Build Muscle Faster With Smart Supersets
November 17, 2016
You want to build muscle, get strong as an ox, make moves like Michael and have the conditioning of an ultra marathoner. You want a brag-worthy squat and deadlift, beefy shoulders, and a ripped six-pack.
But how do you get there, taking into account family and work obligations? Time is precious.
With life vying for your attention, how do you go about fitting it all in? How do your program strategically to hit those goals in limited time?
I asked Andy Van Grinsven to weigh in. Here’s his answer and a free program which you can grab here. Over to you, Andy.
Thanks, Eric. The answer is to build better and more efficient workouts.
You’ll stimulate the most possible muscle in the least possible time.
You’ll get back to kicking ass in your home and professional lives sooner.
Consider the example of a client I work with. We’ll call him Bill.
Bill is a 57-year-old former Marine who loves to run and lift weights. He likes to “keep his heart rate up” regardless of the workout we have planned. As long as he’s moving, sweaty, and out of breath, Bill is happy.
But pulling heavy deadlifts and pushing through heavy squats requires adequate rest and recovery. Three to five minutes should give your Central Nervous System and energy stores a chance to recover.
You guessed it: Bill hates the idea of just sitting around, resting. He’s there to work. Nothing can be done to stop him. Lord knows, I’ve tried.
Bill’s mobility is atrocious. He makes up for it with grit and determination, but he moves like the Tin Man on the coldest day of winter. His posture isn’t great and he has aches and pains from years of running.
But there’s a way out. Here’s how you can create smarter supersets designed to:
– build strength,
– pack on muscle mass
– keep you limber
– and maintain your work capacity
The key is to increase density. This allows you to get more work done in a shorter time frame. You’ll expedite strength and mass gains along the way.
Things to consider:
- Pick only one heavy, compound lift at a time. Call it A1
- Pick opposing exercises that don’t interfere with your performance in A1
- Add filler: mobility, core stability, and postural correction exercises as needed
- Get back to A1
Here are my all-in-one favorite supersets to pack on strength, mass, mobility and build abs of steel:
- Push: Push-ups, DB presses, Bench press
- Pull: Pull-aparts; Face Pulls
- Core: Rollouts; Pallof presses; Deadbugs
- Mobility: Air Guitar; Preacher Stretch
The base is the deadlift. Follow up with exercises that don’t interfere with it. Add some core training and mobility drills to fill the 3-5 minute rest period.
Here’s an example:
A1) Deadlift 3×5 (~85% 1RM, leave 1-2 reps in the tank)
A2) DB bench 3×10 (~75%, leave 1-2 reps in the tank)
A3) Ab Wheel Rollout 3×10
A4) Band Pull-aparts 3×20
The deadlift represents a total body lift. Dumbbell Bench press is for the pecs, shoulders, and triceps. Ab Wheel rollout is our anti-extension core stability drill. Wrap up with some upper back, posterior shoulder work to improve your posture and shoulder health.
Let’s consider another example:
- Pull: Chin-ups; Inverted Rows
- Push: Shoulder Presses
- Core: Deadbugs; Pallof Presses
- Mobility: T-spine Windmill, Seated Internal/External Rotations
Again, we’re building our base around a big, badass squat.
It could look like this:
A1) Squat 5×3 (~90% 1RM, leave 1-2 reps in the tank)
A2) Chin-ups 4×8 (1-2 reps shy of failure) <<<-click for video
A3) DB Seated Military Press 3×15 <<<-click for video
A4) Pallof Press 3×10/side <<<-click for video
A5) T-spine windmill x 5/side <<<-click for video
Hit a heavy triple in the squat, and then move casually through A2-A5 to give you some active recovery between your sets.
The squat is a compressive exercise in that it compresses the spine. The chin-up is a decompressive exercise, allowing you to stretch things out a bit. The seated shoulder press builds mass in your shoulders without being overly intense and messing with your recovery. Finally, the Pallof Press and T-spine windmill represent low-level core stability and mobility drills to improve both those qualities.
