The classic approach to performing supersets is to work two opposing muscle groups back to back without any rest between sets.
This technique is usually applied to antagonistic muscle groups such as biceps and triceps, chest and back, quads and hamstrings.
An example of a superset would be one set of biceps curls immediately followed by a set of triceps pushdowns.
But the question is… are supersets super or just stupid?
To answer this question we need to look at the main reasons why people perform supersets in the first place, and then I’m going to tell you straight, why it’s all nonsensical BS.
Reason #1: Shock Muscles into Growth
The number one most common reason I hear people adding supersets to their routine is to ‘shock’ their muscles as a way to break through a training plateau.
As I’ve talked about before, the whole muscle shock/confusion thing is a myth.
Muscles don’t get shocked or confused.
If you’ve hit a plateau where your muscle gains have slowed down or stopped, I can assure you that supersets will not help in this situation, and you’ll understand why after reading reason two.
Reason #2: Increased Intensity
The idea here is that supersets will increase training intensity by compressing more working sets into a shorter time frame, and this ‘high intensity’ training technique will result in more muscle growth.
Sorry, but that is complete nonsense.
In fact, supersets REDUCE intensity, not increase it.
Performing every repetition with maximum intensity is entirely different to battling fatigue and burning yourself out.
Definition of intensity:
Exceptionally great concentration, power, or force.
Intensity is arguably the most important training variable for stimulating maximum muscle growth.
Your level of intensity during a set is measured by how much controlled force and power you apply during each repetition. You should be lifting a heavy/moderate weight for 8 – 10 reps and every rep should be attacked with maximum intensity.
There’s no way you could possibly complete all your working sets intensely with a heavy weight in the 8 – 10 rep range when using supersets.
Supersets are counterproductive to building muscle because they cause cardiovascular fatigue. In other words, you become more out of breath and tired with each subsequent superset.
All you are doing is reducing the amount of weight you can lift and/or the number of reps you are able to perform because you are running out of gas, which reduces tension and time under tension. Both the amount of tension going through your muscle fibers and the time they are under this tension impacts the adaptive growth response.
A reduction in muscle tension and time under tension means less stimulation of muscle fibres and growth.
Furthermore, the heavy fatigue from supersetting can cause form to become loose and sloppy. When form breaks down more tension is taken away from the working muscles and the risk of injury increases.
Here’s an example of how supersets would negatively impact biceps.
Set 1: Biceps curls 8 reps using 20kg dumbbells
Set 2: Superset with triceps
Set 3: Biceps curls 6 reps using 18kg dumbbells
Set 4: Supersets with triceps
Set 5: Biceps curls 5 reps using 16kg dumbbells
Supersets are intensity killers!
Each set gets harder and harder as you become more and more fatigued, forcing you to perform less reps and reduce the weight, two things you want to avoid.
Performing those same three sets of biceps curls as straight sets with rest between each set would allow you to maintain 8 reps with 20kg dumbbells, resulting in greater stimulus and growth compared to the tapering down in weight and reps caused by supersets.
If your primary goal is to build muscle and strength, stay away from supersets. They don’t have any place in a bodybuilding workout program.
You’re way better off to take a proper rest between each set so that you are able to complete every set with maximum focus and intensity. This will ensure the most gains in muscle size and strength from your workout.