Mikey Lau
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Effects of supersets on barbell bench press performance


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This blog post is a part of a series where we summarise the current literature on anything health, fitness and well-being related. These are research articles that can give you a better insight into different ways that you can train your clients to get better results - faster. Be sure to sign up to our weekly newsletter to get the latest exclusive contents and offers.



Paper

The study and its purpose


Weakley, et al. (2017)

Supersets are widely implemented to induce higher stress and to reduce the time spent training. Athletes devote a large portion of their time training the primary biomotor abilities; however, they also emphasise other important variables that the general population would typically overlook. For instance, due to the high demands of their periodised programmes, most - if not all athletes should be conducting some form of pre-habilitation and developing their general strength in the off-season. The accumulation of training time could be substantial due to the combination of different training requirements.

A possible solution could take the form of a superset where two exercises are combined into a single set with little to no rest in-between. Other studies have shown that supersets can significantly reduce the time spent training. The authors categorised 3 types of supersets; agonist-antagonist (AA), alternate peripheral (AP), and similar biomechanical (SB). AA combined opposing musculatures, AP combined most commonly upper and lower-body and SB paired exercises of similar movement or muscle groups.

It was implicated that other research has implied that SS could deteriorate neuromuscular function when compared to traditional training. Weakley, et al. (2017) has shown that high kinetics and kinematics are important for muscular size, strength, and power development. In their study, SS has generated a greater loss in lower-body power due to metabolic perturbation. It was also discovered that the rate of perceived exertion (RPE), shared a strong relationship with metabolic responses.

This study aimed to determine possible differences in strength, power, and perceived exertion by utilising the different configurations of a superset (SS)



Science

The Method

Key points:

  • Three different SS configurations with 4 exercise protocols.
  • A randomised crossover study design with 7 days separating each session.
  • Outcome measures were the kinematics, kinetics and RPE of the bench press.
  • Anthropometric and 3RM measurements were taken before the intervention with familiarisation sessions.
  • Subjects performed a single set of the bench press after the warm-up and before the intervention at 65% of their 3RM.
  • The control group (CON): 3 additional sets of the barbell bench press with 2-minute recoveries.
  • AA:3 supersets of barbell bent-over row and bench press with 2-minute recoveries.
  • AP:3 supersets of barbell back squat and bench press with 2-minute recoveries.
  • SB:3 supersets of dumbbell and barbell bench press with 2-minute recoveries.
  • Participants were asked to give an RPE 15 minutes after the session.

Measures to control the study:

  • A standardised warm-up was prescribed before conducting the intervention.
  • They’ve recorded self-selected hand and body positions to ensure it's consistent at each visit.
  • Testing sessions were conducted at the same time of day.
  • Subjects were instructed to not train within 48 hours of the testing session.
  • They were also instructed to maintain normal eating habits and to avoid caffeine 24 hours before the testing.



Ruler

The Results

All 3 protocols have almost certainly greater levels of perceived exertion compared to the control group. AP had a higher RPE than AA, whilst SB had certainly the highest RPE amongst the groups.

SB exhibited the greatest loss in velocity and power when compared to AA and AP. However, regardless of protocols, all groups experienced a loss of power and velocity with higher RPE. The results for the AP group were unclear and speculations indicated that the cause could be the different levels of tolerance between upper and lower-body exercises.

A possible explanation of the reduction in power and velocity of SB could be influenced by the utilisation of the substrates within the same musculature. This metabolic accumulation caused the slower contraction speed which reduced velocity. However, it was observed that changes in peak force production was much smaller. This indicated that SS may not affect force as much as velocity.



Apply

Practical applications

It is plausible to utilise supersets to reduce time spent training. However, considerations must be made regarding which performance outcome is more desirable. As mentioned, supersets are shown to reduce velocity more than peak force whilst increasing the rate of perceived exertion as compared to traditional training.



Alert

Limitations

This study used a small sample and lacked transferability to a wider audience as the subjects are rugby players of sub-elite status. Additionally, multiple washout periods could present some discrepancies with controlling the subject's lifestyle. Not to forget, team training could vary within a week dependent on the various positions and roles.


References

Weakley, J. J. S., Till, K., Read, D. B., Roe, G. A. B., Darrall-Jones, J., Phibbs, P. J., Jones, B., (2017). The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(9), 1877–1889.

Weakley, J. J., Till, K., Read, D. B., Phibbs, P. J., Roe, G., Darrall-Jones, J., Jones, B. L., (2017). The effects of superset configuration on kinetic, kinematic, and perceived exertion in the barbell bench press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(1), 65-72.