EstimatedEst. Read Time: 14 minutes
8 best supersets you're not doing

WHAT IS A SUPERSET? (IT MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU THINK!)

If you’ve been training for any length of time, you’ve likely done your share of supersets.

But your idea of what a superset is and its purpose may have only been partially correct!

First, let’s take a look at what a superset actually is. There are two criteria to be called a superset:

  1. You have to have two (or sometimes more) exercises.
  2. You need to take minimal rest between exercises.

Some people think the pair of exercises always has to be opposing muscle groups.

That’s just not correct!

It’s also NOT a drop set. First let’s take a look at what each term means.

In a drop set the same exercise is performed with progressively lighter weight with each successive consecutive set.  In a superset two or more different exercises are performed with a minimal rest period in between. Supersets can be done with the same muscle group, complimentary muscle groups, or opposing muscle groups. They can also be used to speed up the pace of your workout, increase the intensity of your training, or both.

I’m going to show you my 8 favorite supersets, each of them different types of supersets, that work all of these muscle group combinations. I’ll also throw in some specific strength training techniques that you may never have thought of.

Remember, supersets are not just things you do for your “bi’s and tri’s”.

In fact…

I’ll show you something you should do after every set of squats that doesn’t even involve your legs at all!

Below I’ve outlined 8 different ways to use supersets, and you’ll see an example of how to apply each one to your weight training.

8 ways to use supersets: opposing muscle groups, complementary muscle groups, same muscle group with complementary action, same muscle group for pre-exhaustion, mechanical superset to train beyond failure, closed-chain / open-chain, loading / deloading, post-activation potentiation

SUPERSET #1: OPPOSING MUSCLE GROUPS – BICEPS & TRICEPS

When we talk about the opposing muscle groups type of superset, there’s nothing more classic than biceps and triceps.

Opposing muscle groups is one of the most common supersets, and arms is also a common target.

My favorite superset combination for arms is the Dumbbell Incline Triceps Extension, right into the Dumbbell Spider Curl.

DUMBBELL INCLINE TRICEPS EXTENSION

Play Button
dumbbell incline triceps extensions

DUMBBELL SPIDER CURL

Play Button
dumbbell spider curls exercise

The reason I like this superset workout combo more than any other is because we’re getting the all-important stretch on the triceps in the extension. Then immediately, without even having to change weights, you go right into the inverted incline position on the bench and you start repping out in the Dumbbell Spider Curl.

The Dumbbell Spider Curl provides a nice benefit because we get peak tension in the contracted position of the biceps, which we don’t get with traditional curls. This is great exercise for muscle growth. If you’re not used to doing this exercise you’re going to get a good stimulus from it for that one reason.

SUPERSET #2: COMPLEMENTARY MUSCLE GROUPS – BACK

Next, we’ll hit the back with a superset designed to work complementary muscle groups that prefer to work together.

This is one of my all-time favorite supersets to add to a workout program.

It involves two exercises that many people neglect to do because they just don’t realize how important they are!

It’s the Straight-Arm Pushdown, right into a Face Pull.

STRAIGHT-ARM PUSHDOWN

Play Button
straight arm pushdown exercise

FACE PULL

Play Button
face pull exercise

With the Straight-Arm Pushdown we are not only strengthening the lats, but we’re also working straight arm scapular strength which helps us perfect proper form on some of the bigger lifts for major muscle groups like the deadlift, and even some more advanced bodyweight exercises like levers.

With the Straight-Arm Pushdown we are not only strengthening the lats, but we’re also working straight arm scapular strength which helps us perfect our form on some of the bigger lifts like the deadlift.

We perform a Straight Arm Pushdown and then immediately change the position of our hands on the rope attachment and move right into a Face Pull.  The Face Pull incredible for building muscle in the upper back and the often-overlooked rear delts.

This is one of the best sets of exercises for the most underappreciated exercises, and some of the most overlooked muscles of our body!

SUPERSET #3: SAME MUSCLE GROUP W/COMPLEMENTARY ACTION – CHEST

Now we’ll move onto a superset for the same muscle group with a little bit of complementary action.

It’s one of my favorites for the chest muscles!

We’re all familiar with the classic bench press into pushup superset.

Well, I prefer the superset I’m about to show you because it will allow us to hit the chest muscles in a different way with just a single dumbbell. It’s the UCV Raise into what’s been dubbed the ‘Cavaliere Crossover.’

UCV RAISE

Play Button
ucv raise exercise

CAVALIERE CROSSOVER

Play Button
cavaliere crossover exercise

The UCV works the tie in between the front delt, and the upper chest muscle fibers. We angle our arm up, and then across our body. You can see the upper chest activated and working here.

Both the UCV Raise and the Cavaliere Crossover help make sure we’re getting that all-important adduction component of the chest, which is lacking when we go from bench press to pushup. That is why I love this chest exercise combination above all others.

With the Cavaliere Crossover I can usually reach for the dumbbell on the rack immediately below the one that I’m working on when the weights are put back correctly. In my case, I’ve gone from 20 lbs to 70 lbs.

For the crossover, lift and drag the dumbbell up and across your body, and really try to work on adduction from the bottom up. You can see that my entire chest is activated.

