Training supersets is unquestionably one of the best methods for reducing body fat without compromising muscle, strength, or performance.
What is a superset?
When you perform one set immediately followed by another with little to no rest this is called a superset. You can do an upper body exercise followed by a lower body exercise, such as a bench press followed by a squat, or you can do agonist/antagonist sets, such as a bench press (muscle on the front of the body) followed by bent-over rows (posterior muscles).
Supersets can also be extended into tri-sets (three exercises), giant sets (4 exercises), or even longer circuits, depending on your training goal and background. We’ll talk about all of these options in this article.
The great thing about workouts designed around supersets is that you get conditioning at the same time as you are stimulating lean muscle and building strength. There’s no need for separate sprint workouts or long duration cardio, which is a blessing for the 99 percent of the population that is pressed for time but wants to get in a solid workout.
Plus, superset training is fun, varied, and challenging, which means the workout goes by quickly—no watching the clock as you would during a boring cardio session. Because you’re challenging yourself with either heavier weights or a higher number of reps every few workouts, supersets are a great way to overcome a training rut.
We’ve all seen those people going through the motions at the gym, doing the same workout day after day. The reality is that when you always do the same exercises, you start to “phone in” your workouts, your mind drifts, and your effort drops off. Supersets can keep things fresh, requiring you to test yourself.
You also get a killer afterburn: Because superset exercises tend to use the big prime mover muscles in the body, and you can load them heavy, they will elevate metabolic rate in the 24-hour post-workout recovery period. For example, one study that compared traditional weight training with a superset workout that alternated agonist and antagonist muscle group exercises found that the superset workout increased energy expenditure by 33 percent more in the immediate 60-minute recovery period.
Additionally, if you use adequate volume (doing more reps in the range of 8 to 15 per set) and shorter rest (60 seconds or less), you can generate significant metabolic stress, which correlates with muscle growth and fat burning.
And don’t forget the health and cognitive benefits you get from properly designed workouts: Supersets will improve insulin sensitivity, lowering risk of diabetes. They help counter inflammation and improve hormone balance, raising levels of growth hormone and androgens.
They also stimulate the release of chemicals involved in brain function: One study found that a circuit-style workout improved concentration and memory in young women. Finally, although not as impactful as aerobic cardio or sprints, supersets will improve aerobic capacity and increase markers linked to heart health including lower blood pressure, improved stroke volume, and lower resting heart rate.
Now that you’re convinced to give supersets a try, let’s look at protocols that are appropriate for different populations.
Before we get into specific workouts, let’s clarify how superset training is written. We indicate the exercises within each superset with a letter (for example, A1 and A2 are the two exercises in the first superset, B1 and B2 are in the second superset, and so on).
It’s also important to indicate the number of sets, reps, rest periods, and tempo. Tempo refers to the speed with which you perform the concentric and eccentric contractions and it also allows you to prescribe any pauses in between the two contractions. In prescribing tempo, four numbers are used like this: 4210. The first number dictates the seconds it takes for the eccentric motion (the down motion in most exercises); the second number is the pause before the concentric motion, which is the third number; and the fourth number is the pause before the repetition repeats.
In the case of a 4210 tempo in the squat, it takes 4 seconds to lower the weight, there is a 2-second pause at the bottom position, and then the weight is rapidly pushed up in 1 second and the rep starts over immediately. The letter “X” is used to indicate an explosive movement that is performed as fast as possible.
Workout parameters are described in the following manner:
Exercise Order, Exercise, Sets x Reps, Tempo, Rest
Here is an example of a superset workout that is aimed at novices. If you’re new to superset training, it’s worth it to start simply and focus on technique. Ideally, you will do this workout three times a week, however, if time doesn’t permit, two workouts a work will also yield significant benefits.
Note that the allotted rest periods are 10 seconds. This is just enough time to complete the exercise and move to the next one. Ideally, the second exercise will be set up with the weight ready to go. There’s no need to mow over other gym goers to get to the next exercises—just move as rapidly as possible.
A1. Leg Press, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
A2. Leg Curl, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
B1. Bench Press, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
B2. Pull-Downs, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
C1. Biceps Curls, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
C2. Lying Overhead Triceps Extension, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
Here is a slightly more advanced superset workout for people with several months of training behind them. Ideally, you will train four times a week, doing each workout twice, however, if time is limited two weekly workouts will also yield significant benefits.:
A1. Hex Bar Deadlift, 3 x10, 3010, 10 seconds
A2. Dumbbell Bench Press, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
B1. Dumbbell Split Squats, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
B2. Pull-down, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
C1. Leg Curl, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
C2. Dumbbell Overhead Press, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
A1. Dumbbell Squats, Heels Elevated, 3x10, 4010, 10 seconds
A2. Seated Row, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
B1. 45-Degree Back Extension, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
B2. Biceps Curl, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
C1. Leg Press, 3x12, 3010, 10 seconds
C2. Lying Overhead Triceps Extension, 3x12, 4010, 10 seconds
Now let’s dial it up a notch and look at superset workouts for intermediate trainees. One strategy that will produce significant metabolic stress (for fat loss and muscle building), while also recruiting a greater number of muscle fibers (so that you train all of your beautiful muscle) is to train tri-sets, or three exercises one after another targeting the same part of the body.
A1. Barbell Front Squat, 4x8, 4010, 10 seconds
A2. Step-Up, 4x12, 3010, 10 seconds
A3. Dumbbell Lunge, 4x12, 3010, 10 seconds
B1. Pull-down or Chin-Up, 4x12, 3010, 10 seconds
B2. Seated Row, 4x12, 3010, 10 seconds
B3. Face-pull, 4x15, 3010, 10 seconds
A1. Deadlift, 4x6, 4010, 10 seconds
A2. Lying Leg Curl, 4x8, 3010,10 seconds
A3. Lateral Lunge, 4x12, 4010, 90 seconds
B1. Incline Dumbbell Press, 4x8, 3010, 10 seconds
B2. Dumbbell Overhead Press, 3x8, 4010, 10 seconds
B3. Chest Flys, 3x8, 4010, 10 seconds
For athletes or advanced trainees who want to maximize power and performance, you can use supersets to train at various speeds. By incorporating high velocity power moves into a tri-set, you stimulate the muscle to be explosive, while tapping into unique muscle fibers that can’t be targeted with slower movements. What follows is a workout that is great for body composition and peak performance. Remember that the X in the tempo prescription means that the motion should be performed explosively, as fast as possible.
A1. Front Squat, 4x4-6, 5010, 10 seconds
A2. Back Squat with Heels Elevated, 4x8-10, 3010, 10 seconds
A3. Jump Squat, 4x12-15, 10X0, 10 seconds
B1.Chin-up, 4x4-6, 5010,10 seconds
B2. Lean-back Wide Grip Pulldown, 4x8-10, 2011,10 seconds
B3. Face-pull, 4 x 15-20, 00X0, rest 90 seconds
A1. Deadlift, 4x4-6, 5010, 10 seconds
A2. Lying Leg Curl, 4x6-8, 3010, 10 seconds
A3. Snatch Jump, 4x12-15, 10X0, 10seconds
B1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press, 4x4-6, 5010, 10 seconds
B2. Incline Dumbbell Press, 4x8-10, 3010, 10 seconds
B3. Supine Med Ball Chest Pass, 4x12-15, 10X0, 10 seconds, or Clapping Pushups if you don’t have a partner for the chest passes
Final Words: As you can see, there is no end to options when it comes to superset training. By relying on the fundamental principles of program design, you can keep your training fun, while maximizing your results with supersets for a better body and enhanced performance.