Supersets: The Ultimate Guide!


supersets

Supersets are one of the most popular bodybuilding training methods in the world. They were popularized by the legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970’s and are still used today by weight lifters all over the world.

Supersets are a training method where you perform 2 different exercises in a row with 0-10 seconds rest in between each exercise. Supersets are very effective for building muscle because they increase the density of your workout and force your muscles to perform more work in a shorter period of time.

There are 2 different types of supersets: 

  • Same muscle group supersets
  • Opposite muscle group supersets

These 2 types of supersets are completely different from each other and help you build muscle mass through different mechanisms of muscle growth.

Same muscle group supersets, aka “agonist supersets” are a technique where you perform 2 exercises in a row for the same muscle group. Here are some examples of same muscle group supersets for different body parts:

  • Quads: Back squats —–> leg extensions
  • Chest: Incline bench press —–> flat dumbbell fly
  • Shoulders: Seated dumbbell press —–> dumbbell lateral raises
  • Back: Wide / overhand pull ups —–> narrow / underhand pull ups
  • Biceps: Incline dumbbell curls —–> preacher curls
  • Triceps: Close grip bench press —–> lying tricep extension
  • Quads: Back squats —–> leg extensions
  • Hamstrings: Leg curls —–> Romanian deadlifts

For each of these agonist supersets you would perform the first exercise, rest a max of 10 seconds and perform the second exercise.

Agonist supersets are so effective for building muscle because they prolong the time under tension of your sets and force your muscles to work twice as long as normal. If it takes you 20 seconds to perform a regular “straight set” for your legs then it will take you 40 seconds to perform two different exercises together as a superset.

This extra time under tension increases muscle damage and metabolic stress which are two of the biggest triggers for muscular hypertrophy.

Opposite muscle group supersets, aka “antagonist supersets” are completely different: instead of performing 2 exercises in a row for the same muscle group you are alternating back and forth between sets for two opposing muscle groups.

For example you could perform antagonist supersets for your chest and back. You could perform a set for your chest, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set for your back, rest 1-2 minutes and perform another set for your chest.

The 8x Mr. Olympia winner Arnold Schwarzenegger was a big fan of antagonistic supersets and used them all the time in his muscle-building workouts. He used to alternate back and forth between sets for chest and back or for biceps and triceps.

Antagonistic supersets are also great for building muscle but they work for completely different reasons than agonist or same-muscle-group supersets. Antagonist supersets work for three primary reasons:

  • They teach your muscles to produce more force
  • They improve your muscular endurance
  • They let you perform twice as much work in the same amount of time

Of course Arnold didn’t need to read any peer-reviewed studies before he started using antagonist supersets in his workout. He realized right away how effective they were for building muscle and used them in almost all of his workouts!

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use supersets to build muscle mass and strength. Because there are two different types of supersets I have divided this guide into two parts:

  • Part 1: Same Muscle Supersets
  • Part 2: Opposite Muscle Supersets

In this guide I will teach you exactly why these 2 types of supersets work so well and how to write training routines with them so you can reach your training goals in record time. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting-edge information!

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Same Muscle Group Supersets

Agonist supersets or “same muscle group supersets” are a high-intensity bodybuilding training technique that builds hypertrophy by training your muscle beyond failure. Agonist supersets double the amount of time under tension of your set which creates more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue than straight sets ever could!

Here is a great demonstration of a same muscle group superset by John Meadows:

John is performing a superset with two different types of triceps exercises:

  • Standing Tricep pushdowns
  • Overhead triceps extensions

John performs both of these exercises back-to-back with no rest between sets. John’s muscles are plenty fatigued after the first exercise but the second one takes his triceps fatigue to a whole new level! There are many different ways you can design a same muscle group superset workout. Here are a few of the best strategies:

  • Pre-Exhaustion Supersets
  • Post-Exhaustion Supersets
  • Mechanical Advantage Supersets
  • Heavy-Light Supersets
  • Triple Threat Supersets

Let’s take a closer look at each of these strategies.

Strategy #1: Pre-Exhaustion Supersets

Pre-exhaust supersets are one of the oldest and most effective superset strategies. A pre-exhaust superset is a training method where you perform two exercises in a row for the same muscle group: an isolation exercise and a compound exercise.

The isolation exercise lets you isolate and pre-exhaust the target muscle group while the compound exercise lets you overload the target muscle with a much heavier weight.

Pre-exhaust supersets are one of the most effective training methods for bringing up lagging muscle groups. Many of the world’s best bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have used pre-exhaust supersets to train their weaker body parts.