Play Button
entire chest is engaged in the cavaliere crossover
You can see how the entire chest is activated in the Cavaliere Crossover.

Yes, it feels like it’s going to explode at this point, but that is the premise behind supersets. You can take it take it to failure and then beyond failure using these two exercises.

SUPERSET #4: SAME MUSCLE GROUP FOR PRE-EXHAUSTION – SHOULDERS

The beauty of supersets is that we don’t always have to select them based on the muscles we’re working. We can also do them for a specific purpose.

We’re going to superset two shoulder exercises with the purpose of an intensity technique, using the first one to pre-exhaust you for the second one. We’ll do this with the Dumbbell ‘L’ Raise and the Dumbbell Overhead Press.

DUMBBELL ‘L’ RAISE

Play Button
dumbbell l raises

DUMBBELL OVERHEAD PRESS

Play Button
dumbbell overhead press

I like the Dumbbell ‘L’ Raise because we get the benefits of a front raise and side raise for both the front and the middle delt.

Then we’ll use the same weight for the Dumbbell Overhead Press, which would normally feel challenging at all on a dumbbell press. After you’ve reached failure on the Dumbbell ‘L’ Raise, that ‘light’ weight feels really heavy when you get to the Dumbbell Overhead Press.

You’ve effectively pre-exhausted the shoulder muscle with an exercise that makes the second exercise – which normally wouldn’t be so tough – a lot harder. Therefore, it gives you a stimulus that your body is not used to.

SUPERSET #5: MECHANICAL SUPERSET – TRICEPS

We can use a mechanical superset to take advantage of mechanical differences between exercises to allow us to take a muscle to failure and then train it beyond failure.

The best mechanical superset for triceps is the Pancake Pushup into a Divebomber Pushup into a Diamond Cutter Pushup.

PANCAKE PUSHUP

Play Button
pancake pushups

The Pancake Pushup places the triceps at a greater mechanical disadvantage, so it’s a harder exercise that you can take all the way to failure.

Instead of stopping there, you can change the position of your body to allow for a bit more help for the triceps at that critical time when they’re most fatigued, to get even more reps done.

We’ll do this by shifting to the Divebomber Pushup.

DIVEBOMBER PUSHUP

Play Button
divebomber or cobra pushup

This should be slightly easier, allowing you to continue that set, again until failure.

Typically supersets consist of two exercises, but in this case we’ll go into a third variation, the Diamond Cutter Pushup.

DIAMOND CUTTER PUSHUP

Play Button
diamond cutter pushups

This should be easier again, and you can continue on until failure.

If you’re doing all three exercises, it makes for a more challenging superset workout combo for you.

However, if you want to stick to the true definition of a superset with just two exercises, the more advanced would stick to the Pancake Pushup and the Dive Bomber Pushup. If you’re less advanced you would start with the Divebomber Pushup and go into the Diamond Cutter Pushup.

SUPERSET #6: CLOSED-CHAIN / OPEN CHAIN SUPERSET – CHEST

Now we’ll look at a categorical drop set, which is a classic closed-chain / open-chain superset.

First let’s define open-chain and closed-chain so that we’re all on the same page.

In an open-chain exercise, the body is stationary while the limb moves, such as when you’re using most gym machines. In a closed-chain exercise, the limb is stationary while the body moves like in most movements that we perform with dumbbells or barbells. Closed-chain movements involve more muscles and joints and therefore are preferable for helping to create stability around a joint.

So, if I was doing a squat with my feet in contact with the ground that would be a closed-chain exercise, versus a leg extension where my legs are free to move in space, not in contact with the ground which would be open-chain.

We can apply the same with our upper body, and this is one of my favorite ways to train the chest.  We’ll do it with an Iron Cross Dumbbell Pushup to a Floor Fly.

IRON CROSS DUMBBELL PUSHUP

Play Button
iron cross dumbbell pushup

FLOOR FLY

Play Button
dumbbell floor fly

In the Iron Cross Dumbbell Pushup, I’ve got my hands on the dumbbells in contact with the ground, which makes it a closed-chain exercise.

Then I move over to the open-chain Floor Fly. You may know that this is the only version of the fly I like.

I feel that it’s the variation that provides the best resistance to accomplish the exercise without sacrificing the health of the shoulder, because in this version, we have the safety net of our elbows against the floor.

But this is an open-chain exercise because our arms are not in contact with the floor at this point, but floating free in space.

The fact is, these open-chain / closed-chain combos provide a hell of a challenge.

This one in particular, happens to be my favorite!

SUPERSET #7: LOADING AND DELOADING – LEGS AND BACK

This next superset showcases how you don’t have to train the same muscle group AT ALL to have an effective superset!

In this case the purpose of the superset is what makes it so valuable.

We’re talking about the pairing of Squats with a Hanging Scap Pull.

You might be thinking, “What is the relationship here?”

This is a superset that loads and then deloads your body.

SQUATS

Play Button
barbell squats

HANGING SCAP PULL

Play Button
hanging scap pull exercise

When we get under the squat bar we know that we have a bit of load directed down on our spine which creates spinal compression.

