Make Super Sets Super Again

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I see this mistake made ALL the time, pairing two loaded spine dependent exercises together. AKA two exercises that have the core and/or lower back highly active to maintain position.

While this seems like an “innocent” programming mistake, it actually breaks the cardinal rule of smarter pain-free superset pairings which is NOT to have the spine ever be the limiting factor for volume or performance.

See, when the core gets fatigued, the spinal position is in a more vulnerable position. Basically getting forced into compensation mode hanging out on non-contractile structure such as ligaments, tendons or the bony structure itself.

And since most people aren’t trying to train their bones, but instead, their mechanical and neuromuscular systems, this is not ideal for eliciting a strong training effect that is associated with getting you bigger, stronger or performing better.

It’s also rather shitty for attempting to maintain a healthy and resilient body. While there’s no guarantee for injury prevention, there’s simply things that are more commonly associated with higher injury risk than others.

**NOTE: There are different levels of injury trauma. Just because you don’t blow out your back so bad that you lose bowel and bladder function on the deadlift platform does not mean you didn’t actually “get hurt”. This is a different topic in itself but keep your mind open to both acute and chronic injury loads.

The first movement in a poorly paired superset is usually fine. You get the most out of it, the core and spine are challenged BUT perform well, and that’s that. But where people tend to run into trouble is the second movement of the paring done with minimal rest.

With the core already fatigued and the vital metrics (heart rate, respiratory rate, blood flow etc) up from already eliciting a global training effect you’re starting PRE-fatigued. Sometimes this can be a great thing, but when the spine is the limiting factor it simply is not anything close to good.

So we got it, do NOT pair two big spine dependent movements together in a superset. This goes for global movements, compound movement AND isolation movements. And of course, the more global the movement, the more associated “risk” there is to premature fatigue, poor positions and possible unwanted injury.

But what should you do instead? This one’s pretty simple.

Pair a spine dependent exercise with a spine independent exercise, or said differently, something that COMPRESSES the spine with something that DECOMPRESSES the spine.

This almost automatically limits the amount of core and/or spine involvement which can put is in a better position to perform and help mitigate the risk of injuries.

Using this smarter superset theory, we could use the following:


A1) BARBELL SQUAT







A2) CHIN UPS







The first exercise loads and compresses the spine, the second exercise deloads and decompresses the spine.

But where I see the mistakes made are more HIIT style pairings like the following:

A1) Bent Over Single Arm Dumbbell Row
A2) Dumbbell Neutral Grip Push Press

This one is a little more interesting as the dumbbell row doesn’t directly compress the spine, BUT the core is in fact in a dependent position for control of the spine.

The push press is very similar in nature. Going overhead with dumbbells is totally cool, but the lower back, hips and core in general is a key player in positioning for stability.

A smarter option for this same type of pull-push superset:


A1) CHEST SUPPORTED ALTERNATING DUMBBELL ROW






A2) DUMBBELL PUSH PRESS







Here we use a chest support position to deload the core and spine, and RE load the core and spine with the push press.

Now these are just a few examples, BUT here’s the take home point…

Let principles guide your programming. And when it comes to supersets, this is the most important one.

Lets make supersets great (or super) again,

-JR

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