Supersets: What It Is, Benefits & How To Do Strength Training

Christine VanDoren

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

Supersets

Supersets have been around since before the 70s, but not everyone knows how to do them the right way. There’s still a lot of confusion out there. Can they help build muscle faster than traditional strength training programs? Do they burn fat without making your routine any harder than usual? 

Read on to master supersets effectively through scientifically-based research, understand how to have a goal in mind, and choose the best exercises to support that goal. Become aware of the benefits and risks of supersets so you can decide if they’re right for you. We’ll give you examples of exercise combinations to try as well as some strength training tips, so you know how to stay safe while maximizing your workout time!

What is a Superset Workout?

A superset workout is a form of strength training, and you move quickly from one exercise to another with no rest in between. There are three main types – those that work the same muscle groups, opposing muscle groups, and an isolation exercise followed by a compound one that uses the same muscle group. Here are examples of each:

A superset of leg extensions with split squats works for the same muscle group. Another example would be lat pulldowns and seated rows that build the back. The lat pulldown is great for strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscle.

In order to train two opposing muscle groups, try doing a dumbbell curl superset with overhead dumbbell extensions. The curls work the biceps, while the lying extension works the triceps. 

Isolation exercises plus compound exercises look like bicep curls followed by pull-ups. It is ideal for you to start with the compound exercise because it will require more energy.

What Are the Benefits of A Superset?

As with any exercise method, there are risks and benefits, and it’s up to you to determine whether they balance each other out. If you’re a beginner to strength training, use supersets with caution to ensure you do not develop any injuries.

They Save Time

Since you’re cutting rest time in between sets, you’re saving time. They’re perfect for when you want to squeeze in a quick but productive workout. Supersets can help you shorten your time in the gym, and you can repeat the two exercises as many times as you need. For example, perform the first exercise for one set, jump straight into the second exercise, and then rest. Repeat this process until you are fatigued and ready to move on to your next designated exercise. 

You Can More Effectively Target a Muscle Group

Supersets are beneficial if you’re looking to target one muscle group more intensely. For example, if building your glutes is a personal goal, you can utilize supersets to target your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus without wasting your time and energy on other areas of the body during your workout. However, you can also choose to target more than one muscle group, which we’ll discuss later. 

Supersets Can Help Burn More Fat

Supersets keep your heart rate up since you are not resting in between sets. When your heart rate is higher, you burn more calories. Burning more calories causes you to burn more fat, and you may see results faster this way. One study[1] shows supersets torch more calories both before and after sessions than regular resistance training. 

Potential Risks

If Not Done Correctly, You Risk Injury

If you lift a heavy load during your first set, your muscles may not be able to lift as much during the second set. When your muscles get too tired, your form will suffer. To avoid getting hurt, reduce the resistance, take a rest, or choose an easier exercise. 

Don’t work your core with supersets because you may find yourself needing those muscles to support you in all of your other movements. Tiring those muscles out could cause instability, so keep them strong. Try saving your core workouts for a day you don’t do supersets.  

They Don’t Build Muscle Any Faster Than Traditional Sets

If you don’t get enough rest between sets, your muscles have a more challenging time developing. Studies[2] show you need around one minute of rest between sets for proper strength development. Without that recovery period, you either need to do fewer sets or use lighter weights. Unfortunately, neither of those is a good choice for muscle growth or strength gains.  

The Rest of Your Workout May Be Affected

If you tire your muscles out too much with supersets, you may not have an adequate amount of energy for the next series of exercises. Research[3] shows that if enough damage is done during supersets, it can take more than five days for those muscles to recover. 

This is especially important for beginners to note. If you’re just starting, focus on nailing your form and technique before complicating things with supersets. Have a trainer help you maintain your form if you do try them early on in your weightlifting journey.

How to Do Supersets

Supersets can only be beneficial if they’re done correctly. So here are three tips to ensure you’re using them in the right way:

Use Agonist-Antagonist Paired Sets Instead of Traditional Supersets. 

Agonist-antagonist paired sets[4] consist of paired sets of exercises for two opposing muscle groups with limited or no rest in between sets. The sets for one muscle group become the rest period for the opposite muscle group. Traditional supersets create muscle fatigue in just one muscle group. Examples of agonist-antagonist exercises are bicep curls and tricep extensions, lunges and hamstring curls, and chest presses and dumbbell rows.

