Better Supersets for Better Movement
Supersets and their many benefits have been written about countless times. They save time, they ramp up metabolic stress, and increase the amount of work you can do during a workout. For those that have yet to hear the concept of a superset, traditional supersets pair two non-competing strength exercises for massive gains. While increasing metabolic load is a great way to achieve hypertrophy, there are other ways in which we can include supersets to help us move better and pain free.
Not that everyone is injured, but I have yet to meet a lifter that hasn’t been beat up from hammering away at weights. In this case, it’s important to program with more movement quality in mind.
These 3 non-traditional supersets aim to improve movement, but also focus on the main goal to gain muscle, develop strength and stay injury-free in the process.
Surrounding every joint are muscles that perform opposite actions, but due to either training, or movement habits, one group ends up overpowering its antagonist. Through the use of an inhibit-activate superset, we’re looking to produce long lasting change.
The inhibit-activate superset is best placed during a dynamic warm-up before any strength based lifts are completed. During the training session, our body will make use of the newly acquired skills.
The two best examples of where this appears is around the shoulders and hips. In most cases, the anterior chain inhibits the posterior chain. In both of these cases we want to pair a stretch or SMR with an activation in an antagonist muscle. In the case of the hips, in order for the glutes to optimally activate, there needs to be adequate hip flexor flexibility. Without it, the hip flexors will restrict your ability to do any hip extension exercise.
*Note that all exercises are written as SETSxREPS or SETSxTIME
Hip Flexor Stretch + Banded Glute Bridge
1A. Hip Flexor/Psoas Stretch: 1x 20-30 seconds
1B. Banded Glute Bridge: 1x 10-15 reps
Whether it’s a constant seated position, or our love affair with the bench, pecs and anterior shoulder muscles have caused chaos within the shoulder. We’d like to see better gleno-humeral and scapular rhythm and that starts with having balance between the anterior and posterior musculature. Place this inhibit-activate tri-set into your pre-training routine:
Anterior Shoulder Stretch + Posterior Shoulder Activation
1A. Door Stretch: 1x 20-30 seconds
1B. Banded Pull Apart: 1x 15-20 reps
1C. Face-Pull: 1 x 15-20 reps
Mobility has received a lot of attention as of late, and for good reason. Performing mobility exercises can aid in getting the body into more optimal positions in order to complete a lift. Improved hip mobility can lead to more depth on your squat, while better thoracic spine mobility may improve your ability to bench. However, mobility exercises lose their effect due to a lack of proper programming to make use of new found ranges of motion.
We need to not only create new found ranges of motion, but we need to learn how to control them. By pairing a mobility drill with a strength exercise, we make use of that new found range of motion. This leads to an adaptation both muscularly and within the motor plan itself.
While the previous superset worked best during a dynamic warm-up, the mobility-strength superset is meant to be placed within the training session itself. Including exercises that promote hip mobility, like a 90/90 switch will directly influence the depth of the squat, and by performing the squat right after, we immediately make use of the new found mobility. This teaches the body that it’s ok to get lower and that we can control the new range of motion.
It is vital to this superset to avoid overdoing it on the mobility. Keep it short and sweet, just enough to create change. One of my favorite pain-free pairings for mobility-strength supersets with the squat pattern is the thoracic spine extension on foam roller with any front squat variation. Alternate between these two movements to optimal mobility and technique enhancement in the squat.
Thoracic Spine Extension
1A. Thoracic Spine Extension (on peanut or roller): 1x 6 reps
1B. Front Squat Variation
In a similar fashion the mobility-strength superset, this superset goes directly into the training program. We’re looking to maximize the amount of muscular contraction and integration for the big lifts, like the squat, bench and deadlift. How great would it be if our lats were firing before we deadlifted? The most classic example of where this is applicable is performing a set of straight arm pulldowns before deadlifting or a single arm raise to fire up lower traps before doing an overhead press.
With exercises in this pairing, it’s important to avoid chasing fatigue on the activation exercises. We want just enough of a stimulus to get the muscle ready for a more compound, heavy lift. Before approaching the bar for deadlifts, placing a straight arm pulldown variation in for a few reps can stimulate activation and lead to tighter, stronger lifts off the floor.
Straight Arm Pulldown
1A. Straight Arm Pulldown: 1x 5 reps
1B. Deadlift Variation
In a similar fashion to traditional supersets these untraditional supersets are meant to save time in the gym. However, instead of maximizing metabolic stress, the intention is to improve the ability to move pain free. While it is important to train hard and with a purpose, it is inevitable that lifters will get aches and pains. The key is to manage them to avoid bigger hurdles that keep us on the shelf and out of the gym for prolonged periods of time. With these supersets, we can learn to train uninhibited and be able to consistently move towards our goals.
About The Author
Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT, LMT is a personal trainer with 10 years of experience in the fitness profession. He is co-owner of Active Movement & Performance, a training facility on Long Island. In addition to being a trainer, he is also a New York State Licensed Massage Therapist, which has allowed him to blend fitness and training with preventative and rehabilitative work. His firm belief in education is manifest as an educator for Fitness Education Institute, presenting at their yearly convention. For more, connect with Chris on social media: