Finding the time to workout regularly takes a high level of discipline. With the daily onslaught of work, personal errands and social activities to juggle, most people find themselves hard-pressed to squeeze in time to go to the gym. Moreover, once you’ve finally found yourself at the gym, another immediate problem arises: making sure you get the most out of your workout in the precious hour or two you have to spare.
For efficiency’s sake, you’d want the most productive workout in the shortest amount of time. Enter supersets. With supersets, you can maximize the limited training time you have, building more muscle mass in way less time.
The catch? Supersets are tough to get through, so you’ll need a healthy dose of both discipline and motivation for these to work for you. Rest assured though, once you do you’ll be amazed by the results.
What’s a Superset?
If you’ve hung around a gym long enough, you’ve probably already heard the word “superset” tossed around. For those unfamiliar, a superset is a combination of two exercises performed without rest to increase their effectiveness.
For example, you’ll do a set of exercise A and go straight to exercise B without rest. You then go back to doing exercise A and continue in the same vein, again without rest. If you’re doing three sets of each, you’ll complete a total of 6 sets back to back before resting. Your workout should then look something like this:
- Exercise A: 8-12 reps
- Exercise B: 8-12 reps
- Repeat 3x
A full workout will compose of anywhere between 3-5 supersets, depending on your fitness level and how much time you have to spare. When it comes to weights, you’ll want to use weights that are heavy enough to make the last few reps challenging to complete with good form.
Needless to say, supersets aren’t for the faint-hearted. They can be a test of stamina, especially if you’re coming from doing traditional straight sets. There are also different types of supersets you can utilize, depending on your goals.
Types of Supersets
There’s much debate online on what counts as a “traditional” superset, but most fitness experts agree that a standard superset will utilize opposing muscle groups. These are also known as “antagonistic supersets.” For example, for an arms-targeted superset, you could do a bicep curl followed by an overhead tricep extension.
When you move from the bicep curl to the overhead tricep extension, your biceps are at rest. This mini-recovery will help your biceps recover enough to exert the same effort during the next round of the superset. The same happens to your triceps as well, as they’ll be recovering during the bicep curl.
Because one muscle group is resting while the other is working, you’ll save time by reducing the rest interval between the two exercises. Shortening the rest period also increases your workout intensity, allowing you to perform more work in less time. This will overload the muscles and contribute to hypertrophy, which will increase your strength and build muscle mass.
Some examples of opposing muscle group supersets are:
- Squats and Straight-Legged Deadlift (Quads and Hamstrings)
- Chest Press and Bent Over Row (Chest and Back)
- Hammer Curls and Tricep Kickbacks (Biceps and Triceps)
During a compound set, instead of pairing opposing muscle groups, you pair the same muscle groups. This type of superset limits recovery and fatigues the muscle, and is excellent for building stamina and improving muscle definition than for actual strength building. If you’re opting for a compound set, you’ll want to use lighter weights to complete them with good form.
Some examples of compound sets are:
- Squats and Lunges (Quads)
- Chest Press and Chest Fly (Chest)
- Bicep Curls and Hammer Curls (Biceps)
The last type of superset involves pairing two completely different muscle groups, usually an upper-body exercise with a lower-body one. Technically, this isn’t considered a superset at all, but a circuit.
Circuits are also an excellent choice if your goal is weight or fat loss, as circuits skyrocket your heart rate, creating a more significant calorie burn and helping you shed fat. Since circuits are total-body workouts, they’re also an option if you have a limited number of days you can spend at the gym.
Some examples of circuits are:
- Bent-Over Rows and Squats (Back and Quads)
- Tricep Dips and Hamstring Curls (Triceps and Hamstrings)
- Bicep Curls and Calf Raises (Biceps and Calves)
The Importance of Post-Workout Recovery
Due to the limited rest time between sets, your recovery after your workout becomes that much more important. Expect to feel considerably sore after your first few sessions. With the way supersets overload your muscles, you’ll need to take recovery seriously to prevent burnout and injury.
Recovery is a crucial factor in strength training, regardless of the type of exercise you’re doing. When you damage your muscle fibers through a hard workout, you need to allow those muscles to rest and repair to prepare for the next training load. This way, your body adapts to the amount of stress it can handle, allowing you to push yourself harder and longer during your next workout.
High-performance athletes and serious fitness enthusiasts who tough it out at the gym regularly speed up recovery with tools like foam rollers, but massage guns have recently been on the rise. In fact, CrossFit athletes who perform short, high-intensity WODs are especially fond of the device. So, if you’re set on using supersets as your mainstay strength training strategy, you may want to invest in an enhanced recovery tool to prevent muscle fatigue and ensure optimum performance.
Make the Most Out of Your Workout
Ultimately, the main advantage of superset workouts is their efficiency. Choose supersets if you want to get the most out of your training in the least amount of time. However, if you have time to spare and want to hyper-focus on building strength, traditional straight sets are the better choice, since you can lift heavier and with more time to recover between sets.
To get the best of both worlds, try doing main strength lifts like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses as straight sets, then proceed to superset assistance exercises.
At the end of the day, you want to do what works best for you. Tailor your workout to what you can do and what goal you want to achieve. And no matter which type you pick—supersets, compound sets, circuits—know that all three are incredibly efficient ways to workout. Happy training!
In the past, Natalie Ann Unson dreamt of being either an athlete or a marine biologist. Instead, she is now a professional writer based in Manila, Philippines. When not writing about sports and fitness, she’s writing about sustainability, the environment, and ocean conservation. Outside of work, find her by the nearest surf break, running laps at the nearest park, or exploring coral reefs 40 feet underwater.