Supersets For superiour muscle growth?

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Okay, supersets save time and that’s a worthwhile argument for someone with a busy schedule to do them. But do you also build more muscle with it?

Key points:

1.   Supersets are a time-saving training method that allows you to work out a higher training volume in a certain time frame. This is beneficial if you can or do not want to spend a lot of time on strength training.

2.   If you do have enough time, supersets may provide you with benefits in terms of fitness, fat loss and, in advanced strength athletes, may also benefit muscle growth, the latter via the metabolic pathway.

3.   Nevertheless, paired sets are our preference, because you don’t have to sacrifice the mechanical tension that is so important for muscle growth, while still saving time. In contrast to supersets, you do build in (short) rest breaks in paired sets.

4.   Perhaps the most useful method of supersets or paired sets are agonist-antagonist sets, where you train two opposing muscle groups in succession, for example chest (push) and back (pull). According to research there is no reduction in performance (mechanical stress) in the second set, maybe even an improvement.

5.   Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. You can, for example, do 75% straight sets and 25% supersets and/or paired sets. Then you have the best of both worlds.

STRAIGHT SETS

A set is a series of consecutive repetitions of an exercise, using a certain resistance (the training weight). Doing several repetitions in a row is necessary for muscle growth, because only then can you use sufficient motor units in the muscle.

It is also logical that you do several sets of the same exercises on a weekly basis (not necessarily per training), because with several sets you realize the necessary number of stimulating repetitions.

Since you’re tired at the end of a set, take a rest before starting the next one. Working with ‘regular’ sets, also called straight sets, looks like this, for example:

barbell bench press
2 minutes rest
barbell bench press
2 minutes rest
barbell bench pres
2 minutes rest
barbell row
2 minutes rest
barbell row
2 minutes rest
barbell row

SUPERSETS

With a superset you do two different exercises directly or almost immediately after each other, without rest. For instance:

barbell bench press
barbell row
2 minutes rest
barbell bench press
barbell row
2 minutes rest
barbell bench press
barbell row
2 minutes rest
barbell bench press
barbell row

In the example you do two exercises for two opposing muscle groups (chest and back). Opposing supersets (also called agonist-antagonist supersets) train the flexor and stretcher or the pushing and pulling muscle group. But you can also stay within the same muscle group, for example the bench press followed by chest flys. Finally, you can also train two completely different muscle groups in succession, for example the bench press (chest), followed by calf raises (calves).

ADVANTAGES OF SUPERSETS

Supersets are popular because they offer some specific benefits:

1. TIME EFFICIENT

By far the most important argument for doing supersets is because they save you (a lot of) time. A great argument for people who have another life besides the gym.

2. MORE PUMP

Doing exercises right after each other creates more muscle pump than when you rest all the time. Now pump in itself is not a driver of muscle growth, but it is an indication that there is more metabolic stress. Metabolic stress may in itself be a ‘path’ to muscle growth, but to what extent exactly remains unclear.

3. MORE FITNESS TRAINING

By skipping rest breaks, your training becomes more fitness-oriented. So you not only work on muscle growth, but also on your condition.

4. MORE FAT LOSS

Conditional or metabolic strength training also burns more calories than traditional strength training, which is beneficial when you are cutting.

5. PRE- AND POST-FATIGUE

With supersets you can tire your muscles before and after. This may be beneficial for muscle growth.

For example, pre-fatigue is leg extensions followed by squats. In this way you train your quadriceps with leg extensions, until you can’t go any further, after which you further exhaust the muscle group with the squat. The quadriceps are thus trained much more intensively than if you would do the exercises separately.

It is essential for pre-fatigue that you only create local fatigue (that in the target muscle) and not too much central fatigue. Also keep in mind that it makes no sense to superset two isolation exercises for the same muscle group, for example triceps pushdown followed by triceps extensions. In fact, you do nothing but one very long set for the same muscle group, which cancels out any specific advantage of supersets.

After fatigue is the opposite, for example the bench press followed by the chest fly.

6. POTENTIALLY BETTER PERFORMANCE WITH AGONIST-ANTAGONIST SETS

According to coach Eric Helms, a superset of two opposing muscle groups, e.g. quadriceps (leg extensions) followed by hamstrings (leg curls), can increase training performance in the second set (ie leg curls). Several studies suggest this, although it is unclear exactly what mechanism underlies this.

According to that research, there is no reduction in performance in that second set of the superset, so you take the time advantage anyway, says Helms.

DISADVANTAGE OF SUPERSETS

Despite the potential benefits, the question is how useful supersets are from a purely bodybuilding perspective.

After all, supersets always mean that you can train less hard in the second set (apart from agonist-antagonist sets), namely due to the fatigue that arose in the first set. As a result, you can create less mechanical tension in the second set and mechanical stress is much more important for muscle growth than metabolic stress.

And from a bodybuilding perspective, fitness improvement and fat loss are not goals that you want to achieve with strength training (the old Don’t lift to lose fat): strength training is the instrument to build as much muscle mass as possible. There are other means for improving fitness and fat loss, especially cardio and nutrition.

The foregoing does not mean that you shouldn’t do supersets, because there are plenty of gym visitors who want to work on fitness in addition to muscle growth. With supersets and circuit training you can kill several birds with one stone. But even as a pure bodybuilder you can safely do supersets, especially if you are already advanced and have to walk other paths to muscle growth, such as that of metabolic stress.

ALTERNATIVE: PAIRED SETS

We prefer paired sets ourselves, because in our opinion this training method is better suited to the main goal of the training, which is muscle growth. With paired sets you make a small circuit, of two or more exercises, with just enough rest between those exercises to be able to perform optimally. In contrast to supersets, you do build in rest breaks. Nevertheless, you still save time. For instance:

barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell row
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press

Research shows that agonist-antagonist paired sets (as our example) even have a beneficial effect on performance. So that’s extra gain in addition to the time gain, as we also saw with agonist-antagonist supersets.

CONCLUSION

Supersets are a time-saving training method that allows you to work out a higher training volume in a certain time frame. This is beneficial if you can or do not want to spend a lot of time on strength training.

If you do have enough time, supersets may provide you with benefits in terms of fitness, fat loss and, in advanced strength athletes, may also benefit muscle growth, namely through the metabolic pathway.

Still, paired sets are our preference, because you don’t have to sacrifice the mechanical tension that is so important for muscle growth, while you still save time.

In agonist-antagonist supersets or paired sets, there is no reduction in performance in the second set, perhaps even an improvement.

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. You can, for example, do 75% straight sets and 25% supersets and/or paired sets. Then you have the best of both worlds.

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