Supersets aren’t just for bodybuilders; they can be an effective way to take your strength to the next level. They are, at their most basic, two exercises done back to back with minimal rest between the exercises.  Don’t confuse supersets with circuit training.  They differ from circuit training in that a circuit typically contains more than 3 exercises in a row, while supersets are typically done in groups of two alternating exercises.

Why supersets?  Simple – it’s a time saver and you can increase training density (amount of work done each session).  In today’s hustle and bustle, getting more bang for your buck in the gym is always welcomed. 

The truest type of superset pairs two exercises that work opposing muscle groups and are most ideal for building strength.  This classic pairing allows for maximal work of the muscles you are training, and recovery of opposing muscle groups.  This allows you to lift a little heavier and get more effective reps.   An example of agonist / antagonist (opposing) muscles include  chest/back, biceps/triceps, hamstring/quad.  If you wanted to complicate further, you could consider pairing opposing movements – push vs. pull muscles.

Another common type of superset is the lower body / upper body superset.  You simply pair a lower body movement with an upper body movement.  Again, this type of superset allows for the same maximal work and recovery as opposing muscle groups.  However, the intensity might be a little higher using this superset as any work that involves the lower body tends to be more taxing on body. 

Be sure to rest until fully recovered after completion of each superset.  When working on strength, full recovery is important. You want to be fully recovered to be able to push heavy load effectively and safely. 

Below are examples of opposing muscle group supersets and lower body / upper body supersets.   Perform each exercise in each superset pair with minimal rest between exercises for 4-6 reps and 3-5 sets resting 90-120 seconds between sets, or until fully recovered. 

Superset 1 (Opposing Muscle Groups)

1a) Dumbbell Floor Chest Press

Slowly lay back while keeping the dumbbells close to your chest and bend your knees to roughly 45 degrees and move your feet up slightly. Press the weights to full extension by contracting your chest and triceps. Slowly lower the weight until both elbows touch the floor then press both dumbbells back to the starting position.

1b) Dumbbell Batwing Row

Start face-down on an elevated bench. Your upper body should be at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Start with arms fully extended and pull the dumbbells toward your shoulders. Try not to heave the weights up using the bench as support, but rather a controlled pull. Keep the shoulders relaxed, not shrugged and focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.

Superset 2 (Lower Body/Upper Body)

2a) Barbell Sumo Deadlift

Begin with a wide stance and toes flared slightly to the outside. Hinge from the hips keeping a flat back, think about bringing your glutes to the wall behind you without bending the knees. The chest should be in line with the bar at the bottom of the hinge and arms fully extended and grab the bar inside the knees at a shoulder width distance. Brace your core and with your weight in your heels, lift the bar in a straight line keeping the bar as close to your legs through the lift as possible. The lift is finished when you are in an upright standing position. From this position, slowly lower the bar back down to the ground maintaining the same neutral spine position as throughout the lift.

2b) Half Kneeling One Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Begin in a half kneeling posture by placing one knee down directly under the hip and the other foot should be in line with the knee, this will create the 90/90 position. Press the dumbbell overhead, extending the elbow until the arm is straight but not locked. Lower the weight to beginning position. Keep core and glutes engaged to secure balance.

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By Kristen Hansen, and Shara Vigeant – SVPT Fitness & Athletics