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Best Exercise Order for Supersets: Opposing (chest/legs) or Similar Muscle Groups (chest/chest)?

Best Exercise Order for Supersets: Opposing (chest/legs) or Similar Muscle Groups (chest/chest)?

By: Robbie Durand

A superset is performed when two exercises are performed in a row without stopping. Supersets are ideal for getting a good pump and increasing exercise intensity. Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for his legendary superset workouts. Many bodybuilders will superset back to back body parts such as lat pull-downs followed by seated rows, whereas other bodybuilders will two opposing body parts (i.e chest followed by a leg exercise).

Opposing Muscle Group Superset Example

Similar Muscle Group Superset Example:

Supersets are known to increase the muscle activation of the muscle fibers being trained which may lead to enhanced muscle growth. One issue regarding supersets is that it will take longer to recuperate from a Superset workout than a regular workout. Researchers wanted to compare the effects of how supersets affect muscle activation and how long it took for a muscle to recuperate from a superset workout. The subjects performed a total of four exercises for upper and lower body exercises: (a) free weight “bench press” (b) “peck deck” flyes, (c) “leg-press 45” and (d) “leg extension”.

The researchers had the subjects perform the exercises in two different orders:

Group 1 performed (similar muscle groups): bench press, pec deck flyes, leg press, and then leg extension.

Group 2 performed (opposing muscle groups): leg press, followed by pec-deck flyes, free weight bench press, followed by leg extension.

Bodybuilder exercising in front of black background

The researchers found that although the subjects performed the same workout with the exception of a different exercise order, back to back muscle group exercises such as Group 1 resulted in larger increases in muscle activation of the muscle group and greater increases in muscle damage. There was a higher muscle EMG activity in Group 1 in the thighs (Group 1: 88.4% x Group 2: 73.6%) and front deltoids (Group 1: 176.4% x Group 2: 100.0%); in addition to greater concentration of markers of muscle damage (i.e. muscle creatine kinase levels were 632.4% in Group 1 and 330.5% in Group 2) after exercise. It took Group 2 (i.e. opposing muscle groups) 4 days for markers of muscle damage return to baseline levels, whereas in Group 1 (back to back muscle groups), after five days the markers for muscle damage had not yet returned to resting levels. The findings suggest that, in physically active men, implementing supersets with grouped exercises promotes greater muscle effort and muscle damage, wherein five days are not enough to recover the trained muscle groups.

Key Points: Supersetting back to back muscle groups required greater muscular effort but takes longer to recuperate from. The study found that even after five days, muscle recovery was not fully achieved when training back to back muscle groups, whereas opposing muscle group supersets took four days to recover from.


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