Take a Two to Five-Minute Rest in Between Sets.

Research data[5] suggest that at least two minutes of rest between sets was sufficient for isolation exercises to maximize repetition performance. At least three minutes was enough for compound movements. 

Do All of Your Heavy, Compound Exercises First (unless you’re doing isolation supersets).

The compound exercise should be your first exercise when strength training because it is the most strenuous. Compound exercises work for more than one muscle group simultaneously, and a few examples are the lunge, deadlift, and push-up. 

It’s essential to maintain full strength when performing these exercises. Otherwise, you could hurt yourself. Supersets can tire your muscles out too much to perform compound exercises safely or effectively. Whether you’re using home equipment or are at the gym, save the supersets for the end of your workout.

Tips for Strength Training

  • Warm up for five to ten minutes before strength training. Do some jumping jacks or take a fast walk. These activities will increase your range of motion, so you’re less likely to get hurt.
  • Never strength train the same body part two days in a row. Your muscles need at least a day to recover. 
  • Breathe properly during workouts. Exhale as you lift, push, or pull weight. Inhale as you release it. Try to avoid holding your breath.
  • Focus on the form because it can protect you from injuries. Start with little or no weight, and then gradually increase it while maintaining your body’s proper alignment.
  • Cool down for at least five to ten minutes. Do some static stretches for your arms and legs or take a slow walk.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to know about supersets is how to use them. Finish your workouts more quickly without damaging your form. Just don’t use them initially, or you could slow down your progress. 

Choose to focus on one muscle group with your supersets or switch things up by targeting two opposing muscle groups a few days later. Remember to work different sets of muscles if you’re working out two days in a row, so you can give them time to heal and grow before using them again.

Remember to stay safe when using supersets to boost your strength training routine. Always warm up and cool down. Pay attention to your body, and don’t use more weight than is appropriate. Rest at least two minutes between sets.

Now that you know what to do, have fun exploring what supersets can do to enhance your strength training program!


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  1. Kelleher, A.R., Hackney, K.J., Fairchild, T.J., Keslacy, S. and Ploutz-Snyder, L.L. (2010). The Metabolic Costs of Reciprocal Supersets vs. Traditional Resistance Exercise in Young Recreationally Active Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, [online] 24(4), pp.1043–1051. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20300020/.
  2. ‌Henselmans, M. and Schoenfeld, B.J. (2014). The Effect of Inter-Set Rest Intervals on Resistance Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy. Sports Medicine, [online] 44(12), pp.1635–1643. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25047853/.
  3. ‌Brentano, M.A., Umpierre, D., Santos, L.P., Lopes, A.L., Radaelli, R., Pinto, R.S. and Kruel, L.F.M. (2017). Muscle Damage and Muscle Activity Induced by Strength Training Super-Sets in Physically Active Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, [online] 31(7), pp.1847–1858. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/FullText/2017/07000/Muscle_Damage_and_Muscle_Activity_Induced_by.12.aspx.
  4. ‌Boone, T., Board, R., Astorino, T., Baker, J., Brock, S., Dalleck, L., Goulet, E., Gotshall, R., Hutchison, A., Knight-Maloney, M., Kravitz, L., Laskin, J., Lim, Y., Lowery, L., Marks, D., Mermier, C., Robergs, R., Vella, C., Wagner, D. and Wyatt, F. (2014). Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline Volume 17 Number 6 Editor-in-Chief JEPonline Effect of Agonist-Antagonist Paired Set Training vs. Traditional Set Training on Post-Resistance Exercise Hypotension. [online] Available at: https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/JEPonlineDECEMBER2014_Paz.pdf.
  5. Senna, G.W., Willardson, J.M., Scudese, E., Simão, R., Queiroz, C., Avelar, R. and Martin Dantas, E.H. (2016). Effect of Different Interset Rest Intervals on Performance of Single and Multijoint Exercises With Near-Maximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, [online] 30(3), pp.710–716. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2016/03000/Effect_of_Different_Interset_Rest_Intervals_on.14.aspx.
Christine VanDoren

Medically reviewed by:

Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her passion is helping others learn how strong and healthy they can become by transforming their daily habits. Christine spends most of her time in the gym, hiking, painting, and learning how she can influence others through positivity!

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