Supersets & Compound Sets: Analysis & Application

Supersets & Compound Sets: Analysis & Application

If you’re at all familiar with working out and training in general, the term “superset” will have come up at some point. Technically though, it’s very misused.

To ‘superset’ is to alternate between two movements that work different muscle groups - with the aim being to fill the time required for one muscle group to rest, while you work the other.

Bicep curls are a common example. Depending on the reps and weight you’re using, you might need between two to five minutes rest between sets.

This also depends on your experience level and how close you’re getting to ‘failure’. But generally, you need to rest muscles properly between sets so they can work again at full capacity on the next set.

You could scroll through an informative article from the Joompa blog, or work on some mobility and stability for your lower body.

Or - tricep extensions. Bicep curls work in the opposite direction, so your triceps are ready to go and raring to lift. Or calf raises, which have zero involvement in bending your elbow.

You’ve now doubled the amount of work done, without compromising performance.

Arms are particularly popular for supersets, because mechanically speaking, they are very opposed. And, because they’re smaller muscles, they recover quickly without the need for huge amounts of oxygen - so the average gym-goer can handle the constant work.

Doing this with compound movements gets a bit more tricky, because of the many muscles involved. Combining a bench press and a pull-up, for example, would require a certain level of experience and training.

Firstly, you’re lifting heavy weight with multiple muscles. Secondly, you’re using your lats to help stabilise your upper arm during the bench press, and then again during pull-ups, tiring the muscles and hindering performance.

Your muscles need a high oxygen intake to fuel each set, too. So, while it can be a good way to give your respiratory system a workout, it can also limit your strength.

One way to get around this is to combine working sets and warm-up exercise. So for instance, you could do a warm-up for lat pulldowns between working bench press sets.

Then, as you move onto working sets for lat pull-downs, you can start alternating these with warm-ups for dumbbell shoulder presses, and so on.

It depends on your time and priorities, too. If you’re in the gym solely to build strength and muscle, you need to be laser-focused about optimal performance from set to set. If you’re just there for ‘maintenance’ - i.e. to keep muscles stimulated and to stay fit - you can relax a little bit, and not worry about how working sets affect each other.

Compound sets are entirely different. They work best at the end of a workout, when you are focused on hitting failure points rather than shifting heavy weight.

Usually only done with two sets (but sometimes with up to four, in a “giant set”) in a row, all targeting similar muscles; for example, bench press to dumbbell flyes to tricep extensions.

The compound movement stimulates the muscle, and isolation movement targets it even harder. Alternatively, you can do an isolation movement first, to ‘pre-fatigue’ the compound movement.

Compound sets aren’t commonly used at the beginning of workouts, because they create fatigue in the muscles you are trying to build, which reduces performance in subsequent exercises, and renders the rest of the workout less effective.

However, compound movements can be very effective at creating muscle damage and fatigue in a short space of time - similar to drop sets, where you work until failure, then drop the weight, and continue.

To do three sets to failure with a short break could take up to ten minutes with an isolation exercise; with a compound movement, you can hit failure in less than two.

Compound sets aren’t ideal for taking muscles through a large volume (weight moved x reps) - but if you’re in a rush, they can be very useful.

That’s the difference between compound sets and supersets - now it’s up to you to put them into practice, or ask one of our coaches to help!