Agonist Supersets

Chanhassen Boot Camp presents…

Agonist Supersets Circuit Training


We have a great month of new boot camp workouts locked and loaded for you this October at Look Great at the Lake Boot Camp


Each month, our team spends an inordinate amount of time researching and testing exercise variations and workout templates to best ensure that we bring the very best weight loss and fitness workouts your way each and every month.


Lots of other boot camps simply seek to just beat you down and get you tired with no rhyme or reason behind what they do. This results in limited results and lots of unwanted injuries.  However, everything we do at Fitness Revolution is based on sound exercise science and battle-tested, in the trenches real world experience.


I’ve teamed up with BJ Gaddour of Workout Muse and a select handful of other top boot camp owners from around the country to design the very best and most cutting edge workouts possible for Look Great at the Lake Boot Camp and Look Great at the Lake Boot Camp ONLINE.


I have always felt that it’s important to know why you’re doing what you’re doing when it comes to fitness because it helps reinforce the implementation of the necessary habits to get into the best shape of your life.  That’s why each month I provide this blog post – Method Behind the Madness – to briefly explain the incredible, cutting-edge interval training boot camp workouts coming your way this month…


The name just sounds awesome…because they are.  Supersets are an incredibly effective and extremely popular intensity boosting technique, especially among physique athletes (aka, bodybuilders, figure competitors and fitness models).


“What the heck are they and why are they so super,” you ask.


That’s what this month’s Method Behind the Madness post is all about, and I gotta tell you…



This brings me back to my old college days of training.  I loved supersets and I know you’re going to love them, too!


Supersets are basically a pairing of two exercises performed back-to-back with no rest.


“Back in the day” supersets, as coined by legendary bodybuilding trainer and promoter, Joe Weider, were what we today would call Antagonist Supersets – the pairing of two exercises for opposing muscles (on opposite sides of the same joint) such as biceps and triceps, quads and hamstrings or chest and back.  In fact, the great Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for including supersets in his routine…

 One of the major benefits of supersets is the reduction of training time as compared to straight sets.  Instead of taking a minute or two of rest between sets, you move straight to the second exercise, and then take your rest.  You can practically cut your training time in half!


In addition, supersets dramatically increase workout intensity (increased density – more work in the same period of time), create greater overload (key factor in stimulating change/performance enhancement) and cause an incredible muscle “pump” (which is believed to be a factor in stimulating muscle growth).


All of this leads to getting that tight, “toned” and sexy body our Chanhassen boot camp members are after.


Since the Arnold era, we’ve expanded on the principle of supersets and now use a multitude of styles including our three variations for this month’s training program:

  • Pre-exhaustion Supersets
  • Post-exhaustion Supersets
  • Compound Supersets


Each of these superset workouts falls under the category of Agonist Supersets, or what some refer to as Stacking. Basically, instead of antagonistically pairing 2 non-competitive exercises with traditional supersets, stacking has you agonistically pairing 2 competitive exercises that train the same movement patterns or muscle group(s).  For example, an agonist superset could pair push-ups and overhead presses, both upper body pushing movement patterns that primarily work your chest, shoulders, and triceps.


The concept here is to occasionally shock your system by placing the targeted muscles under a more prolonged time under tension than usual to more completely exhaust the muscle fibers and stimulate a bigger growth response.  It also makes your muscles look and feel really cool after the workout.  ;-b


WARNING!!!:  Agonist pairings will generate lots of lactic acid that will make your muscles tire and burn significantly more than normal.


Alright, let’s take a look…


Pre-exhaustion Supersets

Pre-exhaustion supersets involve two exercises for the SAME muscle group.  The first exercise is an isolation exercise, which targets one major muscle group specifically (i.e., chest flyes target the chest).  The second exercise is a compound exercise, which uses a multitude of muscle groups (i.e., push-ups use the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the core).


It’s “pre-exhaustion” because you’re exhausting the chest muscles in the isolation movement prior to utilizing them in the compound movement where the chest gets a lot of help from the shoulders and triceps.  In fact, often times folks have a hard time getting a good chest workout when doing compound exercises because the synergistic (helper) muscles (shoulders and triceps) are the weak links.  With pre-exhaustion supersets, this problem is eliminated.  The chest gets pre-exhausted with the flyes and then gets help from “its friends” in the push-up.  Now, because there isn’t much “juice” left in the chest, the chest gets the stimulation it needs during the compound movement.  NICE!


Outlined below is a total body Pre-Exhaustion Supersets workout:


Workout A- Pre-Exhaustion Supersets:  One round consists of alternating between 40 seconds of work and 5 seconds of rest and then performing an additional 20 seconds of work for the same muscle group or movement pattern followed by a 55-second transition period to the next station.  Perform 5 total rounds and 2 total cycles for a 20-minute workout.

  1. Chest Flye Variation / Push-up Variation
  2. Straight Arm Pulldowns Variation / Rows Variation
  3. Hip Extensions Variation / Stiff-legged Deadlifts Variation
  4. Single-leg Quad Lifts (R) / Lunge Variation (R)
  5. Single-leg Quad Lifts (L) / Lunge Variation (L)


Post-exhaustion Supersets

Post-exhaustion supersets are simply the opposite of pre-exhaustion supersets.  You start with the compound movement (push-ups) and end with the isolation movement (flyes).  This scenario allows you to blast the big movement to full capacity (which by the way is the more metabolic movement), and then hit the target muscle with a little extra “love” to really give it the stimulation it needs for development.  GET SOME!


