Muscle Growth is a Sure Bet… When you choose to Superset!
By Eric “Merlin” Broser
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 more 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 (as we continue along). I have a little quote that I tell all of my clients when it comes to making serious progress in the gym that I would like to now relay to all FLEX mag 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!”
One of the best techniques I have found in my many years as a coach/trainer and competitive bodybuilder to force the muscles to respond, adapt and grow is without a doubt, “supersets.” A superset, if you are not familiar, 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 examples include Leg Extensions/Squats, DB Flyes/Bench Presses and Side Laterals/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 is when one performs a high-load/heavy (about 3-5 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 BB Bent Row/Stiff Arm Pulldowns. The interesting (and rather cool) element of this type of superset is that research studies show that low-rep, compound exercises manifest enhanced CNS (central nervous system) activation, creating a physiological environment wherein 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 chomping 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!
The PEC PUMPER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: Incline DB Flye/Flat DB Press…3 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: BB Incline Press/Cable Crossover…3 x 4-6/10-12
The BACK BLASTER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: DB Pullover/CG Seated Cable Row…3 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: Underhand Grip BB Bent Row/Stiff Arm Pulldown…3 x 4-6/10-12
The DELT DESTROYER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: Seated Rear Delt Flye Machine/WG BB Upright Row…3 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: BB Military Press/DB Side Lateral…2 x 4-6/10-12
The BICEPS BOMBER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: Low Cable Curl/CG Pulldown…2 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: Weighted CG Pullup/Machine Preacher Curl…2 x 4-6/10-12
The TRICEPS TRASHER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: 2 Arm DB Kickback/Triceps Dips…2 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: CG Bench Press/Rope Pushdown…2 x 4-6/10-12
The QUAD KILLER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: Single Leg Leg Extension/Single Leg Leg Press…3 x 10-12/7-9 per leg
- Post-activation SS: BB Squats/Leg Extensions…3 x 4-6/10-12
The HAMS HURTER
- Pre-exhaustion SS: Seated Leg Curl/DB Stiff Leg Deadlift…2 x 10-12/7-9
- Post-activation SS: BB Good Morning/Lying Leg Curl…2 x 4-6/10-12
- Supersets allow for a greater TUT, or time under tension for the targeted muscle, which is associated with igniting more rapid hypertrophy.
- Supersets bring about a more intense/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 in turn coaxes the body to release more GH (growth hormone) into your system. GH is a very 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 to stimulate the metabolism, making them an excellent adjunct to proper diet and cardio when looking to burn more body fat.
- If you train in a crowded gym it is best to create supersets that allow you to stay in the same area, so as to make sure you can go from one exercise to the next without interruption. A few examples would be Lying DB Pullovers/CG Seated Cable Rows, Incline DB Flyes/Flat DB Presses, and Seated DB Side Laterals/Seated DB Presses.
- When performing the compound exercise in a superset, utilize a slow eccentric contraction (4-5 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.