There’s something almost intangible that stands out about a good superset. It could be the grit, the sweet pump, or simply the gains you know are coming. Whatever it is, there’s a magical — and exhausting — feeling when you perform one exercise right after another. Especially for bodybuilders, performing supersets is key to unlocking maximum muscle growth.
For as long as there have been lifters in gyms, there have been supersets. It’s a lifting technique only limited by your creativity. However, there is a method to the madness. Read on to learn the defining characteristics you need to know to get the most out of your supersets, particularly when it comes to bodybuilding.
- What are Supersets?
- Best Supersets for Bodybuilding
- Benefits of Supersets
- Who Should Use Supersets
- How to Build a Superset
What are Supersets?
A superset is a pairing of exercises that are performed back-to-back without a break. Once you have completed a full set of one exercise, immediately dive into the second. After you have finished them both, you may finally rest.
Supersetting exercises can be a powerful tool for building muscle. There are three main varieties to choose from — the synergist, the antagonist, or the compound superset.
A synergist superset will pair two muscle groups together that tend to work together. Muscle groups such as the pectoralis major and triceps, quadriceps and glutes, or any number of back muscles along with the biceps are great examples.
Think about it: your triceps help your chest lock out bench presses. A synergistic superset usually sees a heavier exercise paired with a lighter, higher repetition exercise because of this double-dose on the second muscle group. So, you might follow a heavier chest exercise with a lighter triceps move.
An antagonistic superset means that two muscles that perform the opposite action are performed back-to-back. Great examples of antagonistic supersets would be the quadriceps and hamstrings, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi, or biceps and triceps.
Since they normally don’t accumulate fatigue simultaneously, antagonistic muscle groups can be loaded a bit heavier than a synergistic superset. In other words, what fatigues your chest won’t fatigue your lats nearly as much. Therefore, you can go pretty heavy when supersetting a bench press with a bent-over row.
A compound superset is a pairing of exercises that directly target the same muscle group. The second exercise is often an easier variation due to the accumulated fatigue.
A compound superset for your hamstrings could be a dumbbell Romanian deadlift followed by a prone hamstring curl. The second exercise uses a machine to allow for a safer secondary dose of high intensity work — even in a pre-fatigued state. Compound supersets help you take a muscle group as close to failure as possible to stimulate as much growth as possible.
Best Supersets for Bodybuilding
The main goal of bodybuilding is to build the most quality muscle possible — supersets can be one of your best tools for the job. Aim to bring yourself close to muscle failure on both exercises to get the biggest bang for your buck here.
Bodybuilding Synergist Superset — Quads and Glutes
A walking lunge is a great choice to start the synergistic superset for quads and glutes. It’ll work both muscles, but place a big emphasis on your quads. Your walking lunge should be loaded to bring you close to failure within 12 to 15 repetitions.
From there, drop down into a glute bridge to completely roast the glutes. Have a heavy dumbbell at the ready to place on your hips at the finish line of your walking lunges to minimize transition time between exercises. Take your glute bridges to absolute failure since you will already be pre-fatigued and in a generally safe position to fail your lift.
- Dumbbell Walking Lunge: 1 x 12-15
- Dumbbell Glute Bridge: 1 x AMRAP
Note: Perform this superset three times, rest 60 to 90 seconds between each superset.
Bodybuilding Antagonist Superset — Biceps and Triceps
An antagonist superset for the biceps and triceps works beautifully on a dual cable stack set-up. Perform a single-arm overhead cable triceps extension for each arm before transitioning into a bilateral standing cable biceps curl.
This quick transition and long range of motion for both the biceps and triceps will train some much needed shoulder stability. You’ll also deliver a wicked pump to both muscle groups.
- Single-Arm Overhead Cable Triceps Extension: 1 x 15
- Bilateral Standing Cable Biceps Curl: 1 x 15
Note: Perform this superset three times, rest 45 to 60 seconds between each superset.
Bodybuilding Compound Superset — Double-Up the Pecs
Compound supersets take the target muscle group to absolute failure. In the case of the pectoralis major, setting up on a dual cable stack with an adjustable bench will enable you to perform a heavier cable chest press. Then, you’ll drop the load and immediately convert to a cable flye.
Once you’ve used the heavier pressing exercise (gaining a bit of extra juice from the triceps and delts), you can eliminate the synergistic muscles by performing a flye. This will demolish what remains of your pecs.
- Seated Cable Chest Press: 1 x 10
- Seated Cable Pec Flye: 1 x 12-15
Note: Perform this superset three times, resting 90 to 120 seconds between each superset.
