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Jim's Full-Body Superset System

Build muscle, burn fat and (added bonus!) save time with this 6-day program that combines two great concepts: full-body training and supersets.

Jim's Full-Body Superset System

I’ve covered supersets extensively over the years through both articles and programming – from Super-Man to Super Shredded 8 – but never quite like this. Here, I’m combining supersets with full-body training via a brief but brutally effective 6-day program.

The two concepts are a perfect match, really. Full-body training, as I’ve been telling anyone who will listen these days, is superior for burning fat while still allowing you to see gains in muscle size and strength.

As for supersetting, where do I start?

Superset Primer

Supersets involve two exercises done back-to-back with no rest between exercises. There are two main ways to do supersets:

Method 1 involves two exercises for two different muscle groups done back-to-back with no rest; that’s called a SUPERSET. As Joe Weider defined it over a half-century ago, a true superset technically involves opposing muscle groups (chest and back, biceps and triceps, quads and hamstring, etc).

These days, the term superset is used more loosely, though I still prefer to pair opposite muscle groups. You’ll see this repeatedly in the below workouts, even with smaller bodyparts like forearms (where I superset forearm flexion moves with the opposing forearm extension) and calves (where I pair calf raises with toe raises, the latter of which trains the anterior tibialis muscles on the front side of the lower leg). 

Method 2 involves two exercises for the same muscle group done back-to-back with no rest; this is technically called a COMPOUND SET. For example, two chest exercises paired together, two back moves, two leg moves, to biceps moves, etc.

From these two versions, you can create an infinite number of workouts, as I'm going to show you over the course of six workouts.

Each workout will show you not just the benefits of the superset method itself, but the benefit of other techniques combined with supersets – techniques like pre-exhaust and extended sets, among others.

Opposing Benefits

Superset training offers a multitude of benefits. The most obvious is saving time. Doing two exercises with no rest can significantly cut your workout time down and get you out of the gym quicker.

The “no-rest” policy of supersets also has physiological benefits, namely burning more calories – 30% more, to be exact, both during workouts and afterward, according to research from Syracuse University. That's right, if you do supersets correctly, you can burn 30% more calories after the workout is over, when you’re doing nothing.

Supersets can also be used to boost strength when training opposing muscle groups. Research shows that a muscle will contract with more force if preceded by contractions of its antagonist (opposing) muscle group.

For example, when you do a superset of barbell rows followed by bench press, you'll be stronger on the bench press. In fact, Australian researchers reported that when trained athletes performed rows before doing a bench press throw, they had significantly more power on the bench press throw than when they did it without first doing the rows.

University of Wisconsin-Parkside (Kenosha, WI) researchers found that when subjects did a six-second isometric hamstring curl before doing an explosive vertical jump, quadriceps force production was increased by nearly 15% as compared to when they did the jump without the leg curl. This phenomenon may be due to greater inhibition of the opposing muscles.

Another study, this one from Canada, reported that when subjects did three supersets of rows and bench press using their four-rep max on each exercise, they were able to perform more reps on the second and third sets than when they did traditional sets.

Again, this may be due to the greater inhibition of the antagonist muscles, but it's also likely due to getting a longer rest for each muscle group. When you're training the opposing muscle group, the other is getting some rest. When you combine the rest taken between supersets, it equates to greater total rest for each muscle group.

Regardless of the reason, being able to complete more reps with a given weight will lead to greater muscle strength and growth over time. Simple as that.

Full-Body Superset Workouts

The below program consists of six workouts that I did on six consecutive days. Do the workouts six days in a row yourself, or scale it back by inserting rest days between workouts. How you do it depends on your schedule and current fitness level.

As I’ll explain for individual workouts, these routines run the gamut in terms of exercise selection, rep ranges, and even added intensity techniques.

Whatever schedule you choose, the combination of full-body training and supersets can’t be beat.

Enjoy the workouts, everyone!

(To download a workout to your mobile device, click on the workout title – Workout 1, Workout 2, etc.)

Workout 1

In this first workout using my Full-Body Superset System, you’ll pair opposing muscle groups and movements – ie, back and chest, triceps and biceps, straight-arm pushdowns and upright rows (opposing movements), etc.

Since supersets are good for improving strength, weight will be on the heavy side with sets of 6-8 reps.

Do any versions you prefer of the below exercises. Perform 3 sets of each exercise, 6-8 reps per set, except for any bodyweight moves you choose (pull-ups, push-ups, dips, etc.); for these moves, go to failure regardless of how many reps that ends up being.

Bent-Over Row

Superset with

Bench Press

Squat

Superset with

Barbell Rollout/Plank

Straight-Arm Pushdown

Superset with

Upright Row

Triceps Pressdown

Superset

Biceps Curl

Reverse Wrist Curl

Superset with

Wrist Curl

Toe Raise

Superset with

Calf Raise

Workout 2

On the second day of the program, you’ll simply swap the order of exercises, doing the chest exercise before the back move, abs before legs, biceps before triceps, and so on.

Again, choose whatever versions of the below exercises you like, and they don’t have to be the same ones you did yesterday. The important thing here is to mimic the movements I chose and switch the order of exercises in each superset pairing.

