Supersets: No Rest For The Wickedly Strong
Weight training fans of all sizes, experience levels, and ambitions are taking a break from having a rest.
Supersets are sets in which you combine one set of a resistance-training exercise with one set of a different exercise - taking minimal rest in between sets. Although some may question the wisdom of such a routine, others swear by them.
Different Users. Different Reasons.
There are some universal benefits to powering through your workout. The most obvious ones include saving time, maintaining your strength and energy, and knowing that when you do rest, it’s because you’re all done. But the real reason to get into supersets – smartly and safely – is reaching your goals, and those are different for every lifter.
Some serious lifters are looking for increased muscle mass. Others may want more explosive power, longer-lasting muscle endurance, or better metabolic conditioning. Many are users with limited workout time to achieve any or all of these goals. Supersets can help them get what they’re after, but they’ll need a solid plan.
Putting that together involves a solid understanding of what Supersets are, what they can and can’t do for you. If you plunge into them blindly, you’ll find out what they can do to you. So let’s get our facts straight right now.
So What Is a Superset Exactly?
There’s more to doing a superset than just eliminating the rest period between sets. You’re looking for a desired result. All superset workouts or workouts that incorporate supersets are great for overloading your muscles, making your body have to push harder for a longer time, and keeping your heart pumping steadily.
That builds stamina and endurance, while your muscles burn more calories to stay fueled up. Win. Win. Win.
Bodybuilders could add one more benefit to that list: Spending more time exercising under tension shreds more muscle fibres that need to be built back up, bigger than they were before (AKA Hypertrophy). You can also look at it as decreased total exercise time – some say you can cut your workout in half – or as increased total work capacity.
What Qualifies as a Superset?
Answering that question is tricky because there are two schools of thought about it. Some exercise experts will say there are multiple versions of the Superset. By their definition, a superset need only satisfy two criteria:
1. You’re following one resistance exercise with a different resistance exercise. Doing the same activity at a lighter weight doesn’t count. (That’s called a drop set.)
2. You transition quickly from your first exercise set to the second. Experts recommend you do so in under 30 seconds. Whatever you have to do to switch activities, do it swiftly to keep your heart rate up. If you only have to change position, don’t crawl over yourself or take a long breather. Supersetters are usually advised to take a longer rest after their set of two, so you can recover then.
TIP: If you have to change machines, weights or attachments, make sure you have everything at hand. Just remember that doing so in a fitness facility won't exactly win you friends. Other gym-goers may be well within their rights to accuse you of hogging the equipment.
Not everyone shares this vision of an inclusive definition of the Superset. Some feel the true superset meets a more exacting standard.
There Can Be Only One.
Purists will insist there is only one type of superset. Why? Well, respected sports performance specialist Dr. John Rusin says the difference lies in what these sets, super or not, accomplish.
He’s not saying the sets he deems non-super lack health benefits of their own. He’s just saying that you may find your progress stalling before achieving specific benefits.
So what is this sole universally accepted example of a superset? And what makes it so unique?
Here’s the one type of superset that everyone agrees on. It’s the one that Dr. Rusin says “can be the difference between plateauing with your strength and hypertrophy gains and continuing to throw iron on the bar and muscle on your body month after month.”
Sometimes called antagonist supersets or opposition supersets, these supersets involve working two opposing muscle groups in alternating sets. The objective is to build strength in one area of the body. The recommended method combines one set of exercises in which you push – like overhead presses – with a pulling exercise, like pullups.
One exercise strengthens the chest. The other bolsters the back.
A Complementary - Not Combative - Partnership
The terms “opposition” and “antagonist” might suggest the two muscle groups are working against each other, but the opposite is the case.
Instead of being like two pro wrestlers trading chair shots, the antagonistic superset is more like two wrestlers o the same tag team. They switch roles quickly so one can rest and recover while the other keeps chair-whacking an opponent. In this case, that opponent is your stressed muscle fibre - calling for its partner, your metabolism, to jump in and save the day, which it does ... which is the point. Your shredded muscles get the support they need to come back stronger than before and claim ultimate victory. HOORAY!
Supersetting for Super Fitness
This process is known as reciprocal innervation (for those who prefer scientific accuracy to pro-wrestling analogies). Evidence suggests it increases blood flow, allowing you to lift more weight. Lifting your limit with short rests is also said to boost your anabolic hormone response, making it easier for your muscle fibres to make room for more glycogen (fuel) storage.
According to Dr. Rusin that adds up to dependable increases in strength and hypertrophy – the things he sees as missing in other sets that have been called “supersets.” And if you don’t believe him, look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used antagonistic supersets to claim his many bodybuilding titles.
As mentioned above, some fitness experts disagree with the purists. If you'd like to see which sets the non-purists include, you can find them here.
Ready, Superset, Go - to Flaman Fitness
Recreational lifter? Body Builder? Powerlifter? Athlete? If you’re ready for Supersets, our fitness experts can help you get started.
Call or visit your nearest Flaman Fitness location and discuss your needs, goals, budget and available space. Our sales professionals can show you the equipment and accessory options that can make your supersets safe, fast and effective.
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