Benefits of Supersets
Supersets can be extremely useful for any lifter, but the bodybuilding benefits cannot be beat. They serve as one of the best intensifying tools around, can be tremendously useful for time efficient workouts, and boost your ability to push to failure. However, there is one thing to consider before starting to superset every exercise in each workout — and that’s the fatigue monster.
A good synergistic or compound style of superset will be a huge asset for taking a muscle group as close to failure as you can. If the first exercise starts to experience technical breakdown before the desired muscle group itself fatigues, a superset can come in handy.
It can reduce the burden on the whole body and zero in on the muscle group at hand. Get the burn rolling in a safe way and really drive the stimulus to your target muscle group.
All superset variations are great at streamlining your workouts. Instead of splitting every exercise apart and incorporating individual rest periods, supersets quicken the pace and get you through the workout much faster. This can be especially beneficial for antagonistic supersets where you attack a broader range of muscle groups all at once.
Supersets of all varieties prevent you from resting at your normal intervals. For many, this can be enough of a shock to start providing a bit of cardiovascular conditioning. Outside of the normal style of cardiovascular training, those that wish to start weaving in some concurrent training might find supersets quite alluring.
A good compound superset will directly challenge a single muscle group and can be a great tool for calibrating your internal muscle failure radar. The longer you train it (especially in moderate repetition ranges), the feeling of truly hitting failure can become a distant memory.
Using supersets can be a quick way to check-in with yourself and remember what it feels like to take all sets close enough to failure for the best results.
Although supersets are highly beneficial tools for many purposes, you should also be careful not to overuse them. While they can help produce a ton of great results, supersets have been shown to also accumulate greater degrees of muscle damage and potentially impact recovery time. (1)(2)
To avoid overtraining, use supersets strategically and not necessarily in every workout. Temper your use for the best results depending on if you need them for time efficiency, intensification, or some combination.
Who Should Use Supersets
Supersets can be useful to many athletes. From bodybuilders to powerlifters, many strength athletes can effectively incorporate supersets into their programs.
Bodybuilders are the prime candidates for benefitting from supersets. This training method is uniquely aligned with the goal of building muscle. Particularly, supersets can be beneficial as one final intensification to sprinkle on top of a properly periodized training program to cap your progressions.
A beginner is still refining their technique with many exercises and might have a lower baseline level of physical fitness. Using supersets can help you build a foundation of cardiovascular capacity and start the ball rolling on muscle gain simultaneously. Take the appropriate time to focus on skill development and then bookend your session with some supersets to get highly time-efficient work done.
The powerlifter must dedicate a tremendous amount of time to movement preparation, performing heavy barbell exercises, and longer rest periods. But they also benefit from building muscle and training in a bodybuilding style to help keep their joints happy.
This helps offset some of the wear and tear from the pressures of the barbell. Tossing in some supersets can be a time-efficient way, joint-friendly to build muscle without elongating an already long workout more than necessary.
How to Build a Superset
Building a superset can be a fun experience. It can teach you how to tailor your own training programs around equipment availability, time crunches, or just for some added intensity. Here are a few key steps to organizing your own superset.
Step 1: Choose Your Style
Walk into your session knowing the purpose of the superset. You’re going to be trying to build muscle, conditioning, spare some time, or check-in on your intensity. Know your main goal before you get started so you can aim your effort in the right direction. Select either the synergistic, antagonistic, or compound style.
Step 2: Choose Your Muscles
Under the lens of bodybuilding, it’s important to choose your muscle groups according to your goal. A superset can be a powerful tool to stimulate growth.
Select your target muscle before your workout (or better yet, pre-plan it within your program) so that you’re not experimenting in the moment and potentially hindering your recovery.
Step 3: Choose Your Exercises
Your exercises should match your intended goal of the day. This will be informed by your available equipment, skill per exercise, and style of superset. Set up your superset to minimize any transition time between exercises. Come prepared and streamline your workout by setting things up in advance.
Make Your Sets Super
Supersets help bodybuilders — and all kinds of strength athletes — get closer to their muscle-building goals. Nearly every level of lifter can scrap some additional gains out of a superset, but bodybuilders especially stand to benefit from the intensity-boosting power of supersets. Challenge yourself and reap the benefits of high-intensity, time-efficient gains by pairing the exercises in your next workout.
- Brentano, M. A., Umpierre, D., Santos, L. P., Lopes, A. L., Radaelli, R., Pinto, R. S., & Kruel, L. (2017). Muscle Damage and Muscle Activity Induced by Strength Training Super-Sets in Physically Active Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(7), 1847–1858.
- Weakley, J., Till, K., Read, D. B., Roe, G., Darrall-Jones, J., Phibbs, P. J., & Jones, B. (2017). The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses. European journal of applied physiology, 117(9), 1877–1889.
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