Supersets are a classic way to train for hypertrophy. But what if I told you there was a better way to do them? Post exhaustion supersets are the key to building muscle mass in record time!
In this article we’re going to cover both the art and science of using post exhaustion supersets to build muscle.
First we’re going to take a close look at why these supersets are so effective.
Once we cover the “why” behind post-exhaustion supersets we are going to cover the “how.”
I will be giving you two major routines for every body part that you can start using right now!
The content will be divided up as follows:
- Part 1: Overview Of Super Sets
- Part 2: Pre-Exhaustion Vs Post-Exhaustion Super Sets
- Part 3: Bicep Routines
- Part 4: Tricep Routines
- Part 5: Chest Routines
- Part 6: Shoulder Routines
- Part 7: Upper Back Routines
- Part 8: Quadricep Routines
- Part 9: Hamstring Routines
- Part 10: Conclusion
I should tell you that one of these major body parts DOES NOT lend itself well to this post-exhaustion training method.
I will tell you exactly why this is the case and provide 2 alternate routines that you can use instead.
Which body part am I talking about? You’re just going to have to finish the article to find out!
(Please note: if you have trouble reading any of the 14 sample routines below then I highly recommend you read this article: “How To Read A Training Program.” It will answer all of your questions!)
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Overview Of Super Sets
What are supersets?
Supersets are a training method that you can use to either get more work done in less time (such as with antagonistic supersets), or to increase the total time under tension of a set and make a specific muscle work harder (as with agonist supersets).
This article is going to focus exclusively on agonist supersets.
This simply means that a trainee performs two exercises for the same muscle group back-to-back with very little rest between exercises.
For example, someone could “superset” squats and leg presses together or chin ups and rows together to make the leg or back muscles work harder.
Supersets are an awesome accumulation method where a lifter is trying to increase the size of their muscles.
As such superset workouts tend to focus on relatively higher rep ranges with the goal of causing a lot of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue, two of the key biological triggers for hypertrophy.
This is in contrast to a typical intensification phase where lower reps and longer rest intervals are favored to try and boost strength levels on a few key lifts.
Are supersets a new training concept?
Super sets are not a new training concept!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming you if you have never head of them – they are practically unheard of today!
This is strange, because supersets were an absolute staple during the golden age of bodybuilding: the 1940s – 1950s.
Even during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s era during the 1960s and 1970s supersets were still considered a go-to training method.
Arnold Schwarzenegger himself used supersets extensively in preparation for his 8 Mr. Olympia wins.
Just because a training method is old doesn’t mean it is useless. In fact, sometimes the oldest training methods really are the best. I think this is true for supersets in particular!
Part 2: Pre-Exhaustion Vs Post-Exhaustion Supersets
There are many ways to organize an agonist superset workout.
However, two of the most popular variations are “pre-exhaustion supersets” and “post-exhaustion supersets.”
They each have their pros and cons, but I am of the opinion that one is far superior to the other.
This type of superset involves performing an isolation exercise for a muscle first, followed by a compound exercise.
For example, you could perform a pec-dec fly to isolate the chest, rest 10 seconds, and then perform a set of bench presses.
The idea is that the isolation exercise allows you to really “feel” and isolate the chest so that your chest is the hardest-working muscle on the bench press.
Unfortunately this training method tends to fall short. Research has shown that pre-exhaustion supersets do a poor job of maximally recruiting and fatiguing the target muscle.
The main problem is that the amount of weight you can lift on the compound exercise is pathetic because you already fatigued yourself on the isolation exercise!
This is backwards-thinking.
You should always focus on the most bang-for-your-buck exercises whenever possible, as these are the ones that recruit the most muscle fibers and give you the most return on your investment.
There is a better way!
Enter Post-exhaustion Supersets
Now THIS is a training method I can get behind! My own in-the-trenches experience and my experience coaching hundreds of clients has proven to me that this way of doing supersets is far superior.
