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Supersets – What are they and Why do we use them?

This past week, you’ve seen us use ‘supersets’ in our Strength & Skill work more prominently that we have in the past. That is by design in Coach Mark James’ programming. I wanted to briefly explain exactly what supersets are and why we use them.
A superset is when you perform two or three movements back to back (to back), with a specified rest interval squeezed in there. The design of most supersets will include movements that do not interfere with one another. For instance, on Tuesday we back squatted and strict pressed back to back. Wednesday was barbell rows and dips. When designing a superset, there are a few ways to do it: you can alternate pushing versus pulling movements (squatting and pressing are pushing movements, while deadlifts and rows are pulling movements), you could also alternate upper body versus lower body movements (squatting and deadlifting are lower body, while bench press and curls are upper body). The idea of non-interference is so that you can apply 100% focus to the movement at hand without having to worry about the fatiguing side effects of the movement to come next.
While most supersets will include movements that don’t interfere with one another, that is not always the case. Some days, you may see us do two upper body pressing movements, like bench and dips, together. Why would we do this? Like a politician’s answer, “It depends.” One reason would be to maximize our response to a multi-joint movement like a bench press, but then still want to work the smaller muscle groups, like the triceps, through ring or parallel bar dips. This is known as ‘pre-fatiguing.’ Another reason that is a bit more simple and applicable to you outside of the gym is that it mimics real life; life does not discriminate the challenges that are tossed at you. You ever helped a friend move from one house to another? Its like you are always using the same 4 muscle groups the entire 12 hour process. Thankfully we’ve prepared you for that!
(The astute reader will likely point out that this design seems like a superset is what all of our typical CrossFit ‘metcons’ look like – two or three movements performed back to back. Sneaky sneaky…but not so fast. Remember, in most cases, there is designed rest between each movement. In a CrossFit WOD, that “designed rest” is called laziness, HAHA! Just kidding, but really we want to maximize the amount of work you are doing in a given time during a WOD. That’s where intensity comes into play. Supersets should not feel like that.)
Now to the important part – why we use them in the first place? In a nutshell, it allows you to accumulate more training volume in a safe manor along with more focus and intention. It also allows us to easily measure your progress over time – you’ll see supersets return with repetition over time and as long as you are consistent in showing up, you’ll see improvements. Diving just a bit deeper, another reason to utilize supersets is to challenge your skills under different forms of stress/fatigue. When a workout shows up with ring dips, that might be your jam the first few rounds. But over time, as that fatigue sets in, your ability stagnates. Training them in a superset fashion (whether there is interference or not depends on our current capability) will allow you to progress in your capacity for that movement without the added stress of them being in a scored WOD.
As with many things in the Strength & Conditioning field, there are some variations to what I’ve written above, but the general principles still apply across the board.
Questions? Let us know!

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