Supersets for bodybuilding

Supersets are a great way to build muscle and improve your physique. This bodybuilding technique has been used for decades as a way to be time efficient in the gym and to hit different muscles from different angles. I use this technique with my personal training clients regularly, as the high amounts of lactic acid produced are a great way to reduce body-fat as well as build muscle. There are many different types of superset methods. Some are better for fat-loss, some are better for hypertrophy. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the superset method in which you perform two exercises for the same muscle group back to back or same-muscle supersets. This technique is good for bodybuilding and should never be used for the goal of maximal strength. Supersets allow my personal training clients to save time in the gym and are great way to increase the important principle of weight training, time under tension. Time under tension is the amount of time your muscles are under load during a specific working set. Put simply, if you increase time under tension and keep going when you would normally finish the set, you will improve and gain muscle. There are two main types of same-muscle supersets, post-exhaust and pre-exhaust. The exercises you choose to pair in your superset will affect the gains you make.


A post-exhaust superset involves performing a compound movement followed by an isolation movement. The main advantage of the post-exhaust superset is that you are fresh for the compound movement and you can use more weight before you perform the isolation movement. By going heavy in the compound movement you activate fast twitch fibres that would normally stay deactivated if you were using a lighter weight. I like to use the following variation with both my online personal training clients and my regular personal training clients.

Post-exhaust quad superset

1A) Back squat. 6 reps
1B) Leg extension 12 reps

Rest 90-120 seconds and repeat

A Pre-exhaust superset is when you perform the isolation movement first and the compound is performed after. The advantage of this is that you can focus on a problem muscle that you are struggling to improve. The isolation movement will stimulate the target muscle group and as you push it until failure. In a traditional single set method you cannot continue beyond this point. However, as you switch to the compound movement the other muscle groups used that are fresh allows you to continue and work the isolated muscle further.

Pre-exhaust deltoid superset

1A) Standing lateral raise 12 reps
1B) Seated dumbbell press 8 reps

Unilateral supersets

One lesser known variation of same-muscle supersets is a uni-lateral superset. Uni-lateral exercises work one side of the body at a time. The majority of my personal training clients have muscular imbalances and the only way to balance these out and avoid injury in the long-term is to perform uni-lateral movements. The problem is my personal training clients also need to perform supersets to gain muscle and promote fat-loss. Combining uni-lateral movements into a super-set system is flawed. If you combine a uni-lateral movement with a traditional bi-lateral movement the rest period between each side of your body will not be the same. This could lead to further imbalances and all kinds of problems. So does this mean you cannot use same-muscle super-sets for uni-lateral movements? Actually no, there is a way to use uni-lateral movements for super-sets. The way to do this is to use 2 unilateral movements and to perform the exercises on one side of the body first. Here is an example of this method for biceps:

Left arm

1A) Single arm dumbbell preacher curl 10 reps
1B) Concentration curl 10 reps

Rest 60 seconds

Right arm

1A) Single arm dumbbell preacher curl 10 reps
1B) Concentration curl 10 reps

Rest 60 seconds

This is great way to work uni-lateral movements into a super-set system and therefore combining the benefits of both techniques. Here are some more examples of unilateral supersets I regularly use with both my online personal training and regular personal training clients:


1A) Single leg, leg press 12 reps

1B) Single leg, leg extension 12 reps


1A) Standing dumbbell tricep extension 8 reps

1B) Single arm, reverse grip tricep pressdown 10 reps


1A) Single leg, standing calf raise 8 reps

1B) Single leg, seated calf raise 15 reps


1A) Single arm dumbbell row 8 reps

1B) Single arm lat pulldown 8 reps

MikeH profile3 Extended Sets: Methods to keep going to gain muscle
Mike Hoad MSc Personal Trainer & Co-Founder of Definitive Physique

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