Supersetting is a strategy used in resistance training which is aimed at making your workout as effective as possible. It does this by either efficiently increasing the intensity of the workout, or by maximizing the efficient use of time in the workout.
The end result is that supersetting will enable you to do more work in less time and therefore achieve your desired results in a shorter period of time, whether they relate to building strength, increasing muscle mass, or maintaining muscle mass.
There are several different ways in which supersetting can be done, so let’s take a look at each variation one by one.
Whenever you perform an exercise, the major muscle involved in generating force for the action is called the protagonist. The muscle that works in opposition to that muscle (which would of course not be generating any force as part of the exercise) is called the antagonist.
Some examples of protagonist/antagonist muscle pairs are biceps/triceps, quadriceps/hamstring, and chest/upper back muscles. Each one of these muscles or muscle groups generates force in the opposite direction to its partner.
Antagonist/protagonist supersetting involves working these opposing muscle pairs one after the other as part of your workout.
This is very effective for getting the antagonist muscle loose while the protagonist is doing work. For example, when the biceps are contracted, the triceps are relaxed. This will allow you to use more weight or to do additional reps.
The following is an example of a resistance training workout using the protagonist/antagonist supersetting strategy:
Squats: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Quadriceps)
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Hamstrings)
Bench Press: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Chest)
Bent-Over Rows: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Upper Back)
Bicep Curls: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Biceps)
Tricep Extensions: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Triceps)
Weighted Sit-Ups: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Abdominals)
Weighted Back Extension: 4 Sets x 10 Reps (Lower Back)
As the name suggests, pre-fatiguing supersetting is where you exhaust a muscle or muscle group using a simple isolation (single joint) exercise, before you work it harder with a full-blown compound exercise (an exercise involving two or more joints).
An example of a pre-fatiguing superset for say your quadriceps muscles would be leg extensions (an isolation exercise) followed by squats (a compound exercise). It is possible to use pre-fatiguing supersetting with two compound exercises, but this is generally reserved for very advanced exercisers.
This strategy allows you to increase the intensity of your workouts, without needing to use excessive weight, which can lead to a degradation of form and perhaps even injuries. Because it causes your muscles to be fatigued prior to their real workout even starting, it makes your workouts very effective indeed.
The following is an example of a resistance training workout using pre-fatiguing supersetting:
Dumbbell Flyes: 4 Sets x 12 Reps (Isolation – Chest)
Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 Sets x 8 Reps (Compound – Chest)
Dumbbell Side Raises: 4 Sets x 12 Reps (Isolation – Shoulders)
Military Press: 4 Sets x 8 Reps (Compound – Shoulders)
Leg Extensions: 4 Sets x 12 Reps (Isolation – Quadriceps)
Squats: 4 Sets x 8 Reps (Compound – Quadriceps)
Barbell Curls: 4 Sets x 12 Reps (Isolation – Biceps)
Bent-Over Rows: 4 Sets x 8 Reps (Compound – Upper Back/Biceps)
Weighted Crunches: 4 Sets x 12 Reps (Isolation – Abdominals)
Weighted Vertical Leg/Hip Raises: 4 Sets x 8 Reps (Compound – Abdominals)
Post-fatiguing supersetting is almost identical to pre-fatiguing supersetting, the only difference being that the compound exercise for each muscle group is performed first, followed by its corresponding isolation exercise.
An example for your quadricep muscles would therefore be 4 sets of squats followed by 4 sets of leg extensions.
Post-fatiguing is generally more challenging than pre-fatiguing because the level of exhaustion of your muscles is greater earlier on in your workout, thanks to the compound exercise.
Staggered supersetting is a strategy whereby you combine working out a major muscle or muscle group with a minor and completely unrelated muscle or muscle group. This is most commonly used for forearms, abdominals and calf muscles.
The way to do this strategy is to “squeeze in” a set of forearm, abdominal or calf exercises in between sets for any major, unrelated muscle group. For example, you could perform a set of calf raises in between every set of bench presses (chest exercises) you do.
Instead of resting and therefore wasting time in between sets of major exercises, you’re making good use of your time by working a minor muscle or muscle group which is in no way involved with the major exercise.
This gets your workout finished much more quickly and saves you the monotony that many people feel from doing these small body parts by themselves.
The intention with staggered supersetting is simply to make best use of your time by allowing for full rest and recovery of one muscle or muscle group while at the same time working another.
As you can see then, there are many benefits to including supersets in your training program. They’re a proven technique for increasing intensity, saving time, and bringing up lagging body parts. They can also allow you to train while working around injuries that might be aggravated with heavy weights.
If your training program is getting stale or plateauing, supersets can also help relieve your boredom or to give your results an added spark.