Bench Press

Superset with

Bent-Over Row

Barbell Rollout/Plank

Superset with

Squat

Upright Row

Superset with

Straight-Arm Pushdown

Biceps Curl

Superset with

Triceps Pressdown

Wrist Curl

Superset with

Reverse Wrist Curl

Calf Raise

Superset with

Toe Raise

Workout 3

This routine involves compound sets where two exercises for the same muscle group are done back-to-back. In this version of compound sets, we’ll do a multijoint exercise first followed by a single-joint movement (again, for that same muscle group). In cases of muscle groups like biceps, two single-joint exercises will be used.

Do 2 sets of each exercise and use any version of each exercise you prefer. On exercise 1, do 5-6 reps per set, and on exercise 2 do 12-15 reps. When body weight exercises are used, just go to failure.

Record the weight used on each exercise, as tomorrow you’ll repeat these supersets in the opposite order.

Bench Press

Superset with

Flye

Lat Pulldown

Superset with

Straight-Arm Pulldown

Squat

Superset with

Romanian Deadlift

Shoulder Press

Superset with

Lateral Raise

Shrug

Superset with

Behind-Back Shrug

Standing Calf

Superset with

Seated Calf

Close-Grip Bench Press

Superset with

Triceps Overhead Extension

Standing Biceps Curl

Superset with

Prone Incline Curl

Hip Thrust

Superset with

Crunch

Workout 4

This is the pre-exhaust version of workout 3. You’ll use the same exact weight you used on each exercise yesterday, but now the exercise order is swapped. This way, when you hit fatigue on the second exercise, you know it's because the target muscle group is fatigued, not due to a smaller muscle group being fatigued. The latter can limit your gains in muscle growth and strength.

Using the same weight will allow you to feel the impact that pre-exhaust can have on your strength. You’ll also feel the muscle differently, and when used periodically, this method can lead to good gains in lean muscle mass.

Flye

Superset with

Bench Press

Straight-Arm Pulldown

Superset with

Lat Pulldown

Romanian Deadlift

Superset with

Squat

Lateral Raise

Superset with

Shoulder Press

Behind-Back Shrug

Superset with

Shrug

Seated Calf

Superset with

Standing Calf

Triceps Overhead Extension

Superset with

Close-Grip Bench Press

Prone Incline Curl

Superset with

Standing Biceps Curl

Crunch

Superset with

Hip Thrust

Workout 5

This workout utilizes extended sets. You’ll do two exercises for the same muscle group, where the second move is one that tends to be an “easier” version of the first. By “easier” I don't necessarily mean the exercises are truly easier; rather, they just happen to be more biomechanically advantageous than the variation you just did.

For example, most people tend to be far stronger on flat-bench presses than incline presses, so an extended set for chest would have you do incline presses to failure, then immediately switch to flat-bench presss with the same weight you failed on doing inclines. Because you’re stronger on the flat bench, you’ll be able to compete a few more reps despite hitting failure on inclines immediately before that.

For the first exercise in each pairing, pick a weight that allows you to complete about 4-6 reps. Stop just short of failure on that first move, then immediately move to the second exercise using the same weight and go until you reach failure.

Do 2 sets of each superset/extended set pairing, using any version you prefer of each exercise.

Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press

Extended Set with

Dumbbell Bench Press

Wide-Grip Overhand Row

Extended Set with

Underhand-Grip Row

Romanian Deadlift

Extended Set with

Deadlift

Rear Delt Raise

Extended Set with

Lateral Raise

Behind-Back Shrug

Extended Set with

Shrug

Seated Calf Raise

Extended Set with

Standing Calf Raise

Prone Incline Dumbbell Curl

Extended Set with

Incline Dumbbell Curl

Rope Triceps Pressdown

Extended Set with

Straight-Bar Triceps Pressdown

Hanging Leg Raise

Extended Set With

Hip Thrust

Workout 6

The final workout has you reverse the order of the previous workout. But I’m not just doing this for the fun of it. In Workout 5, you took advantage of moving from one exercise to a more biomechanically advantageous one. Here, you’ll move toward a more biomechanically disadvantageous exercise – which will make you appreciate the order of exercises in workout 5 far more!

For this workout, choose a weight on your first exercise that limits you to 4-6 reps, but don't attempt this weight on the second exercise; instead, use 50% of the weight used on exercise #1 for the second move, and take it to failure. As with Workout 5, do 2 sets each.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Extended Set with

Dumbbell Reverse-Grip Bench Press

Underhand-Grip Row

Extended Set with

Wide-Grip Overhand Row

Deadlift

Extended Set with

Romanian Deadlift

Lateral Raise

Extended Set with

Rear Delt Raise

Shrug

Extended Set with

Behind-Back Shrug

Standing Calf Raise

Extended Set with

Seated Calf Raise

Incline Dumbbell Curl

Extended Set with

Prone Incline Dumbbell Curl

Straight-Bar Triceps Pressdown

Extended Set with

Rope Triceps Pressdown

Hip Thrust

Extended Set with

Hanging Leg Raise

 

View The Workout

 

References:

Baker, D. and Newton, R. U. Acute effect on power output of alternating an agonist and antagonist muscle exercise during complex training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(1): 202-205, 2005.

Ebben, W. P., et al. Antagonist knockout training increases force and the rate of force development. Annual Meeting of the National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2011.

Kelleher, A., et al. The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(4):1043-1051, 2010.

Robbins, D. W., et al. The effect of an upper-body agonist-antagonist resistance training protocol on volume load and efficiency. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2632-40.

Robbins, D. W., et al. Agonist-antagonist paired set resistance training: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2873-82.

 





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