Work It Out: Supersets

Sometimes you really need to get in and out of the gym.

 

In a perfect world, I’d have 4 hours to lift.

The reality of the situation is that we all have responsibilities outside of the gym.  One way to move a little faster through your workout while doing the same amount of work is to superset.  These are also a fabulous way to push through plateaus.

Work It Out, on the double.

sprint2table-workitout-BLUE

Supersets

Many of you may have heard of this technique before.  Supersetting means doing two exercises with little to no rest in between.

Do your prescribed number of reps (I do 6-10) for one exercise, immediately followed by reps of a second exercise.  Start off performing 2 to 3 sets for each exercise. As you advance, increase sets to 3 to 4 total.

 

How do you incorporate them?

1. Exercises working the same body part.  

The benefit is that you hit the muscle from different angles but without giving the body part time to recover from the first exercise.  It forces you to work that much harder to complete the second exercise, and can have a big impact if your focus is muscle development.

An example is supersetting Incline Flyes with Flat Dumbbell Bench Press: Incline Flye

Incline Flyes

Grasp dumbbells using an overhand grip, bringing the dumbbells to the sides of your torso at chest level.  Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length and do not lock your elbows.  With palms facing forward, position the dumbbells directly over your upper chest area so that they are touching each other.  Slowly bend your arms and lower the dumbbells until they are at either side of your chest.  Repeat the movement for reps.

Note: The top of the dumbbell should never pass below your lower chest area to avoid strain on your anterior shoulder muscles.

 

flat dumbbell bench press  Dumbbell Flat Bench Press

The only difference between this exercise and the flat barbell bench press is that in order to stabilize the dumbbells your body will need to recruit more muscle fibers.

On a flat bench, grip dumbbells in each hand, palms facing each other.  Press up the dumbbells one arm at a time so that you can hold them in front of you at shoulder width and rotate your wrists forward so that the palms of your hands are facing away from you.  (You can use your thighs to help you get the dumbbells up.)  Bring down the weights slowly to your side as you breathe in.  As you breathe out, push the dumbbells up using your pectoral muscles.  Repeat for reps.

 

2. Exercises working opposing muscle groups.

This is a great way to burn out a whole muscle group!

An example is supersetting standing (or lying) leg curls with leg extensions:

Standing leg curls

Standing Leg Curls

The standing leg curl strengthens the hamstrings (this is great for runners!).

Start with a lighter weight, as this machine can put some strain on the knees.  Adjust the pads so that they are in a comfortable position around the ankle – you don’t want the pads too high up the calf. Grasp the support handles, then lift the pad upward as far as it will go toward the butt.  Lift and lower the leg in a controlled manner to complete one full rep.

 

Leg Extensions seated Leg Extensions

The leg extension specifically targets the quadriceps.  Sit on the machine with your legs under the pad, hands holding the side bars.  Using your quadriceps, extend your legs as you exhale.  The rest of the body should remain still on the seat.  Pause a second in the contracted position before lower the weight back to the original position in a controlled motion.

Note: Be sure to adjust the pad so that it falls on top of your lower leg (just above your feet), and make sure that your legs form a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper leg.  If the legs form less than a 90-degree angle, your knee is over your toes and this will creates stress at the knee-joint (which you don’t want).

 

3. My favorite way to super set and save time is to work different body parts.

Before my figure competition last fall, I was doing 15-20 reps of each exercise.  Workouts were taking forever, so I started supersetting body parts.  If I had a back and tricep day, I’d do one chest exercise followed by a bicep exercise.

Studies have shown that the nervous system activation can actually INCREASE strength in the second muscle group when you work an opposing muscle group directly after the original muscle.

An example is supersetting Bent Over Rows with Close Grip Bench Presses:

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

Bent Over Rows

Standing with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent, hold a pair of dumbbells so your palms are facing each other and bend forward from the hips.  Pull your shoulder blades together and row the weights toward your chest. Return to start.  Repeat for reps.

Note: These can also be done with a barbell.

