Burn more fat in less time with ‘supersets’

Posted Jan. 06, 2012, at 9:37 a.m.
Metro Creative

If you’re short on time — and your goal is to burn fat — step away from the treadmill. Now get into the weight room and try “supersetting” your resistance training.

Supersets, a bodybuilding term gaining popularity in fitness centers, involve performing two or more consecutive sets of strength work with little or no rest between sets.

Traditional strength training generally allows one to three minutes of downtime between exercises. But with supersets, there’s little or no break, imposing greater demand on your muscles and allowing you to get more done in less time.

Any resistance exercises can be paired for supersets. The idea is to exercise muscles that haven’t been fatigued.

Reciprocal supersets combine exercises that use opposing muscle groups _ the chest and back, for example, or biceps and triceps. The first muscle group rests while you work the second group. This leads to a more balanced workout and “is one way strength training helps maintain a healthy range of motion around the joints,” said Vik Khanna, a St. Louis-based clinical exercise specialist.

Still, while supersets might be more time efficient, they don’t necessarily lead to a greater total calorie burn than traditional strength training.

In one small study, published last year in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 10 men performed a six-exercise superset workout. A week later, they performed the same routine using traditional resistance exercise. The overall workload was exactly the same; the only difference was that the total rest time was shorter during the superset workout than during the regular strength training regimen.

The researchers found that the training methods made no difference in total energy expenditure.

But the superset workout burned more calories per minute than the traditional weight training session, said lead author Andrew Kelleher, of the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine.

Still, if your goal is gaining strength or building muscle mass, traditional weight training programs are sufficient, said Jeff McBride, director of the neuromuscular and biomechanics laboratory at Appalachian State University.

Kelleher also recommends against supersets if your goal is building strength. “Supersetting tires you out; after doing one exercise you jump immediately to something else in another part of the body,” said Kelleher. “With supersets, you won’t be able to do much work under a heavy load.”

Khanna, meanwhile, says supersets are useful for anyone who wants to improve their health. “Resistance exercise is about robust muscles, which are essential to healthy metabolism, disease resistance and quality of life as we age,” he said “When people are stronger, they can do more of everything, including other kinds of activity that burn calories more effectively.”

TRY THESE SUPERSETS

To burn the most calories, Kelleher recommends exercises that recruit the largest muscle groups, including the chest, glutes and abdominals. Try 10 to 12 reps of each of the following exercises. Do three sets.

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Pushup followed by row:

Push up: Place hands and feet on the floor, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Tighten your abdominal and butt muscles; body should be in a slant. Bend your arms and lower your body to the floor, keeping your butt and core engaged. Push yourself back up. If using TRX suspension training, place hands on the floor and feet in handles.

Key muscles used: chest, triceps, core

Upper back rows: Place feet about shoulder-width apart against a wall or other support. Grasp TRX handles and hold arms straight in front of you, palms facing each other. Pull yourself up toward the handles, moving at the shoulders and elbows, until your torso is even with your wrists.

Key muscles used: mid and upper back, biceps, forearms

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Squats followed by one-leg dead lift:

Squat: Stand with feet parallel, hip-width apart. Tighten abdominals to support the back. Inhale as you bend your knees and sit back as if you’re going to land in a chair. Thighs should be no lower than parallel to the floor. Don’t bend your knees more than 90 degrees or allow them to extend beyond the toes. Exhale as you push down through your feet and return to standing.

Key muscles used: thighs and glutes

Single-leg deadlift: Stand on one foot, with the other leg bent at the knee so the shin is behind you and parallel to the floor. Lower your body until the lifted leg is as low to the ground as possible. Pause, then straighten back up to starting. Grasp dumbbells to increase difficulty.

Key muscles used: hamstrings, glutes, lower back

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Crunch followed by hyperextension:

Crunch: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, knees bent, feet off the ground or gently resting on the wall and thighs vertical. Inhale, lift your shoulders off the ground and bring your knees to your nose by rolling up the spine.

Key muscles used: rectus abdominis

Back bridge/extension: Lie on the floor, arms out to your sides, palms down. Start with your feet flat on the floor, bending the knees. Putting your feet on a ball, chair, or in TRX handles will make the exercise harder. Contract the muscles of your hips, back, abdomen, to raise your hips off the floor, and create a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Don’t arch your back.

Key muscles used: spinal erectors, glutes, quads, abs, obliques, hamstrings

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