Super sets, compound sets and giant sets

If you have been performing muscular strength training on a regular basis, you may have heard terminology such as super sets, compound sets and giant sets. However, it may be unclear to you what each of these training modalities is actually defined as and what benefits you might experience if you incorporate these modalities into your program.

Consequently, this week we will concentrate on defining each and provide you with the benefits of each as well. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Note: Regarding all types of set training, generally you would take a recovery interval break between the “circuits” or “rounds” for approximately 45 to 60 seconds.

Super Sets

A super set is usually defined as two exercises which either work opposing muscle groups, such as the chest and back, or literally different body parts such as the upper and lower body in succession with little or no recovery interval between sets. The super set series may include two-five sets of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise or more sets with fewer repetitions if the load is very heavy.

If you were to perform an exercise for the chest such as a bench press, followed by a pull up for the back, this would be a good example of a super set. However, a super set may also include a set of squats for the lower body followed by pushups for the upper body.

Choosing a super set modality for a period of time (i.e. periodization) such as three to four weeks, working all muscle groups of the body to a point of momentary muscle failure during the workout week, then progressively increasing the load as the body adapts, may significantly improve your muscular strength.

Compound Sets

Compound exercises are exercises that require the entire body to perform, such as squat/cleans. However, a compound set simply means to “compound” the number of different exercises into a series of sets with little or no recovery between. This may be accomplished by performing three/four exercises in succession for the same muscle group, opposing muscle groups or total body exercises performed in succession such as full body extensions, followed by squat/cleans and complete the compound set of compound exercises with lunges with biceps curls.

Compound sets are taxing and are a terrific method of expending additional calories while muscular strength training. We incorporate compound exercises into all of our programs and also perform compound set training which adds variety, challenge and builds muscular strength.

Giant Sets

A giant set refers to targeting one muscle group and performing two-three different exercises for that muscle group. Each specific exercise should concentrate on different angles and aspects of each muscle group. For example, you might perform TRX pushups, followed by standing chest flyes at a cable/pulley machine and complete the sequence with unilateral dumbbell bench presses.

These sets are performed with little or no recovery between sets, in the specific series. This type of training may be quite time consuming as you attempt to work through all major muscle groups of the body within the workout week. However, it is a valid mode of training that may be integrated into a well-designed program and may yield great results.

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