How to Supersize Your Upper Body Workout

By | December 30, 2018

Let’s face it: No one says they aren’t busy, even if they fill half their days playing video games and endlessly scrolling their Instagram feed.

Regardless what your definition of busy is, you want to minimize your time in the gym while maximizing your results, right? But you also know total volume, number of sets X reps over time, results in greater muscular gains (this meta-analysis of the research found that to be true).

So how do you get your reps in and still make time for Game of Thrones re-runs?

Supersets. But not just any superset. A unique spin on the conventional superset that shows major promise in research. This type of superset involves pairing up opposing muscle groups and training them back to back. For this article, we’re going to focus on your back and chest, but other example would be your biceps and triceps, quads and hamstrings and so on.

Supersets for Super Gains

Fitness room in the morning

Getty ImagesLizalica

In one study, 16 trained men performed two workout protocols—three sets of seal rows followed by three sets of bench press in straight sets or super sets. Volume loads per set (total reps x weight) were significantly higher in the super set group. As we alluded to earlier, that’s good for your gains, man.

This wasn’t a CrossFit-style AMRAP where they alternated exercises with no rest until form broke down and they puked and shattered several vertebrae. They rested sufficiently between exercises. However, another study showed that short rest intervals (30 seconds and 1 minute) between antagonist super sets elicited the most muscle activation of the methods studied.

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The performance benefits found in these studies don’t even account for the increased EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption, or ‘afterburn’) from training with an elevated heart rate throughout the workout.

There are some exercises best avoided with this method, though. In one study, performance in the squat was diminished by performing an upper body antagonist super set in between sets of squats. You’d likely see a further performance decrease if you tried pairing full body exercises together, such as squats and deadlifts, which incorporate several muscle groups and generate significant neural fatigue and gas your cardiovascular system.

The same fatigued conditions would arise if you paired quad-dominant movements after one another, i.e. walking lunges and split squats, or two rowing movements, such as t-bar rows and barbell rows, in succession.

The key to the studies mentioned is pairing antagonists/agonist muscle groups such as chest and back, biceps and triceps and quads and hamstrings.

Agonist Chest/Back Superset Workout

Sample antagonist Chest/Back superset workout you can do in 20 minutes or less.

Perform 4 rounds of each superset, with no rest between exercises.

A1. Stretch Push Ups

Until failure

A2. One Arm Barbell Rows

8 to 12 reps

B1. Decline Bench Press

8 to 12 reps

B2. Dumbbell Pullovers

8 to 12 reps

Sample antagonist Chest/Back super set with recovery period (compound movements)

Perform 4 rounds of the superset. Rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

A1. Barbell Bench Press

8 to 12 reps

A2. Barbell Row

8 to 12 reps

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