Although it may elicit head-scratching at even the most hardcore gyms today, the practice of supersetting bodyparts was quite common a few decades ago, and its greatest proponent was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Known for his unmatched intensity, Schwarzenegger was always devising ways to crank up the volume of his workouts. By employing supersets, he found that he could maximize his effort without maximizing his risk of injury. Despite his workout intensity, Schwarzenegger never suffered a major injury in the gym.
Although the term “superset” refers to the consecutive performance of two different exercises with no rest between, the variation Schwarzenegger most cherished was the coupling of exercises targeting antagonistic bodyparts. Specifically, he would superset chest with back exercises and biceps with triceps. He felt that training this way provided several clear benefits over the more conventional method of hitting each bodypart individually.
First, supersetting antagonistic bodyparts provides a tremendous pump in the area being trained. When supersetting bis and tris, the entire upper arm becomes engorged with oxygen-rich blood, creating a positive growth environment for both muscle groups. Second, there is a cardiovascular benefit to training this way. Although supersetting two exercises for the same muscle is difficult when training to or near failure, working opposing muscles enables one to rest while the other is being hit, allowing for twice the amount of tim of high-intensity exertion and, therefore, of aerobic activity. Third, there is the stretch that one muscle group receives while the other is being contracted. When the chest is not being worked, back exercises are keeping it limber, although not stressed.
It's important to keep in mind that the type of supersetting Schwarzenegger performed is not recommended for anyone except the most advanced bodybuilders. In fact, he lost several partners who tried to follow him through his chest/back routine in the 1970s - midway through the training session they would run off in search of the porcelain throne. The nonstop nature of this style of training works the heart in the same way sprinting does, leaving the participant gasping for air in the brief 30-second break between supersets. It is advisable to begin with a modified version of Schwarzenegger's routine and work toward his volume incrementally, particularly when employing the chest/back superset.
We've included for you Schwarzenegger's chest/back and biceps/triceps superset workouts. Since we don't recommend jumping righ into these grueling routines, we suggest that you modify them by knocking three sets off each exercise to start. After two weeks, add one set to each exercise per week until you've reached Schwarzenegger's full routines. Once you've gotten to that level, stick with each program for no more than eight weeks. Then return to standard single-bodypart training for eight weeks. This way, your body won't adapt to one particular style and grow complacent. This technique, known as the Weider Muscle Confusion Training Principle, was also one of the Oak's favorites, and with his record of success to back him up, you might consider trying it as well.
ARNOLD'S CHEST / BACK SUPERSET WORKOUT
- Bench Presses | SETS: 5 | REPS: 12,10, 8, 6, 5
- Wide-Grip Chins | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Incline Bench Presses | SETS: 5 | REPS: 12,10, 8, 8, 8
- Bent Rows | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Flyes | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Seated Cable Rows | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Dips | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Close-Grip Chins | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
ARNOLD'S BICEPS/TRICEPS SUPERSET WORKOUT
- Standing Dumbbell Curls | SETS: 5 | REPS: 8
- Lying Dumbbell Extensions | SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
- Incline Dumbbell Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8
- Overhead Triceps Extensions | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10
- Preacher Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8
- Dips | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10