Super-setting is a strategy used in exercise routines, usually with weights, in which agonist-antagonist muscles are trained without as much rest in between. For example, tricep extensions will follow bicep curls. The idea is that the opposite muscle is allowed rest while alternating reps. This can help reduce the amount of time in your workout routine.
Supersets are beneficial because they don't compromise your performance or rest periods (e.g., muscle growth and strength is optimized with 2-5 minute rest periods between sets). Who doesn't like a highly effective workout with quicker recovery?
Do they work for everyone?
Super-setting will help mostly those who wish to increase muscularity. It is not meant to increase endurance. A downside of supersets is that it can tire out the muscle quicker than if you did traditional sets, therefore you may decrease your ability to do more sets/reps. Regardless of this, however, you will still achieve muscle growth and increase overall performance. There is also the benefit of increasing cardiovascular endurance.
Traditional-set training vs. super-setting
Doing a traditional set vs. superset a with bench press and seated row:
Traditional - 3 sets of bench press with rest between each set and then seated row with rest between each set.
Superset - Bench press and seated row are alternated nonstop.
In the superset group, the workout can be completed in half the time and yields better performance than in traditional training.
How to super-set the right way
In order to not interfere with muscle gain, it is important to incorporate super-setting by following these tips:
Tip #1 - Agonist-antagonist
According to a study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research, "when supersets for the same muscle group are used...it causes excessive muscle damage and negatively interferes with recovery without providing additional benefits (2017)." This is why following the agonist-antagonist regimen will result more effective.
Horizontal pull / Horizontal push --> Bench press and row
Elbow flexion / Elbow extension --> Bicep curls and tricep extensions
Knee flexion / Knee extension --> Resistance band knee flexion and weighted leg extensions
Tip #2 - Use paired sets
This means that during supersets, you will incorporate short, staggered rest periods between each set. Resting for 1 minute before moving on to the next set of the opposite muscle group. This way, you make sure to get your 2-5 minute rest period. For simpler exercises, 30-45 second rests are still effective.
Tip # 3 - Do not include super-setting when performing more difficult movements
Movements like squats, deadlifts, and olympic weightlifting movements are considered to be taxing exercises on the body since they are compound exercises.
When alternating between the squat and row or squat and deadlifts, for example, studies have found that performance can decrease when incorporating this strategy.
Here is an example of an effective upper body workout using supersets:
1) Bench press / row
2) Overhead press / pull-ups
3) Biceps / triceps
That's it for tips! Hope this helps you maximize your workouts!
Joanna Gil, BS Nutrition