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Fitness & Health

23rd Jul 2018

Looking for superior results? Weight train with super sets

Combining exercises together saves time and amplifies lean muscle gains

Alex Roberts

Pairing exercises together into ‘super sets’ has long been seen as a time-efficient way of getting a workout in – and research shows this method may produce more muscle mass

Super sets effectively halve your training time and are a great addition to any plan due to their variety.

There are many different kinds:

Agonist super sets

These involve pairing two exercises together that work similar muscles. Examples would include bench press and weighted dips or a barbell squat followed by the trap-bar deadlift.

If you do combine compound exercises together with no rest in-between, you’ll have to watch the weight you lift. You won’t be able to lift what you normally would for a standalone set.

Antagonist super sets

Arguably the most popular form of super set, antagonists combine opposing muscle groups and movement patterns. Yours may take the form of bench press followed by bent-over rows, or if you’re getting a weekend arm pump on, bicep curls followed by tricep extensions.

This may prove to be the most time-efficient mode of training.

Pre-exhaust super sets

Although the majority of training programmes recommend putting the heaviest, most demanding lifts first, pre-exhaust super sets are an advanced trick.

They involve beginning with an isolation exercise first, before moving into a compound lift that stimulates the same muscle group. For instance, for tricep training you might like to start with a rope extension before going into a weighted dip or close-grip bench press.

Studies reinforce the benefits of training with super sets, displaying greater overall volume in each workout. Volume is one of the key drivers of muscle growth.

That’s not all there is, though. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, or need to cram even more work in, you have a few options.


Adding a third exercise to a super set effectively turns it into a tri-set. These are difficult, and not always necessary, but increase your muscular endurance and fat-burning.

When you’re really trying to stress a particular muscle, tri-sets can work well. An example chest set could incorporate the bench press, followed by flyes and then press-ups to finish.

Giant sets

If you thought three sets was tough enough, try four. If you’ve hit a plateau or want to spice up the occasional workout, these make for a fresh change.

Their use demands so much recovery, however, that it’s not recommended you depend on them. Professional sport teams regularly perform strength & conditioning circuits in sets of four, as JOE discovered when training with the England Rugby Sevens squad.

Elite-level athletes can move their whole day around to accommodate sleeping, eating and recovery.

For further results, read more on the muscle-building myths that need to be busted