Strength athletes can get more out of their supersets by optimising the order in which they perform their exercises. Exactly what the best order is the sports scientists at Centro Universitário Unieuro in Brazil are not yet sure. So you'll have to experiment yourself, but its worth the effort.
Supersets are efficient and also boost calorie burning by an unexpectedly high amount. That's why supersets are ideal for strength athletes who have little time or those who are aiming for fat loss. But superset training does have one disadvantage: building up muscle mass and strength goes less fast than with regular training. This is probably because you can’t do as many reps with supersets as with regular sets at the same weight.
The Brazilian study suggests, however, that there's a way round this problem.
The Brazilians got 12 experienced male strength athletes to do superset training on two occasions. On both occasions the subjects trained the leg muscles, doing leg curls and leg extensions. The subjects trained using weights for which they could manage a maximum of 10 reps. The difference between the two sessions was in the order in which the exercises were performed: on one occasion the subjects started with the leg extension [QH]; on the other occasion they started with the leg curl [HQ].
The QH training went as follows: leg extension set, no rest, leg curl set, followed by 90 seconds rest. The athletes repeated this sequence three times.
The HQ training went as follows: leg curl set, no rest, leg extension set, followed by 90 seconds rest. The athletes repeated this sequence three times.
The subjects experienced the HQ training as less tiring, as shown in the figure below.
The total number of reps and the training volume [kg times reps] was higher in the HQ training than in the QH training session. In the first superset the difference was not statistically significant, in the subsequent ones it was.
The researchers believe that in the first part of the superset the muscles in the antagonistic muscle group receive an extra stimulus via the brain and nervous system, whereby they perform better during the second part of the superset. The Brazilian study would seem to suggest that this mechanism works best if you start a superset with the weakest muscle group, but it's not completely certain.
Find your optimal exercise order, and you will enlarge your training volume. It's that simple.
You'd have to experiment yourself to workout how best to organise your supersets. That’s a lot of work, but if you look at the figures above, it may well be worth the effort.
Int J Gen Med. 2012; 5:123-7.