The available scientific literature also backs me up on this one.
With a post-exhaustion superset you perform a major compound movement for a body part first, rest ten seconds, and only then perform the isolation exercise.
You still get all the benefits of the isolation exercise in terms of really honing in on that one target muscle, but you also get the benefits of the compound exercise to trash as many motor units as possible.
It is the best of both worlds!
I have found this way of training to be ESPECIALLY EFFECTIVE for training the arms, although it can be used for training all the major body parts.
Now let’s dive right into the sample training routines (2 for every major body part!).
Part 3: Bicep Routines
For these 2 bicep routines we are going to use different variations of chin ups and pull ups as our compound movement, followed by a bicep isolation exercise.
Trust me, these two routines are absolutely brutal!
Bicep routine #1
- A1: Supinated close grip chin up, 3-5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline DB curl, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Again: if you had any trouble reading this routine then this article is for you!
Let’s look at some videos to make sure you understand what you are supposed to do.
A1: Supinated close grip chin up
A2: 30 degree incline DB curl
This routine primarily targets the often-neglected long head of the biceps.
The key is to make sure that you only take 10 seconds between the two exercises! You can expect a very nasty pump from this routine.
Who knows, this routine may even help you give Larry Scott’s arms a run for their money!
You will notice that I recommend you do between 3-5 total sets on this routine.
This is not a typo!
Basically, the total number of sets you do depends on your performance on that day. If you feel like superman then go ahead and do 5 sets.
On the other hand, if you feel pretty off then you are better off sticking with just 3 sets that day.
Remember, there is nothing worse for your gains than overtraining due to excessive training volume!
And yes, this is all you will do for biceps on this training day! No squeezing in extra sets of curls, this routine will be very effective as written!
Bicep Routine #2
- A1: Pronated close grip chin up, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated zottman curl, 3-5 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Let’s look at some video demonstrations.
A1: Pronated close grip chin up
A2: Seated zottman curl
This isn’t really a “bicep” routine – instead, this routine is designed to overload the brachialis muscle!
Trust me, this is not a muscle you want to neglect. It sits right underneath the biceps brachii and really makes the upper arm “pop” when it’s fully developed.
Not only that, it plays a key role in upper body structural balance. Training this muscle hard can help all of your other upper body lifts to go up!
Probably the biggest reason this muscle is so underdeveloped is that you can’t use as much weight on reverse curls as you can on regular curls.
I recommend you swallow your ego and do the routine as written.
I guarantee you some newfound strength and size gains in your brachialis if you put in the work!
Part 4: Tricep Routines
Who doesn’t want a big, thick pair of triceps? After all, the triceps make up two thirds of the upper arm!
I’ve always found for most people that the triceps grow best from a healthy mix of compound and isolation movements.
With that in mind these two routines are perfect for filling up your shirt sleeves!
Triceps Routine #1
- A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing cable overhead extensions, 3-5 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Let’s look at some video demonstrations.
A1: V-bar dips (upright torso):
A2: Standing cable overhead extensions:
This routine is perfect for overloading the long head of the triceps. You know, the meatiest part of the triceps that is on the back side of the arm.
Dips are one of the best exercises for overloading all three heads of the triceps, and standing cable overhead extensions allow you to stretch out the long head better than almost any other exercises.
Pair these two exercises together and you have a recipe for long-head annihilation!
Don’t be surprised if you can’t scratch the back of your neck for a few days after completing this routine!
Triceps Routine #2
- A1: Decline shoulder-width bench press, 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Decline DB tricep extensions, 3-5 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Again let’s look at some videos.
A1: Decline shoulder-width bench press
A2: Decline DB tricep extensions
If the first triceps routine was geared towards annihilating the long head of the triceps, then this one is the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on the lateral head!
The decline close-grip bench press and the decline DB triceps extensions are two of the very best exercises for recruiting the lateral head of the triceps.
