Wellness Refocused Education: Supersets

I don’t write workout programs for clients, but I do help them write their own. We discuss mobility testing and training, cardiovascular activity, resistance training styles and the importance of creating diversity in their workout to see results they want, but also to have ensure that they’re enjoying their workouts.

I suggest changing up your routine every 3-4 weeks for a few reasons.

1. The first week really is about figuring out where the equipment is, determining if the movements work with you and each other, and if the timing of the workout works for you.

2. The second week you’re getting into the groove and getting more comfortable with the movements.

3. The third week you’ve figured out this routine and a fourth week may solidify the execution.

Changes don’t need to be drastic, but they should help you stay challenged and engaged in your workout. Here are some changes I typically suggest:

  • Changing the repetitions and sets, but utilizing the same exercises
  • Moving the movements around within the routine
  • Changing the days you execute certain movements
  • Adding or changing cardiovascular exercises
  • Adding or changing individual exercises including creating supersets

Last week when I was speaking with a client about changes to her routine for the upcoming 3 weeks, she asked me what the benefits of a superset were. I know this was a question I had when I started lifting, so let’s talk about it.

A superset is the combination of at least two exercises with little rest in between.

Typically, exercises will engage different muscles, but you can also engage the same muscle (I’ve done both). The movement of these exercises may vary too (push versus pull). Here are some examples.

  • Superset with the same muscle: Upright Row/SS/Overhead Shoulder Press (shoulder focus)
  • Superset with different muscle: Banded Crab Walks/SS/Split Squats (hip abductors and quad/hamstrings)
  • Superset with opposing movement: Leg Extensions/SS/Leg Curls (extension and flexion)
  • Superset with similar movement: Cable Face Pull/SS/Cable Straight Arm Pulldown (pull)

One of the biggest benefits of adding a superset to your routine is time saved.

Since you are limiting your resting period in between exercises, you will be able to get more work done in a shorter period of time. However, you may need more resting time post-workout depending on how much more load (weight) had been utilized.

Super-setting is also another way to change the intensity of the workout without manipulating sets, repetitions and load greatly (Brentano, et al., 2016). Minimal resting is enough manipulation in the workout to cause the muscle to engage differently because of fatigue.

Other benefits of implementing super-setting (two exercises) and even tri-setting (three exercises) to a training protocol can be enhanced training efficiency (more load in a shorter period of time), which can result in enhancing strength and body composition (Weakley, et al, 2017).

Physiologically, resistance training in general causes a number of metabolic and endocrine responses. However, there have been theories that resistance training protocols that complete larger amounts of volume in a specific amount of time may elicit greater metabolic responses. This is still a concept that needs more research as there is much about physiological responses that aren’t as understood (Weakley, et al., 2017).

There is a misconception that super-setting will result in a larger caloric burn, but that may not be the case for everyone. A study conducted by Brentano, et al. found that energy expenditure didn’t increase when super-sets are added to routines in individuals seeking to gain strength. However, researchers explained that the type of exercises could contribute to differences in energy expenditure (Brentano, et al., 2016).  Not all muscle groups are the same size so super-setting exercises that utilize the biceps and triceps will be different than super-setting exercises that utilize larger muscles like the latissimus dorsi, gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) or quadricep muscles (vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris).  Adding more load in general may contribute to greater energy expenditure in those seeking to lose fat because caloric intake will be less than those seeking maintenance or strength development. Those who are new to resistance training possibly seeing the greatest changes of all because the body will be going through great change adjusting to the movement.

Like mentioned before, whether real or perceived, super-setting and tri-setting allow for greater muscle fatigue because of the amount of work exerted during the time period with minimal rest, which impacts the blood flow causing decreased oxygen delivery to the muscle (Wan, et. al., 2017). Physiologically, fatigue can encourage muscle development because of the changes in ATP (energy that contributes to muscle contraction and nerve impulses) utilization, which are maximized when peak VO2 is reached.

My personal reason for including super-sets into my routine is because it keeps the workout interesting. If you don’t feel challenged or enjoy the workout, you won’t want to do it.

Work smarter, not necessarily harder.


Brentano, M. A., Umpierre, D., Porto Santos, L., Lopes, A. L., & Martins Kruel, L. F. (2016). Supersets do not change energy expenditure during strength training sessions in physically active individuals. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, 41-46.

Wan, J.-j., Qin, Z., Wang, P.-y., Sun, Y., & Liu, X. (2017). Muscle fatigue: general understanding and treatment. Experimental and Molecular Medicine, e384-.

Weakley, J. J., Till, K., Read, D. B., Roe, G. A., Darrall-Jones, J., Phibbs, P. J., & Jones, B. (2017). The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 1877-1889.