Arnold used to perform pre-exhaust supersets for his quadriceps to help them catch up with his enormous upper body. Arnold would perform a set of leg extensions, rest 10 seconds and then perform a set of heavy back squats. Arnold did this to shock his muscles and to force his quads to work much harder than normal on his back squats.

Here is one of Arnold’s favorite pre-exhaust quadricep routines. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pre-Exhaust Quadriceps Routine

  • A1: Leg extensions, 5 x 6-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat, 5 x 6-10, 2/0/X/1, 3-5 minutes rest
  • B1: Machine hack squat, 5 x 6-10, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1.

Arnold performed this workout 2-3 times a week when he really wanted to bring up his lagging quads. Many other bodybuilders including Dorian Yates and Stan Efferding have also used leg extensions to pre-exhaust their quads before moving onto more compound exercises.

Of course pre-exhaust supersets can also be used for the upper body. Here is a great pre-exhaust superset routine for the triceps that was designed by John Meadows. Check it out:

John Meadows’ Pre-Exhaust Triceps Routine

  • A1: Standing triceps pushdown (spongey grips), 4 x 12, 1/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B1: Lying triceps extension (football bar / close grip), 4 x 6, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • B2: Bench press (football bar / close grip), 4 x 6, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • C1: Overhead triceps extension (football bar)**, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, no rest

**Perform a static stretch in the bottom position of the exercise for 10 seconds immediately after your last rep.

You can click right here for a video of John Meadows performing this workout.

The pre-exhaust superset is performed in the middle of the workout with the “B” exercises. John performs 6 hard reps on the lying triceps extension and then immediately performs six close grip bench presses with the same weight.

This type of superset is a great way to prolong the time under tension of your set and to force the triceps to work harder than normal.

Strategy #2: Post-Exhaustion Supersets

Post-exhaustion supersets are another simple but extremely effective same muscle group superset. Post-exhaustion supersets are a training method where you perform a compound exercise immediately followed by an isolation exercise for the same muscle group.

For example you could superset incline dumbbell presses and incline dumbbell flies for the chest or overhead presses and dumbbell lateral raises for the deltoids.

Research shows that post-exhaustion supersets are even more effective than pre-exhaustion supersets for building muscle mass. You can recruit the high-threshold motor units first in your routine with the compound exercise and then further fatigue the muscle with an easier isolation exercise.

In my experience post-exhaustion supersets are especially effective for building bigger arms. Here is a post-exhaustion superset routine that was popularized by the strength coach Charles Poliquin. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin’s Post-Exhaust Superset Arm Routine

  • A1: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree Incline dumbbell curls (supinated grip), 5 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 3 minutes rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Overhead cable rope extension, 5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 3 minutes rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This workout features two different post-exhaustion supersets: one for the biceps and one for the triceps. For the first post-exhaustion superset you are going to superset chin ups and incline dumbbell curls. Most people don’t think of chin ups as a biceps exercise. However, when you perform them as part of a superset with incline dumbbell curls they can be extremely effective!

One of the great things about this superset is it overloads both heads of the biceps muscle. The chin ups overload the short head of the biceps because your elbows are in front of your body while the incline dumbbell curls overload the long head of your biceps because your elbows are behind your body while you curl the weight.

After five rounds of this superset your biceps will be begging for mercy!

The triceps portion of this routine is just as effective. You are going to perform a post-exhaustion superset with two awesome triceps exercises: v-bar dips and overhead cable rope triceps extensions.

Research shows that dips are the best exercise for recruiting all three heads of the triceps while the overhead cable extensions are fantastic for stretching and fatiguing the long head of the triceps. After five rounds of this post-exhaustion superset your triceps will feel ready to explode!

Strategy #3: Mechanical Advantage Supersets

Mechanical advantage supersets are a training method where you perform two different variations of the same exercise in a row. The key is to start with an exercise variation that is more challenging and move to one that is easier to perform.

For example you could perform pull ups with a wide / overhand grip, rest 10 seconds and then perform pull ups with a narrow / underhand grip. You are stronger on the narrow / underhand grip pull ups so you don’t have to change the amount of weight you are lifting from one exercise to the next!

One of the things I really like about mechanical advantage supersets is they are very easy to perform in a busy commercial gym. You only need to hog one piece of equipment at a time.

Here is a hypertrophy-focused upper back mechanical advantage superset routine for you to try. Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Superset Workout

  • A1: Lat pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 12-15, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lat pulldown (narrow / underhand grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
  • B1: T-bar row, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight you used on exercise A1.