Only a madman would pair these two exercises together for a post-exhaustion superset!!
In my experience the lateral head is the most underdeveloped triceps head on most trainees.
If this describes you then this triceps routine may be just what you need to beef up your upper arms.
Part 5: Chest Routines
Who doesn’t want a big chest?
I think we have Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. He may have competed in the 1970s, but he had arguably the best and most complete chest development of all time!
If your chest is flatter than a picnic table then these post exhaustion chest routines is just what you need!
Chest Routine #1
- A1: 15 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/2/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Machine pec-dec, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
Here are some video demonstrations:
A1: 15 degree incline DB press
A2: Machine pec-dec
I imagine some of you are raising your eyebrows at me for recommending a 15 degree incline for the dumbbell press.
What the heck is an angle that small supposed to do, right?
One of the keys to making long-term progress is to constantly look for new exercises and training methods that you can use to challenge yourself.
There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is to ensure optimal structural balance.
The shoulder joint is very easy to injure. You want to make sure you are strong at all pressing angles, even the 15 degree incline!
Actually, John Meadows is a big fan of these very slight inclines and declines for chest training.
Chest routine #2
- A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 3-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline Poliquin fly, 3-5 x 8-10, 3/1/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Here are the videos:
A1: 30 degree incline bench press
A2: 30 degree incline Poliquin fly
This chest superset routine is particularly effective for maximizing muscular damage to the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.
The incline fly is probably the one exercise most of you will have questions on.
I am not necessarily a huge fan of the way most bodybuilders do flies. The range of motion is just too short to maximally stretch the pecs!
Instead, I recommend you do them the way Charles Poliquin taught:
With your arms almost all the way straight, bringing your hands in line with your ears in the bottom position, and rotating your palms out in the bottom position before coming back up.
You will have to reduce the weight on this exercise by quite a bit but the results are well worth it!
Part 6: Shoulder Routines
The shoulders are definitely one of the trickier muscle groups to train.
Simply put, you need to train the delts with a large variety of exercises and with a huge array of rep ranges for maximal hypertrophy.
Fortunately supersets fit the bill perfectly!
Shoulder Routine #1
- A1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated DB partial lateral raise, 3-5 x 25-30, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
Here are the videos:
A1: Seated DB overhead press
A2: Seated DB partial lateral raise
This is a pretty straight-forward routine designed to beef up your side delts.
On the seated DB partial lateral raises I want you to select a weight that is HEAVIER than what you normally use.
I want you to go up about halfway, then come back down under control. Don’t worry, the higher rep range for this exercise will more than make up for the reduced range of motion.
Shoulder Routine #2:
- A1: Reeves Row, 3-5 x 10-12, 1/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Rear delt pec-dec, 3-5 x 15-20, 2/0/1/2, 180 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1: Reeves Row
A2: Rear delt pec-dec
This routine is designed to target your rear delts.
I am willing to bet that most of you have not heard of the “Reeves Row.”
This exercise is named after Steve Reeves, the legendary bodybuilder from the golden era of bodybuilding.
The key is that you grab the 45 pound plates by the handle areas and then row the weight. This exercise will blow up your rear delts unlike anything you have ever done before!
Part 7: Upper Back Routines
The upper back is a little bit harder to train using a pure post-exhaustion training protocol. However, it is still possible if you are creative enough!
Upper Back Routine #1
- A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Pullover machine, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
Here are some videos to make sure you have the form down right.
A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups
A2: Pullover machine
If you are not strong enough to do several wide-grip pull ups then you can replace this exercise with wide-grip lat pulldowns (and perhaps increase the rep range slightly).
However, if this is the case, then you should seriously consider focusing on improving your foundation of strength before focusing on any fancy hypertrophy routines!
I think the pullover machine is one of the most under-rated machines for bodybuilders. It certainly worked for Dorian Yates to help him build one of the greatest backs of all time!
