How to Properly Use Supersets to Your Advantage

If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for workout inspiration or attending personal or group training sessions, chances are you’ve run across the term “superset.” While supersets are common, it’s still hard for many to grasp what they are and how best to integrate them into a workout. So, here’s some help!

Supersetting is rather simple: Perform two exercises, back-to-back, with little to no rest in between. An example would be doing a set of biceps curls and then triceps dips right afterward. For the time-crunched gym goer, supersets are regarded as the holy grail of workout constructs. Any type of training that promises better results in half the time is a win for most!

Designing supersets, however, gets a bit more complicated. See, the exercises you choose to perform back-to-back will either work for you or against you. Sequence the right exercises together and you’ll burn more calories and increase performance. Choose the wrong pairing and it can bring on injuries and potentially impede your progress. Let’s break it down and make supersets super simple. There are three types.

Antagonist Supersets: Pairing exercises together that involve opposing muscle groups.

  • Ex. Biceps curls, followed by triceps curls
  • Ex. Leg extensions, followed by hamstring curls or deadlifts

Antagonist supersets allow one muscle group to rest while another gets to work. This should enable you to lift at the same “level” (weight/reps) as you would if completing multiple sets of one exercise with adequate rest in between each set—which saves time and increases caloric expenditure.

Agonist Supersets: Pairing exercises together that involve the same muscle groups.

  • Ex. Chest presses, followed by push-ups
  • Ex. Pull-ups, followed by biceps curls

Agonist supersets are sometimes referred to as compound sets and are the most physically demanding types of supersets. They allow you to increase your volume of training (how much you can accomplish in the same amount of time) and intensity (in less time), and incorporate more muscles in the same workout.

A “pre-fatigue superset” falls under the agonist heading. Instead of choosing two exercises that target the same general muscle group, you begin with an exercise for one of the smaller muscle groups that assists in the second exercise you’ll be performing. In theory, for example, when you wear out one of the muscles that assist in the chest press, the chest will have to work harder, and will then have a bigger “reaction” to the chest press.

  • Ex. Triceps kickback, followed by chest presses
  • Ex. Biceps curl, followed by seated rows

Unrelated Supersets: Pairing exercises together that are not connected.

If you pair exercises that are unrelated, you still receive the benefit of accomplishing more sets and reps in a shorter amount of time, and also will have little-to-no loss of strength when moving between exercises.

  • Ex. Lunges, followed by pull-ups
  • Ex. Squats, followed by push-ups

Common Superset Mistakes

Beware of the following mistakes that might affect your health and results.

Pairing Core with Other Exercises – Your core is responsible for stabilizing and helping you lift. When you are continually taxing your core in between sets of heavy lifting, you run the risk of eliminating an integral source of support. Better to save the core work for the end of the workout or another day if you’re using supersets to maximize your gains!

Performing Successive Compressive Moves – A compressive move is anything that compresses your spine, such as goblet squats or barbell lunges. Compressive moves aren’t bad, necessarily. But you do want to work in non-compressive exercise to counterbalance these common exercises. Examples include anything that fixes your arms in place and allows your feet to move, such as triceps dips, pull-ups, glute bridges, or any suspension exercises (e.g. TRX exercises).

Ultimately, supersets are a great way to maximize your time in the gym. And, with a little bit of forethought, they can help you keep your muscles guessing, break through plateaus, and avoid burnout or boredom. Ask a personal trainer for more advice if you’re still unsure how to build your own supersets.

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3 Great Moves for the Cable Rope

The cable rope attachment is extremely versatile. So much so, I have several trainer friends who carry their own in their gym bag in case wherever we’re going to lift doesn’t have one! Beyond the pushdown, curl, and pull, you can use it for variations in leg exercises, core movements, and upper body training. Let’s master these moves first though! Watch and read on for instruction.

3 Great Cable Rope Moves

Triceps Pushdown

Your triceps muscles consist of three heads, or points of origin: the medial, lateral, and long head. The most efficient way to train all three is using a full range of motion—just as you would with any other muscle group. And the trick to getting all three heads involved in the Triceps Pushdown is tilting your torso forward at a 30- to 40-degree angle, instead of standing straight up.

  1. Start off standing in front of a cable machine, attaching a rope to the high pulley and grabbing the attachment with an overhand grip.
  2. Keeping your abs drawn in, back straight, and elbows in at your sides, push the rope down toward your thighs.
  3. As you push down, split the rope apart at the bottom and isolate the tricep muscle.
  4. Hold this position for a count and return back up to the starting position.

