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One of the approaches for gaining muscle mass is to do exercises to failure. Obviously some of the exercises can be quite dangerous if doing them without a spotter, like bench-presses. Others can be just "messy" like squats or pull-overs where you'd have to drop the barbell on the floor behind you without really knowing where the barbell might land.

I'm exactly in this situation, i working on building mass and i don't have a spotter. So i'm doing supersets instead.

So, my question is:

Is it as effective replacing one exercise done to failure with a superset consisting of the first exercise done till 1-3 reps to failure and immediately followed by another exercise targeting the same muscle?

Examples:

  1. Bench press to failure --> Bench press (stop 1-3 reps before failure) + Dumbbells fly
  2. Squats to failure --> Squats + Dumbbells lunges
  3. Barbell shoulder press to failure --> Barbell shoulder press + Shoulder press in a machine

EDIT (for clarification): Since i've just started on my mass building, i don't have plateau issue (yet).

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    Why not just do multiple sets just short of failure? – Alex L Jan 4 '16 at 8:09
  • Try reverse pyramids. After warm up you start high weight for a few reps and move to lighter weights. – s3v3ns Jan 7 '16 at 23:43
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No it's not as effective. To gain mass weight is crucial. Supersetting may give you a great workout and can certainly be used to push over a plateau or be used on light days or whatever - it can be a useful tool. But it cannot be a long-term solution for weight. Doing this your gains are going to be slow and your body will just get used to doing that exercise quicker.

Expect to burn more calories and possibly produce more definition but do not expect to make gains quick. Your suggested routine is something someone that is fully produced would do to maintain. If you are looking at getting bigger this would be a light or one-off day but you still need the heavy days in your routine.

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  • So i guess as i read somewhere "In the end, if you are not lifting more weights, you are not growing". Hopefully i can get access to Smith machine, which will allow me to do most if not all of the critical exercises to failure. – RusI Jan 7 '16 at 7:22
  • Just FYI - A Smith machine won't help much either. As it will create bad form and won't impact balancing muscles it is a bad recipe for heavy lifting. That being said you can get really really strong by squatting once a week at 80-85% max - close to failure and then max out deadlift. I went through a period of 4-5 years where I was lifting heavy with no spotter and you learn to improvise. Get a squat rack with rails and put them an inch below your 90 degree. When benching don't use collars - actually don't use collars when not being spotted. – DMoore Jan 7 '16 at 15:14
  • I totally agree on Smith machine being not good for working balancing muscles but i can address this issue with TRX or similar style class in my gym. But why is it bad for form? I thought it would help you keep the proper form. As for collars - you mean in the worst case i should be able to tilt the bar and slide off the plates? – RusI Jan 7 '16 at 17:49
  • On Smith machine you have to have your feet way out in front to get even close to OK form. When squatting properly your back would never be "straight" - when using a smith machine your back is almost exactly straight when doing squats as right as you can. I did use a Smith machine at school for a year - so you have to do what you have to do. I was squatting around 450 on the Smith at the time and when I moved to free again I was dying squatting 375 - and muscles in complete shock for a month. On the collars - exactly... safer to tilt and slide off. – DMoore Jan 7 '16 at 18:15
  • I just worked out on the squat rack... just WOW! It is without a doubt the most useful piece of equipment in the gym after the weights proper. – RusI Jan 10 '16 at 9:14
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In that case I liked drop-sets as you will be able to exhaust the muscle as effective as with all out sets. But will be able to handle the weight on your own. Example:

  1. Do your work sets ex. 3 sets with your usual weight (1-2 reps shy to failure)

  2. 4th set take 10 kg of the bar and do as much reps as possible to 1 rep shy to failure.

  3. Continue removing weight from the bar the next sets and do the same rep scheme as with the 4th set until you are doing the last set with the bar only.

  4. You could continue with body weight sets to failure for the same movement ex. Bench -> push-ups.

Note that this is an intense approach and should not be used all the time ...after six weeks I would suggest switching to a less taxing method.

If searching for a whole routine, I would suggest you look up Breathing Squats (20 rep squats) or German Volume Training for Mass.

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  • That doesn't sound taxing at all. It sounds like an easy day for a serious lifter. It may be a "good workout" but this routine in no way is set to build strenghth/mass. – DMoore Jan 7 '16 at 15:17
  • @DMoore, what is a serious lifter? And you are saying that drop sets are no good for creating mass - LOL - It surely is a morning-breakfast routine for someone who is on juce... however for the average Joe and beginners, 3 heavy work sets and afterwards using drop sets are a valid answer from my point of view - at least as good as one all out set after heavy work! – mitro Jan 7 '16 at 15:26
  • What I am saying is that the OP wants to gain mass - not be an average lifter. I never touched juice or even used supplements and my squat was well over 625 in my prime. But please use the excuse of juicing for someone working harder than you. – DMoore Jan 7 '16 at 15:29
  • @DMoore, the jucing statement was not an offense against you personally, I said that the routine might be a morning session for someone using juce ... however, ow can you say that the routine, that actually is an intensity technique and not a whole routine, does not work for creating mass... drop sets are known for ages to work great for hypertrophy. Btw. how do you know I don´t work out hard, and also don´t squat above 625 now? However, you should read the answers properly before getting personally offended. – mitro Jan 7 '16 at 15:38
  • Btw. Even People taking juce have to work hard... too, they take juce to be able to work even harder... – mitro Jan 7 '16 at 15:42
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In short, yes. It does depend a lot on what you have been doing in the past and whether you're starting to plateau. If this is the case then you will probably notice that you will have much better workouts by changing up your sets and rep ranges as much as possible. Remember you can always alternate or do both.

As for which is actually better, that is debatable. Different things can work better for different people. I would suggest that you should try both and find what works best for you. Sorry I cannot give you a more definitive answer.

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  • Basically i'm just starting up on my mass building program, so definitely i'm nowhere near plateau. I've stayed more or less fit mostly through cardio, but now i want to gain some muscle mass. – RusI Jan 6 '16 at 7:37
  • Okay that's really good, just make sure that you never miss a workout, make sure your nutrition is on track and you will start to see results – Max Goodridge Jan 6 '16 at 10:12
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Depends on your goals, if it is to build muscle and look good, you would probably use more exercises, because they will build different muscles from different sides. If you trying to become good at one exercise, I would recommend to do as much as you can of that exercise.

Keep up the good work!

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