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Supersize Your Growth

Days in a weekend. Air Jordans. Nikki and Brie Bella.

Yes, it’s true… great things come in twos.

The theory doesn’t just apply to pricey shoes and hot twin wrestling divas, however. The idea of pairing also rates highly in the realm of bodybuilding if your goal is maximizing your muscle mass. Called supersets, this admittedly simple concept calls for doing two exercises back-to-back with no rest in between. There are two different approaches:

1. One muscle group. You combine two exercises for the same muscle group, such as a press and flye for chest, or a bent-over row with a pulldown for back. This punishes the muscle by pushing it further than one exercise by itself can, recruiting the muscle fibers in a slightly different way on the second move to allow for more overall reps.

2. Opposing muscle groups. You pair two exercises for opposing muscle groups, like chest and back, quadriceps and hamstrings or triceps and biceps. This method concentrates blood in the region being worked, elevating the muscle-growth-inducing pump and taking advantage of the synergistic relationship of the two bodyparts (as one relaxes and elongates, the other is flexing and shortening, and vice versa).

Of course, this concept can be stretched beyond two movements. Add a third and you have what’s referred to as a tri-set; add four (or more) and you have a giant set, or circuit. All of them thrive on the same physiological underpinning — more reps (work) done in less time (no rest) equals higher intensity. The intensity helps fully fatigue the target muscle, prompting it to gain strength and size to meet the increased demand next time around.

As with any intensity technique, however, the key is prudence in using it. Applied in a targeted fashion and it can provide just enough extra stimulation to prompt development. Use it too often, however, and you’ll burn yourself out. In other words, don’t rely on supersets, tri-sets or giant sets every single workout for a particular bodypart. And switch up your approach regularly so your body doesn’t adjust to the load — you want to constantly keep your body off-balance so it has impetus to respond.

That said, here are a few sample workouts for a selection of bodyparts that incorporate supersets, tri-sets and giant sets.

Superset Your Arms

trisets for delts

Giant Sets






About the Author

Michael Berg NSCA CPT

Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT, is a freelance health and fitness writer based in New York. He has written for a variety of publications and websites in the bodybuilding industry, including MuscleMag, Oxygen, Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men’s Fitness, and formerly served as deputy editor on Muscle & Fitness and Flex. He was also editor in chief for the launch of Muscle & Performance, the official magazine of The Vitamin Shoppe.