-complex endeavor, but there’s a lot of things that you can tweak to get the most of every workout session. One element that can have quite a big impact on your gains is the way you structure your workouts.

Now, obviously, there are a gazillion ways when it comes to structuring workouts, especially when you consider equipment availability or preference, the types of exercises you like to do or feel good about, your current fitness level and your current fitness goals and so on and so forth. And far be it from any of us to judge one workout regimen to be superior or inferior from other sets, but if you happen to be interested in a way to mix things up a bit and increase your gains, consider the superset.

Put simply, a superset involves two exercises done back-to-back, with little no rest in between. It sounds, and is, quite simple. But the concept has become quite popular and there’s a reason behind it. Actually, there a quite a few…

The Benefits of Supersets

  • Time efficiency: Straight sets and circuit exercises are great for improving technique and mixing in different modalities, respectively, but when it comes to pure time efficiency, supersets—particularly antagonist supersets, but more on that later—are superior. Essentially, supersets allow you to work one muscle group while allowing another to rest and also keeping your heart rate up the whole time. Working completely unrelated muscle groups in a single superset supposedly works even better.
  • Cardio: There are also supersets that alternate between upper-body movements and lower-body movements. By doing this, your body is forced to move blood constantly between your upper and lower body, thus engaging your cardiovascular system even if the workout as a whole is focused on strength-building.
  • Posture-building: Supersets, especially opposing ones promotes better balance which, in turn, helps with posture. This is particularly beneficial for people who spend a lot of time hunched in front of a desk. Opposing supersets can be ones that switch between pulling and pushing exercises, or ones that work both the front and back of the body.

Types of Supersets

Once again, supersets are not exactly some sort of revolutionary concept in exercise; and perhaps many of us have not-so-accidentally been doing supersets this whole time. Still, a more structured approach—in this case, deliberately planning for supersets—can be a good idea to improve anybody’s workout regimen.

So, where to start? Well, perhaps we can begin with the most basic types of supersets that you can try out. All in all, we have:

  • Antagonist superset: This is the most common type of superset and basically means that you’re working opposing muscle groups one after the other. As mentioned earlier, this could be switching between the front and back of the body—chest exercises and back exercises. Or, for another example, alternating between working on your hamstrings and your quadriceps. The idea behind the antagonist superset is that muscles recover faster when opposing muscle groups are working. As a bonus, this also ensures that the muscles are constantly balanced and it also makes for an efficient workout.
  • Compound superset: Some people consider this an entirely different category from supersets and simply call them compound sets; others feel they belong in the same general group of supersets. For the sake of discussion, let’s follow the former idea. Extra options never hurt, right? Anyway, compound (super)sets consist of two different exercises for the same muscle group. This is obviously great for when you need to focus on certain muscle groups in a way that ensures well-rounded results.
  • Unrelated superset: As you can probably guess by the name, this kind of supersets involves working on two completely unrelated muscle groups back-to-back. What differentiates the unrelated superset from the other two types is that it ensures that each muscle being worked on receives an adequate amount of rest between sets.

It can be argued that the most basic—and also popular—execution of this idea is to go for antagonist or unrelated supersets. And indeed, these two types can give you the most distinctive advantage compared to other workout routines, namely allowing you to get more work out of each and every training session. While one muscle group rests, another works out; your heart rate is kept up, and you’re continuously exerting force even in a fatigued state.

Are supersets the ultimate exercise method? Of course not. Is it a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody’s needs? Obviously not. But as an approach to maximize gains for the few hours—or less—that you can spend exercising, this is definitely a super option.