4 Smart Ways To Maximise Muscle-Growth Using SuperSets

smart ways maximise muscle-growth supersets bodybuilding weightlifting compound sets

What Is A Superset In A Workout? 

Whether you’re a trainer, athlete, or casual bodybuilder, you’ve undoubtedly heard about supersets. Basically, what they refer to is the practice of performing two different exercises, back-to-back, with minimal rest. For a while, supersets were all the hype. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be done with their workouts faster without having to compromise on quality or performance? Supersets stimulate muscle building faster than doing straight sets, and also help increase oxidative capacity [1], so you can burn fat faster. 

To a certain extent, supersets continue to attract some attention, but significantly less than they used to. The reason for this is that recent medical research has weighed in on the subject and found same-group supersets to be detrimental to muscle growth [2]. However, if done the right way you can quickly reap a ton of muscle-building benefits, including increased testosterone [3], improved cardiovascular fitness, and of course bigger muscles. 

Some of us have experienced this significant physical shortcoming first-hand. However, there’s a type of superset that is tremendously beneficial, particularly when the practice revolves around agonist-antagonist pairs of muscles. I’m talking about a training technique that goes by the name of reciprocal superset training (SUPER). When supersets are used in this manner, they can help bodybuilders achieve two outstanding things: 

1. Save tremendous amounts of time in the gym and cut workout durations by as much as 50%, which is incredibly useful for busy professionals. 

2. Effectively maximize muscle growth by increasing total training volume, as well as muscle activation. 

In what follows, I discuss even further my experience of how you can use supersets to your advantage. 

1. Do NOT Pair Demanding Compounds 

Taxing movements such as the deadlift or squat should not be coupled together in the superset programme. If you want to apply the technique to leg day, you can easily do so by pairing hamstrings and leg extension. The reason for this is that supersets are naturally taxing, compound movements on the whole. The squat and row or the overhead press and bench press do not mix well with this technique. Using compounds and supersets in this way will only decrease your performance output, but also result in unnecessary muscle damage, as well as prolonged inflammation. These drawbacks raise red flags for trainers and bodybuilders alike because everyone knows just how destructive and debilitating the latter three can be. 

Should you want to maximize your rest time when doing squats, the scapular pull-up, essentially a chin-up done with a pronated grip, has the potential to serve as good superset pair. This is due to kinesiology, as well as the muscle groups that are activated in each instance. On the one hand, the squat effectively compresses your back muscles as the weight of the barbell pushes down on your spine. On the other, the pull-up helps relieve all of that tension by lengthening your body. If you find you’re very tired, just hanging from the bar will help you improve your squats by helping you revert to a normal, resting posture. 

As you may have already noticed, the pull-up/back squat superset is a case where the two types of exercises complement one another quite neatly. Unlike the squat, the pull-up is not a compound and, therefore, does not tax your body to the same extent that former does. If you want to do the same thing with the overhead press, then you should aim for an isolation exercise for your lats, such as the straight-arm cable pull-down or chest-supported row. The key, as you will soon find out, lies in the way and degree to which your chosen supersets activate your muscles. 

2. Pair Muscle Groups That Don’t Interfere With One Another 

We know that increased volume load is the ultimate way to induce fatigue and tap into that enhanced training stimulus [4]. This is the theoretical reason why supersets should lead to better gains. However, if we constantly target the same muscle over and over again, we objectively risk causing a catabolic response, as in the case of Brentano et al.’s investigation. Similar results were demonstrated in numerous investigations on supersets because muscles need, and I mean upper-case, bold emphasis NEED adequate rest in-between sets. Ideally, you’d want to provide somewhere between 3 to 5 minutes of rest for a muscle group before hitting it again [5]. 

