Doing paired sets might give you better results over time by increasing total work volume done. And it also decreases the time you have to dedicate to working out. A classic win-win situation! Read on to learn how it works and how you can implement this strategy in you own training.
Paired sets and supersets are two terms often used synonymously, so let me explain what I mean here. Usually paired sets are two or more exercises that you perform back to back with little to no rest between exercises. So you could do squats, pull ups and triceps extensions as a paired set. Usually you rest at the end of this sequence. But why should you do this?
Let’s delve into the main benefit of paired sets: they simply save you a lot of time. Doing two or more exercises back to back cuts down the time needed for resting dramatically. If you normally rest two minutes between every set and you are doing two exercises for three sets each, pairing them up saves you six minutes every workout compared to straight sets.
Most of us have at least six different exercises per day to perform on a given training day, so you can easily see how much time you could save by pairing them up. Often you can reduce workout time by half, which leaves you with more time to do other things like cooking up a nice, anabolic post workout meal!
Increased Work Capacity
Paired sets may even help you perform more volume load (load times reps times sets) in a given workout, especially if antagonistic muscle groups are paired together.
Antagonistic muscles are muscles that have the opposite function, like doing hamstring curls and leg extensions. One extends the knee and one flexes the knee.
Why is this important? Because doing more work over a long period of time will help you put on more muscle. This won’t have an immediate impact over a month or two, but building muscle is always about the long game, so after a year or two, the small advantage of paired sets might be adding up.
The exact mechanism why this works is still in the dark, but it is important that it somehow seems to work. One factor might be that you use the time you need to finish one exercise is “additional” rest time for the next exercise. After all we all are no exercise scientists, right? Just embrace the gains.
One limitation of pairing sets up, especially when you use big compound movements, is that it is just pretty damn hard! Metabolic stress will build up, negating all the possible advantages by crippling you and your workout. So before you pair up all exercises in your training plan, think about it first. Can you recover from this? If you are still out of breath from your squats, your chin-up performance will be limited. Be especially cautious with full body workouts, they can be brutal on their own, pairing too many exercises together could be devastating.
Also keep in mind that seemingly unrelated muscle groups can still be exhausted when you switch to your second exercise, degrading exercise technique. Especially when pairing pulls with pushes this can be problematic as a lot of the “pull-muscles” are needed to create a stable foundation for pushing. While this might be okay with relatively light weights, heavier weights need more stability and might suffer more. Use paired sets for high rep work and traditional straight sets for heavy, strength focused work.
Another problem with paired sets are gym logistics. When pairing exercises together, take a look if it is even possible to perform them back to back. If your leg press is on the other side of the gym, this can lead to problems. Not that a nice walk through the gym between exercises is bad, but when you come back to your bench after leg pressing, someone else could have taken your spot. So consider the gym setup you are training at. The best plan is useless if it is only feasible on paper!
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