All photos: Samuel King, Jr.
Joe Weider branded everything, not just his every product, but even ideas. In the ’50s, he and his small staff were literally writing—or, more often, rewriting—the language of weight-training, defining or redefining everything from going heavier (The Weider Progressive Resistance Principle) to getting help from a spotter (The Weider Forced Reps Principle). “I gave my principles and techniques exciting new names that stuck in the mind, so they were easy to teach and talk about,” the muscle mogul explained. The best-titled was the Weider Supersets Principle, which arrived, faster than a speeding bullet, in 1951 when Superman comics and, soon thereafter, a TV show were all the rage. Combining two exercises without resting was forever imbued with the aura of Clark Kent morphing into the Man of Steel.
SUPERSET (noun & verb) sets of two different exercises performed without resting. Origin: 1951, Muscle Power magazine. Synonym: compound set
With no rest between two sets, you can maximize gym time and minimize workout length. Do an entire superset workout, alternating, say, biceps and triceps sets without rest and you can really crank up the pace for a quick and intense arm session.
Combining sets of two dissimilar exercises essentially creates one big set, unique from either of the two exercises alone. Typically, it’ll also localize the pump, either by pairing antagonists or by focusing on two different movements for the same body part.
This is the original recipe, coupling two exercises for antagonists: chest with upper back, quadriceps with hamstrings, or biceps with triceps. Example: incline dumbbell curls (biceps) supersetted with incline dumbbell extensions (triceps). This combo has the advantage of allowing you to use the same weights and bench and just go from arms down to arms up. Though most supersets won’t provide such rapid transitions, pick exercises or set up equipment to minimize downtime.
Pair dissimilar exercises for the same bodypart. Example: hack squats followed by walking lunges. Choose a second exercise you can keep cranking out even after reaching near-failure in the first. So, in our example, you should be able to do 20-30 strides of bodyweight lunges even after 10 hard reps of hacks.
Immediately follow each set of an isolation exercise with one of a compound exercise for the same bodypart. Example: cable crossovers before dips. The first works only pecs before the second enlists triceps and anterior delts in the pec work, so the already stressed pecs give out sooner than usual while dipping, better concentrating those reps on just your chest.
See: Pre-exhaust Training
This flips the previous script: compound exercise before isolation exercise for the same body part. Example: barbell shoulder presses before dumbbell front raises. The latter extends and better targets the work begun by the former, and, unlike pre-exhaust, the isolator won’t diminish your strength in the compound.
Finally, you can combine two dissimilar bodyparts. Often called staggered sets (another Weider name), this is a great way to save time or target something you might otherwise neglect. The best work-in candidates are abs with anything, calves with an upper bodypart, and biceps, triceps, or forearms on leg day. For examples, slip in a set of calf raises between each set in your back routine or do crunches or leg raises just after each set of bench presses. Neither exercise will rob any strength from the other, and, as always with supersets, you can double the workload you’d otherwise do in a given period.
See also: Giant Sets for Giant Gains