What's the BEST Muscle Order When Doing Supersets?

I love supersets and have written quite a bit about them. I’ve done them for years.

One problem is that I lift less weight for the second set of the superset than I would if I took more rest.

While this isn’t a problem when doing same muscle supersets (i.e. bench press followed by flyes), it’s an issue when doing different muscle supersets (i.e. bench press and bicep curls).

The usual order is doing the bigger muscle first followed by the smaller muscle. For example, doing bench press first followed by bicep curls. On the surface this makes sense (it’s how I’ve done them for years, but may change this given the research I’ll set out below) because you want to have more gas for the bigger muscle.

However, research reveals that overall, you can lift more weight by starting supersets with the smaller muscle and saving the the bigger muscle for the second set.

Let’s take a look at the research:

The Study

12 men were tested on 2 different days. On day 1 they did leg extension/leg curl supersets (starting with leg extensions). Day 2 the superset order was reversed (leg curls first followed by leg extensions).

There was no rest in between the 2 exercises, but 90 seconds rest was taken in between the supersets (i.e. leg extention, no rest, leg curl, 90 seconds rest … repeat).

Note: in this pairing the hamstring is the smaller muscle.

Findings: Total training volume was higher with the leg curl/leg extension order compared to the leg extension/leg curl order.[1]

Practical Application:

Determining the order of muscle pairings (i.e. smaller vs. larger muscle) isn’t easy to arrange – it depends on the muscles you pair for your supersets. For example, if you pair chest and back, which should you do first … they’re both large muscles? That said, many common superset pairings have a clear larger/smaller muscle distinctions such as

  • biceps/chest;
  • triceps/back;
  • traps/shoulders;
  • biceps/triceps;
  • hamstrings/quadriceps.

Go against your instinct and try starting your supersets with the smaller muscle immediately followed by your larger muscle and see how it goes.


[1] Balsamo S. et al. Exercise order affects the total training volume and the ratings of perceived exertion in response to a super-set resistance training session. Int J Gen Med. 2012;5:123-7. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S27377. Epub 2012 Feb 10.

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