It’s interesting to note that though your performance will be slightly impaired on the subsequent single-joint exercise with post-exhaustion supersets, it won’t be nearly as impaired as the multi-joint exercise will be when performing pre-exhaustion supersets.  This is mostly likely due to the fact that your nervous system gets all excited and put on high-alert with the heavier compound movement.  Thus, due to this contrasting load when you start the lighter single-joint movement it still feels relatively light even though you’re already in a state of fatigue.


Workout B- Post-Exhaustion Supersets: One round consists of alternating between 20 seconds of work and 5 seconds of rest and then performing an additional 40 seconds of work for the same muscle group or movement pattern followed by a 55-second transition period to the next station.  Perform 5 total rounds and 2 total cycles for a 20-minute workout.

  1. Bent-over Rows Variation / Hammer Curls Variation
  2. Push Press Variation / Triceps Extensions Variation
  3. Jump Shrug Variation / Standing Calf Raises Variation
  4. Sumo Deadlift Variation / Hip Walks Variation
  5. Overhead Shouldering Variation / T-Stabilizations Variation


Compound Supersets

Compound supersets are the pairing of two compound exercises for the SAME muscle group or movement pattern.  With compound supersets you can hit a muscle group from multiple angles (horizontal/vertical/diagonal) and work different planes of motion (sagital/frontal/rotational).  You can even move from a double-limb movement to an alternating single-limb movement.  For example, try pairing squats and alternating lunges.  Or, if you have a weak side that you want to strengthen ASAP, try pairing squats with lunges performed on your weak side only. THAT’S NO JOKE!


As you can imagine, compound supersets will take intensity and metabolic boost to the extreme… That being said, use compound supersets sparingly to avoid overtraining.


And remember, as with the pre/post-exhaustion supersets, your performance on the second movement for the same muscle group(s) or movement pattern will be significantly impaired so be sure to reduce the load accordingly. In general, cutting your training loads in half will suffice. That being said, be sure to perform the compound exercise that requires the most skill or that you find most challenging first. For example, snatches require more skill than rows, both being pulling exercises, so be sure to snatch before you row if you pair them in a compound superset. Or if you find pull-ups more difficult than rows, do pull-ups first.


Also, ballistic exercises like snatches or plyometric exercises like squat jumps are typically best performed first when you are most fresh. There are 2 exceptions to this rule:

  1. If your intention is to perform the explosive exercise in a state of fatigue to improve power endurance and mental toughness.
  2. If your aim is to perform complex training where a heavy strength training exercise like loaded front squats is immediately followed by an unloaded power training exercise like bodyweight squat jumps for the same muscle group or movement pattern. This contrasting load effect known as Post-Activation Potentiation, or PAP, is scientifically proven to result in greater force production and speed of movement during the power training exercise (see Thunder and Lightning Complex Training for more info HERE).


Outlined below is a total body Compound Supersets workout:


Workout C- Compound Supersets: One round consists of alternating between 30 seconds of work and 5 seconds of rest and then performing an additional 30 seconds of work for the same muscle group or movement pattern followed by a 55-second transition period to the next station.  Perform 5 total rounds and 2 total cycles for a 20-minute workout.

  1. Skater Jumps Variation / Front Squats Variation
  2. Overhead Press Variation / Push-ups Variation
  3. Squat Pull-apart Variation / Rotational Lunges Variation
  4. Skier Swings Variation / High Pull Variation
  5. Cleans Variation / Power Curl Variation


General Rules of Supersets

Supersets truly are a phenomenal and fun way to spark new muscle growth, boost metabolism and bust through those dreaded plateaus.  However, caution is advised and certain factors must be accounted for to make them really effective.  Let’s take a look:

  • Check your ego at the door. Supersets are going to drastically reduce the load you can use (on the second exercise).  That’s actually one of the beauties of supersets.  You can reduce the stress that heavy weights place on your joints, but still get the incredible muscle and metabolic boosting effect you’re looking for.
  • Embrace the pain. Supersets “burn” like crazy.  You’re going to be taking your muscles to new levels of intensity, and you’re going to feel it BIG TIME.  Focus and push through it my friends…
  • Don’t skip a beat. Timing is everything with supersets.  It’s critical that you move as quickly and efficiently as possible between exercises.  Here’s a great quote about supersets from professional bodybuilder, Tony Pearson:

“Resting longer than five seconds between such exercise can be disastrous because the [muscles] will recover very quickly if allowed to rest too long.  Physiologists tell us that a muscle group can recover about 40% of its energy after only 10-12 seconds, and 50% after about 15 seconds. So it should be obvious that you must rest minimally between these exercises.”


On a final note, where traditional agonist supersets are performed continuously until the desired number of cycles is completed before moving on to the next superset, I prefer to circuit through agonist supersets to allow for optimal training intensity and best manage the cumulative fatigue. Otherwise performance is often too impaired for the general population to achieve the desired training effect. Don’t get me wrong- both methods work, but I’ve found through trial and error that the circuit approach works better for a wider variety of fitness levels.



Signature Agonist Supersets

Justin Yule, BS, CPT

Justin Yule, BS, CPT is the owner of Fitness Revolution in Chanhassen, MN as well as the Director of Franchisee Support for Fitness Revolution International.  Justin holds a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education with a Concentration in Adult Fitness.  Justin is also a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a Workout Muse Metabolic Training Expert, a Youth Fitness Specialist with the International Youth Conditioning Association, a Kettlebell Coach with Kettlebell Athletics, and a Resistance Band Training Specialist with PerforMax Performance Training.  Justin has been helping clients achieve their health and fitness goals since 1997, and became a Best Selling Author in 2011 with his contribution to Total Body Breakthroughs.  To contact him for training, education or to have him speak at an event please email

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Posted in Boot Camp, Method Behind the Madness, Weight Loss, Work Outs by Justin | 6 Comments

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