 

Close Grip Bench Press Close Grip Bench Press

Tank top season will be here before you know it – this move will ROCK your triceps.

Lie on a bench press station and grab a barbell with a fist-width overhand grip.  Bend your elbows to lower the weight to your chest.  Straighten them to return the weight to the start and lock your elbows to squeeze your triceps.  Repeat for reps.

Note: Don’t grip too close or you’ll put too much tension on your wrists and not enough on your triceps.

Why Super Set?

Other than the fact that you will get your workout done in a super speedy time…

  • Superset workouts burn more calories per minute than the traditional weight training session.  Because you are moving faster, your heart rate stays up and your body is working harder to recover.  Some studies say that you burn as much as 1/3 more calories each minute (both during and AFTER) compared to a typical strength training workout.
  • They can increase fat loss while building muscle.  This can be attributed to the fact that Supersets increase Lactic Acid production, which helps boost Growth Hormone (GH) levels in the body. GH is a fat loss and muscle-building hormone.
  • Different Superset combinations can help increase muscle fiber activation.  Essentially, this means you can use specific exercise combinations to increase the intensity of work on a specific muscle, helping to develop it faster.
  • For those on the road or who don’t have access to a variety of weights, these are great because you don’t need really heavy weights; you can push your muscles to their limits with a few lighter weights.  Great workout with minimal equipment!

 

Caution: Supersets aren’t to be incorporated into every workout.  Use this method as a tool to change-up your routine and bust through plateaus.  Please don’t try to set weight records.  A moderate weight is just fine here, as you are fully exhausting the muscle.

 ***Disclaimer: I’m not certified to do anything.  Use common sense.  Don’t sue me if you get sloppy and hurt yourself or if you don’t look like Fitness Model Barbie after a workout.***

***

I superset on chest and bicep day with my trainer last week… and was begging someone to come wash my hair because lifting my arms seemed too ambitious.  Hurts so good, my friends.

Have you used supersets before?

How long do you typically spend in the gym?  How long would you like to spend in the gym?

 

Comments

  1. says

    At the moment I spend zero time at the gym, I’ve quit two weeks ago. Until I join a new gym I plan to focus on home workouts. They are usually 15 – 30 minutes. Who has time for more?! Not me.

  2. says

    I should send this to my two bosses. One spends 3 hours in the gym, and the other 4!!!! I have no idea how they take so long. They said the other day that they are now completely unemployable because they do this in the middle of the day. They marvel at me for working out and showering in under an hour! I rarely do supersets either lol

  3. says

    I didn’t know too much about supersets–thanks for all the info. And I’m definitely going to add the close-grip press to my workout this week. I’ve never done that move before–and triceps are always a hard muscle for me to see much gain on. Thanks!! :)

  4. says

    Great tips! I love supersets and have come to the point that I’m not really a fan of NOT doing them. My workouts take so much longer and I often find myself “spacing out” and taking longer rests than I should. Supersets and just Go.Go.Go! :)

  5. says

    I LOVE supersets! I definitely feel like they just work my body so well and I get the greatest sweat!
    I’d say that typically I’m in the gym anywhere from 45 mins to 1hr30, but over the summer sometimes I’ll be there for 2 hours and to be honest usually I’m not as productive hahah so for me that shorter the better!
    ESPECIALLY when it comes to cardio – no more than 30 minutes ever!!!
    I’d rather spend the bulk of my workouts in the weight room!

  6. says

    i LOVE supersets!! if i don’t superset, i find that i spend so much time “resting” between sets. supersetting lets me keep up the pace! and like you, i’d spend all day in the gym lifting too :) :)

  7. says

    If I go to the gym during lunch, which I do a lot, I like to take about 35 minutes. I usually follow exercises from The Woman’s Big Book of Exercises (or something like that). But I’d like to do these too.

    • Laura says

      You definitely shouldn’t do them all the time any way – they are more of an occassional tool to go faster and push your limits. :)

  8. says

    You mentioned you were doing 15-20 reps before your last competition. What was the intent behind the high reps (just curious)?

