Boost Workouts With Supersets

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Supersetting is gym lingo for doing multiple exercise sets in a row without resting. The technique might seem painful, since it involves performing a set at the most horrific time— right after just doing one. But decreasing break time can mean more calories burned, greater muscle engagement, and increased aerobic exercise. Photo: Caitlin Covington

Double Up — The Takeaway

There are multiple styles and sequences of supersets. They can target the same or similar muscle groups, such as switching between bent-over-rows and deadlifts, or between squats and lunges. Then, there are supersets that work entirely different areas, much like interval training. Both types of supersets have benefits— decreasing recovery time increases muscle fatigue, which helps the body build muscle. And alternating muscle groups requires more aerobic effort and triggers higher energy expenditure (i.e. calorie burn). (Though avoid supersetting and expending all that extra energy before a big day.)For most of us— besides this kid, maybe— time isn’t on our side. Fortunately, supersets give us ways to maximize our time. And minimizing rest time during workouts not only benefits busy schedules, but can also yield positive results for muscles [1].

Just doing more sets of one exercise without shortening rest periods won’t cut it [2]. Research suggests working different muscle groups in succession burns more energy during and after exercise than repeating the same workout [3] [4]Sneak just one extra set between regular resistance training sets to seriously boost the energy burn [5].

Pretty much every workout can go from standard to super with a few tweaks. Add sets of exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, squats, or more in between sets— it can transform a routine and bring on fatigue more quickly. Just make sure to start supersetting at a manageable pace, since trained athletes recover more efficiently from exercise. And if those shorter rest times compromise form, lighten the resistance level to prevent muscle strains and other unfortunate injuries.

Beginners' Tips

Here are some supersetting tips from trainers Matt Miller and Faith Dey:

Matt Miller: 

  • Next time you are doing your basic bench press, incorporate a set of seated rows in between sets to keep your heart rate up and boost your metabolism
  • Oftentimes technique can become compromised when fatigue sets in, so be mindful of your technique to avoid injury.

Faith Dey:

  • Focus on the major “big” muscle groups for the most efficiency (for example, back and chest). I love to do back rows followed by chest presses or push-ups and bicep curls followed by tricep presses.
  • Warm up properly for 5-10 minutes before supersetting.  Try lighter weights to warm up the muscles first.

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Works Cited

  1. The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Kelleher AR, Hackney KJ, Fairchild TJ et al. Musculoskeletal and Human Performance Laboratories, Department of Exercise Science, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Apr;24(4):1043-51.
  2. Resistance training volume and post exercise energy expenditure. Haddock BL, Wilkin LD. Department of Kinesiology, California State University, San Bernardino, CA 92407-2397, USA. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006 Feb;27(2):143-8.
  3. The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Kelleher AR, Hackney KJ, Fairchild TJ et al. Musculoskeletal and Human Performance Laboratories, Department of Exercise Science, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Apr;24(4):1043-51.
  4. Effects of different strength training methods on postexercise energetic expenditure. Da Silva RL, Brentano MA, Kruel LF. Exercise Research Laboratory, Physical Education School, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Aug;24(8):2255-60.
  5. Quantifying the immediate recovery energy expenditure of resistance training. Scott, CB. Exercise Health and Sport Sciences, University of Southern Maine, Gorham, Maine, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Apr;25(4):1159-63.

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