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Super Set Training – Has it gone too far or has it simply lost its direction?

Super Set Training is the new buzzword in the fitness world this season; or is it?

Actually, this concept has been around for decades, but is just now filtering down into the mainstream levels of fitness enthusiasts who are looking for maximum results in less time.

C’mon, lets’ face it; we all want that right, I know I do.

Muscle and fitness magazines around the globe have featured numerous articles with the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, who talks about learning Super Set training when he started bodybuilding in America at the esteemed Gold’s Gym.  The idea of super-setting had become such a sacred practice within the bodybuilding community that Joe Weider himself wanted to take the credit and classify it as the Weider “Super-Set Training Principle”.

The definition of a Super Set is to perform one weight training exercise immediately followed by another with no rest in between.  Typically, a combination of only two exercises is used.  A good example would be the bench press (chest muscles) followed by an opposing muscle group exercise such as the lat pulldown (back muscles).  The benefit of using this training principle is to increase intensity, improve muscular endurance and from a practical point of view, save time in the gym.  Bodybuilders like to use this method to improve a weak body part in a short period of time.  If your weakness is your legs, then using a superset combination of a leg extension followed by a leg press would initially stimulate a better pump in the quads and enhance development.   When you focus more on a particular muscle group, you will definitely improve the body part.

The key is no rest “between exercises within the super set and a 2 to 3 minute rest between supersets.

There are other types of Super Set training such as “Giant Super Setting” where a combination of three or more exercises is performed.  However, the two-exercise combination is the more commonly used and most effective method.

What’s more, people that superset more than a two or three-exercise combination decrease the effectiveness of the effort rather than benefit from it!   Some lifters perform up to a five exercise super set without any rest – but is this truly beneficial!  When you perform more than a two-exercise combination, you comprise the strength necessary to perform the super set with any degree of intensity.  Let me explain my point even further.  During exercise, the combination of both the ATP System (external energy source) and the PC System (energy stored in the muscle cells) is activated; thus becoming your primary energy source for weight training.  It takes only 10-15 seconds to exhaust these energy stores.  This alone is a good reason to discourage more than a two-exercise super set.  Remember energy systems in the body are the law of function for muscle work – and this cannot be changed! Those who super-set more than a two-exercise combination risk being counter-productive in their workouts.


My name is Shayne Autry, I have been a martial arts instructor/competitor for over 25 years. My father and fI ounded the Dallas Academy of Martial Arts. Over the years, I along with my students we have tested and used …

In today’s gym environment, it is interesting to see how people implement the various super set combinations.  From a trainers’ perspective, they seem to be making a “random” choice of exercises with no strategic approach that, unfortunately (by no fault of their own) is simply due to a lack of knowledge of right and wrong You cannot just walk into your gym with the mindset that today you are going to do Super Sets and not know the basics.

Keep in mind Super Set Training in its purest form is to create a synergy between the pump and the development of the body part(s) you are emphasizing.  For example, during heavy bench press training I like to perform my bicep exercises.  I do this for two reasons; one it gets my bicep work done without affecting the performance of my bench press training (very important point) and secondly, the high rep curl exercise increases and encourages circulation in the elbows thereby reducing the stress in the elbow joints caused by excessive benching.  You cannot begin to appreciate this until you have done it!

Single muscle group superset training is tricky and is generally prescribed only if you have been at an advanced training level for more than a year because you need a good strength endurance base in order to effectively execute them.    I have seen trainers train their clients doing single muscle group super sets of squats follow by lunges.  This is a poor choice because the two exercises are very taxing on energy, strength and coordination.   The better choice for this leg exercise combination would be a single-joint exercise (leg extension or leg curl) followed by a two- joint exercise like the leg press. The worst example I have seen, is a super set of plyometrics with squats.  This again requires too much demand on energy and coordination (not to mention strength) this program will suffer.

Let me show you how to apply the super set training principle effectively into your workout program.  Below are a few guidelines:

  • Design your supersets based on opposing muscle groups such as chest/back or triceps/biceps (Antagonist/Protagonist).
  • Single joint super set training or Correct Combination Exercise/CCE – There are only a few body parts that can be trained successfully in a single muscle group super set:  The Chest, Back, Thighs and Hamstrings.  In order to achieve optimal results I recommend the following exercises for these muscle groups.  They are the Correct Combination Exercises (CCE):
    Chest:  Cable crossovers followed by dips (not chest presses).  Chest Press(s) take too much strength and energy to super set.  You must use an isolation exercise followed by a double-joint bodyweight chest exercise.
    Back:  Lat Pulldown or straight arm pulldown – an isolation exercise followed by a Seated Cable Row – a double joint exercise.Thighs:  Leg extensions or leg curls – an isolation exercise, followed by a Leg Press or Hack Squats – a double joint exercise.Hamstrings:
    Leg curls – isolation exercise followed by Hip Extension or Step Ups - a double joint exercise.Are you beginning to see the strategy behind this method?Trainer Note:  Compound and/or high level coordination exercises should never be part of your super sets – No Squats, Lunges or barbells.
  • Be sure to rest 2-3 minutes between the supersets (not the individual exercises) for recovery of energy and strength.  The rest interval is an essential training variable that must be applied, regardless of your workout program.

Once you have tried these combinations and you begin to see greater development; you will start to understand the reasoning behind why only certain exercises are combined in a super-set.

Super set training is a great way to increase the intensity of any strength-training program.  People will always look for creative ways to superset their exercises; however, keep in mind the goal of your exercise program and make sure sensible principles such as rest intervals and exercise selection are applied.  These day’s people continue to create new trends for super setting their weight-training program; however, I have yet to see one that works effectively.  Don’t let the trends of others in the gym influence you to train supersets the wrong way! When you apply the guidelines listed above, it will ensure your training of supersets is on the right track.

Later this summer I will be releasing a Super Set Training Program, so stay tuned into the website:  www.tribustol.com and as always, please contact me at: ramsey@tribustol.com with any comments and/or questions; I love hearing from you.  Your input drives my topics.

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