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Increase workout intensity with supersets

This is an excerpt from Stronger Arms & Upper Body by Joseph Wuebben & Jim Stoppani.

Increase workout intensity

For beginning or intermediate lifters, sticking to basic training principles might be the best approach because the muscles likely have yet to adapt to even the most rudimentary lifting methods. But after a time-whether it be six months, a year, or even two years-your body will require more aggressive modes of training in order for you to continue to see increases in muscular size, strength, and endurance.

Increasing intensity is the key, and the longer you’ve trained, the more creative and innovative you’ll need to be to make your workouts more intense. Hence, many of the following advanced training techniques are specifically recommended as a means of boosting intensity, whereas others provide a new stimulus to promote continuing results.


As the most widely used of all intensity-boosting techniques, a superset involves doing two different exercises back to back without resting. Virtually any two exercises can be paired for a superset. For example, to work the chest you can do a set of flat bench dumbbell presses and then proceed immediately to a set of dumbbell flys, resting only as long as it takes you to transfer from the first to the second exercise. Another example of a superset for one muscle group is overhead presses followed by lateral raises for the shoulders. Typically, you’d do three or four supersets in this fashion, resting between each superset.

The previous examples involve two exercises for the same muscle group. This is a very common practice as a means of exhausting a single muscle group to promote the muscle fiber breakdown that can lead to muscle growth. In both examples, notice how a compound exercise precedes an isolation move. Because the muscles will be more fatigued while doing the second exercise, it makes sense to do the compound move first so that you can maximize the amount of weight used. However, there’s nothing wrong with pairing two compound exercises or even two isolation exercises. We simply suggest doing the exercise that allows you to lift more weight first. That said, you can also do the isolation exercise first, followed by the compound move, to combine supersets with the high-intensity technique known as preexhaustion for twice the intensity.

Pairing opposing muscle groups, such as the chest and back or the triceps and biceps, is also very common. A good example of a chest-back superset is a flat or incline bench dumbbell press followed by a rowing exercise. A triceps-biceps superset might consist of a cable press-down and a barbell curl. Research has suggested that, because a muscle tends to receive a strength boost immediately after an intense contraction of its antagonist (a muscle that performs the opposite movement), you might actually be stronger on the exercise performed second in the superset than when performing that exercise via straight sets. Thus when supersetting opposing muscle groups, alternate the muscle that goes first in the superset so that both muscles gain the benefit from being trained second.

Supersets can also train different but nonopposing muscle groups, such as the shoulders and triceps, the chest and biceps, and any number of other combinations. In these instances, the major benefit of supersetting is that you’re essentially doing twice the sets in the same amount of time as when doing straight sets. You will save time by the end of the workout, provided you’re doing the same number of sets as before. By minimizing rest periods, you’ll also extend each bout of lifting, which will keep your heart rate elevated for longer periods. Whereas when doing a straight set you might be lifting for 30 to 45 seconds at a time, a superset typically involves a bout of lifting twice as long, keeping your heart rate up that much longer. This is why supersetting is often the lifting method of choice for those looking to add a cardiorespiratory element into their weight training for increased calorie burning and better overall conditioning.

This is an excerpt from Stronger Arms & Upper Body.