Wouldn’t it be great if there was a safe and natural way to build more muscle in a shorter period of time? In this day and age of exercise gimmicks and quick fix solutions, most smart trainees would be skeptical if they heard such a claim. But guess what? Such an “animal” really does exist.
No, it’s not a drug. It’s not some miracle supplement, either. Nor is it a newfangled piece of workout machinery. If you’ve been training seriously for any length of time, it’s something you’re probably already familiar with, but haven’t fully exploited to the maximum degree. What is this method for building more muscle in less time? Surprise, surprise; it’s called supersetting!
Even if you’ve used supersets before, you may not be familiar with all the different types of supersets or the many ways you can incorporate them into your workouts. Just in case you’re not familiar with supersets, let me start from the beginning and explain the difference between a conventional set and a superset.
Conventional weight training is done using “straight sets.” A straight set consists of a series of nonstop repetitions, usually somewhere between 6 and 12, followed by a rest interval of one to three minutes. A superset is an advanced training technique where you perform two exercises in a row with virtually no rest in between exercises. Supersets are an excellent technique for muscular hypertrophy, especially if you are short on time. Not all types of supersets are ideal for building maximal strength, however. Let me explain why…
When you perform two exercises in a row with no rest in between, this will reduce the amount of weight you can handle on the second exercise in each superset pair. Your strength will also decrease from fatigue with each subsequent superset. Because supersets don’t allow you to use maximal weights, they are not always well-suited to building strength. However, supersets are always a great body building or hypertrophy technique.
You don’t see powerlifters doing supersets as often as the bodybuilders use them. In fact, strength athletes usually do the opposite; they take longer rest intervals (sometimes as long as 3-5 minutes) between sets so they can recuperate as much as possible before the next set. After a between-set recovery period of at least 3 minutes, you can attack the next set with maximum strength. If you are still fatigued from the previous set and you start another set too soon, you won’t be able to lift as much weight.
3 Major Benefits of Supersets
There are three primary advantages supersets have over conventional straight sets:
1. Supersets save time. The most obvious advantage of supersetting is to save time. Even if you truly enjoy training, it’s probably safe to assume that you wouldn’t mind getting equal or better results in a shorter period of time. By eliminating the rest intervals between sets (when you would normally be doing nothing), you can finish your workout in as little as half the time (or you can do more volume in the same time).
2. Supersets increase intensity. Usually when you think of high intensity muscle building techniques, you think of forced reps, descending sets, and negative-emphasis reps. Supersets are simply another method of increasing intensity. Shortening the rest between sets is hard work and represents an overload to your body — especially if you’re used to a long rest interval. The principle is: more work performed in less time equals more intensity and more intensity equals more muscle.
3. Supersets can allow you to work around an injury or decrease joint stress. I stumbled onto the value of supersets as a way to train around injuries at the age of 20 when I ruptured a disc in my lower back. I was a fairly decent squatter at a young age, doing 405 lbs for 6 reps before I was 20 years old. After the injury, I wanted to maintain my leg muscle without putting so much stress on my lower back. Because I could no longer squat more than 275-315 lbs. without high risk of re-injuring my back, I started doing supersets and higher reps out of necessity. After a relatively brief period training with supersets, my quads quickly grew to become my best body part.
With the exception of brief strength phases when I do straight sets with as much weight as I can, I utilize supersets extensively for quads to this day. When you do supersets, you can’t lift as much weight (especially on the second exercise), because you are not recovering completely between exercises. However, with a superset, you can still overload a muscle with a lighter weight in a way that produces muscle growth, because the work density is higher. By not training with max poundages all the time, this decreases joint stress and often allows you to work around injuries.