bench press

Advanced Techniques – Supersets, Trisets and Giant sets

Advanced techniques are specially designed set, rep or exercise schemes, that are used to increase the intensity of your workouts. They can introduce a whole new meaning of the word “intense” in your workout. But, be warned, training systems can be really though! You can expect some really bad DOMS a few days after this kind of workout.

Supersets involve performing two exercises back-to-back without any rest in between. Supersets can be agonistic or antagonistic in nature. Agonistic supersets use pairs of similar exercises while antagonistic supersets use exercises that can be thought of as opposites.

Agonistic supersets increase the amount of work done by the target muscle. By performing two similar exercises with no rest, your muscles will have to work longer and harder than normal. This is a great way to increase local muscular endurance and lactic acid tolerance. On the down side, because you will already be fatigued when you begin the second exercise, you won’t be able to use as much weight or perform as many repetitions as usual. For those of you who train at home or who don’t have access to heavy enough weights, this type of superset means you can still overload your muscles albeit with repetition volume rather than load.

Antagonistic supersets enhance recovery and also save time. Because of a phenomenon called reciprocal inhibition, when one muscle contracts, the muscle located on the opposite side of the same joint must relax. This forced relaxation enhances recovery speed. By performing exercises that are essentially opposites, you force the opposing muscles to relax and therefore recover in less time. This negates the need for so much rest so not only do you save time because you are not resting between exercises; you also need less rest between pairings. Antagonistic supersets are suitable for most training goals including endurance, hypertrophy and strength.

A triset involves performing three exercises back-to-back. This usually means three exercises for the same muscle group. Such a high volume of exercise with no rests will push your local muscular endurance to the max! If you like that burning feeling caused by lactic acid, trisets are for you. As with agonistic supersets described above, fatigue during the second and third exercise will mean you will have to perform fewer reps or use a lighter weight than if you performed the exercises in isolation. Trisets are especially effective with bodyweight or similarly “easy” exercises as the accumulated fatigue makes even a straight forward exercise much more demanding.

Giant sets
When a triset seems too tame, there are always giant sets. A giant set involves four or more exercises performed back-to-back and are a severe test of local muscular endurance and, if you are using large compound exercises, of fitness as well. The volume of work means you will have to use far lighter than normal weights but this will be offset by the lactic acid-induced burning you feel in your muscles. Giant sets are like mini-circuits where each exercise targets the same muscle group. On the downside, you may find that hogging four or more pieces of exercise equipment in your local gym is unpopular with your fellow gym members and it can be very frustrating to find your last exercise has been pinched by another user. Don’t worry, the giant set I have for you gets around this problem…!

Example Workouts

As with all exercise, warm up thoroughly by performing some light cardio and dynamic stretching before attempting any of these workouts. It’s also a good idea to do one or two low-intensity sets with a light weight of each exercise so you can practice your technique and moving from one exercise to the next. Perform as many sets of the workouts as your personal fitness level allows. Remember though, not only are training systems challenging to perform, they can also cause severe post-exercise muscle soreness so be initially conservative when you introduce them into your workouts and only increase volume and frequency when you feel ready.


Agonistic Supersets

Bench Press8 to 12

60 to 90 seconds after press ups

Press Upsto failure

On completion of the bench press, simply re-rack the weight, roll off the bench and start doing press ups. Do as many reps as you can and then rest.

Antagonistic Supersets

Leg Extensions15 to 20

30 to 60 seconds after shoulder presses

Leg Curls 15 to 20

Set up the leg curls before you start your set of leg extensions. Most gyms place these exercises next to each other.


DB Side Raises8 to 12

90 to 120 seconds after clean and press

DB Front Raises8 to 12
DB Clean and Press8 to 12

This shoulder workout requires on pair of dumbbells so you don’t have to worry about any hold ups resulting from someone else using your weights. Perform the prescribed number of repetitions of the first exercise and then, without putting the weights down, move straight onto the second and then the third exercise. Despite your mounting fatigue, try to do the same number of repetitions for all three exercises. The clean and press should be performed from knee-height, the so-called “hang” position.

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