A few days ago I posted an article discussing drop sets and whether or not they’re an effective high intensity workout technique.

After that post was uploaded, several questions landed in my inbox asking me to follow it up with a discussion on supersets as well.

Well, you asked, and I’ll answer…

What Are Supersets?

A superset is a pretty simple technique where 2 individual sets are performed back to back without stopping.

This is usually applied on opposing muscle groups (such as chest and back or biceps and triceps), though it can be used on the same muscle group as well.

For example, a set of bench presses immediately followed by a set of barbell rows, or a set of tricep dips followed immediately by a set of tricep extensions.

Is The Superset Workout Technique Effective?

For the majority of people reading this article, the answer is going to be no, though there are some situations where it can be optionally used.

Here are the 2 situations where a superset workout is most definitely NOT going to be ideal…

#1 – Your Goal Is To Maximize Muscle Growth

If you’re aiming to pack on lean muscle and increase your strength as effectively as possible, there is literally no reason to ever perform supersets as part of your training plan.

The goal of a muscle building workout is to place the muscles under maximum tension within a hypertrophy-based rep range (usually somewhere between 5-12) and focus on getting stronger over time.

Supersets are directly counterproductive to this goal because they reduce the amount of total muscular overload you can achieve by increasing fatigue and reducing performance on the second of the two sets.

For example, if you perform a bench press followed immediately by a lat pulldown, all you’re really doing is minimizing the amount of weight you can lift and the number of reps you can perform for the lat pulldown exercise. As a result, your lat growth will suffer.

A superset workout will help to increase muscular endurance and overall cardiovascular strength, but this is NOT the goal of a hypertrophy-based workout. In fact, muscular endurance adaptations are directly counterproductive to this goal.

You are much, much better off to insert a proper resting period in between every single muscle building set so that you can perform every lift with maximum focus, intensity and optimal performance.

#2 – Your Goal Is To Burn Fat While Maintaining As Much Muscle As Possible

As I outlined in my previous article about structuring a proper cutting phase workout, your weight training plan should remain exactly the same whether your goal is to gain muscle or to lose body fat.

The goal during a fat loss phase is to burn fat while maintaining as much lean tissue as possible, and this is accomplished by providing maximum stimulation to your muscles during your resistance training workouts.

A superset workout may increase overall caloric expenditure, but will do so at the expense of your lean muscle tissue since your overall training performance will suffer.

There is no real need to worry about burning more calories through weight training anyway, as your diet and cardio will easily take care of this.

So, When Is A Superset Workout Useful?

I’ll give you 3 situations where supersets have some application…

#1 – Muscular endurance and cardiovascular strength are your primary goals. In this case, higher rep, circuit-training style workouts that utilize supersets are obviously going to be perfectly applicable as they’ll produce the exact adaptations that you’re aiming for.

#2 – You aren’t aiming to maximize your levels of lean muscle. If you’re someone who is just following an “overall fitness” program and wants to burn some calories, build a bit of muscle and get into better shape (or you just want more time-efficient workouts), supersets are fine to utilize.

#3 – You’re severely strapped for time. If you get to the gym and discover that they actually close in 20 minutes… you have nowhere else to go… you can’t make the workout up the next day… your joints ache so you can’t perform an alternate, more effective high intensity technique like rest-pause or drop sets… THEN a superset workout is one option to get in a complete workout in less time 🙂

The Bottom Line On Supersets

Don’t use supersets if:

a) Your goal is to maximize muscle growth.
b) Your goal is burn fat while maintaining your muscle tissue.

You may optionally use supersets if:

a) Your primary goal is to increase muscular endurance and/or cardio strength.

b) You are not concerned with maximizing your levels of lean muscle.

c) It’s your last resort. You have no time, and no other options to get in an effective workout.

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