Something about the word “superset” feels a bit intimidating—like they’re a weapon only serious strength-training devotees have in their arsenals. You’re a runner, not a weight-room junkie; there’s no room in your mileage-packed week for supersets.
Wrong. First of all, they don’t need to be intimidating. You just have to be able to answer the question, what is a superset?
What is a superset?
Quite simply, a superset means you do two strength moves back-to-back without resting in between. And they don’t have to involve heavy weights—or even be done in a weight room.
Second, supersets are perfectly suited to runners. “While running, especially long distances, we repetitiously sustain load on the legs for extended periods of time,” says Kara Dudley, NASM-CPT and coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City. “By using supersets, we’re increasing muscular endurance and the amount of time we can run before our legs burn out.”
Plus, with their lack of rest between sets, supersets mimic the constant motion of running. “Moving quickly from one exercise to the next—rather than to doing one movement and waiting around before doing another, as with traditional lifting—tends to translate better mentally to the runner’s mind,” says Dudley.
Read on for more about supersets and how to best work them into your routine. Then get stronger—and faster—in no time.
What are the benefits of supersets?
Probably the biggest benefit of this type of strength training is it allows you to pack in a lot of work in a little time, which is great when you’ve got a lot going on in your day. (Let’s be real, who doesn’t?)
“Rather than using rest periods like in traditional strength-training, you’re constantly moving and can get through your workout fast,” says Leanne Pedante, head of fitness at the app Supernatural and founding program director at STRIDE treadmill studio in Pasadena, California. And because they keep your heart rate revved, you’ll wind up burning more calories doing supersets than in a strength workout with lots of rest periods.
“Most of the runners I know just want to run and would rather do that than hit the gym, but building and maintaining a foundation of strength will ultimately help runners go farther and longer and with fewer injuries,” adds Pedante. “Supersets can help them get the strength work accomplished quickly so that they can get back to running.”
How do I chose exercises for a superset?
There’s no one way to add supersets to your workout—but that doesn’t mean you should throw a couple moves together all willy-nilly. A few ways to structure supersets that can benefit runners:
- Antagonist Superset: A pair of exercises that work opposing muscle groups (think biceps curls with triceps extensions). “By pairing these muscles, you’re allowing for the worked muscles to get a mini-recovery without having to take a break and waste time,” says Pedante.
- Agonist Superset: Two moves that tax the same muscle groups back to back, like Bulgarian split squats followed by walking lunges. This grouping is great for honing in on a specific muscle for big strength gains.
- Post-Exhaust Superset: A compound exercise, working more than one muscle group, immediately followed by an isolation exercise that targets one of the muscles from the first move. This setup is especially good for working muscles that are difficult to fire up, says Dudley, like the gluteus medius. To focus on that muscle in particular, she recommends pairing squats with banded clamshells.
How much weight should I lift?
Supersets don’t have to involve heavy weights. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. As with most moves that up your muscular endurance, using lighter to moderate weights is the name of the game—or, says Pedante, you can even work in moves with only your bodyweight.
“If you’re just starting out, you can start with lighter weights and then increase volume, weight, or intensity as you progress,” advises Dudley.
How do I add supersets to my workout?
As with any strength workout, always start with a warmup. If you’re doing any heavy lifting or compound moves, do those first before supersets. When it comes to the supersets themselves, Dudley recommends beginning with 3 rounds of 2 paired exercises with 1 to 2 minutes of rest between supersets. And don’t forget to cool down afterward.
If you’re new to supersetting or gearing up for a race, Dudley suggests working opposing muscle groups with antagonist supersets. You’ll up muscular endurance without completely wiping out any muscle in particular, which could leave you needing more rest.
If you’re not training for anything in particular, it could be a good time to concentrate on the same muscle group with agonist supersets, to really work those muscles to exhaustion and amp up your strength gains.
Pedante also loves doing some supersets to activate key muscles before a run (like your glutes and core) without completely burning them out.
And for the biggest benefits, you might want to tap a strength coach as you get started, says Dudley: “They’ll make sure you’re performing exercises that are appropriate for your current ability and help you work toward your personal goals most efficiently—no matter where you are on your running journey.”
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