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1.

The first part of this workout is where the mechanical advantage supersets come into play. You are going to perform lat pulldowns with a wide / overhand grip immediately followed by lat pulldowns with a narrow / supinated grip.

This is a great way to create more muscle damage and metabolic fatigue in your lats so you can grow bigger and stronger. Just make sure you use the same weight on the first 2 exercises. That is the whole point of mechanical advantage supersets in the first place!

In my experience mechanical advantage supersets work especially well for boosting functional hypertrophy, or hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers. The key to targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers is to use sets in the 4-8 rep range.

Here is a fantastic lower body post-exhaustion supersets routine for building functional hypertrophy. Check it out:

Quadriceps Mechanical Advantage Superset Workout

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 5 x 4-6, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

For this routine you are going to perform a hard set of front squats for 4-6 reps.

After your last rep you rack the weight and immediately get under the bar to perform a set of back squats. Then you unrack the weight, walk it out and perform as many reps as you can on the back squat with the same weight you used on front squats. You will probably get 4-6 reps on the front squat and 1-4 reps on the back squat depending on how strong you are on the front squat.

Of course you can perform some more exercises for your quadriceps and hamstrings for a more complete lower body routine. However, if you are using this training method then it should be your focus. It is incredibly challenging but if you have the guts to push through the pain then you will be rewarded with slabs of functional hypertrophy on your legs.

Strategy #4: Heavy-Light Supersets

One of the cool things about same body part supersets is you can use different rep ranges for each muscle group. This lets you target different types of muscle fibers with each exercise and helps you to maximize all three triggers for muscle growth:

  • Mechanical Tension
  • Muscle Damage
  • Metabolic Fatigue

One of the best superset strategies is to perform your first exercise for low reps and your second exercise for high reps. This is called a “heavy-light superset.” For example you could perform your first exercise in the 5-8 rep range and your second exercise in the 10-20 rep range. This way you get the benefit of heavy loading sets AND the benefit of higher-rep “pump” sets all blended together into one extended set.

Here is a sample heavy-light superset routine for your upper back that you can try out in the gym. Check it out:

Heavy / Light Supersets Back Workout

  • A1: Pull ups (medium / overhand grip), 5 x 6, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 5 x 15, 2/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
  • B1: Chest-supported row (pronated grip / elbows pointed out), 3 x 6, 2/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope row, 3 x 15, 2/0/1/1, 3 minutes rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This workout will thrash all of the muscle groups of your upper back including your lats, traps, rhomboids and teres major. There are many different ways that you can design a heavy-light superset workout. The important thing is to experiment for yourself to see what your body responds best to.

Strategy #5: Triple Threat Supersets

If you are really creative you can perform as many as three different supersets for a specific muscle group in a single workout. This superset training method doesn’t have a formal name so I’m calling it “triple threat supersets.”

Triple threat supersets is especially effective for training a complex muscle group like the biceps or triceps. Most people don’t realize this but the biceps are a very complex muscle group.

For optimal results you have to use exercises that target the long head AND the short head of the biceps. You also have to use exercises that directly target the other curling muscles like the brachialis and brachioradialis.

One of the best ways to design a superset workout for the biceps is to use three different supersets to directly target each of these muscles:

  • The long head of the biceps
  • The short head of the biceps
  • The brachialis and brachioradialis

Don’t worry, I will show you exactly how to do this. Here is an awesome triple threat supersets routine written by Charles Poliquin. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin’s Triple Threat Superset Bicep Routine

  • A1: Preacher 2-arm dumbbell curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

This workout uses three awesome supersets to overload all of your curling muscles.

The first superset uses two types of preacher curls to overload the short head of the biceps. The second superset uses two types of reverse curls to overload the brachialis and the brachioradialis. Finally the last superset uses two types of incline curls to overload the long head of your biceps.

If you are looking for a hypertrophy routine to “shock” your biceps into growth then this workout has your name written all over it! Just make sure to push yourself on every set. You don’t have to train all the way to failure but if you are leaving more than 1-2 reps in the tank on any of the sets then you aren’t training, you’re just pretending!

Part 2: Opposite Muscle Group Supersets

Opposite muscle group supersets or “antagonist supersets” are an advanced training method where you alternate between sets for opposing muscle groups.

For example you could perform a set for your chest, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set for your back, rest 1-2 minutes and perform another set for your chest. You would continue alternating back and forth between your two exercises until you have performed all of your sets for both exercises.

