What Is A Superset?
The superset is a busy gym-goer’s best friend. A superset allows you to blast a muscle in a very short space of time, get your cardio fitness up, without compromising on strength gains. At the moment, I have limited the superset to that of two exercises, paired together. Of course, some people increase this to three or more exercises paired together, in what would be a compound set, but for now, we will keep it to 2.
A superset requires you to do the first exercise, of a rep range of your choice, and immediately switch to the next exercise. It should feel like you are not taking any rest, other than the time it takes to switch to your next exercise. This lack of rest is probably the most fundamental aspect to the superset because if you are taking a rest in between it’s not a superset, it is just another set!
When you finish the superset you should be sore, tired, and panting. Wait for yourself to catch back your breath, and then start again. It is important that you do catch your breath. Of course, if you are looking for cardiovascular gains, you would want to keep your heart rate up, but in this exercise of the superset we are looking for strength and growth, and maybe definition. For this, you want a gentle heart rate to start, so that you are not compromising on strength and form.
If you do compromise, you will lift lighter, and with subpar form, which means your results will not be as good as they can be. So, let’s get started. There is an art to constructing a superset, and I have broken it down into the three easy “C’s”. While some supersets might seem quite arbitrary, you need to understand what you are doing, because it needs to match the rest of your workout.
Each “C” has different goals associated with them, which means different approaches, and in some cases, entirely different workouts. The three C’s stand for “the Complimentary, the Contradictory, and the Confused”. If you understand how to incorporate this into your workout adequately, you will definitely notice the gains.
The complimentary superset involves a superset which compliments the last exercise on the same muscle. Essentially you are hitting the same muscle group twice but at a different angle. In some cases, this could mean genuinely targeting the same muscle, but a different head of the muscle. An example of this would be hitting the outside of the triceps, or the lateral head, on the first exercise, and then hitting the inside of the triceps, or the long and medial heads, on the second exercise.
In other cases, it might actually be a completely separate muscle, but part of the same group. An example of this might be hitting the deltoids in the first exercise, and the traps in the second, or the lats in the first exercise, and the rhomboids in the second. The point is that your movement is the same, but slightly different.
In other words, both movements are a push, or both movements are a pull, but at slightly different angles. The point of the complimentary superset is that you will get a lot of blood into that muscle group, which means maximum cell volume, and a very satisfying pump. This is a great way to bring out lagging muscles or getting definition in those muscles.
An example of a complimentary superset would be doing a triceps extension, with a rope, to the outside of our body, so your hands go to the outside of your hips, followed by a triceps extension to the inside of your body, so your hands go in between your legs at the bottom of the movement. If your triceps are not burning like hell after this, you have done something wrong.
The contradictory superset involves two movements which contract each other. For example, a push movement followed by a pull movement. The point of a contradictory movement is to get your strength up in specific exercises where both muscles are incorporated. For example, in a squat, while your quads are the primary muscle being worked, as you dip to the lower portion of the movement, your hamstrings are incorporated.
A contradictory superset would then mean that you would do a set with your quads, followed by a set on your hamstrings. You will find that doing such will increase the strength of your squat. It stands to reason that in a contradictory superset the muscles being worked have to have some relation to one another.
A contradictory superset would not apply in the case of a calf raise, and a shoulder lateral raise, for example. A contradictory superset is generally limited to muscles connected to one another. For example, the bicep and the triceps, the quads and the hamstrings, the chest and the back. Not only will your strength improve in specific movements when you incorporate the contradictory superset, but you will find the whole body part itself to grow. If you have ‘supersetted’ your arms or your legs, they are going to inflate like a hot air balloon.
The Confused superset is a bit more complicated, and it can very easily become counterproductive. The confused superset is aimed at confusing and exhausting the body, you would pair two exercises, and two muscle groups, completely independent of each other, in a way that taxes your body, stimulate your central nervous system, and fatigues you quickly.
This is, of course, important if your goals are fitness orientated, and you are looking to create a body with higher levels of stamina and lower levels of fatigue. It also, however, will improve coordination in your body. Not necessarily coordination in terms of catching a ball, but coordination in terms of being able to use your legs and your arms much quicker, an important skill in sports. For example, if you are an MMA fighter, you need to be able to punch and kick in multiple combos. When you keep focusing on single muscle groups, it gets quite difficult to lift your legs just after you have thrown some punches. So, a confused superset would look like a box jump paired with a shoulder press, for example.
Understanding how to superset properly can make your workouts much more accurate and streamlined toward what you are seeking to achieve. Use the three C’s here, and the results will show. Just remember to make sure it works for your whole workout. If you are only doing biceps, and you throw in a random contradictory superset, the benefits will not be as great as they would be had your whole workout be dedicated to biceps and triceps.