There are many layers to program design. One approach that has become more and more popular over the last few years has been supersetting; in its true form, a superset is a pair of antagonist exercises (opposite muscle groups) coupled together to be performed for a given amount of sets. The overall idea is to give one set of muscle groups their proper rest while working a whole other set of muscle groups, but there are surprisingly many ways to screw this up.
Many people think that throwing two arbitrary exercises together and alternating between them can be considered a good superset, but it runs much deeper than this. There are several ways to intelligently design these pairs to get the most bang for your buck and steer yourself far away from potential injury. Below are some tips:
1.) Pair compression with decompression: it is important to consider how much load you are placing on your spine while exercising. Spinal loading is good in the sense that it will force your body to respond by increasing muscle and bone mass, but too much of anything is not great. If you have a sedentary job and are compressing your spine by sitting all day, it is probably not very smart to pair together a heavy squat with a heavy deadlift or overhead press. Instead, try pairing closed-chained, compression-based exercises (squats, dead lifts) with open-chain, decompression-based exercises (i.e. chin ups, dips, lat pulldowns, hanging leg raises, etc.). This will keep your spine happy.
2.) Don’t burn out your stabilizers before a heavy set: many people like the pair core exercises with their heavy sets, but this may be setting you up for failure. In my opinion, low intensity core exercises are okay to pair with heavier sets in terms of “priming” the core to fire for these lifts, but also consider that you need these muscle to be fully engaged to maintain trunk rigidity during the lifts. If you toast your abdominals with a max effort plank before you front squat, you may be, well….toast.
3.) Place your pull before your push. From a scapular stabilization point, it is smart to place a pull (cable rows, banded pull aparts, etc.) before you push (bench press, overhead press, etc.)
4.) Sneak your correctives or mobility work in between sets: although I believe sometimes people go a little overboard with their correctives, there is absolutely a time and place for them. If someone has a lot of mobility issues that they need to address, adding in some of these drills in between sets can help prevent an excessively long warm-up as well as prep them for the given lift. For example, you could throw in a T-spine drill (quadraped rotations) in between a dead lift or some down-dogs in between a hang snatch.
5.) Have a little fun with it: I always like use the remaining time in a session to be creative and have fun. Once the “meat and potatoes” of the lift/workout are accomplished, have some dessert. Here you have more freedom to throw in exercises that you may like (or ones that make you feel like a bad ass). I prefer grouping some core and cardio-type body weight exercises together that will get your heart rate up and empty the tank. Some examples of different exercises you can mix in are different variations or planks, rope slams, sprints on the rower, different variations of burpees, sled pushes, sprints, body weight plyos, and more.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me for any help on your program design!
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS