May 29, 2012 | John Paul Catanzaro
Some guys seek size at any expense. They don’t care if their joints take a beating in the process. To them it’s “carpe diem,” seize the day and screw tomorrow! Others are more along the lines of “been there, done that,” and joint health takes a bit more priority then getting huge. A day without aches is a little more appealing to these guys. Well, there’s a way to accomplish both objectives with one method of training. It’s called supersets.
Supersets are a method of strength training where you pair two exercises, moving from one to the next with little to no rest in between. This training method can be quite effective because short rest intervals increase lactic acid production and decrease blood pH, which triggers the anterior pituitary to secrete growth hormone. Lactic acid can also stimulate testosterone release from testicular Leydig cells. By increasing anabolic hormone production in this manner, supersets can promote muscle growth and keep you lean in the process.
Supersets increase the density of training, a variable that can significantly boost muscle hypertrophy and improve body composition. In Schwarzenegger’s book Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, he explains how many advanced bodybuilders in Germany would use supersets to save time (i.e., do the same amount of work in less time). Schwarzenegger believes that supersets will help build your body to its “ultimate size” and train it for “maximum definition.”
Now if you play your cards right, you can use supersets to increase strength instantly, improve joint health and integrity, promote left-right symmetry, and build muscle. I’ll show you how to do it.
The Look-Better-In-A-Shirt Superset Routine
The elbow flexors (biceps brachii, brachioradialis and brachialis) are innervated by the musculocutaneous nerve (C5 and C6), and the elbow extensors (triceps brachii and anconeus) are innervated predominantly by the radial nerve (C6, C7 and C8). If these vertebrae are out of alignment, strength will be affected.
In the book Optimal Muscle Training, Dr. Ken Kinakin reveals that nerve compression of merely 10-50 mmHg (about the weight of a dime on the back of your hand) from the spine to the muscles can potentially decrease action potentials by up to 40%. Activating the long cervical extensors and upper traps with neck bridges and shoulder shrugs, respectively, can help reposition these often misaligned vertebrae and increase strength instantly.
With that concept in mind, here’s a superset routine that will fill out your sleeves and neckline in no time:
A1. Neck Bridge: 4 x 30-60s isometric hold, 10s
A2. Close-Grip Bench Press: 4 x 8-10 @ 4-0-1-0, 120s
B1. Seated Dumbbell Shrug: 4 x 10-12 @ 1-0-1-2, 10s
B2. Seated Zottman Curl: 4 x 8-10 @ 4-0-1-0, 120s
C1. Standing Twisting Rope Curl: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
C2. Flat Twisting Dumbbell Triceps Extension: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 90s
D1. Seated Dumbbell Concentration Curl: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
D2. One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Kickback: 3 x 12-15 @ 2-0-1-0, 90s
• A1 parameters are listed as Sequence. Exercise: Sets x Time Under Tension, Rest Interval
• A2-D2 parameters are listed as Sequence. Exercise: Sets x Reps @ Tempo, Rest Interval
• Use an appropriate level of resistance for the neck bridge. Most trainees can perform this exercise on a Swiss ball using body weight only. Some advanced lifters can use additional weight held on their chest, while many beginners will have to start with the back of their head leaning against a wall. You must hold a static position for 30-60 seconds before reaching muscular failure. If you can’t maintain the isometric contraction for a minimum of 30 seconds, then the level of resistance is too high. Conversely, if 60 seconds is easy, then the level of resistance is too low. Proceed immediately to the close-grip bench press after the neck bridge. It should take you roughly 10 seconds to get in position, then begin.
• During the seated dumbbell shrug, hold the top (contracted) position for 2 seconds.
• On the final pair of exercises, start with the weak side first. Let’s assume your left side is weaker. Perform concentration curls with your left arm. Ten seconds after you finish, perform triceps kickbacks with your left arm. Ten seconds after you finish, perform concentration curls with your right arm. Ten seconds after you finish, perform triceps kickbacks with your right arm. Rest 90 seconds and repeat the process two more times.
•Perform the routine once every 5 days.
Do 6 cycles of the above routine and after 30 days, you should notice considerable neck and arm hypertrophy… and your shirts should fit better, too!
The Unconventional Upper-Body Superset Scheme
Most conventional supersets pair agonists (same body parts) or antagonists (opposite body parts) for hypertrophy, or non-competing body parts (e.g., pairing an upper body with a lower body movement) for body composition purposes. However, you can also pair gross with specific movements, multi-joint (compound) with single-joint (isolation) movements, or prime movers with stabilizers.
The following superset routine will not only improve upper body size, strength and performance, but it will also promote shoulder health and integrity. Often, upper body supersets can create a muscular imbalance in the shoulder joint with excessive internal rotation and insufficient external rotation of the humerus, but not with this scheme.
Perform the following routine once every 5 days:
A1. Wide-Grip Sternum Pull-Up: 4 x 4-6 @ 5-0-X-0, 10s
A2. Seated Dumbbell Muscle Snatch: 4 x 8-10 @ 1-0-X-0, 120s
B1. Incline Bench Press: 4 x 6-8 @ 4-0-X-0, 10s
B2. ShoulderHorn Cable External Rotation: 4 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 120s
C1. Standing Cable Crossover: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
C2. Standing EZ-Bar Upright Row: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 90s
D1. Flat Dumbbell Flye: 3 x 10-12 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
D2. Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 x 12-15 @ 2-0-1-0, 90s
• If you’re unable to perform the prescribed number of wide-grip sternum pull-ups, do as many as you can in good form then continue with regular wide-grip pull-ups until all reps are completed.
