Strength Training

The Magic of Supersets in Your Programming

Everyone is looking for the best way to help clients see results quickly. Furthermore, your clients will sometimes run into problems when it comes to plateaus and the like.

There’s a great solution to this problem, and it’s with superset workouts. This will allow your clients to burn more calories, build strength and endurance through targeting specific muscle groups, as well as maximize muscle growth.

But what are the components of this method? Let’s dive in for a closer look.

What is a Superset?

A superset is when you pair exercises back to back with little to no rest time. Usually, you will alternate between muscle groups—for instance, you will alternate biceps and triceps, working exercises into your superset.

There are many ways you can achieve higher heart rates and greater energy expenditure, which ultimately will help with fat loss and increase metabolic stress.

The good news is that supersets will allow you shorter workout times whether or not you have a gym to go to. Supersets maximize the intensity of your strength training workout routine to get more results in a shorter period. You can see where this would be advantageous to your clients’ programming.

Supersets are ultimately a great way to control body fat and can be pieced together for amazing full-body workouts.

What Types of Supersets Are There?

Supersets can cover a lot of ground. It’s important to know what your clients’ goals are before you piece together superset training. They can target upper body and lower body muscle groups. 

Consider your client’s level of proficiency with various exercises, especially when it comes to compound exercises. It probably isn’t best to do with beginners until they’ve really learned how their bodies operate in terms of weightlifting and muscular endurance. With more intensity often comes more risk.

Ultimately, there are two main categories of superset lifts: antagonist and agonist.

Antagonist Supersets

Antagonistic supersets work muscles in different muscle groups, sometimes directly opposing muscle groups.

One example is alternating dumbbell bench presses with dumbbell rows. An antagonist superset involving these muscle groups could be as follows:

Set 1: Dumbbell Bench Press x 10 reps / Dumbbell Rows x 10 reps

Set 2: Dumbbell Bench Press x 8 reps / Dumbbell Rows x 8 reps

Set 3: Dumbbell Bench Press x 6 reps / Dumbbell Rows x 6 reps

Set 4: Dumbbell Bench Press x 4 reps / Dumbbell Rows x 4 reps

Ideally in this scenario, you minimize your rest between sets, and there should be no rest in between the bench press and rows. This is ultimately possible because you are alternating between the two different muscle groups, and thus this is a safer way to train, especially for clients who are new to superset workouts.

Agonist Supersets (aka Compound Supersets)

Where agonist supersets are concerned, this is where, instead of using separate muscle groups, you will have two exercises that share a muscle group.

For instance, leg extensions and leg curls work the quads and hamstrings. In leg extensions, the hamstring is a supporting muscle, whereas the quads are the primary muscle group being worked. Then, with leg curls, the primary muscle is the hamstring.

In this, your hamstrings will get targeted and used quite a bit. An example series of this in a superset would look like:

Set 1: Leg extensions x 10 reps / Leg curls x 10 reps

Set 2: Leg extensions x 8 reps / Leg curls x 8 reps

Set 3: Leg extensions x 6 reps / Leg curls x 6 reps

Set 4: Leg extensions x 4 reps / Leg curls x 4 reps

Because there is so much load on individual muscle groups here, this is not a process for beginners. In fact, wait until you’re confident enough in your client’s ability to perform like this without doing damage to their body.

How Should I Program for My Clients?

It depends on how much time your clients have spent in developing their muscles. Let’s go through how to program for your clients in each stage of development.

Beginner Clients

This doesn’t always mean that they are beginners to exercise or weight training. If they score poorly in your initial fitness assessment, definitely start small. And even if they score well, you want to watch how they lift, their form, and every other essential component to see if they’re ready to take their strength training to the next level.

When it comes to beginners, you don’t want to start with supersets. Instead, what you should focus on are the individual muscle groups and some full-body exercises. They need to develop a base of muscle mass and confidence in proper technique before you start to compress these movements into supersets.

Make sure to spend as much time as they need in this phase before moving on. Your first duty as a personal trainer is the safety of your clients. Make sure their progression makes sense.

Intermediate Clients

For those who have been training with you for at least a couple of months should be ready for superset training. In this regard, start slow and start small.

Begin with the antagonist supersets. Make sure there is a separation between the muscle groups they train.

For instance, you might want to alternate between dumbbell squats and overhead presses. These are two completely different muscle groups, but by the time your client has finished their overhead presses, their legs should be good to go for another set of dumbbell squats.

This is key for those new to supersets, as you aren’t adding too much stress and training volume for them to handle. This will also get them used to the intensity they will need to exhibit to make it work later as they move to more agonist supersets.

Advanced Clients

These are your clients who have been lifting for a while—long enough to know their bodies and for you to be confident in their abilities to not overtrain their muscle groups.

Some of this comes down to pure feeling, something that can only be developed through time and experience lifting. You must use your best professional judgment on this, and remember to keep safety first.

For these, it might be something like alternating squats with lunges. You can see how, without proper conditioning, focusing so much on the quadriceps can cause great overload on the body. The benefit here, for those who can handle it safely, is advanced hypertrophy.

This can do wonders for people trying to cut even more fat, or who are trying to increase their workout volume in a shorter time frame. These are very intense, so make sure you are giving adequate rest days in between workouts, as well as making sure that their workout recovery plan is set and functioning properly.

Concerns to Watch For

Rest and recovery time between workouts is paramount when it comes to training with supersets. On the one hand, you don’t want to overload to injury, and on the other, you want to make sure they get their money’s worth out of a workout—which can only be done with adequate recovery time.

Working out too soon after a prior one will basically deny your clients’ bodies the full extent of benefits they get from training.

Make sure that your clients are warming up and cooling down properly. When doing supersets of anything, you want the body to be ready to move, and jumping into these workouts cold is just asking for an injury.

Furthermore, stretching is important both before and after supersets. This will ensure the muscles maintain elasticity throughout recovery and produce results for your clients far beyond the workouts themselves.

If you’re looking for a great way to maximize nutrition alongside your superset training program, check out our article on how to eat to gain muscle.

Looking to step up your training for advanced clients? Explore ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning Specialization. Learn more about how to increase endurance, flexibility, strength, power, and speed and design sport-specific programs for your ultra-athletic clients.

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