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Super-set strategy in weight training

Updated on March 14, 2010
Image taken from and used under Creative Commons- Attribution licence
Image taken from and used under Creative Commons- Attribution licence

Supersets are one of many tools you can incorporate into your weight training program in a variety of ways, to achieve a variety of different results.

In very basic terms, a superset is combination of two or more exercises performed without any rest period in between, with the second exercise beginning immediately upon completing the final repetition of the first exercise.

The benefits associated with this style of training include an increase in energy expenditure, due to the heart rate remaining elevated for a prolonged period of time. Combining exercises in this manner may also increase the total number of exercises you can complete, without increasing the amount of time spent in the gym.

Further benefits vary depending on the combination of exercises and application of the superset. Some common examples are as follows;

Unrelated Muscle Groups

A popular and useful training strategy is to train a smaller unrelated muscle group during the rest period between sets of your major target muscle group. For example, performing calf raises in between sets of bench press. The working muscles targeted in the bench press still have the same amount of rest time between sets, but we have the dual benefits of maintaining an elevated heart rate while also training what may be an otherwise overlooked and under performing muscle group.

Adding an abdominal or obliques exercise between sets is another useful application of this strategy, and may be preferable to other approaches such as training abdominals after the completion of your main program, when you may be running low on energy and motivation.

Opposing Muscle Groups

Sometimes referred to as a “push – pull” set, this type of superset targets opposing muscles on a joint. For example, the biceps, utilised in flexion of the elbow, and the triceps which extends the elbow. Exercises targeting the quadriceps and hamstrings can be utilised in the same manner, as can exercises of larger opposing muscle groups such as the chest and back.

The push – pull superset can be a useful tool in ensuring that opposing muscle groups are trained evenly. It is of crucial importance to maintain a balance between opposing groups to support correct posture, for example over-training the pectoral muscles without adequately training the upper back can result in a protracted or round shoulder appearance. Utilising exercises with a similar form but opposite resistance, such as bench press (for chest) and a rowing exercise (for back) in a super-set is one method of achieving this balance of opposing body parts.

Same Muscle Group

Supersets of exercises targeting the same muscle group can be useful in ensuring the adequate exhaustion of the targeted muscle in a compound exercise. Performing an isolation exercise such as dumbbell flyes preceding a compound exercise such as bench press in a pre-fatigue superset can ensure adequate exhaustion of the pectoral muscles prior to the triceps failing.

Similarly we can place more emphasis on a particular muscle or muscle group in other compound exercises by performing a pre-fatigue isolation exercise first as part of a superset. For example, we could utilise a leg extension to target the quadriceps muscles, or a leg curl to target hamstrings with squats or leg press exercises.

As you can see, there are a broad variety of applications of the super-set training strategy and it can be tailored to suit whatever your individual fitness goals are.


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