• The ShoulderHorn is great to use during the cable external rotation movement. However, if one is not available, you can simulate the device by resting your upper arms on a preacher bench.
• Use a mid-grip (shoulder-width) hand position for the upright row. If you’re concerned with long-term shoulder health, I suggest that you stay away from a close-grip position on this exercise.
• With flyes use a pronated grip (thumbs facing each other) and with the bent-over laterals use a supinated grip (thumbs facing away from each other).
The One-Side-At-A-Time Lower-Body Superset Plan
The beauty of supersets is that you can get more work done in a given period of time. By resting only 10 seconds instead of a minute or more between two exercises, you can squeeze another set in, thus supersetting is a great method to use for unilateral training. Many people shy away from unilateral work because it takes twice as long, especially personal trainers who generally have 60 minutes or less to work with a client. You overcome that problem with supersets. They allow you to perform exercises that don’t pop up often in the rotation and more importantly, they allow you to restore left-right symmetry that may have strayed with the constant bilateral work.
There are two ways to do this:
a) Perform both sides of the first exercise followed by both sides of the second exercise with only 10 seconds between each movement (basically, just enough time to get set for the next exercise) and then rest, or
b) Perform one side of the first exercise, followed by one side of the second exercise, followed by the other side of the first exercise, followed by the other side of the second exercise, with only 10 seconds between each movement and then rest.
Perform the following routine once every 5 days:
A1. Front Split Squat: 3 x 6-8 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
A2. Single-Leg Hip Extension: 3 x 6-8 @ 1-0-1-2, 120s
B1. Back Step-Up: 3 x 10-12 @ 1-1-1-1, 10s
B2. Seated Single-Leg Press: 3 x 15-20 @ 1-0-1-0, 120s
C1. Standing Leg Curl: 3 x 6-8 @ 4-0-1-0, 10s
C2. Seated Single-Leg Extension: 3 x 12-15 @ 2-0-1-0, 90s
D1. One-Leg Calf Raise: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-1-1-0, 10s
D2. Seated Single-Leg Calf Raise: 3 x 15-20 @ 1-0-1-0, 90s
• If you don’t have access to a leg press machine, substitute a one-leg (pistol) squat instead.
• The one-leg calf raise may be performed on a step with a dumbbell held on the same side as the working leg or it may be performed on a dedicated standing calf raise machine if available.
Whole-Body Muscle Mass Attack
Here’s a superset routine that attacks the entire body! This is a split routine where the lower body is trained on Day 1 and the upper body on Day 2. Each day starts with proximal pairs and progresses distally with each subsequent pair. In other words, larger muscles are targeted initially and smaller muscles toward the end of the workout.
The exercises are paired by joint in the following manner:
Day 1 – Lower Body
A1. Trunk Extension
A2. Trunk Flexion
B1. Hip Extension
B2. Hip Flexion
C1. Knee Extension
C2. Knee Flexion
D1. Ankle Extension
D2. Ankle Flexion
Day 2 – Upper Body
A1. Shoulder Extension
A2. Shoulder Flexion
B1. Shoulder Horizontal Abduction
B2. Shoulder Horizontal Adduction
C1. Elbow Extension
C2. Elbow Flexion
D1. Wrist Extension
D2. Wrist Flexion
Here’s the routine now with the appropriate parameters in place:
Day 1 – Lower Body
A1. Bent-Knee Deadlift: 4 x 6-8 @ 3-1-X-0, 10s
A2. Decline Sit-Up: 4 x 8-10 @ 2-0-X-0, 120s
B1. Reverse Hypers: 3 x 10-12 @ 1-0-X-0, 10s
B2. Incline Two-Leg Lowering: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-0-1-0, 90s
C1. Seated Leg Extension: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-0-1-0, 10s
C2. Lying Leg Curl: 3 x 6-8 @ 4-0-1-0, 90s
D1. Standing Calf Raise: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-0-1-0, 10s
D2. Seated Cable Tibialis Raise: 3 x 15-20 @ 1-0-1-0, 60s
Day 2 – Upper Body
A1. Mid-Grip Pull-Up: 4 x 6-8 @ 4-0-X-0, 10s
A2. Standing Military Press: 4 x 6-8 @ 4-0-X-0, 120s
B1. Seated Cable Row: 3 x 8-10 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
B2. Flat Neutral Dumbbell Press: 3 x 8-10 @ 3-0-1-0, 90s
C1. Kneeling Rope French Press: 3 x 8-10 @ 3-0-1-0, 10s
C2. Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 8-10 @ 3-0-1-0, 90s
D1. Cable Reverse-Grip Wrist Curl: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-0-1-0, 10s
D2. Cable Wrist Curl: 3 x 10-12 @ 2-0-1-0, 60s
Perform each day twice a week (e.g., Day 1 on Monday and Thursday, and Day 2 on Tuesday and Friday). After a month, switch to a new routine. Make sure to keep the rest minimal (only 10 seconds) between the first exercise and the second exercise of each superset pair.
Always think of the results, not your ego! The key with supersets is to be successful each set, not to use extremely heavy loads. Put your ego aside and pick an appropriate load to accomplish the task for every set. It’s not uncommon to lose a rep or two each set depending on your fiber makeup, so adjust the load accordingly.
I’ve presented several unique methods of using supersets as part of your muscle-building and joint-restoring arsenal. You have three body-part schemes that you can combine to form a super potent routine or a whole-body attack that’s lethal on its own. Pick your poison and get to it.