Upper Back Routine #2:
- A1: Seated cable rows, 3-5 x 8-10, 3/0/X/2, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Lying DB pullovers, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Here are the videos:
A1: Seated cable rows
A2: Lying DB pullovers
This is another excellent post-exhaustion superset that you can use to beef up your lats.
Part 8: Quadricep Routines
In order to do a proper post-exhaustion superset for the quadriceps you pretty much have to incorporate leg extensions.
This is because there really aren’t any other viable quadricep isolation exercises!
These two routines will still produce excellent results, but with my bodybuilding clients I tend to avoid leg extensions in favor of things like leg presses and hack squat machines.
Quad Routine #1:
- A1: Back squat, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: leg extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
A1: Back squat
A2: leg extension
This is a great post-exhaustion superset that will do wonders for adding some serious size to your wheels.
I really recommend you keep the reps on the leg extension in the 15-20 range as this will make the exercise a little friendlier towards your knees.
Quad Routine #2
- A1: Front squat, 3-5 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Leg extension, 3-5 x 15-20, 1/0/1/2, 180 seconds rest
A1: Front squat
A2: Leg extension
Front squats tend to stimulate the quadriceps a little bit better than back squats.
Therefore, routine will likely be even more effective than the first one for adding some serious size to your legs in record time.
Part 9: Hamstring Routines
Back in the introduction I teased that there was one major muscle group that does not respond well to post-exhaustion protocols.
I wasn’t lying – that muscle group is the hamstrings!
Actually, instead of using post-exhaustion routines for this muscle group, I recommend pre-exhaustion routines.
“What? I thought you told me post-exhaustion sets were better than pre-exhaustion sets! What gives Dr. Mike Jansen??”
Calm down, everything I said earlier still holds true. But the hamstrings are the exception to the rule.
During leg curls the hamstrings behave as extremely fast-twitch muscles and respond best to low reps with relatively heavy weight.
However, the opposite is true during hip extension movements: they start to behave like slow-twitch muscles on these exercises!
We want to train using lower reps on the first exercise in our superset and higher reps in the second exercise in our supersets.
When it comes to the hamstrings, that means super setting low-rep leg curls with high-rep hip extension movements.
In other worlds, we have to use pre-exhaustion supersets with the hamstrings for optimal results!
The good news is that designing highly effective pre-exhaustion supersets for the hamstrings is relatively easy.
Hamstrings routine #1
- A1: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3-5 x 4-6, 3/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Stiff-legged deadlift, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Let’s take a look at some videos:
A1: Lying hamstring curl
A2: Stiff-legged deadlift
One of the keys on leg curls is to keep the rest of your body as still as possible and really concentrate on isolating your hamstrings muscles to the best of your ability.
The more you can force just your hamstrings to move the load the more effective the exercise will be!
For more tips on leg curls you can check out this article: The 21 Greatest Leg Curl Tips Ever!
Hamstrings Routine #2
- A1: Seated hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 45 degree back extension w/ bands, 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/1/2, 180 seconds rest
Here are the videos:
A1: Seated hamstring curl
A2: 45 degree back extension w/ bands
The banded 45 degree back extensions may seem a little strange, and I agree with elite powerlifters such as Matt Wenning and Chad Wesley Smith that you can get a little too carried away with bands if you aren’t careful.
However, this is one exercise where I feel the bands really shine. I would go so far as to say that using band tension like this is my favourite way of loading up the 45 degree back extension!
If you don’t have access to bands then you can just hold a DB at your chest to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
Part 10: Conclusion
Post-exhaustion supersets are a time-honored way to train for muscular hypertrophy.
These supersets cause a tremendous amount of micro-trauma in the muscles and are guaranteed to deliver some of the best pumps and some of the worse delayed onset muscle soreness of your life!
Break free from your boring “straight sets” routine and give post-exhaustion supersets a try. You can thank me later for the newfound muscle gains!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training endeavors!
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