We’re big fans of supersets. Not just any superset though, an intelligently planned superset.
This is something we started to discuss in a recent blog that we did on smart supersets.
In that blog, we broke down the basics of what a superset is, why supersets can be beneficial, how to appropriately set up smart supersets that would be beneficial for most people to do in training and not reduce their performance significantly.
Through the blog we primarily focused on more strength and muscle building focused supersets. However, in our programming we regularly program a range of other kinds of supersets – which we hinted at in the prior blog. Since that blog came out, we’ve had lots of requests for follow up blogs on supersets, particularly one kind we’ve shared on social media a few times, our power & control (or power & stability) supersets.
In that last blog, a central piece we discussed on why many supersets people put together are not necessarily that smart is due to putting highly demanding similar stresses together – such as doing squats and deadlifts.
When you pair movements together that not only work similar muscles, but also have similar physiological demands and goals for adaptations, we begin to run into possible challenges. That’s where one of our other options for supersets comes in – the power & stability option.
Here we pair movements that have highly contrasting adaptation goals, with also very different demands together, which reduces their overall impact on each other.
Now before we get further into this piece, let’s be clear – in most cases supersets are not necessarily as effective as just doing the movements separated with more rest. Such as doing all your sets of deadlifts then all your sets of bench press, instead of going back and forth between sets of deadlifts and bench press. However, as we pointed out in the first article, if you’re someone who has a restricted time frame for training, then this can be a viable option depending upon your goals and how you set them up.
Alright, back to the supersets!
For this category of supersets, we still try to implement the same considerations as we did for the other kinds:
Minimize competing exercises back to back
Such as pairing upper and lower body movements
Such as pairing pressing with pulling movements
Consider body areas that may limit with overlapping movements
Such as the lower back with lots of movements that challenge anti-extension or the rotator cuff with lots of movements using the shoulder.
Aim to have sufficient rest before getting back to the original exercise based on the demands
Building off that, we now start to select movements that have highly contrasting goals – either power based or more stability/control based.
Typically we see power based movements as either upper or lower, but we could subdivide them down further such as ankle, knee, or hip dominant; horizontal, vertical, lateral, rotational force; etc. For the context of this article, we will mostly just stick with upper or lower.
Stability/control movements may be unfamiliar to some, but the premise of them is teaching you how to typically resist motion, or to produce motion with a high degree of control – such as planks, bird dogs, get up variations, single limb balance, etc. This has less clear cut divisions, but the concept to focus on here is that we are picking movements that we would want to work on (such as an in-place bear crawl) that do not compete distinctly with the power based movement that we select (such as a horizontal jump).
Usually power based movements are going to be high intensity, high effort type movements, that are completed relatively quickly, which will benefit from longer durations of rest. In contrast, stability/control movements are often the inverse, being of lower intensity, lower relative effort, taking a bit longer to compete, and not necessarily needing that much rest. This allows them to be paired together really well since we can think of it as a high and low stress pairing.
Jump & Get Up
In our top 6 ways to remain athletic, we highlighted that jumping is one for the top of the list for sure. Jumping is the epitome of lower body power and delivers so much benefit for relatively little skill requirement. Most jumping variations really place a high demand on the lower body and then vary from little to moderate demands on the trunk and upper body.
Get ups are an incredible category of movements that primarily challenge your shoulders & trunk, with a minor degree of demand on the lower body. Most people are familiar with the turkish get up, but there are lots of options for get ups – such as the tall kneeling get ups (which we regularly program in Citizen Athletics Sustainable & Foundational Strength).
As you can see, jumps and get ups have not only contrasting adaptation/levels of demand we discussed, they also focus on different parts of the body.
A few examples we like are:
DB Box Jumps & Half Get Up
Seated Goblet Jump & Double OH TK Get Up
Power Push Up & Balance
The last category was lower power focused, this transitions to upper body focused. The power push up is a category we are huge fans and regularly program some variation of. Since it’s primarily a movement that challenges the upper body (with a bit of trunk and lower body control), it’s best to be paired up with a more lower body stability/control based movement.
We like to try and rotate in some “balance” type work that challenges our ability to control our center of mass in space, while also regularly challenging our ankle control that may not get fully addressed in other gym based activities. This is where we complement them and often fit them into programming since we would often not prioritize them for general training.
A few examples:
Power Push Up Hands Elevated Continuous & Sliding 3 way reach
Power Push Ups Drops Paused & SLDL w/ Reach
Slam & Crawl
When we first began outlining these categories, we mentioned that we are GENERALLY looking at it from a perspective of upper/lower power with lower/upper control. This category does contradict that, but we can explain why.
Firstly, the two divisions of movements we are recommending within it are Slams & Crawling. In the case of slams, this is a power based movement which puts a higher demand on the trunk flexors and shoulder extensors. In the case of crawling, the demand is usually split across a wide range of muscles with a relatively lower demand. It’s pretty rare you find someone who gets totally burnt out from crawling, except doing higher volume work where the shoulders may give out. As well, most crawling variations put more of an emphasis on the shoulder flexors than the shoulder extenders, whereby reducing the competition.
Due to this, it can allow them to pair relatively well together, especially if training is having an upper/lower split since slams and crawls are both typically more upper body dominant.
A few examples:
HK MB Slam & DB Bear Crawl
Rainbow Slams & Lateral Crawl w/ UE Miniband
The power & stability supersets work really well together for a lot of individuals. While there is still some thinking required as it’s less straight forward as hinges & presses, it still simplifies and helps to provide some intelligent structure to programming and exercise selection.
For those interested in part 3 where we cover the rest of our major supersets that we love, let us know!