There is little doubt that for most of us mere mortals (which does not include men like Ronnie Coleman, Morgan Aste, or “Big Ramy”), building new muscle year after year becomes an increasingly difficult and arduous endeavor.
The human body does not consider the creation of a massive, Herculean physique to be a high priority in its hierarchy of needs, and thus will fight our efforts every step of the way. I have a little quote that I tell all my clients when it comes to making serious progress in the gym that I would like to now relay to all FLEX readers: “If you really want to get huge you cannot politely tap your muscles and ask that they grow—you must instead knock them over and demand it!”
In my many years as a coach/trainer and competitive bodybuilder, one of the best techniques I have found to force the muscles to respond, adapt, and grow is, without a doubt, supersets. A superset is generally when two exercises for the same body part are performed back-to-back with as little rest in between as possible.
Your rest periods occur only after the completion of both exercises, with each having been taken to momentary (positive) muscular failure. While there are many ways to incorporate supersets into a workout, in my own training system there are two basic types that I like to focus on most often: pre- exhaustion and post-activation.
A pre-exhaustion superset is one in which the trainee performs an isolation exercise followed immediately by a compound movement. Some combinations include leg extensions + squats, dumbbell flyes + bench presses, and lateral raises + upright rows. The main advantage of pre-exhaustion supersets is that you can more precisely isolate the target muscle with the first movement—pushing it to its momentary limits—and then coax it beyond those limits with a multi-joint exercise that brings in other muscle groups to assist, forcing the target muscle to continue contracting.
A post-activation superset involves a high-load + heavy (about three to five reps per set) compound movement followed immediately by a single-joint isolation exercise. A few examples might be weighted dips + cable crossovers, stiff-leg deadlifts + lying leg curls, and barbell bentover rows + stiff-arm pulldowns. The interesting (and cool) element of this type of superset is that research studies show that low-rep, compound exercises manifest enhanced central nervous system (CNS) activation, creating a physiological environment where the second (isolation) movement (in a post-activation superset) will actually activate more muscle fibers and exhaust a greater number of motor unit pools than it normally would. Talk about entering into a state of anabolic nirvana!
So are you now champing at the bit to hit the gym and experience some hypertrophy-igniting supersets? I thought so! Here are some of my personal favorites for each major muscle group.
If you train in a crowded gym, it’s best to create supersets that allow you to stay in the same area, to make sure you can go from one exercise to the next without interruption. A few examples would be lying dumbbell pullovers + close-grip seated cable rows, incline dumbbell yes + at-bench dumbbell presses, and seated dumbbell lateral raises + seated dumbbell presses.
When performing the compound exercise in a superset, utilize a slow eccentric contraction (4 to 5 seconds) and an “explosive” concentric (pushing or pulling the weight as rapidly as possible).
When performing the isolation exercise in a superset, do the eccentric portion of the rep in about 2 seconds; then hold the midpoint (stretch position) for 1 second; and finish with a 2-second concentric. Note: If the isolation exercise allows for a powerful “peak contraction” against resistance (like with leg extensions or cable crossovers, for example), then make sure to hold for a full second at that point as well.
Even when not utilizing supersets through an entire workout, they are an excellent way to finish off a body part—especially if it is one that is lagging behind the others.
Supersets allow for a greater time under tension for the targeted muscle, which is associated with igniting more rapid hypertrophy.
Supersets bring about a more intense and dramatic pump, which saturates the target muscles with enhanced amounts of amino acids, natural hormones, oxygen, and vital nutrients.
Supersets increase lactic acid production, which coaxes the body to release more growth hormone (GH) into your system. GH is a powerful muscle-building and fat-incinerating hormone.
Supersets are very time efficient, allowing one to train with maximum intensity in shorter periods of time.
Supersets help stimulate the metabolism, making them an excellent adjunct to proper diet and cardio when looking to burn more body fat.