If you are crunched on time and need a quick workout, supersets with opposing muscle groups seem to result in the optimal workout with less performance decline than compound sets with similar muscle groups.
COMPOUND SETS IS THE WORST WAY TO BUILD MUSCLE SUMMARY:
- Compound Sets (using similar muscle groups) result in higher muscle activation and more muscle damage than supersets.
- Compound sets result in similar muscle gains to traditional exercise.
- Supersets (two back-to-back exercises using opposing muscle groups) can stimulate muscle growth in a shorter time because you can pack more tension on a muscle in a shorter time. However, they are not superior to traditional training when the volume is similar.
- Supersets allow for greater performance than Compound Sets.
WHAT ARE COMPOUND SETS?
Another variation of SuperSets is Compound Sets, in which you can train two exercises for the same muscle group without rest. For example, a compound set is doing a lat pulldown immediately, followed by a bent-over row.
Compound sets use no rest periods between muscle groups. This is not good for long-term muscle growth. Short rest periods can cause more muscle damage, reduced protein synthesis, and reduced muscle gains compared to longer rest periods.
SUPERSET VS COMPOUND SETS FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
Many people may wonder which is more effective. Is it better to use opposing muscle groups (i.e., biceps followed by triceps) or similar muscle groups (i.e., triceps extensions followed by overhead triceps press) when performing supersets? One study compared compound sets using similar muscle groups (i.e., Five sets of leg presses and knee extensions with no rest between sets).
The Superset group used different muscle groups (bench press and knee extensions first, followed by Supersetting leg press and pec deck). The groups performed a similar work volume for both groups.
RESULTS OF COMPOUND SETS STUDY
At the end of the study, the compound group (using similar muscle groups) resulted in higher muscle activation and more muscle damage than those using different muscle groups. Note: More muscle damage does not mean it will result in muscle growth, nor does more muscle activation.
Another study compared the performance (maintaining velocity, power, and force) between compound sets with similar muscle groups compared (i.e., dumbbell bench, dumbbell press, and bench press) to Supersets using opposite muscle groups (i.e., bent over row and bench press). The group that performed the opposing muscle (i.e., Supersets) groups maintained greater performance over the four sets than those that worked similar muscle groups (i.e., Compound Sets) without rest.
Another study compared compound sets with different rest period durations. Sixty resistance-trained men were divided into two groups, one who trained chest muscles and the other who trained back muscles.
Both chest and back groups performed three exercises: Chest: barbell bench press, incline barbell bench press, and a chest butterfly; Back: lat pulldown, back row, and shoulder extension.
Both groups completed 3 sets x 8 reps per exercise at 80% of their 1RM. Each group completed three trials requiring the participants to rest for 60-, 90-, and 120-sec between sets and exercises.
The researchers found that a greater number of repetitions were performed with compound sets with 120-second rest periods between sets compared to the 90- and 60-second conditions and a greater number of reps performed in the 90-second condition compared to the 60-second condition.
Since volume is a key driver of muscle growth, it may be wise to take a minimum of 120 seconds of rest between sets for muscle growth. For both the chest and back groups, the training volume of the second exercise was substantially reduced by shorter rest periods (60- and 90-sec) compared to the first exercises. This suggests that using shorter rest intervals results in greater metabolic stress and elicits a reduction in training volume.
Since compound sets cause more damage, does it result in more muscle growth? Researchers compared compound sets to a traditional weight training routine for 12 weeks. The compound set group performed Smith machine squats and leg presses with no rest between exercises.
In contrast, the conventional training group alternated between Smith machine squat and leg press sets, with one-minute rest between sets. The total workout volume is equal in both groups. The strength gains and muscle growth were identical at the end of the study.
The key point is that volume is the most important factor for muscle growth, but compound and supersets allow for greater density in a shorter time frame.
Superset sets (opposing muscle groups) may be better than compound sets (similar muscle groups) when you are short on time. Supersets result in less performance decline and also less muscle damage. If you are looking for an occasional day in which you want to shock muscles with an intense workout, use compound sets occasionally.
If you are looking for the optimal time to rest between sets (1, 2, 3 minutes, or rest until you feel ready with no time constraint), 2.5 minutes seemed to be the optimal time to rest between sets without adversely affecting volume and performance when using antagonist muscle groups.
Compound Sets Example:
Bench Press followed by Pec Deck Flyes
Bent Over Rows followed by Lat Pull-downs
If you are crunched on time and need a quick workout, supersets with opposing muscle groups seem to result in the optimal workout with less performance decline than compound sets with similar muscle groups. It should also be noted that compound sets with two similar muscle groups (incline and bench press) resulted in lower training volume. This was likely due to the greater muscle fatigue caused by training two muscle groups with no rest between sets.
1. Michel A. Brentano et al., “Muscle Damage and Muscle Activity Induced by Strength Training Super-Sets in Physically Active Men,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31, no. 7 (July 2017): 1847–58.
2. Jonathon J. S. Weakley et al., “The Effects of Superset Configuration on Kinetic, Kinematic, and Perceived Exertion in the Barbell Bench Press,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 34, no. 1 (January 2020): 65–72.
3. Filipe Matos et al., “Effect of Rest Interval Between Sets in the Muscle Function During a Sequence of Strength Training Exercises for the Upper Body,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35, no. 6 (June 1, 2021): 1628–35.
4.. Justin J. Merrigan, Margaret T. Jones, and Jason B. White, “A Comparison of Compound Set and Traditional Set Resistance Training in Women: Changes in Muscle Strength, Endurance, Quantity, and Architecture,” Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise 1, no. 3 (November 1, 2019): 264–72.
5. Cristiano Behenck et al., “The Effect of Different Rest Intervals Between Agonist-Antagonist Paired Sets on Training Performance and Efficiency,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, June 9, 2020.