    I get bored with high reps, but my current plan mixes up high and low reps. My workouts usually take about an hour. Ideally, they would be 1/2 hour, and I know some have seen great results with that much, but I’m okay with the hour.

  9. says

    I love your disclaimer.

    And oh my goodness, this is a ‘Work It Out’ post I actually relate to!!! Usually I use the machines at the gym and flip-flop between machines working opposing muscle groups or the same muscles, then I run a lap to keep the heart rate even more elevated. I think I knew it was good for me when I started doing it, but I really just like that it goes by more quickly. :)

  10. Shari says

    I have not done supersets. Right now I spend about 20-35 minutes at the gym and I’d like to spend zero but I SHOULD spend 30-60 minutes. Gym time just bores me to death :( I will look into group classes I guess but my gym doesn’t offer any so it means money and time spend elsewhere.

  11. says

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post as you know I would!!!! I do mostly the last one.. going from body part to body part so I don’t use up energy/strength for the same body part… sometimes it is the second but mostly the 3rd. This is all I do but I am advanced & do it every day but that is me & would never ask others to do what I do….

    No way I am telling how long I spend in the gym.. OK maybe in a future post.. ;)

    Have a good move for ya Friday on the blog…. I saw somebody on Instagram loving those lying bicep curls! :)

    • Laura says

      Yes, yes you are advanced. ;) Option 3 is my fav too – I did it last night with back and tris!

      Now I want to know… how long?!

      That was Heather! So I told her to try cable curls with tris next. I love new moves. :)

  12. says

    Great post baby!!!! I really hate supersets lol I like lifting my heaviest and supersetting doesn’t always allow that! I would LIVE at the gym if I could, but that would be silly :)

    Kind of…. ;)

    • Laura says

      It depends on what you’re supersetting, but yeah… it can wear you out! I’m supersetting butt and shoulders tonight. :)

      I’d live at the gym if I could too. Except not use those nasty showers… LOL!

  13. says

    I do supersets from time to time.

    When I’m at the gym, I’ll typically spend an hour or 1 1/2 depending on what I’m doing :)

    Time flies at the gym lol

  14. says

    I love these posts because they reinforce that my weight lifting classes are ok! Although we do more like 800 reps since it is lower weights for a longer amount of time… all major groups are covered in 50-55 minutes.

  15. says

    We need to talk. I do this super setting you speak of, and I don’t look like workout Barbie.

    Unbeknownst to me, I actually superset a lot when weight lifting. I’m always in a rush, and I hate waiting around or “resting” so I literally bounce from exercise to exercise with really no breaks in between.

  16. says

    learned about supersets in my PT book, we used to do supersets, have not really done them recently that much. remember liking them, so hope to do more of them!
    always love the burn :)

  17. says

    awesome tips! I love working on my bis and tris.. I am currently doing crossfit these days, so I spend an hour to an hour and a half working out. I have been doing it for 7 weeks and have seen a HUGE improvement in my body. I LOVE LIFTING!

    • Laura says

      I love watching transformations like that. Weight lifting (or Crossfitting) really can reshape your body! Congrats!

  18. Amelia says

    I love super sets and definitely use them when I’m short on time. In a perfect world, I would plan out my entire day around proper training/ fuel time (much like a pro or Olympic athlete) however since I can’t, I usually aim for 1-2 hours depending on the muscle groups I am working for that day.

    If there is one thing that drives me crazy, it’s if someone either a) interrupts me during a workout, or gets in my why while working out. Priorities people! :)

  19. says

    What a great concept! After a month off exercise (and life in general due to my near death flu) I am getting back in to the gym this week and incorporating more strength training. I did kickboxing this morning and the instructor used supersets to kick our a$$. I’m going to feel it tomorrow.

Trackbacks

  1. […] a greater range of motion.  If you are already doing stability ball crunches, try shaking it up by supersetting them with bicycles and isolation crunches.  That should give you a good burn! *evil […]

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