Some traditions never fade. College football rivalries, hiding Easters eggs, the one absurdly drunk guy at any wedding. Traditionally lifting weights involved completing one exercise then moving on to the next, and if you wanted to burn fat you had to complete endless hours of cardio. To examine if there was a better way to burn fat the researchers at Syracuse University compared traditional weight training to supersets to see which method would burn more calories.
A superset is two different exercises performed back to back with little or no rest between, all while alternating opposing muscle groups. Examples could include bicep curls followed by triceps extensions, bench presses followed by barbell rows, or leg extensions followed by hamstring curls. Less rest in between means more work being done. By working opposing muscle groups, you allow your muscles enough recovery time to start each lift fresh and keep the heart rate up. Traditional resistance training involves completing a set of repetitions to or close to failure followed by a rest period then more reps of the same exercise.
The researchers tested the amount of calories burned during and after each workout. To their mild surprise no significant difference was seen between the groups. Both supersetting the exercises and performing them the traditional way used the same amount of energy both during and after the workout. However, there was a difference in the amount of time it takes to superset exercises versus the traditional way of lifting weights. In this study the superset group saved six minutes off the workout, 30 minutes vs. 36 minutes. The authors point out that, “in particular, this form of training could appeal to lunch-break exercisers or others who have a fixed period of approximately 30-40 minutes to exercise.” Also relative to the time training supersets use more energy. So a 30 minute superset workout would burn more fat than a 30 minute lifting workout simply because you would spend less time resting and more time moving.
There are still benefits with traditional methods of lifting weights, as it likely that supersets and the traditional way would produce different long term training adaptations. According to the study, “It is possible to speculate that superset training would elicit higher energy expenditure and enhance muscular endurance and traditional would elicit greater increases in muscle strength.” The traditional method would be beneficial to strength athletes and those trying to gain muscle mass.
While working out in a busy gym it can be hard to superset machines and exercise equipment. For this reason I like to pick one piece of equipment and use it for two different exercises. A kettlebell or dumbbell can be used for a single arm press and then the same kettlebell can be used for a single leg deadlift.
It is important you don’t pick exercises that can fatigue the same muscle groups and joints. For example paring overhead presses with triceps presses may fatigue the arms and or shoulder joint and negate the cardiovascular effect possible with supersetting exercises. Paring an upper and lower body exercise would be a better idea. Both methods have a place and time, but if you’re busy and don’t feel like you have the time to work out, try supersetting exercises.
Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach who trains at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. Kyler specializes in performance enhancement and injury prevention. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.