Beginner's Guide to Superset Workouts: Save Time and Increase Training Intensity!

by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC | Reviewed by Advisory Board

Beginner's Guide to Superset Workouts: Save Time and Increase Training Intensity!

Target Opposing Muscle Groups with  Antagonistic Supersets

With many former gym-goers switching to at-home workouts due to the coronavirus pandemic, bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups are now staples for strength-training. So, how does this tie into supersets? Well, push-ups and pull-ups are the perfect example of two exercises that you can superset to train opposing muscle groups (i.e. the chest and back).

A superset is where you perform two different exercises in succession (with minimal rest during the transition). The true rest interval comes after you complete one set of both exercises.

The beauty of a well-designed superset workout is that it saves you time by keeping the intensity and pace up while still being a great way to stimulate muscle growth and increase strength. Even better, pairing two different exercises that each focus on an opposing muscle group can help encourage a more intense muscle pump. Naturally, biceps-triceps supersets are frequently used for arm training.

If you're looking for a more time-efficient way to workout, a superset workout will do just the trick. Read on to learn how to perform supersets and the best two exercises to combine for training opposing muscle groups.

What Are Superset Workouts?

Quite simply, a superset is a strength-training protocol that entails performing a set of one exercise followed immediately by another set of a second exercise that targets a different muscle group. Pairing the dumbbell bench press and dumbbell row is a pertinent example of a chest-back superset.

The most common approach for a superset workout is to pair exercises that work one muscle group that pulls weight and another muscle group that pushes weight (e.g. biceps–triceps).

Supersets are the opposite of straight sets, which are the more conventional way to approach resistance-training workouts. Straight sets mean you focus on completing all sets and reps for one exercise before moving onto the next exercise in your workout.

superset workout

Some training routines may incorporate a mix of both supersets and straight sets, and you're free to implement both of these methods as you see fit.

Note that supersetting works better with exercises that are easy to transition between without taking too much time in the process since the key is to maintain a consistent pace. Performing a set of leg presses, then having to walk all the way across the gym to do a set of chest flys is not a prudent way to perform supersets. Instead, you would be better off pairing leg presses with something like leg curls or dumbbell stiff-leg deadlifts; chest flyes superset well with a back exercise or rear delt exercise.

Antagonistic Supersets vs. Other Superset Methods

When in doubt about supersetting exercises, opt for two movements that work opposing (antagonistic) muscles — such as the biceps curl and triceps pressdown. This type of training is more properly referred to as the "antagonistic superset method."

The reason supersets work best with opposing muscles is so you can effectively train multiple muscles at high-intensity without spending too much time resting between sets.

Aside from the antagonistic superset method, you may prefer performing supersets of upper-body and lower-body movements. For example, supersetting the barbell bench press with barbell back squats is a great way to increase the intensity of your workouts while working muscles in the upper and lower body.

Examples of Antagonistic Supersets for Chest and Back:

A1) Dumbbell Bench Press

A2) Dumbbell Row

B1) Dips

B2) Pull-ups

C1) Machine Chest Press

C2) Lat Pulldowns

Examples of Antagonistic Supersets for Quads and Lower-Body Posterior Chain:

A1) Leg Extensions

A2) Leg Curls

B1) Leg Press

B2) Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift

C1) Dumbbell Split Squat

C2) Barbell Hip Thrust

Examples of Antagonistic Supersets for Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps:

A1) Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

A2) Dumbbell Hammer Curls

B1) Reverse-Grip Curls

B2) French Press (Skull Crushers)

C1) Cable Curls

C2) Triceps Pressdown

Examples of Antagonistic Supersets for Core Muscle Groups:

A1) Hanging Leg Raises

A2) Hyperextensions

B1) Ab Roller/Wheel

B2) Planks

C1) Reverse Hyperextensions

C2) Reverse Crunches

Supersets vs. Straight Sets: Which is Best?

Performing supersets may not be ideal for those focusing purely on strength development. In general, antagonistic superset workouts are more appropriate for hypertrophy-focus training (i.e. bodybuilding).

However, pairing a compound movement with an isolation exercise is a viable way to go about antagonistic supersetting if your main goal is to get stronger. Moreover, your strength will be greater if you allow ample time to recover between each set.

Upper-Body Superset Workout

This superset workout hits all the major muscle groups in the upper body with time-efficient exercise pairings.

Note: The number of sets and reps listed are for working sets only. Remember to warm-up properly before lifting heavier weights.

Exercises

Sets

Rep Range

Superset A
Incline Barbell Bench Press 3 8-10
Barbell Row 3 8-10
Superset B
Reverse Pec Deck 3 12-15
Pec Deck 3 12-15
Superset C
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 10-12
Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3 10-12
Superset D
Cable Side Lateral Raise 3 12-15
Tricep Pressdown 3 12-15
Superset E
Push Ups 2 AMRAP*
Pull-Ups 2 AMRAP*


*AMRAP
= As many reps as possible (add resistance if you can do more than 20 reps with your bodyweight).

Lower-Body Superset Workout

Looking to challenge yourself on leg day? Give this lower-body superset workout a shot next time you hit the gym. Fair warning: Your legs might feel like Jell-O by the end. 

Exercises

Sets

Rep Range

Superset A
Barbell Front Squat 3 8-10
Barbell Good Morning 3 8-10
Superset B
Leg Extensions 3 12-15
Lying Leg Curls 3 12-15
Superset C
Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift 3 10-12
Dumbbell Split Squat 3 10-12
Superset D
Leg Press 3 8-10
Barbell Hip Thrust 3 8-10
Superset E
Hanging Leg Raises 3 15
Hyperextensions 3 15


Get Stronger and Build Muscle with Supersets

No matter your fitness goals, superset workouts are a superb way to turn up the intensity and save you precious time. Don't be afraid to use supersets if you are looking for a change of pace in the gym or at home. There are endless ways to combine both compound and isolation exercises that target opposing muscles. The sky is the limit — be creative and find out what works best for you!

And don't forget to "superset" your workouts with a proper diet. You won't be able to train at peak capacity without adequate nourishment, especially protein. Check out this Guide to Optimal Protein Intake to learn how much protein you need per day as an active individual. 

 




Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC
Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC

Author

Elliot holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota, as well as being a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC). He is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. Elliot began freelance writing circa 2012 and has since written 100s of articles and several eBooks pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. Being a “science whiz,” he has a passion for helping people understand how nutrients (and other chemicals) and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can make smarter choices about what they put in, and do with, their bodies. When Elliot is not busy writing or studying, you can find him pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or perusing nutraceutical research.



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