As you may have already deduced from the previous tip, the only way you can reap the benefits from the increased volume load, provide adequate rest for a muscle group [6], and spend as little time as possible in the gym is to use what coaches refer to as agonist- antagonist technique. This helps you deadlock the potential for increased growth and performance associated with supersets without having to worry about crippling muscle damage. Simply put, you just have to superset muscles whose functions do not overlap. As in the above scenario, this will ensure that you don’t overwork a specific group and end up doing more harm than good. The classic agonist-antagonist combo is biceps and triceps

Aside from squats / pronated pull-ups, overhead press/chest-supported row, you can also safely superset bench-press/seated row, bench-press/barbell row, as well as knee extension (quads) with knee flexion (hamstrings). Quite at odds with many investigations on the topic of supersets, Paz et al.’s study concluded that supersets allowed their participants to do more reps and also lift heavier weights. Their observations and EMG readings were all pointing to this conclusion, which led them to assume that it was the increased interval of rest that unlocked the beast of higher volume loads. With nearly two decades’ worth of experience in coaching, I can vouchsafe that this is definitely the case. 

3. Rest Is Paramount 

Since I’ve just mentioned rest, let me repeat that the third pillar of maximizing lean tissue growth through supersets is the amount of rest you give to a specific muscle group. Paz’s influential and thorough examination concluded that a sufficient rest period was what set their results apart from contradictory findings on the topic of supersets. Many get the impression that the supersets technique essentially means going berserk through the gym, jumping from one exercise to another with barely any time to breathe. This is not how you grow muscles with the SUPER routine, though. This is how you lose them. 

For instance, if you’re hitting hamstring with quadriceps, you want to allow at least 60 seconds of rest between each exercise. You’ll see some coaches refer to this approach as staggered rest. If we allow for an approximate of 40 seconds to complete a set, as well as 20 seconds total to get on and off, you’re looking at about 3 minutes of rest before engaging a muscle group yet again. Under no circumstance should you try to rush these downtimes, as they will ensure that enough oxygenated blood and energy get to your deep fibres and prepare you to deliver as much performance as possible on the next set of reps. 

In the most extreme cases, as you would have undoubtedly heard in people undergoing Cross-Fit or similarly strenuous routines, exertional rhabdomyolysis becomes an actual threat. From a mental and cardiovascular perspective, the superset approach can be very stressful on your system, which is why it is strictly not recommended to people who have just started exercising. A good way to start with supersets is to try to incorporate one pair every training session, while keeping a close eye on the rhythm that is most comfortable to you. 

You should try to wiggle out of the comfort zone, but not to blast it off entirely. While we all want to benefit from that increased rep-range [7], the only way to do so in a constructive manner is to take it step-wise. 

4. Less Time, More Growth 

If properly executed, supersets can help maximize your muscle growth given strict training time limitations. This is achieved through the bottom-line increase in volume load, as a result of being able to do more reps, lift heavier, or both. More importantly, even for those who are not rushed to finish their workout by an incredibly busy lifestyle, the SUPER system was shown to effectively increase muscle endurance when adequately implemented. 

Especially if you’re not a veteran bodybuilder or athlete, my advice is to try it out with a trainer, as they will be able to gauge whether your cardiovascular system can withstand the stress and help you push through those near-failure reps. Alternatively, they will also be able to tell you whether you need more cardio fitness in order to be able to complete a full routine of supersets. 

Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether you’re doing it on your own or with a professional, a) avoiding conflicting compounds, b) providing adequate rest, and c) the overall idea of agonist-antagonist pairs is what you should be taking away from this piece. After having done it myself, I can guarantee that you’ll feel heavenly because few other strength routines will take everything out of you like supersets do. Now hit the gym and start maximizing your muscle growth!

List Of References: 

[1] How To Lose Weight Fast: 10 Smart Ways (Guaranteed To Work) https://www.dna-lean.co.uk/blog/lose-weight-fast/ 

[2] Muscle Damage and Muscle Activity Induced by Strength Training Super-Sets in Physically Active Men – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27243916 [3] 19 Breakthrough Ways Proven To Increase Testosterone (NATURALLY) – https://www.dna-lean.co.uk/blog/increase-testosterone/ 

[4] Volume Load and Neuromuscular Fatigue During an Acute Bout of Agonist-Antagonist Paired-Set vs. Traditional-Set Training –  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28933712 

[5] Recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: resistance and cardiovascular training – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24998610 

[6] The effect of an upper-body agonist-antagonist resistance training protocol on volume load and efficiency – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847705 

[7] Effects of different rest intervals between antagonist paired sets on repetition performance and muscle activation – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25148302

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