Intensity Techniques: Supersets And Drop Sets!

Two of the most common lifting techniques are discussed in this article. If you are unfamiliar with either of them, get aquatinted, because they will be your best friends somewhere down the line.

Supersets are two exercises performed in a row without stopping. There are two ways they can be used. They can be used to hit the same muscle group for two continuous sets, or they can be used to hit two (usually opposing) muscle groups for two continuous sets. This creates two different possibilities as well. You can hit one muscle really hard, or use that whole antagonistic principle and kill two birds with one wildly intense, hard-to-handle stone. If you can handle it though, you'll be in for a burn you won't soon forget, especially if you do them with legs. Also, if you're one of those hunting for the burn, then try some tri-sets, or a superset with three different exercises continuously rather than 2. You could actually do any number of sets in a row that you want. You could do 1000 exercises in a row and call it a kilo-set, but just don't go too crazy. Stick to 3 or 4 at the most. If you were on the level where you could handle more than 4 sets, well, you wouldn't be reading this article.

It would be easiest just to walk you through than rather than try and explain them and leave you with questions later. So for example, lets say I walk into the gym on shoulders day, with the intention of using some supersets. After I warm up, the first thing I do is bang out around 3 sets of heavy barbell presses. Then, I get two different dumbbells ready, one with the weight I use on lateral raises, and the other with the weight I use for Arnold presses. I pick up the lateral raise weight, and do my reps and set them down. Then, with the other dumbbells laying at my feet, I immediately pick them up and do as many reps as I can of Arnold presses. After both sets are complete, I rest for at least I full minute, but usually I rest for about 1:45. This is one superset of Lateral raises and dumbbell presses. I do about 3 supersets of these. After that I'll typically do 3 sets of inline side laterals. Next, I finish off my side delts with 3 supersets of wide-grip upright rows and shrugs. After the 3 supersets are completed, I do an additional 2 sets of shrugs. (I work my rear delts out on back day.)

Below are some sample supersets, just to give you some ideas. Try and learn create your own according to how it works for you. The first set is of supersets for one bodypart, and the second is for opposite bodyparts.


  • Chest: Flyes-bench, incline dumbbell presses-cable crossovers
  • Shoulders: Upright rows-shrugs, Push presses-Arnold presses, lateral raises-shrugs,
  • Back: lat pulldowns or chins-bent-over rows,
  • Biceps: Barbell curls-incline dumbbell curls
  • Triceps: Skull crushers-dips, pressdowns-behind the back dips
  • Quads: squats-leg extensions, leg presses-leg extensions,
  • Hams: Leg curls-stiff deads
  • Calves: seated calf raises-standing calf raises
  • Abs: Crunches-Reverse crunches, Incline knee tucks-crunches


  • Chest and Back: Bench-Bent over rows, Incline presses-chin ups or lat pulldown
  • Bis and Tris: Barbell curls-pressdowns or close-grip presses, Incline curls-skull crushers
  • Quads and Hams: Squats-leg curls, leg extension-leg curls, lunges-stiff deads

Drop Sets

When you come to the end of a set, and you cannot do another rep, it doesn't mean that all the fibers in that muscle are fatigued. It just means that enough fibers are to prevent you from lifting the weight that you are trying to lift. If you were to reduce the weight, you would be able to lift it for more reps, thus placing a more thorough overload on the target muscles. This concept is the basis for Drop Sets.

Drop sets are a little different than supersets, but they still reap the same awesome benefits. For drop sets, this is what you do: at the end of a set, when you are unable to do any more reps, you set the weight down, strip some weight off, and pick the weight back up and do as many more reps you can do. Depending on how you construct your workout, you could also arrange it so perform even more of these, picking the weight up a third or even a fourth time. Usually, you do drop sets on your last set of an exercise. However, one thing that I must mention is that when you do these, you have to be very quick in the stripping of the weight of the bar. You have to minimize the time that you are not actually lifting the weight. This is why it is very helpful to have a training partner when performing these. Of course, cables and machines particularly better for these because you just have to slide a pin out, or push a button. But that's not to say that they are better for actually building muscle with Drop Sets, just easier to do.

The method of "running the rack" stems from drops sets as well. The case of lateral raises is the perfect demonstration: when doing lateral raises, you can start doing your reps, and when you can't do any more, just pick up the next lightest weight, and squeeze out as many more as you can. Just work down the rack until you reach the smallest dumbbells on the rack or the ones you choose to go down to. You can use these for anything that requires moderately weighted dumbbells. I mean, you shouldn't do these with heavy shoulder presses, or you'd probably end up getting a better workout just getting into position over and over again with them heavy friggin weights than you would actually lifting them.

-John Giljum