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How to Use Supersets to Build Muscle

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When you want to pack on muscle you need to work hard. That means pushing your body to the limit in order to progress and challenge your body into carving out a new physique.

You have to continuously overload your body until it responds with bigger muscle fibers and a stronger nervous system. Although there are thousands of different ways you can do this, many people struggle to optimize their workouts.

If the standard three sets of ten reps is just not doing it for you anymore and you’re looking for a new way of training then you need to give this article a read.


Overview

Supersets used paired exercises in either same muscle or opposite muscle groups to intensify the training effect.


What are Supersets?

When you contract your muscle against a resistance you create a stimulus or overload where some of your muscle fibers break down and tear. 

This then signals your muscle to grow back bigger and stronger in order to stop the tearing from happening next time. The more this happens, the bigger your muscle gets.

In order to create more overload you can increase the weight, do more reps and sets, or even reduce your rest time – but this will only take you so far. This is where supersets comes in – a specific way of ordering exercises to create an even more progressive overload. 

Supersets are an advanced method of training where you categorize exercises into pairs. Once you’ve done this you perform both of them back-to-back without any rest. Usually in a program containing supersets you’ll see them organised into letters and numbers. For example if you see A1 and A2 next to two exercises, it means you complete these as a paired set without rest. If you were to see A1 and B1 next to them, you’d incorporate rest in-between.

According to the science, you don’t just pair any two exercises together though, you have to think wisely about what you want to get from your training. This is where the different approaches come in:

#1. Agonist Supersets

A muscle that is involved in an exercise is often referred to as an agonist or prime mover.

This approach uses paired exercises that must involve the same muscle group. It doesn’t really matter what the exercises are as such, as long as they involved the same muscle.

#2. Antagonist Supersets

An antagonist muscle is one that relaxes to allow an agonist muscle to contract – for example as the bicep curls a bar, the triceps has to relax and lengthen to allow the upper arm to bend at the elbow. If it didn’t relax you wouldn’t be able to bend the elbow.

This approach is where each of two exercises involve opposite muscle of the body. Usually you’d think about this in terms of pushing and pulling movements using the same joint, plane of movement and/or limb.

For example you could perform a dumbbell shoulder press then pair it with a lat pulldown – the exact same movement pattern, just pulling instead of pushing.

#3. Non-competing Supersets

This approach is the most relaxed of the lot in terms of pairings. All you need to do is choose two exercises that don’t involve any of the same muscle groups – a common way of doing it is to pair up upper body exercises with lower body.


bodybuilder

Benefits of Supersets

Supersets are a very time-efficient way of training which means your productivity will go through the roof. You’ll save time as you don’t need to rest as much in-between exercises.

Agonist sets help to build muscle as you’re stimulating more growth factors and metabolites than standard training. A lot of these factors are stimulated by lactic acid production, so if you use agonist pairs, you get a bigger amount of lactic acid for a longer period of time.

Doing more work in a shorter time frame will boost your metabolism through a process of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means that you’ll burn calories during exercise and also after, as your body works hard to repair muscle tears. The best supersets for this are antagonist and non-competing.


Considerations

As with any advanced training method, you need to make sure you are fit and healthy and have a good base of fitness before you fit them into your program.

In saying that though, supersets are probably one of the best advanced system to implement from beginner status from standard set training. You might find that you lack a bit of endurance to begin with, but they aren’t as physically demanding as giant sets for example.

You can utilize this training method for both muscle building and fat loss. Agonist sets fit well into a normal muscle building split training routine where you train a single muscle per day. You can implement antagonist or non-competing sets a whole-body training session too, which is better for fat loss.

We’d recommend trying to keep the reps to around 8-12 if your aim if to improve muscle mass, and 15-20 if you are wanting to improve your muscle endurance. Doing just one set of a superset wouldn’t be particularly advanced so you can repeat it as many times as you see fit – 3-4 sets is usually enough.

The only thing stopping you adding supersets to your workouts is knowledge of exercises and what muscles they involve. So to start you off we’ve added a few examples to get you going. You can add or exchange exercises if you want, just make sure that they include the target muscle.


agonist-exercises

Example Workouts

In order to get you started here, are some examples for different muscle groups. You can swap the order of exercises around to suit your preference or you can include different ones if necessary. Remember, 2-3 sets is the minimum – if you want to make this system harder just add more exercises.

Agonist Supersets

OrderExerciseReps  
A1Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl8-12
A2Barbell Bicep Curl8-12
B1Lunges8-12
B2Leg Extension8-12
C1Lat Pulldown8-12
C2Straight Arm Pulldown8-12

Antagonist Supersets

OrderExerciseReps  
A1Dumbbell Bench Press8-12
A2Seated Row8-12
B1Deadlift8-12
B2Front Squats8-12
C1Lat Pulldown8-12
C2Military Press8-12

Non-competing Supersets

OrderExerciseReps  
A1Goblet Squat8-12
A2Incline Dumbbell Press8-12
B1Romanian Deadlift8-12
B2Upright Row8-12
C1Dumbbell Military Press8-12
C2Lying Hamstring Curl8-12

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