So just about anyone who has ever spent more than a week in a gym or flipped through any one of the countless bodybuilding magazines available has likely heard of supersetting. For most, supersetting is simply clumping some exercises together without too much rest in between. Unfortunately, there is typically very little science or reason behind their pairing and the majority of the individuals utilizing this technique couldn’t tell you why it is actually beneficial. So lets make sure that you know the real deal.
By simple definition, supersetting is completing two different exercises, one after the other, without resting in between. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Well, it isn’t. There are a number of different supersetting techniques that you should be familiar with and utilize in your training. The three primary techniques are pre-exhaustion, post exhaustion and antagonistic.
This technique is used to tire the targeted muscle group though the use of an isolated movement before completing a compound movement. When done properly, the compound exercise will more efficiently work that targeted muscle group, while all other muscle groups involved simply assist in the destruction of our target.
The classic example of this technique is the pairing of the dumbbell flye (isolation) with the flat bench press (compound). By performing the flyes first, the pecs should be sufficiently pre-exhausted with little or no effect on surrounding muscle groups (if performed with proper form). Now when the bench press is executed immediately after, the pecs tire rapidly, but the assisting muscle groups (i.e. deltoids, triceps) have enough energy remaining to assist in the complete annihilation and atrophy of the pecs. Mission accomplished.
The post-exhaustion method is the exact opposite of the pre-exhaustion method listed above. Therefore, the compound movement is executed first and immediately followed by an isolated movement. This method allows you to keep the weight used during the compound movement heavy and then uses the isolation exercise to burn out the targeted muscle or muscle group.
For example, during a quadriceps training session, one might use heavy squats as their compound (which recruits numerous different muscle groups) and then zero in on the quads with leg extensions. If the pre-exhaustion method had been used in this case, the squats would have to be much lighter.
This approach is when opposite muscles or muscle groups are paired together in the superset. Please note that I said “opposite” and not “different.” Good examples of opposite pairings are biceps/triceps, quads/hamstrings or chest/back. Poor examples of pairings would be hamstrings/biceps or chest/quads. Now there are situations where these non-opposing muscle pairing would be beneficial (i.e. circuit training), but for the sake of supersetting for muscle growth, they should not be applied.
It is our body’s physiological and anatomical balance (I use that word loosely) that allows the antagonistic approach to work. Keep Newton’s 3rd Law in mind when utilizing this method: “For every action, there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction force.” So lets apply this to those guns you’ve been trying to build since high school. During a bicep curl it is quite obvious that during the concentric phase (lifting of the weight) and the contraction (hold or squeeze at the top) of the lift, the biceps are engaged and bearing the majority of the work. However, it is during the eccentric phase (lowering of the weight or the negative) of the curl that we should be focusing on for two reasons.
Reason 1: 90% of the lifting population ignore the significance of the “negative”; despite the fact that numerous studies suggest that it may be the most important aspect of every exercise when it comes to developing muscle mass and increasing natural hormone production. Reason 2 (getting back on track): It is during this phase that our triceps kicks in to assist in the fight against gravity, essentially priming our triceps with blood and neuromuscular stimulation for the upcoming exercise. It is for this very reason that many individuals are actually stronger in a given lift when they superset it with an antagonist (i.e. your bench increases when you do bent over rows first).
Supersets Help Increase Growth Hormone
So we have all heard about the benefits of Growth Hormone (GH) and how beneficial it is to anyone trying to decrease body fat and increase muscle (amongst many other things). Unfortunately, most people are unaware that we can increase our body’s production of GH naturally, without making any special trips to BALCO. The secret lies in lactic acid (the stuff that “makes it burn!”). As your body releases more lactic acid into your blood stream, your blood’s pH level decreases. How does your body respond to this? By excreting more GH to negate the decrease in the blood stream’s pH. There for the more lactic acid you are able to generate through your workout, the more GH your body will produce. Supersetting is hands down one of the best ways to generate large amounts of lactic acid.
Other Benefits to Supersetting
1. Another pretty obvious benefit to supersetting is the amount of time that is saved. By using any one of the approaches above, one can accomplish the same amount of work in significantly less time; which is more than enough reason for many busy individuals.
2. An increased caloric burn is another great reason to superset. By limiting rest time and increasing the time of each set (1 superset vs. 1 set of an individual exercise) we are able to increase our body’s working heart rate. An increase heart rate means more fat burned for energy. The majority of the population would see this as a good thing.
3. Finally, it is a great way to stimulate new muscle growth and development. I don’t personally believe supersetting should be a continuous and solo part of one’s routine; but I think the benefits of supersetting certainly make it well worth cycling into or including in a routine. The different supersetting approaches should be cycled into your program or rotated every 4-6 weeks. The continuous change in stimulation will be sure to take your development to a new level.
By Lucas Irwin (unbreakablegear)