I've been doing weight lifting superset workouts for years.
When I first started going to the gym at age 15, I did the standard "do one set and rest" routine. I hated the resting part because I got bored. Moreover, it made my workouts take longer.
After lifting for a few years, I learned about supersets. I've been doing them ever since ... and not just weight lifting supersets. I do them in all kinds of formats to speed up my workouts.
What are supersets?
In a nutshell, supersets are doing exercises back-to-back with no rest. It could be targeting the same muscle or different muscles. It could be a combination of:
- resistance training and cardio,
- resistance training and stretching (or yoga), or
- cardio and yoga.
You can create duo, or triple combinations such as:
Chest / Back (duo combo)
Chest / biceps / triceps (triple combo)
Chest / Back / Stretch
Chest / Chest / Back / Back (this four-exercise superset is pretty intense).
What are the main benefits of supersets?
- Saves time working out. I find supersets cut down my workout time by 40%.
- Hit all your muscle groups in fewer workouts during a given week. Instead of hitting 2 muscle groups, you easily cover 4 during a 20 to 30 minute workout.
- Relieves boredom. I hate sitting around between sets. I prefer to keep going.
- Provides both anaerobic and aerobic workouts at the same time.
- Makes stretching palatable. A great combo is weight lifting and stretching.
- More workout variety. With all the combinations available, you can come up with all kinds of workouts (see combinations below). You can do different combinations during the same workout. In fact, every workout can be different.
Yes, I realize rest is good for being able to lift maximum amounts of weight and/or number of reps. I get that ... but I'm not all that concerned about maximizing benefit with every set. In fact, I'd much rather cut my workout time by 40%, get 80% of the benefit and reduce boredom. That's what supersets do for me.
Do supersets work?
Yes, they do for me. In fact, I find that the amount I lift and the number of reps doesn't suffer much despite taking much fewer and shorter breaks between sets. Besides, even on days I only lift weights, I get an aerobic workout in as well.
Two Main Types of Weight Lifting Supersets
1. Same Muscle Combos
If you're really into exhausting your muscles, you can do what I call "same muscle combos". This is when you do two different exercises targeting the same muscle.
Same muscle combos don't necessarily save you much time. Instead, they can really hammer a muscle.
It's a good idea to start with a compound exercise followed up with an isolation movement. However, this isn't absolutely necessary. In fact, I often do entire weight lifting workouts using machines only ... which are isolation exercises (machines also help save time).
Examples of Same Muscle Combos
- Bench Press / Flat Flies
- Incline Press / Pec Deck
- Bench Press / DB Press / Pec Deck
2. Different Muscle Combos
Different muscle combinations are what I do almost exclusively. I don't really do same muscle combos supersets.
Examples of different muscle combinations are as follows:
- Bench Press (chest) / Lat Pull down (back)
- Barbell Curl (bicep) / Triceps Extension (triceps)
- Bench Press / Bicep DB Curl / Triceps Extension
- Lat Pull Down / DB Shoulder Press / Barbell Shrugs
How much rest should you take between supersets?
I usually take 30 seconds rest. I keep it short so that time between working out a muscle is not too long. Moreover, if I took 3 minutes, it would not shorten my workouts and wouldn't provide much of an aerobic workout.
If I do stretching in between sets, I take no rest.
It also depends on whether you do "same muscle" combos or "different muscle combos". Obviously, if you hit the same muscles back-to-back, you'll need to take more than 30 seconds rest.
It also depends on whether you do duo or triple supersets. When I do triple supersets, I take a 10 to 15 second water break and keep going. I really motor with my triple set supersets.
Therefore, it all depends on the type of supersets you do. Play it by ear to see what works for you. If you find 30 seconds doesn't provide enough recovery time, extend that to 45 seconds.
Also, be mindful of exhaustion. You can overdo your workouts with supersets, especially when incorporating compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts which are taxing and exhausting.
How can you plan your workouts with supersets?
I love supersets because I can either hammer out a 2-muscle workout in 12 minutes leaving more time for cardio/yoga (and do this 4 to 5 times per week which is a 4 or 5 day split) or hit 4 muscle groups in 20 to 30 minutes. With a 4 muscle superset plan, I lift 2 to 3 times per week (depending on the splits).
