The Science Behind Supersets

The Science Behind Supersets 1

What is a superset? A superset is performed when two exercises are performed in a row without stopping. As there is no rest in between you will save time and your work out will be quicker. When you first start doing these, you will find that your endurance may be a problem, but before long you will learn to love them.

Standard reps and sets are when you do one exercise for a set number of reps and sets with a rest in between eg bench press for 8 reps 3 sets when you finish your first 8 reps this is 1 set and you take a rest, you then do your next set of 8 reps and take a rest. With supersets you will work 2 exercises one after the other with no rest, once you have competed the 2 exercises that is one set, you then take a rest for 60-90 seconds and start the next set.

When figuring out what kind of reps and sets you should be doing in your routine you need to think about what your goals are. Supersets are good for people who want to increase muscular hypertrophy so if you are only looking to build strength or power then they may not be the best way of exercising for you this doesn’t mean you cannot use them it will just depend on what 2 exercises you will be working one after the other. Hypertrophy is the increase in size of muscle fibers and to do this you need to maximize both load and volume. Supersets are known to work well in increasing muscular hypertrophy when completing 6-10 reps to fatigue.

Supersets allow you to overload the muscle and work at high intensity without using heavyweights so you will be causing muscle fatigue and damage (you reduce your energy stores such as ATP and Glycogen and also cause microtrauma to individual muscle fibers) your body will stimulate the repair process and it is this repair process that causes muscle growth.

There are a few different variations of how you can do supersets which I have listed below:

Agonist – Antagonist

This would consist of working the agonist and antagonist muscles, so working out opposite muscle groups such as biceps and triceps, chest and back, legs and shoulders. The reason behind this is that you can work out both muscle groups one after the other with no rest because the exercises you are doing do not affect each other so whilst you work one muscle group the other gets a chance to partially recover. As this is not working the same muscle groups you will be saving time in your exercise routine but you will not get as much benefit for increasing muscle size as you would with the other forms of supersets e.g. when exercising the same muscle groups one after another.

Agonist – Agonist

Same muscles used but different exercises to increase muscular fatigue. So you could do bench press and then dumbbell chest fly. There is another way to superset the same muscle groups and these are called pre-exhaust and post-exhaust which are explained below. Be careful when performing 2 exercises of the same muscle groups straight after the other as on your second exercise your muscles will be fatigued so you wont be able to do the same heavy weight you normally would and may not be as balanced or as strong.


In this variation you will work the same muscle group but you will perform an isolation exercise before a compound exercise. The idea is that you could work one muscle to fatigue and then continue working the muscle with the help of other muscle groups, for example you could do a leg extension which will work your quads and then go straight in and do squats which will still work your quads but will also be working your hamstrings and glutes. This type of superset is probably the one most people do and it is especially popular with bodybuilders when working the chest or back. It is important to note that you wont be able to do the heavy weight on your second exercise that you might normally do if doing regular sets as your muscle will already be fatigued and this can affect your balance and form.


Similar to the pre-exhaust , again using the same muscle group, but this time you work the other way around so you would do a compound exercise first followed by an isolated exercise. The added benefit is you can use a heavier weight on your compound movement.

Stable – Unstable

A stable exercise followed immediately by an unstable exercise at a reduced weight. This will challenge your stabilizing muscles. So you would do an exercise where you are stable i.e an exercise using a machine and then go straight to do an exercise when you will be unstable such as using a stability ball or bosu ball.

Strength – Power

Do a strength exercise followed by a power exercise. Power exercises involve explosive movements eg jumps and throws.