Superset Pretenders Or The Real Deal?
What is a superset? In our introduction to this hard-driving exercise regimen, we mentioned that not everybody agrees on what a real one is. Some say only the antagonistic (AKA opposition) Superset deserves the title. Others open the definition up to include any set of two consecutive resistance exercises, providing there is minimal rest between sets.
Below, we’ll profile some controversial candidates for super-sounding distinction.
In the interests of helping you pursue the results you want, we’ll treat every type of set that’s been called a “superset” as a superset. Knowing how they work and what they can do for you will help you make that all-important plan – whatever you choose to call it.
These are also known as compound supersets. Basically, they’re any workout with two sets of different exercises working the same muscle group – usually with a different range of motion. For instance, you might follow a set of push-ups with a dumbbell bench press.
Purists disqualify them as true supersets because the muscle group in use doesn’t spell off with an opposing muscle group. Some will argue that this compound variation primarily serves only one purpose – building muscle volume. However, if that’s what you’re after, this method offers various ways to pursue it.
Pre-Exhaust and Post-Exhaust Supersets
Also called pre-fatigue and post-fatigue, these exercises involve one compound exercise paired with one isolation exercise. The latter type involves only the muscles around a single joint within that muscle group (usually the largest). Let’s say you’re isolating your bicep muscles. Your biceps will do double-duty, alternating between one set in which they work alone and another working as part of the larger muscle group – in this case, your arms.
Why? We can best explain its theory with an analogy family fitness-minded parents will certainly understand. If you go for a walk or run by yourself, you can keep going until you feel you’ve gotten full value from your exercise. Take the kids along, and you have to stop when they need to stop.
Giving Every Muscle the Workout It Needs
It works the same way with muscle groups doing compound exercises. The biggest single-joint muscle group (call the prime mover) has to stop when the smaller joint muscles (called synergists) play out. You can learn more about the difference between the roles of these muscles here.
Parents remedy their dilemma by hitting the trail or treadmill by themselves and joining the kids for a family exercise outing at another time – often right before or right after their solo exercise to keep their hearts, lungs and muscles warmed up.
Pre-exhaust and post-exhaust supersets do the same thing for your muscle groups. The prime mover works itself part-way to exhaustion in an isolation set immediately before or after it joins the synergists in a compound set.
Fitness experts offer multiple superset formulas that can help you strike the most effective balance between isolation and compound exercises. Maybe look at a few of them and talk to your doctor, personal trainer, or other expert about your options and form a solid plan.
What's the difference between pre and post-exhaustion?
The answer starts with another question: “How risky is your compound movement?” For instance, deadlifts pose an increased risk of injury to the muscles around your spine if your core isn't strong and stable. If you start the set with your prime mover already pre-exhausted you’re at greater risk of hurting yourself.
For this reason, trainers will warn beginners away from the pre-exhaust option. Many will advise new lifters to master basic sets, multiple sets, and regular supersets before they start with either exhaustion set option.
We’ve talked a lot about how supersets are great for doubling up on specific areas of your body, like arms, legs, chest, and back. However, not every set of two rapidly consecutive exercises has to meet this standard.
There are plenty of unrelated superset options, many of which switch between the upper and lower body. It’s a great timesaver for those who are into full-body exercise. As with the classic superset, you’re able to work one area while another rests with your heart pumping the whole time. Eliminating fatigue frees you to pursue more muscle contraction, force production and strength in a limited time.
It’s fair to argue that “unrelated” isn’t a proper term for two exercises working in common cause, even if they’re not working the same part of the body.
Another example is the Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) superset. PAP training usually pairs one heavier-loaded compound exercise, like a squat, with a plyometric exercise. The latter can be a jumping exercise or any other motion requiring your muscles to quickly exert maximum force. Combined, the two are great for building explosive power for sports and other activities.
Why stop at two?
SPOILER ALERT: The answer is overtraining. But that’s only if you rush into it unprepared. If you build up correctly, you’re well-versed in proper form, and you respect your own limitations, the challenge of tri-sets (three sets in a row) or even giant sets (four or more in a row) is possible.
You can probably do the math on how much more time you’ll save doing three or more exercises as a superset. Just figure in the importance of making sure you’re up for such a heavy-duty workout. You don’t want to invite delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or something even worse.
Finally, don’t forget about the above-mentioned issues with switching equipment – especially if you work out in a gym. Planning a superset that centers on one machine, barbell, etc. might be a nice gesture on your part.
Are Supersets Part of YOUR Plan?
If they are, be sure to make planning part of your supersetting. As we’ve mentioned, your goals, fitness level and availability of time and equipment are primary considerations. Even with those points pondered, you’ll need to come up with a superset workout regime that doesn’t burn you out, pain or injure you, or just leave you stuck on a plateau.
If you’re just beginning to exercise, you may have to plan how you’ll progress to a point where supersets will be a productive option. You'll need to build up more than your muscles. Supersets also require the mental focus to make sure you’re not sweating out one set then coasting on the other. You’ll need the discipline to stay with your program and the wisdom not to push yourself too hard or overdo your overloading.
Master the basics, stay self-aware, and take care of yourself. That’s what supersets are about.
Get Your Supersetting Started Right - At Flaman Fitness!
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First, they’re fitness experts (some are personal trainers), so they can provide timely tips on designing your ideal superset routine. Second, they can tell you anything you want to know about our top-brand strength training and cardio equipment and accessories.
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