What Is a Superset? Here's How to Gain More Muscle in Less Time

If you're short on time but still want to train hard, look no further. Supersets allow you to accomplish more in less time, with new evidence suggesting they may even help you build more muscle when included in your workout routine.

However, it's important to get your superset programming correct in order to maximise the method's full muscle-building potential.

In this article, we explain what a superset is, explore its benefits, review the research supporting it, and provide the most effective superset workouts for you to try.

What Is a Superset?

A superset is typically when multiple sets of two exercises are completed in succession with little or no rest in between each exercise. This could look like:

3 sets of:

1a) Bench press x 8 reps

1b) Chest flys x 12 reps

Perform eight reps of bench press, immediately followed by 12 reps of chest flys, and then take your rest period — that completes one set. Repeat for the remaining prescribed sets. Research published in Sports Medicine supports this method of programming, mentioning that advanced training techniques such as supersets can be used to increase training volume in a more time-efficient fashion.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

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Which Exercises Can I Superset?

You can use several methods to choose which exercises to superset:

Antagonist Supersets

A common way of including supersets is by using antagonist paired exercises. Called 'antagonist supersets', when one muscle group is resting, the opposite group is working. By pairing alternating muscle groups, like push and pull exercises, you are able to cut down on rest time and therefore get more work done. Antagonist supersets involve supersetting opposite motions or muscle groups. For example:

1a) Bicep curl x 10 reps and 3 sets

1b) Skull crusher x 10 reps and 3 sets

You would complete a bicep curl for 10 reps, then immediately move on to skull crushers for 10 reps before resting — this counts as one set. You would then complete the rest of the sets prescribed.

Agonist Superset

An agonist superset is when we complete two exercises of the same muscle group in succession with no rest in between. For example:

1a) Barbell back squats x 8 reps

1b) Cyclist goblet squats x 12 reps

You would complete back squats for eight reps, then immediately do cyclist goblet squats for 12 reps before resting — this counts as one set. You would then complete the rest of the sets prescribed.

Tri-Sets

A tri-set requires you to do three exercises performed back to back. This variation can increase workout intensity and volume, leading to greater muscle fatigue and growth.

Giant Sets

A giant set includes four or more exercises performed back to back. Similar to circuit style training, this method can be used to maximise hypertrophy and endurance while saving time.

Pre-Exhaustion Supersets

In this superset, an isolation exercise is performed first to pre-fatigue a muscle, followed by a compound exercise for the same muscle group. For example, leg extensions followed by squats. This can help maximise muscle recruitment during the compound movement or enhance your capabilities of executing lifts under fatigue.

Post-Exhaustion Supersets

The opposite of pre-exhaustion, this type starts with a compound exercise followed by an isolation exercise. For example, bench press followed by dumbbell flys. This can help maximise strength and power in the compound movement while also increasing hypertrophy as you push the isolated muscles closer to failure.

Staggered Supersets

This involves pairing exercises that target different muscle groups, often allowing one muscle group to rest while the other is being worked. For example, calf raises and shoulder presses. This needn't be fancy, but typically will work upper and lower moves alternately and can increase overall workout and time efficiency.

Superset Benefits

Time Saving

A new study – yet to be published – compared muscle growth in traditional, straight sets vs antagonist supersets in trained lifters. The researchers found similar increases in muscle growth, strength, and muscle endurance results when comparing supersets to traditional training. However, the traditional training group took 69 minutes to complete the workout, whereas the superset group took only 44 minutes.

Enhanced Hypertrophy

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

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This isn't the first time supersets have been shown to boost performance and increase total workout volume when executed with minimal rest time. Research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research highlights the effectiveness of supersets, suggesting that individuals aiming to maximise their workout efficiency should strongly consider incorporating superset training. It also mentioned that no rest or relatively shorter rest intervals between antagonist paired sets might be more effective to elicit greater muscle activation.

Increased Intensity

With the reduction in rest time, perceived exertion will increase over the course of your workouts, as will your heart rate during sets. For those who like to chase the feeling of a higher level of intensity in their training, supersets are an efficient way of pushing your capabilities.

Superset Workout

Now that you know what a superset is, try this chest, back and arm workout to target your upper body, sharpish.

Superset 1:

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

barbell bench press

Bench Press x 8 reps and 3 sets

Lie back on a flat bench holding a barbell in the rack above you with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Breathe in and lower the bar slowly until it skims the middle of your chest. Push the bar back to the starting position explosively as you breathe out, ready to repeat.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

chest flys

Chest Flys x 12-15 reps and 3 sets

Grab a pair of light dumbbells and lie back on the bench after your bench press. Push the dumbbells up above your chest. With a slight bend in the arms, lower the dumbbells wide either side of your chest. Feel a stretch here before reversing the movement and squeezing your pecs at the top.

Superset 2:

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

pull ups

Weighted Pull-Up x 8 reps and 3 sets

Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip over shoulder-width apart, lift your feet from the floor, hanging freely with straight arms. Pull yourself up by flexing the elbows whilst pinching your shoulder blades together. When your chin passes the bar, pause before lowering to the starting position.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

lat pull down mens health

Lat Pull Down x 12-15 reps and 3 sets

Either sit on the floor or a bench in front of the cable machine. With a wide grip and lifted chest, pull the bar towards your chest. Slowly reverse and feel a large stretch as your shrug the shoulders upwards. Repeat.

Giant Set:

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

bicep curls

Dumbbell Bicep Curl x 10 reps and 3 sets

Start with light to moderate weight dumbbells hanging in front of your hips with your palms facing upwards. Keep the elbows glued to your waist and bring both dumbbells up to meet your shoulders. Keep your shoulders pinned back and don’t cheat by using the hips.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

january workout

Tricep Extension x 10 reps and 3 sets

Lie back on a bench set at a 45 degree angle. Bring the dumbbells above your chest with straight arms. Keeping the elbows in place, let the dumbbells slowly lower behind your head. Extend from here until your arms straighten again, ready to repeat.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

Weights, Exercise equipment, Shoulder, Overhead press, Kettlebell, Arm, Dumbbell, Physical fitness, Standing, Muscle,

Bent-Over Dumbbell Row x 15 reps and 3 sets

You may want to switch to heavier dumbbells for this exercise. Hinge at the hips with a flat back and your hips behind your heels, your dumbbells hanging by your thighs. Row the dumbbells up to your hips while squeezing the shoulder blades together and keeping them away from your ears. Slowly lower the dumbbells, ready to repeat.

how to, what is a superset? here's how to gain more muscle in less time

press up on dumbbells, push up, Press up, Weights, Arm, Exercise equipment, Kettlebell, Muscle, Chest, Dumbbell, Joint, Physical fitness,

Press-Up on Dumbbells x 15 reps and 3 sets

Hit a strong plank position gripping your dumbbells under your shoulders with your core tight. Bend your elbows to bring your chest close to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body as you push back up explosively.

Best Superset Workouts

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