Super Sets in Personal Training - Part 2

In Part 2 of this 3 part blog Steve covers how to apply super sets to your PT clients, exercise selection, exercise ordering and compares two workouts side by side. Check it out...

Continued from Part 1

Applying super sets to clients

So to apply super sets to a client we have to think about the client’s preferences, lifting competence and stage of training.  Generally I didn’t use compound super sets at all as none of my clients need that dramatically localised muscle change that the technique should cause.  Training with a compound super set requires that a client can safely manage their technique under significant duress (it does really hurt if you are doing it properly) and very few can.  The result is lots of tension, poor alignment, tempo failure and a cascade of risk.  The benefit/risk scenario just doesn’t add up.

Compound super sets are not for everyone – in fact they are mainly used for body building along with other ‘continuous tension’ techniques such as drop sets, matrix type training (multiple part movements where typically time under tension nears 40-60secs), negatives, power training (where bar speed or body speed is the stimulus for damage) and eccentric dominant training (slow lowering where the eccentric phase is three or more times the concentric phase of the lift).  All this stuff is for the "veiny" few rather than the majority so any application of it must be done with care and significant practise.

That said, alternative super sets I am an advocate for and this is why.


Standard workout example

**To view the standard workout example in full size click here


Alternate super set workout example

**To view the alternate super set workout example in full size click here


So, the volume of the workouts is the same but you get a 22% increase in relative intensity (2690 versus 2195) and an 18.5% decrease in set times (15.5 minutes versus 19 minutes). 

The work:rest ratio is the key thing changing here – it moves from 1:1 to 2:1 which is essentially a lactate stacking protocol (for those 800m runners out there – you’ll know this prescription well!).  That means a lot of anaerobic stress on the body however you’ll note that the loads can stay nice and high because of the alternate location of the muscle groups.


Exercise selection and ordering

One thing to consider with alternate super sets is which exercises you pair up.  You want to avoid pairing exercises that demand continuous work from the same stabilisers.  One way around this is to use a mix of machines and free weights having the machines be the second exercise of the set.  Usually for clients machines are easier to work with when they start to tire out and usually they are easier to spot / manage as well. 

From the super set example above you can see squats and standing press are paired.  This is okay for someone who is really quite good at lifting and has you right there alongside of them (subject to all the usual clearances in terms of their ability to get in to the correct positions with some ease).  But, for a new exerciser working independently this would be a recipe for disaster as the sagital plane stability required in squats and then in standing shoulder press may not be present.  The chances of the person pivoting around the L3 / L4 vertebrae and causing damage during a time of fatigue on the second set is too high.  So a different type of press or different ordering of exercise may be necessary.

When ordering the pairs I tend to couple a major exercise with something using a little less muscle mass in the second exercise.  This just saves the client from major cardiovascular stress and generally some type of vessel blowing in their forehead messing up the gym floor.  The art of prescription here is getting all the bang in the workout with as little acute stress at any one stage for the client as possible.  You are trying to get lots and lots of work done, in a reasonably short time, with as fewer 'peaks' and as little 'localised discomfort' as possible.  That way your client gets all the benefits with as little sacrifice as possible.  Yes, Personal Training is about making progress easier rather than pushing clients through any old workout.  Imagine if I paired dead lifts with bent over rows and whipped my client until they completed that 60 second nightmare.  I'm much too nice for that!

Continue to Part 3