Let’s try it one more time.
3. Overhead Press (OHP)
- Push: goblet squats
- Pull: face pulls; chins/pullups
- Core: deadbugs; reverse crunches; RKC Planks
The Overhead or Military Press is the base. Build from there and continue moving without compromising our efforts in the next set.
Here’s an example
A1) OHP 3×5 <<<- click for video
A2) Face Pulls 3×15 <<<-click for video
A3) Goblet squat 3×12 <<<-click for video
A4) RKC Plank 3x20s
A5) Two-arm Trap Raise Off Bench 3×8 <<<-click for video
After you hit the big OHP, you can turn to the cable column to work face pulls, which help with upper back strength and mass, while improving our posture and keeping our shoulders healthy. Follow that up with an accessory squat pattern (the goblet squat) and wrap it up with the RKC plank and back-to-wall shoulder flexion.
After about 3-5 minutes you’re busting through your next heavy set of presses.
Note: remember to pick accessory lifts in a sequence that doesn’t interfere with your performance in your big compound lift. Adequate recovery is imperative to continued performance at a high level. That means you need to go lighter in weight on some exercises and make sure you’re giving yourself a chance to catch your breath between exercises. Efficiency and keeping your heart rate up are great, but you’re risking injury if you’re not careful. Choose wisely, move safely and deliberately.
Let’s put this all together into a weekly program:
A1) Deadlift 3×5 (~85% 1RM, leaving 1-2 reps in the tank)
A2) DB Bench Press 3×10 (~75% 1RM, 1-2 reps shy of failure)
A3) Ab Wheel Rollout 3×10
A4) Band Pull-aparts 3×20
B1) DB Reverse Lunges 3×8/side
B2) DB Shoulder Presses 3×12-15
C1) Banded Tricep Pressdown 3×15
C2) Farmer’s Carry x 30 yards
A1) Squat 5×3 (~90% 1RM, 1-2 reps left in the tank)
A2) Chin-ups 4×8 (1-2 reps shy of failure)
A3) DB Seated Shoulder Press 3×15
A4) Pallof Press 3×10/side
A5) T-spine windmill x 5/side
B1) BB RDL 3×8 (w/10 rep max)
B2) Close-grip Pushups 3×10 (eccentric focus, if able)
C1) TRX Rows 3×15
C2) Reverse Crunch 3×10
A1) OHP 3×5 (85% 1RM)
A2) Face Pulls 3×15
A3) Goblet squat 3×12
A4) RKC Plank x 3x20s
A5) Two-arm Trap Raise 3×8
B1) DB Incline Bench Press 3×15
B2) Chest Supported Rows 3×15-20
C1) Lateral Lunge 3×8/side
C2) Racked Carry 3×30 yrds
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By increasing our density, and intelligently designing your programs to suit your goals and your needs, there shouldn’t be any problem reaching your goals in a limited time frame.
Get creative with your program design, and remember these rules to help you:
- Pick only one heavy compound lift
- Pick non-competing exercises (pulls to your pushes; pushes to your pulls; exercises that exhaust grip and those that give your grip strength a break)
- Pick one mobility drill based on your needs, addressing ankles, hips, and thoracic spine
- Pick a core stability drill. Here are a few to consider
a) Anti-extension: planks; RKC planks; ab wheel rollouts
b) Anti-rotation: Pallof presses; half and tall-kneeling chops; rotational chops
c) Anti-lateral flexion: Farmer’s walks; suitcase carries; racked carries
Build more muscle, faster, with intelligently designed supersets and you’ll never leave goals on the training floor again.
About The Author
Andy Van Grinsven is a personal trainer and strength coach based in Nashville, TN. He has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. He shows average Janes and Joes how to train like an athlete, helping them build mental and physical strength greater than they ever imagined. Despite being born and raised in Nashville, he prefers alt and indie rock to country and has never seen the show Nashville.
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