What is a Superset?

In Fitness Blog by Affinity FitnessLeave a Comment

Supersets are a mainstay of both the commercial gym and bodybuilding world. Just jump on to Instagram or YouTube and you can see thousands of people doing them in their workouts. But what are they and are they effective?

In this article, we’ll explore what supersets are, the pros and cons, when to use them and how to do them. The aim is to give you a comprehensive answer so you know if or when you should use them in your own workouts.

Supersets Explained

A superset is when you do two exercises back to back, performing one set of an exercise and immediately following it with a set of another exercise, only resting once you’ve done both sets. Supersets can be done with separate muscle groups (upper body and lower body), opposing muscle groups (biceps and triceps) or the same muscle group (bicep exercise and bicep exercise)

Example 1: Separate Muscle Groups

  • 1A. Shoulder Press: 8 – 10 reps

  • 1B. Bulgarian Split Squat Lunges: 8 – 10 reps

  • Rest 2 – 3 mins

  • Repeat 3 – 4 times

Example 2: Opposing Muscle Groups

  • 2A. Barbell Bicep Curls: 10 – 15 reps

  • 2B. E-Z Bar Skull Crushers: 10 – 15 reps

  • Rest 1 – 2 mins

  • Repeat 2 – 4 times

Example 3: Same Muscle Group

  • 3A. Barbell Bicep Curls: 10 – 15 reps

  • 3B. Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 10 – 15 reps

  • Rest 1 – 2 mins

  • Repeat 2 – 4 times 

The Benefits and Disadvantages of Using Supersets


  • Can be used to effectively to increase muscular endurance

  • Superset workouts increase calories burnt during and after training (1)*

  • Great for saving time when you’re busy but still want to get a workout in

*when compared to traditional cardio like HIIT this effect is insignificant for fat loss (2, 3)


  • Can decrease your work capacity due to accumulative fatigue (4)

  • Very little evidence showing a benefit for those who want to build muscle (5)


Supersets Are Great When You’re Short on Time

Supersets can be fantastic for saving time when you’re busy but still want to get a workout in. By partnering up the exercises in your workout you can cut your total workout time in half without needing to drop any exercises. Additionally, supersets can be an effective way of training your smaller muscle groups using opposing muscle groups and isolation exercises. This is because you can do the same work in less time without increasing fatigue.


Supersets Are Best Used with Isolation Exercises

If your goal is to build or maintain muscle, then, for the most part, you will want to avoid supersets. This is because even when you’re not working the same muscle, heavy weightlifting stresses your central nervous system and creates fatigue.

This means when you’re doing the big compound exercises you want to rest 3 minutes between sets as this allows you to fully recover between sets. If you were to begin super-setting your compound exercises, you’d soon find that your performance would decrease as you become fatigued. Research supports this, showing that lifting heavy weights in straight sets is superior for building muscle when compared to supersets for the following reasons:

  • Supersets reduce your ability to lift effectively with 75 – 85% of your 1 rep max (6)

  • Supersets increase fatigue (7)

  • Supersets negative impact your recovery (8)


Takeaway point

Supersets can be a useful tool to help you save time in the gym. However, if your primary goal is to build or maintain muscle then you want to avoid using them with your compound exercises. Instead, do your compound exercises using straight sets and only superset your isolation exercises with opposing or separate muscle groups i.e. biceps and triceps or abs and calves. If you do this, you’ll still be able to build muscle and strength but save time with no negative effect on your overall performance.

Article by Theo Brenner-Roach, Learn Lift Grow.

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