Once you’ve been weight-training physique athlete style for about a year, your mind and your muscles are ready for a few advanced techniques to keep you motivated and progressing. As someone who is truly focused on building muscle, you may already know (from reading my blog), that the most critical concept you can never forget is that there are 3-key factors necessary to build size maximally namely; mechanical stress, local muscle damage and metabolic stress (Schoenfeld, 2010). While in my experience, straight-sets should remain the foundation of your training to drive the 3-factors above, when used sparingly, advanced techniques can provide unique benefits to your overall program. One of these specialized techniques is called supersets, and as you’ll see, the science of muscle building tells us why they work in the real world, cementing their proverbial status in bodybuilding circles as cult classic.
Targeted Muscle Loading, “Work” Squared
Supersets, are referred to by exercise scientists as paired sets and are defined as two exercises performed in succession without rest (Pauletto, 1986). This broad definition includes two distinct variations, which are 1) performing two exercises back to back for the same muscle group, like chest flyes, followed by chest press and 2) doing two exercises that share an agonist/antagonist relationship, like bicep curls, followed by tricep press. Performing two exercises for the same bodypart can be particularly useful when your physical geometry or muscle development, causes muscles other than the primary target to give out prematurely.
This phenomenon can be seen when the lower back gives, before the quads in the squat, or triceps/shoulders before your chest in the bench press. In these examples, performing an isolation movement, before the multi-joint exercise, in succession, can allow you to place more growth stimulating stress on the target. An effective superset focused on the chest would be to perform dumbbell flyes first, followed immediately by chest presses. The amount of weight may be lower with flyes, but the triceps/shoulders should not be the limiting factor. Doing these movements back to back allows a greater degree of stress to be placed on your chest due to the pre-exhaustion of the target muscles, and reduced rest between sets, which increases muscular fatigue and metabolic stress, key factors linked to muscle growth (Kelleher et al, 2010)
Power Opposites, The Tension Is Building
For years physique athletes who wanted to lean out, or had time constraints, switched to programs that utilized supersets that used the agonist/antagonist approach, Likely combos. are chest/back, quads/hamstrings and biceps/triceps. Performing these back to back, allows you to do more sets in a given period of time, and can raise your heart rate significantly providing a nice metabolic boost. However, the biggest benefit in doing opposing muscle groups in superset fashion is that contracting an antagonist muscle increases force output during subsequent contractions of the agonist (Grabiner, 1994, Grabiner et al 1990). Further, greater mechanical tension generated by the agonist could potentially lead to increases in muscular growth.
When training opposing muscle groups back to back (versus a single muscle area), you have the ability to perform a greater number of reps per given unit of time without significantly reducing the intensity or total training volume (Robbins et al. 2010). This increased ‘‘training density’’, as referred to by muscle researchers, is achieved through sharp improvements in training efficiency, which is required to maximize the extent of fatigue, taking muscle growth to greater heights (Rooney et al. 1994).
Supersets are a specialized set of muscle building tools that are best used infrequently, A good rule is to save these advanced methods for muscle groups that may be lagging behind the rest of your physique. When added to your program as mentioned, you can make solid targeted gains, but be aware, relying too much on advanced techniques will lead to overtraining.
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