I’ve talked about the benefits of supersets but sometimes we need a fresh kick in the pants to challenge ourselves (or just a fresh workout). Sure, supersets can overload your muscles, save time and help break us out plateaus. But as with anything, supersets (two exercises back to back without rest) can become boring and routine if repeated relentlessly.
That’s why a little creativity goes a long way. (In case you didn’t know, you can be creative with your workouts. They can be fun!) When I’m following a particular program my workouts are structured, but otherwise I like to change things up a lot.
You want to avoid boredom at all costs because the longer you are bored, the less motivation you will have.
Please note that supersets are not circuits. A circuit is a succession of exercises (more than two) done without rest. A circuit’s main purposes are calorie burn, saving time, and possibly endurance. Supersets are used to increase strength and muscle mass.
Doing the same supersets for more than four to six weeks will eventually result in diminishing results. So remember to mix it up – replace supersets with straight sets and continually change the grip, equipment, type of superset, etc. There are many variables to work with so become well versed in all of them if you want to see them muscles gettin’ bigger and stronger.
Exploiting the Cable Machine
You could do an entire workout using cables. I adore cable machines because they create a lot of interest in my workouts, plus they provide continuous tension throughout the exercise and oftentimes force you to use your core more. You may have to go a bit lower in the weight consequently.
One of my favorite cable supersets is the straight-arm pushdown and bent-over high pulley row, which hits your back (lats, specifically). Attach a long bar to a high pulley and use the bar for both exercises. You will need to use less weight because you are effectively doing two exercises in a row. Rest 60-90 seconds (depending on how heavy you’re lifting) and repeat for three to four sets. See how convenient it is to do two exercises back to back on the same cable station? With this same bar you could also do an upright row/front raise superset or a bicep curl/tricep pushdown superset. Of course, the rope can be substituted for the bar in many exercises and allows you to change up your routine a bit.
Same-muscle supersets such as this are also called pre-exhaustion sets: You use an isolation exercise to first exhaust a primary muscle (in this case lats), then follow up with a compound exercise that uses the primary muscle and supporting muscles (biceps, shoulders). Of course, you can also reverse this and do the compound exercise followed by the isolation exercise.
If you don’t have access to cable machines, you can use dumbbells and do bent-over rows and pull ups (or chin ups) or a superman and a prone (face down) incline row.
If your gym has FreeMotion machines (both the large all-purpose ones), get to know them well. On the FreeMotion chest machine (pictured), do a chest press and chest fly superset. Or using the shoulder machine, do a seated overhead press followed by a standing front raise. The pictures on the machine don’t show this combo, but a little creativity proves you can do it anyway.
You can also do opposing muscle supersets – chest/back, front delts/rear delts, biceps/triceps, or quadriceps/hamstrings, for example. It’s a bit astonishing to see how quickly a workout goes when you’re training this way.
The ways of mixing up supersets aren’t limited to what I’ve listed here. You can do three exercises in a row, add in an unrelated muscle group to the superset, do isolation or compound supersets, etc.
What creative ideas have you used for avoiding boredom? Have you used cable machines in a creative way?