Time is precious. For many of us, spending longer than necessary in the gym can eat into time that could otherwise be spent working, socialising, relaxing, etc. But did you know that there’s a simple programming tip that could help save you massive amounts of time in the gym? :
Yes, supersets. Maybe you’ve heard the term but never understood what it means, but supersets have been used by personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches for decades to maximise the amount of quality work that can be included in a training session.
What is a superset, and why use it?
A superset is when you pair two exercises together. You perform one set of the first exercise, and then immediately perform a set of the 2nd. Then you take your rest, and repeat this process until your supersets (usually 3 - 5 total) are done.
This can be a great tool, because it means that you can get 2 exercises much faster than if you were doing one exercise at a time.
As an additional bonus, the superset can also confer a small benefit to your cardiovascular fitness, as you will be working for a longer period of time than if you did one exercise. This is also helped by your heart having to pump blood to two separate groups of muscles.
How to make a superset:
1. Train opposing muscle groups
Firstly, you should ensure that the superset involves exercises that work different muscle groups. This means that the fatigue you induce from the first exercise won’t negatively affect the amount of weight you can lift / reps you can perform in the 2nd exercise. A classic example of this is the push / pull superset.
Pull-ups and dips are a classic superset
For example: Dumbell Rows and Shoulder Press, or Chin-Ups and Dips. The reason this works is because the push exercise works triceps, pecs, and delts; whereas the pull exercise works separate muscles like the biceps, lats, and rhomboids.
Now, you CAN use supersets for the same muscle group, but those are chiefly used by bodybuilders who are intentionally attempting to fatigue a specific muscle. This might work purely muscle gain, but not for strength.
2. Choose intensity based on training status
Second, you need to assess how experienced you are at training. If you are a beginner, you can safely pair multi joint exercises together i.e. squats + chins, deadlifts + bench bench press, because the relative load you are lifting is low.
HOWEVER, if you are more advanced then this will make you very fatigued. As a result, you will end up negatively affecting your performance in both lifts. Instead more advanced people should save supersets for lower intensity assistance exercises (e.g. chin ups, DB bench, split squats, DB rows).
If you are advanced enough that even this is taxing, then another option is to pair isolation exercises exercises together (e.g. curls + extensions, leg extensions + hamstring curls).