The number of esoteric-sounding techniques that can be created for bodybuilding and fitness workouts seems limited only by the imaginations of those who create them. What often gets lost in the minutia is the simple but often neglected principle of overload progression – the main requirement for an ever-improving physique. Successful overload progression should be the yardstick by which we measure the effectiveness of any workout “intensifying technique” – regardless of its ability to provide us a “good workout” (a term with no objective definition). It took me years to realize the folly of utilizing fancy techniques in the name of a ‘good workout’ but which came at the expense of long-term progression in muscle overload and recovery. This is the lesson in restraint that often contrasts the successful natural bodybuilder from the gym-rat who relies on steroids for every ounce of muscle he gains.
What exactly is this technique? ‘Bodybuilding supersets’ are the combination of two bodybuilding sets/exercises performed back-to-back without any rest time between the sets. We can break bodybuilding supersets into four different categories:
1. Two exercises/same-muscle supersets
2. Pre-exhaustion Supersets
3. Drop-set Supersets
4. Opposing Muscle Supersets
Two Exercises/Same-Muscle Supersets
These types of bodybuilding supersets entail working the same muscle with two different exercises. If you perform a set of ‘dumbbell kickbacks’ for your triceps and then immediately follow them up with a set of ‘triceps press-downs’ without resting between the two sets, you’ll have performed this type of bodybuilding superset.
This is the same as the previously mentioned type of bodybuilding superset with one very intensifying twist: A set of an isolation exercise for a specific muscle is followed by a set of a compound movement exercise which further works and breaks down that muscle. For example, if you perform a set of ‘dumbbell flyes’ (isolation exercise) and immediately follow it up with a set of bench presses (compound movement), you’ll have done a ‘pre-exhaustion superset’ for your pectoral muscles.
Pre-exhaustion is often used to improve progress in “stubborn” body parts that are underdeveloped and unresponsive to conventional sets. For more of my take on pre-exhaustion, you can click here.
Drop-sets are the performance of consecutive sets of the same exercise by simply reducing the weight of that exercise once the muscle is fatigued or a certain number of reps have been completed. For example, if you perform ‘dumbbell side lateral raises’ with 40-pound dumbbells for eight repetitions and follow it immediately by performing another set with 30-pound dumbbells, you’ll have performed a drop-set. These bodybuilding supersets can be intensified by dropping the weight several times to perform one huge superset.
Opposing Muscle Supersets
Doing a set of biceps curls and immediately following it with a set of triceps extensions. Performing sets of bench presses for the chest while combining intermittent sets of barbell rowes for the back. Combining sets of leg extensions for the quadriceps with sets of leg curls for the hamstrings. These are examples of ‘bodybuilding supersets’ of the opposing muscle type.
These types of ‘bodybuilding supersets’ are terrific for saving time in the gym. I’ve used opposing muscle supersets extensively for creating workout efficiency and motivational muscle pumps.
‘Bodybuilding Supersets’: My experience
If you are a natural bodybuilder, you should only use these bodybuilding supersets techniques sparingly with the exception of #4; ‘Opposing Muscle Supersets.’ Utilizing these intensifying methods can cause greater tissue breakdown and adaptation requirements, but will often necessitate greater recuperation times between workouts in order that full recovery and compensatory strength/tissue take hold. This seems especially the case for ‘pre-exhaustion supersets.’
But I highly recommend Opposing Muscle Supersets for the upper arms. Working biceps and triceps together by trading off between sets of each of those opposing muscles, you can save a lot of time in the gym and leave with that terrific feeling of overly-expanded arms.