Supersets: Use this exercise strategy to get more done in less time

August 28, 2019

By alternating between two strength training moves that work opposing muscle groups, supersets allow exercisers to give their muscles the rest they need -- without all that standing around. (Getty Images)

In the course of a traditional resistance training workout, you can spend much of your time standing around, resting and giving your muscles a chance to stop burning before going into your next set.

This is especially true when training for muscle growth or strength, when a given muscle can require anywhere from 90 seconds to five minutes of rest before working again.

“There are only so many hours in a day,” says Jackie Vick, an assistant fitness manager and certified personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Riverdale, Maryland. A lack of time is one major reason why people are not able to be consistent with their workout routines, she says.

That’s where paired supersets come in handy. By alternating between two strength training moves that work opposing muscle groups, supersets allow exercisers to give their muscles the rest they need — without all that standing around. As a result, the muscles are able to perform more fitness-boosting work in the same — or even less — time than they would otherwise.

For example, with a traditional strength training model, an exerciser might perform three sets of 10 reps of the bench press, then three sets of 10 reps of the row and rest two minutes between every set and exercise. However, with supersets, an exerciser would perform eight reps of the bench press, eight reps of the row and rest for a couple of minutes before repeating the superset for a total of three rounds.

[See: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when exercisers paired their bench presses and rows, they were able to finish their workouts in half the time and move more total weight. As a result, they enhanced their training stimulus and benefited more from the workout.

The extra strength benefit may be due, at least in part, to the principle of reciprocal inhibition, explains Erica Suter, a Baltimore-based certified strength and conditioning specialist. Reciprocal inhibition describes the process by which, when one muscle contracts, the opposing muscle relaxes to accommodate its movement.

Take the bench press and row example. During each set of the bench press, while the chest muscles contract to move the weight, the back muscles relax for greater mobility. During each set of rows, while the back muscles contract, the chest muscles relax. They may also relax back down to their resting length and recover better than they would by simply resting, says Ozgur Alan, an exercise physiologist and educational content developer with the National Council on Strength and Fitness.

What’s more, by keeping the heart rate elevated throughout the course of a workout, supersets may help exercisers improve their cardiovascular health and aerobic endurance, Vick says.

How to Add a Superset to Your Workout

To get started with superset training, here is a total-body workout idea endorsed by Vick. To complete it, perform each of the exercises with the same number of reps back to back with minimal to no rest. Then, rest for about 60 seconds before repeating the pair for a total of three rounds each. Rest 60 seconds, then proceed to the next superset in the workout.

Here are superset exercises to add to your workout:

— Dumbbell Goblet Squats followed by Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts.

— Dumbbell Chest Presses followed by Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows.

— Alternating Dumbbell Biceps Curls followed by Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extensions.

— Dead Bugs followed by Bird Dogs.

[See: The 10 Best Exercises You Can Do for the Rest of Your Life.]

Dumbbell Goblet Squats

Stand tall with your slightly greater than shoulder-width apart, and hold a dumbbell by one end vertically in front of your chest. Brace your core. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as low as you can while maintaining proper form and without pain. Pause, then slowly push through your heels to return to start. That’s one rep.

Follow-Up With: Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs at arm’s length. Your palms should face your thighs. Pull your shoulder blades back together and brace your core. From here, slowly push your hips back behind you and allow a slight bend in your knees to lower the weights down your thighs. Pause when the weights lower just past your knees, or when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Pause, then drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to thrust your hips forward to return to start. That’s one rep.

Dumbbell Chest Presses

Lie on your back on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights straight up over your shoulders, so the bells just about touch each other, with your palms angled diagonally toward the midline of your body. Brace your core. From here, lower the weights toward your shoulders as far as is comfortable, letting your elbows flare out diagonally from your body as you do so. Pause, then press the dumbbells up and together to return to start. That’s one rep.

Follow-Up With: Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides, with your palms facing your sides. Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Brace your core. From here, squeeze your back and then pull through your arms to raise the weights to your waist. Pause, then slowly lower the weights to return to start. That’s one rep.

Alternating Dumbbell Biceps Curls

Stand tall with dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length, palms facing away from your body. Brace your core. From here, curl one weight to the front of your shoulders. Pause, squeezing your biceps at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

Follow-Up With: Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extensions

Stand tall and hold a dumbbell with both hands overhead and elbows straight, but not locked out. Keeping your torso upright, bend your elbows to lower the weight behind your head as far as comfortable. Pause, then squeeze the triceps to straighten your arms back to start. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your ears throughout. That’s one rep.

Dead Bugs

Lie face-up on the floor with your arms and legs extended toward the ceiling, and your knees straight or bent. Press your lower back into the floor and brace your core. From here, lower one arm toward the floor above your head and your opposite leg toward the floor. Pause when both are as close to parallel with the floor as possible without your lower back leaving the floor. Squeeze your core to draw your arm and leg back to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

[See: How to Get Your Fitness Groove Back.]

Follow-Up With: Bird Dogs

Get down in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Brace your core. From here, raise one arm and the opposite leg until they’re parallel to the floor, keeping your torso stationary as you do so. Pause, then slowly lower your arm and leg to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

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Supersets: Use This Exercise Strategy to Get More Done in Less Time originally appeared on usnews.com

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