Many of the world’s best strength coaches like Josh Bryant and Charles Poliquin use opposite muscle group supersets with their athletes.

There are three major reasons why you would want to use opposing muscle group supersets in your program:

  1. They help you recruit more muscle fibers and produce more force in your target muscles
  2. They improve your muscular endurance so you can perform more high-quality sets per exercise
  3. They let you perform more high-quality sets in the same amount of time

Talk about an awesome training method! If you are training for extra muscle growth then another huge benefit of opposite muscle group supersets is they give you an incredible pump. This was one of the reasons Arnold Schwarzenegger used opposite muscle group supersets in all of his workouts!

Here is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 6-day training split:

  • Monday: Chest / Back
  • Tuesday: Quads / Hamstrings
  • Wednesday: Biceps / Triceps
  • Thursday: Chest / Back
  • Friday: Quads / Hamstrings
  • Saturday: Biceps / Triceps
  • Sunday: Off

As you can see Arnold designed his whole training program so that he could take advantage of opposite muscle group supersets. Here is an example of one of Arnold’s chest and back training days when he used supersets. Check it out:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Chest / Back Superset Routine

  • A1: Pull ups (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  • A2: Bench press (wide grip), 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  • B1: Lat pulldown (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  • B2: 30 degree incline bench press (wide grip), 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  • C1: T-bar row, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • C2: Flat DB fly, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • D1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps
  • D2: High-pulley cable crossovers, 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise D1, exercise D2.

Arnold would perform his entire routine alternating back-and-forth between sets for opposing muscle groups. He would perform a set of pull ups, rest 1 minute, perform a set of bench presses, rest 1 minute and perform another set of pull ups. He used this technique with literally all of the sets of his workout.

Of course opposite muscle group supersets are also an incredible way to train for absolute strength. By alternating back and forth between sets for two opposing muscle groups you can produce more force and stimulate more strength gains than with traditional “straight sets.” You can even train with sets in the 1-3 rep range using opposing muscle group supersets!

Here is a modified Hepburn method workout for your chest and back that you may want to try. Check it out:

Modified Hepburn Method Superset Routine

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • A2: Pull ups (narrow / neutral grip), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press (medium grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Pull ups (medium / neutral grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

As you can see you are alternating back and forth between exercises for two opposing muscle groups during the entire workout.

Normally it would be impossible to perform 8 sets of singles on an exercise and then another 5 sets of 5 reps on a slightly different version of the same exercises. However, when you use opposing muscle group supersets this becomes very easy to do.

I think you will be shocked at how much better your muscular endurance is when you train this way.

There is one last superset technique that I want to show you. If you are really creative then it is possible to combine the two different types of supersets into one single training method. In other words you would perform same muscle group supersets AND opposite muscle group supersets in a single workout.

This will make more sense when we look at a sample training routine. Check it out:

Advanced Arm Supersets Routine

  • A1: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Incline dumbbell curls, 5 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A3: V-bar dips (upright torso), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Overhead cable rope extension, 5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 2 minutes rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4.

This is a slightly modified version of the post-exhaustion arm supersets routine that I showed you earlier in this article. The main difference is you are going to be alternating between a superset for the biceps and a superset for the triceps.

In other words you would perform a superset for the biceps, rest 2 minutes, perform a superset for the triceps, rest 2 minutes and perform another superset for the biceps. You would repeat this process until you have performed 5 total supersets for each exercise. This way you get the best of both worlds: same muscle group supersets and opposing muscle group supersets!

I think you will be shocked at how effective this type of supersets workout can be for improving muscular hypertrophy.

Conclusion

supersets

Supersets are one of the oldest and most effective high-intensity training methods. Bodybuilders, powerlifters and other athletes all over the world use supersets to build size and strength as fast as possible.

There are two main types of supersets: same muscle group supersets and opposing muscle group supersets. Same muscle group supersets are more of a high-intensity bodybuilding training technique. They let you train beyond failure to really fatigue and pump up your muscles.

Opposite muscle group supersets are very different. They work awesome for building size and strength and can be used on almost any training routine. The big downside to opposing muscle group supersets is you may need to use a special training split where you are training opposing muscle groups together each training day.

The bottom line is supersets are an advanced training method that you can use to reach your fitness goals in record time. So what are you waiting for? Go hit the gym and give these advanced superset strategies a shot!

“When your desires are strong enough, you will appear to possess superhuman powers to achieve.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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