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Pros and Cons of super sets, alternate sets, pyramiding up, pyramiding down

27th March 2013

Reader question: While working out today at my gym. A guy asked me why was I using such heavy weights while working out wit supersets (A superset is taking two movements, and doing consecutive sets without rest, alternating the movement. Like bench press for 5 reps, then immediately doing squats for 5 reps). After getting over the awkward feeling of having a man watch me while I work out I explained to the guy that I was supersetting heavy to bulk and fatigue my muscles. He understood but couldn’t understand why I would increase weight after each set rather than start off heavy and decrease weight.

I normally use his technique for flexibility and definition training or just normal circuit training exercises which I normally do after doing a cardio workout. I am curious how others do their super set workout routines or if people still perform super sets. I’ve seen my goals reached using both techniques but I am always interested in redefining my workout routine. Any feedback or advice


1. A superset is when you perform 2 exercises for the SAME muscle group without resting in between, ie a Bench press and then a dumbbell fly.

2. An ALTERNATE set is when you perform 2 exercises for opposing muscle groups without resting in between, ie a triceps pressdown and a biceps dumbbell curl.

3. Starting with your heaviest weight and working down is called ‘pyramiding down’, as opposed to the traditional pyramiding up. I’m not at all a fan of pyramiding down as its a great way to get injured going heavy without all the surrounding connective tissue being properly warmed as well as the essential neural aspect of completing the movement itself numerous times (repetitions).
I hope this is helpful.

Pre-exhaustion is a common technique used within supersets. You can do them in either order but if you choose to pre-exhaust remember your #’s (reps and amt of wt) will NOT be as high as on a regular 3 sets to failure type exercise. Trying to match them is another good way to get injured. There are also giant sets, where you set up a circuit of 3 or even 4 exercises for one body part etc. Many variables to play with in a workout routine. Time between exercises is another. Btw, again the injury bug: Im not a fan of hvy wt low rep for super or alternate sets. It goes against the purpose of oxygenating the muscle (getting that pump etc). These techniques should be broken out and periodized in cycles throughout out the course of the year. Best gains will come that way.

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