We can counteract this if in between sets we grab a pullup bar and hang, and also perform a small scapular pull.  The Hanging Scap Pull uses a contract/relax technique to reinforce the decompression that happens when we actually just let go.  It’s much more beneficial to do this between sets instead of just standing around!

When we get under the squat bar we know that we have a bit of load directed down on our spine. We can counteract this if in between sets we grab a pullup bar and hang, and also perform a small scapular pull.

When you let your legs hang here you can feel the spine elongate, which will help you feel ready to attack the next set of squats.

This load/de-load, or compression/decompression combo is a great way to use supersets for a specific purpose you might not have considered.

SUPERSET #8: POST-ACTIVATION POTENTIATION

Our final way to use supersets is to enhance the effects of the second exercise by preceding it with an explosive exercise that excites the nervous system.

This is called post-activation potentiation.

We’ll do this with a Depth Jump into a Deadlift.

DEPTH JUMP

Play Button
depth jump exercise

DEADLIFT

Play Button
barbell deadlift

For the Depth Jump we stand on the bench close to the bar that we’re going to deadlift. We’re looking to do two key things in this exercise.

First, we want to create a neurological excitation of the legs. We want to go down into that stretch reflex, and then explode out of it, trying to be as high and explosive as we can in our jump.

The second thing you want to work on is trying to allow the legs to load up by hinging at the hips. You want to drop into the squat by reinforcing the mechanics you’re going to use in the deadlift itself.

When you approach the bar to do your set of squats, you will see that you are much more explosive!

The excited state of the nervous system allows you to realize more power when you lift that bar off the ground.

Those are my 8 favorite supersets, all chosen for a different reason. When done at the right time, for the right purpose, supersets can be incredibly effective for helping you do more effective workouts and taking your training to the next level.

If you’re looking to take your training to the next level let me help you choose the ATHLEAN workout program that’s best suited to your current goals. We’re always going to put the science back in strength and help you use the right training principles at the right time.

Program Selector ==> See which program best fits your goals
AX1 ==> Train at Home With Dumbbells and Minimal Equipment
XERO ==> Train at Home With No Equipment

athleanx
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL:
THE 8 BEST SUPERSETS

  1. Most people who train have likely done some supersets, but their idea of what a superset is and the purpose behind it may have only been partially correct.
  2. There are two main criteria for a superset: it must include two (or sometimes more) exercises and there must be no rest time between those exercises.
  3. Many people think that supersets are for opposing muscle groups only, but that’s not the case. Supersets can be also used for the same muscle group or complimentary muscle groups. They can also be used to speed up the pace of your workout, intensify the effects of your training, or both.
  4. I’ve shown you my 8 favorite supersets that cover the gamut of muscle group combinations and different purposes so that you can understand the variety of ways that supersets can be used.

Watch the YouTube version of this article
Popular & Trending
stop doing face pulls like this facepull mistake
1
How To Do Face Pulls
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
September 9th, 2019
Face pulls are one of the best corrective exercises to help offset poor posture and shoulder dysfunction.  They help strengthen the chronically weak...
how to identify your body fat percentage with images for men
2
Body Fat Percentage
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
May 1st, 2013
There are many ways to measure body fat percentage; some wildly expensive and most inaccurate. It's time to give you an alternative method that...
2 reasons your biceps aren't growing and 3 ways to fix it
3
Why Your Biceps Aren’t Growing
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
August 22nd, 2019
Have you ever felt that no matter how much you trained your biceps you’re left saying… “My Biceps STILL Aren’t Growing?” I believe I know...
The PERFECT Abs Workout
4
The PERFECT Abs Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 31st, 2019
We’ll be following my ‘Six Pack Progression’ sequence as we choose each of the beginner and advanced ab exercises for each abdominal movement...
incline bench press avoid mistakes for upper chest
5
How To Incline Bench Press Correctly
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
June 21st, 2019
The Incline Bench Press is one of the best upper chest exercises there is, but there's one major problem preventing us from getting the maximum...
best dumbbell exercises for chest
6
The BEST Dumbbell Exercises for CHEST
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
October 9th, 2019
Today I’m going to share my favorite chest exercises… but there’s a catch. We can only use dumbbells! I’ll show you what to do whether you...
how to construct a complete chest workout
7
The PERFECT Chest Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 25th, 2019
The classic theory of "Upper, Middle, and Lower" chest exercises is a good start, but, it's not enough!! The solution to this problem is to not...
best dumbbell exercises for shoulders
8
BEST Dumbbell Exercises for SHOULDERS
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
October 5th, 2019
You want to build big shoulders and you only have access to a few pairs of dumbbells. What do you do? I’m going to show you what to do whether...
how to construct a complete biceps workout
9
The PERFECT Biceps Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 15th, 2019
The classic theories of “just do curls” or “it’s not necessary to train your biceps directly” are both flat out wrong! Why? Because it’s...
Home Chest Exercises UPPER, MID, LOWER CHEST!!
10
Chest Exercises at Home
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
May 27th, 2021
Being able to effectively hit your upper, mid and lower chest from home with NO equipment may seem impossible. But, I’m here to show you it’s...