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March 12, 2014

Supersets: Squeezing More Exercise in Less Time

What are Supersets?

Supersets is a great way to perform your strength training exercise program in less time and get the same results. A superset is two different resistance excercises performed back to back without rest. These can be performed two ways: two exercises involving the same body part, or exercises involving two different body parts, usually opposing muscle groups. For instance, in the first, you might work your chest performing a bench press then immediately move to dumbbell flys. In the second case, you might perform bicep curls followed immediately with tricep extensions (the opposing muscle group).

Exercising the same muscle group really stresses that particular muscle group. Exercising different groups obviously gives each muscle group a chance to recover. Since you rest less in between you get a similar workout to a more traditional strength programs in less time. So performing supersets is great if you’re pressed for time – which we all are from time to time.

It even gets fancier than that. You can do trisets – that is three sets of paired exercises without rest for the “ultimate” workout. Trisets are easier if you exercise two different muscle groups given each group a chance to rest. Such a workout also gives you a pretty good cardiovascular workout, too, enabling you to kill two birds with one stone making your workouts even more efficient.

You can think of supersets as “speed lifting” though you are not lifting and lowering weights any faster – just not “wasting” time between sets.

How do Supersets Differ from Traditional Strength Training?

Traditional weight training involves typically peforming 3 or 4 sets of a particular exercise with anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes of rest between sets depending on your goal; muscle endurance – shorter rest period or muscle strength – longer rest period. Once those 3 or 4 sets are completed you then move on to the next exercise and so on.

Compound Exercises and Supersets

Another option to get the most from your workouts in shorter times is to perform compound sets. This involves pairing a multi-joint exercises (compound exercises) with an isolation exercise involving the same body part. Squats is an example of a multi-joint exercise. It involves the hip, knees, and ankles and activates the quads, hamstrings, and gluteals. Leg or knee extensions isolate the quadriceps group. So you would perform squats first then leg/knee extensions.

Why Supersets?

Research suggests that time is a limiting factor for the general population and exercise. For the general population supersets reduces the amount of time it takes to get a good workout in perhaps making exercise more appealing. For, the more advanced fitness individual, supersets are a way to get better muscle development. Nearly, all bodybuilders incorporate supersets into their training regimen.

Remember! We said supersets – not supersize my fries. Though with supersets you might get supersized muscles.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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