The Workout Hack That Helps You Cut Your Gym Time In *Half*
You might have heard trainers say the word “superset” in a strength class or maybe you’ve seen your fave fit-fluencer post about it on IG. If you’re wondering what’s a superset, here’s the deal: In straightforward terms, a superset is a training technique that can help you save time in the gym by minimizing rest.
What is a superset?
“A superset is just a way to program your workout—you go from one exercise right into the other, with no rest in between,” says Riley O’Donnell, NASM-certified personal trainer and instructor at Fhitting Room in NYC.
Superset: Go from one exercise right into the other, with no rest in between.
You can format supersets—usually a set of just two exercises—in a few different ways, O’Donnell says. For example, you can work opposing muscle groups, say by doing a chest press (working the chest), followed by a row (working the back). You can also choose two exercises that work the same muscle group. For that, you might go with a triceps kickback right into an overhead extension, both of which work the triceps.
Why do people do supersets?
The biggest benefit of formatting your workout this way: You maximize your time spent sweating. “You can fit more exercises in a shorter amount of time, making your workout more efficient,” says O’Donnell.
If you work opposing muscle groups, you get to give one set of muscles a rest without actually resting (and then hello, exit door a little earlier!). And if you do the same muscle group in a set, you achieve that burnout or breakdown of the muscle faster, O’Donnell explains. Plus, it’s way more fun than doing the same exercise over and over to achieve the muscle fatigue you want to get strong and sculpted.
While most of the studies on supersets are super small, they do point out these same pay-offs. For example, supersets can cut down on training time without losing effectiveness, according to a study published in The European Journal Of Applied Physiology.
And doing supersets of the same muscles led to a greater muscular effort and muscle damage (translation: greater strength gains) than working different muscle groups, per a Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research study.
Are there any drawbacks to supersets?
The short answer: no, says O’Donnell. The only thing you want to be careful about is making sure you don’t do so many sets, or lift too heavy of a weight that you lead you to burn out, lose your form, and then get injured, she says.
One mistake people make, though, is cranking out too many reps. “I often see people go too light with weight and then try to see how fast they power through,” says O’Donnell. “But because you’re focusing on minimal rest anyway, you don’t need to go crazy on reps.” With supersets, you’re going to naturally build muscular endurance. Instead, choose a weight that seems doable but definitely challenging.
“The goal shouldn’t be how many reps you do by the end—instead focus on feeling a burnout by the end of the full set,” says O’Donnell. It’s all about lower reps and heavier weights with this strategy.
Who should do supersets?
Supersets work well for anyone looking to get stronger, O’Donnell says. People who are used to cardio-focused workouts might find they love strength training this way, because there’s not much down time.
Also, if you’re super busy, you’ll enjoy a good superset considering it’s a time-saver.
What exercises should I try in a superset?
Some of O’Donnell’s favorite combos include a push and pull move for upper body, and a hip- and knee-dominant exercise for lower body.
For example, try these combos:
Or aim to work in different planes of motion. For instance:
How do I incorporate supersets into my workout?
You can simply choose the moves above and get to it at your next gym session. O’Donnell suggests going for 8 to 12 reps of each exercise and working at a moderate effort level. If you’re lifting heavier, aim for five to eight reps.
Your goal should be about four to six sets of the duo moves, and when you complete a set, rest for anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds, depending on the intensity you’re aiming for in your workout. The less you rest, the harder it’ll feel.
You can also add in a burst of cardio by going from your superset into something that gets your heart pumping—think kettlebell swings, med ball slams, or box jumps, O’Donnell recommends. Bam, your full workout plan, created!
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