With the Internet and a world full of ‘experts’ we can be pulled in many directions as to what training techniques are more effective at building muscle. There’s an array of techniques you can use and workout programs you can follow. We have drop sets, supersets, FST-7, high volume, low volume, HIIT, rest-pause, and the list goes on. But one of the questions I hear most often pertains to straight sets versus supersets.
In this article I want to go over the difference between straight sets and supersets, and how you can use them to accomplish your goals. Let me first say there’s really no negative sides to either technique. Rather, there are some things to consider from a mental aspect as well as your fitness goals. They can both be extremely effective when used properly (and we’ll get to that last part at the end of this article).
This is the most simple form of exercise used in bodybuilding. A straight set is just that; you perform a set for as many reps as you can followed by an adequate rest period until you perform the next set. The rest periods can vary but their usually about a minute, give or take. This idea is to exhaust the muscle on each set. The rest between sets gives your muscles time to recoup a little before performing the next set.
Jay Cutler once said building muscle all comes down to sets and reps. Straight sets have been used as an effective means of getting bigger and stronger since the beginning of weight lifting as well as during he Arnold era, and even still today. Among all the different training philosophies and techniques, straight sets remains as a staple in most bodybuilding workouts.
One thing we have to be conscience of when performing straight sets workout after workout is it’s easy to get into ‘monkey mode’ to where you’re just going through the motions. This has nothing to do with the effectiveness of straight sets; it’s simply mental. Some claim to get bored with straight sets. And we all hit plateaus in our training from time to time so there may be benefits to adding different techniques to your workout.
A superset is where you perform a set with one exercise followed by another set for a different exercise. I’ll use a partial back workout as an example. You’ll perform a set of lat pulldowns and immediately go perform a set of seated rows. There’s no rest between these sets. However, you may rest after that superset is completed.
Supersets are a great way to exhaust the muscle. If you’re performing an exercise to muscle failure and immediately going to another exercise doing the same, you’re definitely going to be fatigued. Supersets are also a great way to keep your metabolism up because you’re basically doing two sets of two different exercises with no rest. In other words you can burn some extra fat while performing exercises to build muscle.
The downside to supersets is you may not be overloading the muscle as much on that second exercise within the superset. I used supsersetting lat pulldowns with seated rows in the example earlier. If you’re going to failure on the lat pulldowns you’re obviously not going to be able to perform seated rows with as much weight as you normally would. This is where you have to be strategic in creating your superset workout.
Which is Best – Straight Sets or Supersets?
There’s no blanket answer when it comes to straight sets vs supersets. It really comes down to your own personal fitness goals. Are you looking to get leaner or drop some excess body fat? If so, supersets are a great way to achieve that. Some bodybuilding and physique competitors may also use more supersets when prepping for a show.
If you’re looking for strength and mass, you may be better off sticking with straight sets. You need the proper rest period between sets to get the most out of each set. The last thing you want to do is wezaken yourself for the next set. Ideally, you want every set to be strong. Your goal is to overload the muscle with more weight each set. Straight sets also may allow you to hone in on the mind-muscle connection as you’re only concerned with that one set for the time being.
Final Thoughts – Intensity is Key
Whether you perform straight sets or supersets, or any other lifting technique, intensity is ultimately the key to building muscle and burning fat. Your goal should be to exhaust the muscle. How you do that is entirely up to you. One of my elementary school teachers once said ‘different strokes for different folks.’ One technique may work better for you than it does for someone else.
There’s also no reason why you can’t use both straight sets and supersets within the same workout. I often will start out my workouts with straight sets for a compound exercise. The intent is to go heavy up front. Then I may go into supersets towards the end of my workout to get that burnout effect. There’s no right or wrong way. Again, it depends on your goals. Play around with both, as well as other techniques, to see what works best for you. Another thought is it’s good to change your workouts up a little from time to time.
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