There’s a whiteboard in my training studio, and before every group training session I write the planned workout on it.
This for two reasons: one, it helps me focus more on the clients than on thinking about what is coming next. And two, it lets the clients know what’s on tap.
One of my favorite things is when clients look at the whiteboard with a mild sense of disappointment. Or maybe with a little relief.
As if they’re thinking: “Oh, this looks easy.”
Not gonna lie. I love it when about halfway through their workout, they’re saying, “WHY IS THIS SO HARD?”
And I’m walking around, like #winning.
Chances are you know all about “super-setting” and “giant-setting” exercises in a workout. This is when you do exercises back-to-back in a little circuit, and then you take a break at the end of the circuit before repeating, usually for two to three times through.
When it comes to how to superset exercises, it’s kind of like an art.
There are lots of ways to “stack” or superset exercises, based on your goals. Here are some common techniques:
- Target opposing muscles groups, like your chest and your back.
- Work the same muscle group except from different directions, like chest press and chest flyes
- Pair cardio and isometric movements, like jumping jacks and planks.
- Pair traditional strength exercises with explosive movements, to build power, like squats and jump squats.
- And then there’s my personal favorite, which attacks a muscle group from a couple different directions, and ends with either a plyometric or isometric exercise.
My Method of Stacking
This is how I like to stack exercises for intermediate to advanced clients who want to kick their results up a bit.
I choose exercises and sequence them in a way that:
- works – and tires out – the main muscle group I’m targeting
- then targets the “assister” muscle group, and
- finally finishes out by either explosively or isometrically working the main muscle group.
Or sometimes I’ll tire out the assister group first, because it’s the stronger of the muscle groups and wants to take over (like quadriceps vs. hamstrings).
By “stacking” the exercises that way, it allows for maximum results in terms of muscle sculpting and fat loss without having to lift super-heavy weights or doing lots of extra cardio.
And when you learn how to superset exercises this way, you’ll be surprised at the results.
When to “Stack”
Stacking exercises isn’t a beginner technique. I don’t recommend attempting it unless you have good core strength, good basic movement patterns, and at least 3 to 6 months of strength training under your belt.
I wouldn’t recommend this method of stacking if you’re trying to build max strength. It can help in building muscle, but I think it’s particularly effective in sculpting a lean, athletic physique.
Also: not every workout should be sequenced this way. I would limit this kind of workout to once or twice a week, max. And during those workouts, I’d only do one or two super/giant sets that are stacked in this format.
Also, I like them better closer to the beginning of a workout, so you’re fresh and can attack them safely.
Here are some of my favorite training stacks
Stack 1: Legs, Hamstring/Glute emphasis
- Walking lunges holding dumbbells, 10 each side
- Leg abductor machine (pressing OUT), 20 (if you don’t have an abductor machine, do X-band walks using a resistance tube)
- Speed skaters, 15 each side.
Stack 2: Legs, Hamstring/Glute emphasis
- Front squats, 10-12
- Romanian deadlifts, 10-12
- Russian kettlebell swings, 15
Stack 3: Legs, Glute emphasis
- Romanian deadlifts, 12
- Leg abductor machine (pressing out), 20
- Barbell hip thrusts, 10
Stack 4: Shoulder burner
- Seated side raises, 10
- Seated overhead DB press, 10
- Plank from hands, 30 seconds
Stack 5: Core killer
- Renegade row, 10 each side
- Ab bicycles, 20 each side
- Supermans, 12
- Sprinter sit-up, 10 (5 each side)
- Plank, 30 seconds.
How to Superset Exercises
Personally, I like to experiment with workouts to find just the right sequencing for maximum effectiveness. And this will vary by client, too – people have different goals, different movement patterns, different needs.
But it can be really fun in an “evil genius” kind of way to discover that, say, pairing step ups with single-leg glute bridges is an excellent combo.
(Seriously, try that: do 15 stepups on your right foot, then do 15 glute bridges on your right foot, and then repeat on the left side. Ouch!).
The Hidden Surprise
When these exercises are sequenced correctly, you’re left wondering why your go-to weight on a certain exercise … say the overhead presses in the shoulder burner above … suddenly seems like it weighs 50 percent more.
That’s because of the circuit. “Prefatiguing” surrounding muscles means they can’t help (or even take over), so you don’t have to use as a heavy weight to get the same effect.
This kind of “playing” can keep your workouts fresh and fun.
Try the stacks above and let me know what you think!