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Building Muscle

What is a Superset and How Can it Benefit YOU?

If you’ve spent any time at all in or around the fitness community, you’ve probably come across the concept of a superset before. While you may understand the basics, what you may not know is that there are all different kinds of variations, and choosing the right approach largely depends on your goals.  

In order to point you in the right direction, we’re going over everything you need to know about supersets, from what the main types are to how you can benefit from incorporating them into your exercise routine.  But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s first discuss in more detail what a superset actually is.  

What is a Superset?

In resistance training, a superset is performed by doing 2 different exercises back to back with a short rest period afterward. For instance, doing a set of quad extensions immediately followed by a round of hamstring curls.   

 While there are a few different approaches (which we’ll discuss below) in general, a superset is designed to increase your overall output in the gym while keeping your recovery period more or less the same.  

And from helping you to build more size and strength to improving your ability to burn stubborn fat, there are multiple benefits to be had from adding some supersets into your workout routine.  

But in order to do them safely and effectively, there are a few underlying principles you’ll need to be aware of.  

Types of Supersets

One common misconception many newcomers have when it comes to supersets is that you can simply throw any two exercises together.  In reality, it’s not so easy.  In order to truly increase the effectiveness of your workout with supersets, the exercises you choose to pair together should be intelligently selected based on your goals.  

For instance, are you looking to add more volume to your workout for a specific muscle group, or are you trying to work out multiple muscle groups in the same training session?  Ultimately, your answer to questions like these is going to inform what kinds of exercises will be ideal for you to pair together.   

1. Compound Superset

On one side of the spectrum, you have compound supersets, which involve 2 exercises that recruit the same muscle group(s) -- picture immediately following up a set on the bench press with a round of dumbbell flys before you take a quick breather and repeat the process.  

Compound supersets are generally considered the most demanding kind of superset because they’re hyperfocused on a specific group of muscles.  The benefit is that you can drastically increase the amount of training volume and intensity a select muscle group is exposed to, however, the one downside is that they can be pretty taxing.   

For instance, let’s say you’re working out your legs today and want to focus on your hamstrings.  One way to increase the demands of your workout would be to pair two exercises together that both work your hamstrings.  So instead of just performing deadlifts, for example, and then taking a breather, you’d also throw in some hamstring curls right after to really exhaust the muscle and ramp up the burn.  

2. Traditional (Antagonistic) Superset

On the other side of the spectrum, you have the traditional superset, which is designed to work antagonistic muscle groups.  As opposed to a compound superset, you’ll be selecting 2 exercises that engage opposing muscles with a traditional superset -- picture doing the bench press and rows back to back.

In general, it’s less demanding than a compound superset.  Because you’ll be targeting muscle groups that work to counterbalance one another, the first muscle group you hit will be able to start recovering when you jump into the second exercise in your superset, thus adding more training volume to your workout without taking the intensity to extreme levels.  

3. Lower/Upper Body Superset

Lastly, you have the lower/upper body superset, which pairs together lower and upper body exercises that target unrelated muscle groups -- think following up a set of squats with a round of chin-ups before you take a quick rest.  

The benefit of targeting unrelated muscle groups is that you’ll be able to jump into the second exercise of your superset with your muscles feeling relatively fresh, as opposed to a compound superset where you’ll be coming into your second exercise with your muscles fatigued.  

Benefits of Supersets

No matter which approach you choose, there are multiple reasons why you can benefit from adding supersets into your regular exercise routine.  On top of helping you save some serious time in the gym, supersets can also come in handy for everything from weight loss to building size and strength.  

Save Time

One of the most obvious benefits of supersets is that they can be incredibly efficient.  In some cases, you can almost double the amount of work you’re doing in one training session, which ultimately means that you may not need as many training sessions per week in order to hit your goals.  

For example, if you could get an effective chest and back workout done in the same training session without having to commit much more time, you’d potentially be able to cut down on how many days a week you have to go to the gym in order to hit all of your major muscles groups.    

Build Muscle

Supersets are incredibly popular within the bodybuilding community and for good reason.  Because they provide an excellent way to increase your training volume, as well, as the intensity of your workout, they’re a tool many muscle-building enthusiasts turn to in order to maximize their gains and avoid plateaus.   

When it comes to building size and strength, the key lies in making gradual but consistent increases to your workload. The only problem is, as your training experience increases, that becomes harder and harder to do.  

However, supersets, allow you to pack substantially more training volume into a single workout session, which can help to create the circumstances needed for muscle growth to occur, especially in more seasoned lifters.  

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Lose Weight/Burn Fat

Not only can supersets help you build more muscle, but they’re also an incredibly useful tool for shedding unwanted body fat.  

That’s because doing supersets can significantly increase the number of calories you burn during your workout -- think about it, you’re essentially cramming twice as much work into your training session.  

While you’ll also need to get your calorie intake dialed in, increasing your calorie expenditure with supersets can be a simple and effective way to create the kind of calorie deficit you need in order to see steady, long-term weight loss. 

Superset Mistakes to Avoid

While there are all sorts of benefits to be had from adding supersets into your regular workout routine, there are also some mistakes to avoid.  Here are a few things to consider when it comes to pairing together exercises in a safe and effective way.  

Choosing exercise pairings that closely align with your goals is key when it comes to seeing the kind of effects you’re after.  For instance, if you’re looking to lose weight, you’re not only going to need to find exercises that have a higher calorie demand, you’ll also need to make sure those exercises pair well together.

On top of cutting into the effectiveness of your workout, exercise miss matches can drastically increase your chances of getting injured.  One thing, in particular, to keep in mind when putting together a superset is your core.  

Your core involves most of your body’s main stabilizer muscles and you want to be careful about doing back-to-back exercises that both place a lot of strain on these muscles.  Overtaxing your core can ultimately affect your ability to hold proper form in the exercises you’re doing.  And when your form is off, your risk of injury is always increased. 

Wrap Up

A superset refers to the process of performing 2 exercises back-to-back with a brief rest period afterward.  There are different types of supersets, ranging from compound and antagonistic supersets to the upper/ lower body split, and each is designed with a specific purpose in mind.

Choosing the right exercises to pair together depends on a few different factors, however, in general, finding a combo that’s both safe and effective largely depends on your goals.  

With the right exercises in place, adding supersets into your regular workout routine can help with everything from building muscle to losing weight, it simply depends on putting the right routine in place.  

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