Hammer Curl

Your biceps consist of two heads, and hammer curls help build both the brachialis and brachioradialis in a way other curl variations simply do not. Attach the rope on the end of the cable machine so it gives you room to move, but assists your controlled motion. Working the brachialis is particularly important if you’re looking to beef up your guns. It will also build strength in the upper body for doing daily activities like picking up children, doing household chores, and lifting grocery bags!

Face Pull

Face pulls might be the most underutilized exercise out there. They serve as both an awesome muscle-building exercise and a highly effective movement for improving shoulder health and posture. They’re great for building rear delts, traps, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles. And they are one of the very best exercises for treating and preventing internal rotation of the shoulder joint—a.k.a. rounded shoulders. Face pulls will help to rotate your shoulders back into the proper position for better posture and decreased injury risk.

  1. Grab the rope attachment and set it at upper chest height
  2. Rather than gripping the rope from the top with your palms facing down like most people do, instead, grip it from underneath with a neutral hammer-style grip
  3. Keep your chest up, shoulders back and retract your shoulder blades
  4. Pull the rope back towards your face while at the same time imagining that you’re trying to pull the rope apart
  5. Pause in the fully contracted position and focus on squeezing your rear delts and upper back before returning to the starting position

Ready? Get out there and give the cable rope a try. Your muscles won’t be disappointed!

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2 Easy Ways to Boost Your Winter Plate

We all know fruits and veggies are best in-season. They’re usually tastier, and definitely more cost-effective. But when temps drop, it seems like our fresh options are extremely limited—especially in Northern climates. But wait! I suggest you look a little harder. There are in fact several lesser known winter vegetables that deserve their fair share of the spotlight! Turnips and rutabagas, for example, are great go-to winter vegetables chock-full of nutrients, and pretty easy to incorporate into recipes.

Turnips vs. Rutabagas

Both turnips and rutabagas are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (think cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower). Rutabagas are actually the result of a marriage between a turnip and a cabbage. These cruciferous relatives are round in shape, but vary in size from one another. Turnips are best when about 2-3 inches in size, whereas rutabagas tend to be a bit larger, coming in around 4 inches in diameter. Besides their size, you can distinguish the two by their coloring; turnips are usually off-white with a red or purple band near the stem. Rutabagas are an all-over cream color with a tinge of purple. When selecting these vegetables, go for bulbs that are firm to the touch and are free of blemishes or bruises.

The Case for Both

turnipsIn addition to being cheap and having a long shelf life, turnips and rutabagas are rich in nutrients such as fiber and complex carbohydrates. That means they’re not only filling, but help stabilize blood sugar and energy levels. Turnips and rutabagas also offer quite the hit of vitamin C, which helps grow and repair tissues after that workout we know you did. We’re talking 20 and 30% of your daily requirement of vitamin C per cup for turnips and rutabagas, respectively!

To learn more about the nutrient content of these vegetables, visit the USDA’s nutrient database for turnips and rutabagas. Don’t rush to throw out those turnip stems, either. Those power greens can and should be eaten because they’re full of vitamins like C, A, and K, plus minerals like calcium and iron!

Taste Appeal

Don’t just eat turnips and rutabagas because they’re good for you. I swear they taste good, too! In general, turnips and rutabagas have a slightly sweet, earthy taste. However, the larger the bulb, the more bitter the taste. Turnips also tend to get woody in texture if they’re larger, so stick to the smaller diameter bulbs (it’s not so much of a concern for rutabagas). Because of their neutral taste, turnips and rutabagas are great in place of other white starchy vegetables like potatoes.

Prepping Tips

If you’re lacking culinary creativity, have no fear: You can eat both turnips or rutabaga raw. Simply trim the bottom and top off the vegetables and start peeling. A vegetable peeler will suffice for turnips, but rutabagas are generally covered in a thicker wax layer to help seal in moisture. This layer should be removed before eating. Try a paring knife, rather than a vegetable peeler, to ease the peeling process.

To increase their flavor, try cooking the turnips and rutabagas by cutting them into cubes and roasting them with a bit of oil. Similar to other cruciferous vegetables, the flavor increases with cooking (luckily, the strong sulfuric odor associated with other cruciferous veggies does not)!

If you bought a few more than you can consume immediately, remove the greens from the turnips and store the bulbs in a separate bag to use them within several days. Turnips and rutabagas can be stored several weeks in the fridge, however, or up to months in a vegetable cellar.

Turnip and Rutabaga Recipes

Sources: Turnips and Rutabagas: Rich in Complex Carbohydrates – Berkeley Wellness, The Best Fruits and Vegetables to Eat This Winter – Greatist, Food Composition Database – USDA

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