AskHuyen #2: Supersets for Super-Beginners

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I'm a beginner and would like information on supersets. The best workouts? What are considered "opposing body parts"? Help! ️

Photoshop skills on 10.

Photoshop skills on 10.


Have no fear! Supersets are here! And beginner-friendly.

I’ll save the superset work-out recommendations for the end. First I want to establish exactly what supersets are, and why you’d even want to do them.

Though they may sound like the name for some extra advanced training method reserved for advanced lifters, superset just means that you’re alternating between two exercises back to back, often for opposing muscle groups and with little rest. (NSCA). 

Opposing muscle groups essentially act opposite to each other. For example during the bicep curl, the bicep contracts while the tricep lengthens. It’s usually pretty easy to identify them since most are literally opposite to each other on your body (quads and hamstrings, chest and upper back, abs and mid/lower back). Here’s a more extensive list using the scientific names.

I enjoy supersets when I’m trying to hit muscle groups hard while saving time. 

Alternating between opposing muscle groups during a circuit allows some muscles to rest briefly while you work the other muscle group. When I bench press, I’m primarily using my chest, while my back helps me stabilize. Then I can go straight into a bent-over row, where my back now does most of the work.

Emphasize brief* rest periods between the two exercises, because it helps keep intensity nice and high- increasing your Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which translates to more work for your muscles and higher calorie burn. If I wasn’t supersetting and had just finished some heavy front squats, my quads would need to rest longer, allowing me to catch my breath for longer- decreasing my EPOC. Instead, I could superset the squats by going into deadlifts since my hamstrings would be ready to do more work.

With only two exercises per circuit, you'll also get the benefit of not moving around the gym as much or hog as much equipment as you might need to for a longer circuit. You can complete a superset of bicep curls and tricep extension with the pull of an iron pin/safety lever on the cable machine with no travel at all.

As a beginner, don't overdo it on your weights- focus on maintaining proper form. Despite that shorter rest periods can increase intensity, keep your training level in mind your rest periods so that you don't pass out. No one wants that. My good friend and C.S.C.S. Aaron High noted that supersetting completely different muscle groups could be best for super-beginners. During a quad-dominant front squat, you’re still activating your hamstrings somewhat, so to ensure enough rest, you can go straight into some push ups instead of deadlifts. 

As you train more you'll be able to lift heavier weights and rest less in between opposing muscle groups.

Okay, now here are some common supersets including those mentioned throughout the article:

  • Bench Press (Chest)- Bent Over Row (Back)
  • Bicep Curl - Tricep Extension
  • Squats (Quads) - Deadlifts (Hamstrings)
  • Leg Extensions (Quads)- Leg Curls  (Hamstrings)
  • Back Squat (Lower) - Push Up/Chin Up (can be assisted) (Upper)

Hope this helps and keep the questions coming!