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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Better Bodies by Better Supersets

Ask many experienced lifters what they prefer doing on the days that they go heavier in the gym and you'll likely hear something along the lines of lift heavy, rest between sets, and eat as soon as they are done.

I don't disagree.

Yet, what if...just if....there was something more?

What if I told you that you could blast away plateaus simply by adding a second exercise to your program?

Instead of finishing a heavy set of deadlifts and plopping on the nearest bench you'd grab a set of dumbbells and knock out a set of standing overhead presses.

Especially tootsie rolls

Or, instead of finishing that heavy bench and sitting at the edge sipping on your amino acids until someone compliments you on the weight you are throwing can go crush a set of heavy hip thrusters!

Whether or not you want to utilize this technique of training is going to be highly dependent on your goals.

Are you doing a powerlifting meet in the next few months? If yes, then this method may not be ideal for your training goals since you will want to make sure you are putting maximum energy into all of your working sets.

Are you looking to boost your strength, power, and endurance simultaneously? If yes, then this method is going to make you very happy with the results.

Looking to lose some fat and add more muscle to your frame? Assuming you aren't finishing your workout with a meal at a fast food restaraunt, then you'll find yourself enjoying this method too!

How It Works

First and foremost, it is critical to understand how to properly execute this training method as to maximize the results and metabolic effect without burning out too quickly. I observe two major rules when building a program around these type of supersets:

  1. When I coach this technique with clients I emphasize exercises that do not directly compete, assist, or oppose the primary exercise.

  2. Secondly, I like to choose a second exercise that involves and "coaches" some aspect of the first exercise.

For example, Back Squats and Pull-Ups observe both rules.

The action of the pull up does not directly impact the ability of someone to do their next set of squats since the spine, hips, glutes and legs will not be under load. Furthermore, the top of the pull up acts as a coach for packing the scapulae down into the back and maximizing tension in the lats, shoulders, and biceps, which simulates ideal bar position during the squat.

When programming these supersets into my programs I emphasize higher load on the first exercise and higher repetitions on the second. If I want to better load the second exercise in a future session I will simply "flip" the movements and make it the new primary.

Some of my favorite programs involve set/rep schemes like: 5x5(5x10) or 6x3(6x8) or 3x5 (3x15)

I recommend doing only the first two exercises of a program in this manner prior to moving onto other accessory work. We want to maximize a training effect without overdoing it. Lastly, no more than sixty to ninety seconds should be used as a rest period between sets of the exercises.

This does not mean that the rest of the workout can be "easier" though. Rather, the rest of the workout should emphasize other loading principles, and important accessory work relevant to one's training goals.

Everyone should do curls...

Why it Works

There are three major reasons I like utilizing non-competing supersets in my training programs.

1. Peripheral Heart Action - PHA is a phenomenon that occurs when the body has to pump blood from the lower extremeties to the upper extremeties and back again. If you are doing barbell deadlifts and standing shoulder presses you are bouncing between your upper and lower body being the dominant force producer. Thus, the heart must work harder to ensure adequate oxygen transportation to working muscles, as well as sufficient carbon dioxide removal.

2. Multiple Energy Systems - Going heavy on an exercise that terminates in 3-5 repetitions is going to heavily rely on the ATP/CP energy system. (Our sprint system that provides a large production of energy/force, but lacks staying power...up to about ten seconds). Immediately following it with an exercise that exists in the hypertrophy range of 6-8 reps, or endurance range of 10 or more repetitions will ensure the body is seeing multiple stimuli.

It goes beyond the calorie burn too. Hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, and cortisol react to various training stimuli in different magnitudes. Lipolysis, the process of utilizing fat as energy, is very active when you begin demanding more of your body.

3. Multiple Muscle Fibers - Our muscles are made of a variety of type 1 and type 2 fibers. Without reciting the NSCA textbook it is enough to know that these fibers have different levels of force production, size capability, and stamina. Utilizing multiple rep ranges and loading schemes on a given muscle ensures that we are using all types of fibers.

This is accomplished best over the course of a training week as opposed to a single workout. Many athletic programs utilize a non-linear periodization scheme that varies load on a muscle group or joint action over the course of a training week. In terms of non-competing supersets...all you have to do is flip the movements later in the week.

So, if you deadlift heavy and shoulder press lighter on Monday, then you'd inverse that on Thursday.

A Sample Week (Excluding Accessory Work)

Monday - Deadlift (6x3) / Standing DB Overhead Press (6x8)

Tuesday - Bench Press (6x3) / Glute Bridge/Hip Thruster (6x8)

Wednesday - Rest (Recovery Cardio)

Thursday - Squats (6x3) / Pull-ups (or Chin Ups) (6x8)*

Friday - Standing Overhead Press (3x3) / Deadlift (3x15)

Saturday - Glute Bridge/Hip Thruster (3x3) / Bench Press (3x15)

Sunday - Rest and Roll/Release

*Note that only 1 squat day occurs this week. Do two the following week by replacing the first deadlift day. Revert back in week 3, etc.


If one only looks at, dare I say it, Crossfit, you'll see what can happen when you maintain training intensity between movements. Heavy movements followed by more heavy movements, followed by endurance training have created a cult of followers, and helped build many impressive bodies.

I'm not saying you should be doing WOD's. I'm just saying you can train a lot harder than you think you can, should, or want to.

Start throwing together some supersets, and make like Usher...

And let it burn.


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