Examples of superset workouts
Duo Muscle Superset Workouts
3 Day Split
- Day 1: Chest/Back | Biceps / Triceps
- Day 2: Shoulders/Traps | Abs (superset the abs)
- Day 3: Quads / Calves | Hamstrings / Abs
4 Day Split
- Day 1: Chest / Back
- Day 2: Biceps / Triceps
- Day 3: Shoulders / Abs
- Day 4: Legs
A note about abs. You can incorporate abs with weight lifting (i.e. do ab exercises between weight lifting exercises) or do a separate ab workout where you do 2 or 3 ab exercises back-to-back.
5 Day Split
- Day 1: Chest / Biceps
- Day 4: Quads / Abs
- Day 2: Back / Triceps
- Day 3: Shoulders / Traps
- Day 5: Hamstrings / Calves / Abs
With the 2 muscle workouts, you can target 2 or 4 muscles in a workout. In fact, if you have a busy week, simply adjust a 4 or 5 day split to a 3 day split.
Triple Muscle Supersets
I tend to do more duo muscle supersets; although when crunched for time, triple sets are fantastic. They're also good for delivering an aerobic workout because rest time is cut back to 10 to 15 seconds between supersets.
1 Day Split
- Chest/Biceps/Triceps | Back/Shoulders/Traps | Quads/Hamstrings/Calves | Abs (triple set the abs as well with 3 ab exercises).
2 Day Split
- Day 1: Chest / Biceps / Triceps | Back/Shoulders/Traps
- Day 2: Quads/Hamstrings/Calves | Abs (triple set the abs as well with 3 ab exercises).
3 Day Split:
- Day 1: Chest / Biceps / Triceps | Back/Shoulders/Traps
- Day 2: Quads/Hamstrings/Calves
- Day 3: Abs (hammer them)
4 Day Split
- Day 1: Chest / Biceps / Triceps |
- Day 2: Back/Shoulders/Traps
- Day 3: Quads/Hamstrings/Calves
- Day 4: Abs (hammer them)
The more days you do, the faster your workouts will go. A 4 day split can be done in 12 minutes easily. After all it's a total of 6 sets (or however many sets you choose to do per muscle group. You must also factor in set up time for each exercise).
How many exercises / sets per superset?
Again, this will depend on your workout objectives.
I generally do 2 exercises of 3 sets per muscle. I'm not out to win Mr. Olympia. I like staying in decent shape with some tone and definition. If you're out to build some serious muscle or chisel up, add a third exercise with another 3 sets.
The number of reps per set is dictated by your workout objective. Supersets function much the same as single set lifting and so the theories behind the number of reps apply the same.
I typically do 5 to 10 reps. Usually I'll do 1 to 2 sets per exercise in the 5 to 6 rep range and end with an 8 to 10 rep set.
Where should you start with supersets?
The easiest to do, and if you want to save time, are the duo different muscle supersets in a 4 day split. The following would be such a workout:
4 Day Split for 1 Week
Day 1: Chest / Back
- Superset 1: Bench Press / Lat Pulldown (3 sets - 5, 5 and 8 reps)
- Superset 2: Incline DB Chest Press / Seated Rows (3 sets - 5, 8 and 10 reps)
Day 2: Biceps / Triceps
- Superset 1: Barbell Curls / Lying down tricep extensions (3 sets - 5, 5 and 8 reps)
- Superset 2: Preacher Curls / Tricep Cable Pushdowns (3 sets - 5, 8 and 10 reps)
Day 3: Shoulders / Abs
- Superset 1: Behind the Neck Press / Bicycle Ab Extensions/Curls (3 sets - 5, 5 and 8 reps)
- Superset 2: Shoulder Flies / Decline Ab Sit Ups (3 sets - 5, 8 and 10 reps)
Day 4: Legs
- Superset 1: Smith Machine Squats / Leg Curls (3 sets - 5, 5 and 8 reps)
- Superset 2: Leg Presses / Calf Extensions on the Leg Press (3 sets - 5, 8 and 10 reps (I do 12 to 15 reps for calves))
The sky is the limit
This weight lifting supersets workout article is just the beginning with the variety of workouts you can create with supersets. Throw in stretching and abs, and the combinations escalate.
The best part is you'll enjoy gains with much less investment of time ... unless you like socializing during breaks in the gym ... supersets can cut down your workout time significantly.
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