You don’t need super-long workouts to get fit and toned. Save time and boost the intensity of your weight-lifting sessions with super sets. With typical weight lifting, you work a particular muscle group by doing a few sets of one exercise, resting enough in between so that you can complete the group of sets. You then follow up with another exercise that also works out the same group or a complementary muscle and do a few more sets. Upper-body super sets flip that model on its head by pushing you to work opposing muscle groups with no rest in between sets.
Remember the two most important things about super sets: intensity and opposition. The super set structure demands that you rest as little as possible between exercises and not at all in between each set. For example, you’d group two sets – each one for a different exercise – into a larger super set, jumping from one to the next without skipping a beat. A typical super set workout will include four or five super sets. Super set workouts won’t work if you don’t keep the intensity up, so rest no more than 90 seconds in between each super set.
With super sets, you work out opposing muscles back-to-back to create muscle confusion. When you do a workout for the first time, your body gets the maximum impact from it, because it has no familiarity with that workout. Muscle confusion simulates this experience, so that every workout is as close to that first-time feeling as possible. To use super sets, you’ll need to know which upper body muscle groups oppose each other. For example, biceps and triceps are directly opposing muscles, so a good example super set would be a set of 12 biceps curls followed immediately with a set of 12 overhead triceps extensions. The chest and back are also opposing groups. Some groups don’t have direct opposites. For example, shoulders as a group don’t have a counterpart; the three main portions of the shoulder all oppose each other.
Upper Body Exercises
For the chest, pair one set of 12 reps on the flat bench press with one set of 12 reps doing barbell rows. Since you’ll only be doing one set of each, use a weight that’s heavy enough to nearly fatigue you during each set. Use an appropriately heavy weight for all of your exercises. Blast your biceps and triceps with one set of 15 preacher curls, then one set of 15 triceps presses. Do one set of 12 standing shoulder presses followed by one set of 12 overhead military presses to work out the inner and outer shoulder muscles. When doing super sets, go big to small, working the larger muscles first, and then winnowing down to the smallest muscle groups in your upper body. Change up the exercises ever three to four weeks to prevent your body from getting used to the routine.
Overtraining is one of the most common mistakes new exercisers make when starting super set routines. Since you’re only doing a few sets of all different exercises, you may be tempted to throw in a few more super sets to push your boundaries. The problem with this comes the next day when you’re too sore to breathe. Super sets replace set/rep volume with intensity and muscle confusion, so even though you feel like you aren’t doing enough in the moment, you’re hitting your body harder than it’s used to. Plan your exercises and sets carefully, and stick to the plan.
Bobby R. Goldsmith is a writer and editor with over 12 years of experience in journalism, marketing and academics. His work has been published by the Santa Fe Writers Project, "DASH Literary Journal," the "Inland Valley Daily Bulletin" and WiseGEEK.