Do Supersets Make Your Workout More Effective?
If you haven’t done a superset even once by now...do you even lift, bro?
Supersets when weightlifting not only save a lot of time, but give people that coveted burn to make them feel as if they’re REALLY getting swole right before their very eyes. Some avid lifters will even swear they are practically necessary if you want to see gains.
What do I say? Well, let’s back up a bit first.
What is a Superset?
A superset are two sets of exercises you do back to back without a rest in between, usually of the same muscle groups. So on your arm day, instead of doing your bicep curls with a rest and then your dips, you would do your curls and go immediately into your dips without resting. You could also target the same muscle group such as doing squats right after you do a set of lunges and that would be a superset as well.
The reason this method is so popular is, as you can imagine, the burn is super intense, you get a crazy pump and are usually pretty wiped afterward since you don’t let yourself rest. It also saves you a fair bit of time since the resting period can add up, but supersets allow you to get two exercises done in half the time.
It also makes you feel like your veins are coursing with the blood of the Gods when you finish which is just a *chef’s kiss* priceless sensation.
But is all that burn and all that sweat actually worth it? Or is it just a fancy time-saver?
Are Supersets Worth It?
First off, let me just ruin your day and let you know right off of the jump that the conception that more burn + shorter rests = more muscle has been proven false.
What is really more important is how heavy you are lifting, not how many reps you do or how long you rest. To put it simply, doing normal sets with heavier weights is more effective than doing the same exercises, only supersetted, with lighter weights.
This is because your muscles respond by adaptation much more favorably to heavier loads.
This makes common sense, right? The reason your muscles get bigger in the first place is to make yourself stronger for the next lifting session and the way you train your muscles to do that is by lifting progressively heavier weights. You don’t tend to see the same adaptation from a hypertrophy standpoint if you’re lifting weights your muscles can already easily handle, only without resting like the badass you are.
So, the rule of thumb according to science is that most repetitions should be in the 6-12 range using 70-80% of 1 repetition maximum or your 1 rep max. In English, say the most you can hip thrust in one rep without being able to another is 100 pounds. That’s your 1 rep max. So, for maximum glute gainz, you would want to do 6-12 reps of 70-80 pounds.
So, for maximum glute gainz, you would want to do 6-12 reps of 70-80 pounds.
Here’s the thing though. Doing 12 reps of 80 pounds of hip thrusts, when 100 pounds if your 1 rep max, is heavy lifting (pun totally intended). Meaning, you’re going to really struggle if you try to do that level of hip thrust and then go into a heavy kickback without a rest.
With that in mind, it may be more beneficial for you to go ahead and take a breather between sets.
In fact, you may even want to rest longer than you normally would so that you aren’t too fatigued when you go into your next set to lift enough weight to stimulate muscle growth for 6-12 reps.
And if you’ve ever heard that supersets help you produce more testosterone, so that must mean more hypertrophy then, again sorry to let you down, science says this increase doesn’t translate to significant gains.
Finally, some think that supersets are also superior for weight loss.
I mean, since supersets are harder and get the blood a-pumpin’ a bit more, then they must burn more calories right?
Hmmmm, maybe. But probably not. The thing is, a faster heart rate isn’t the sole determinant of a nice calorie burn. And, to be fair, your pulse races just as reliably when you’re lifting heavy and, you may even burn more calories from simply upping the weight.
So...Supersets Are Pointless Then
Nooo not at all. As mentioned, they do allow you to save a lot of time and they can be equally as effective at burning calories than normal sets. And, if you just enjoy doing supersets, there is a way to lift heavy AND get supersets in at the same time.
We do this by supersetting exercises that use opposing muscle groups. Examples of these are below:
Chest and back
Biceps and triceps
Quads and hamstrings
Because of how our anatomy works, it’s virtually impossible for two opposing muscle groups to contract at the same time. Therefore, when you superset exercises that use opposing muscle groups (i.e. RDLs supersetted with step ups), you lower your chances of causing too much fatigue to lift heavy.
That’s because one muscle group is allowed to “rest” while the other is working, even if you aren’t taking an official rest break.
What a life hack right?
The bottom line? Supersets are a staple in any bodybuilder’s training program with some of them swearing you are missing out majorly on your gains if you don’t do them. This simply isn’t true as science says that they actually aren’t superior for building muscle, strength or fat loss.
However, there’s no harm in putting them or keeping them in your routine, especially if you’re someone like me who could really use the extra time on video games. And, it’s most beneficial (and less miserable) to superset exercises that use opposing muscle groups to lower the effects on performance with fatigue.