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So I am developing a workout program that combines strength training with some more athletic cardio/conditioning work. So I workout about 5 days a week. I usually do strength work on the first day, then some cardio work--usually swimming laps on the second day, then rest the third day, then the next strength workout on day 4, more swimming/hiking on day 5, strength work on day 6, and rest on day 7.

So my strength training workouts are oriented towards building more muscle. Certainly my gains will be slower since I am combining cardio and strength work, but that is okay. Since I am strength training 3 days a week, I use a split like back-and-biceps on the first strength session, chest-and-triceps the second session, and legs the third session. I usually do supersets for my strength workouts.

My question is really about how to count the number of sets when I do a workout split like this. If I was concentrating on one body part at a time, I would do 10-15 sets per body part. But when I do chest and triceps on the same day, I am not sure how many sets to do on each? Beyond that, having supersets makes thing more complicated since I am not sure if each exercise counts as a full set, haha.

So let me be a bit more specific. If I have a split like:

For my back-biceps split I do

  1. superset: dumbell back row, underhand dumbell row, kneeling trap
    shrug
  2. superset: back pulldown, straight arm pushdown,
  3. superset: dumbell curls, hammer curl, reverse curl

For my chest-triceps split I do.

  1. superset: dumbell bench press, dumbell crush press
  2. superset: incline dumbell press, underhand chest press
  3. band assisted-dips
  4. superset: triceps overhead push away, rocking triceps pushdown

So in this workout, like how many sets should I do of each exercise? Part of the answer is how do I feel after these workouts. But I don't have a good reference to compare. So for the chest day, should I stick to around 7 sets on chest and 5 sets on arms, or is it better to go with a little lighter weight and do 7 sets on chest and 7 on arms? Does one round of a superset of 2 exercises count as 1 set of each exercise, or some other count?

Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

1 Answer 1

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These aren't really supersets so much as they're "mechanical dropsets". Meaning, you change the leverages in the exercise so you can do more reps and continue the set, but they work the same primary muscle group. So like in your rowing superset, you start with a pronated grip and then switch to a supinated grip which brings your biceps in to action which gives you a little bit more support to keep the set going as your back fatigues.

A superset would be where you do one exercise, and then you do a completely different exercise that doesn't work the same muscle group. A classic example is a dumbbell bench press supersetted with a dumbbell row. This is an "antagonist superset" because one primarily works the chest and triceps and the other primarily works the back and biceps. Another example would be like dumbbell curls followed by leg extensions which aren't even in the same region. This would be closer to more of a "circuit" style of training.

What you're doing is fine. I just thought I should clarify. Mechanical dropsets are typically far more intense than even supersets because they can work the muscle up to a beyond failure level of training. If you do that, then you really shouldn't need more than two sets or maybe three at absolute maximum. The entire dropset would count as a single "set" in this case, but for logging purposes you would split how many reps you did in each section.

So for example in your set (1).

Set 1: Dumbbell Back Row: 30x9 Underhand Dumbbell Row: 30x6 Kneeling Trap Shrug: 30x15

Set 2: Dumbbell Back Row: 30x7 Underhand Dumbbell Row: 30x4 Kneeling Trap Shrug: 30x12

If your lats aren't feeling exhausted after that, then you probably didn't go far enough.

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  • thanks for the help here. This is very useful. Yes, I totally understand what you mean by mechanical drop sets, and I agree with that term. So if I workout this way, then would that be enough stimulus for muscle growth? I am 48 and in that advanced beginner range, so almost anything provides some stimulus right :). But I certainly want to design my workouts correctly.
    – krishnab
    Aug 15, 2023 at 19:49
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    @krishnab: Sports researcher Brad Schoenfeld would argue that it stimulates more hypertrophy than supersets because it allows you to push harder for that muscle group. This is also supported by coaches like Paul Carter, Kassam Hanson, and Danielle Webster. So long as you push to failure (or just before it). The only downside is it can be really exhausting so you may need more recovery if you do it every workout. But if you're feeling weak then just do less that day.
    – DeeV
    Aug 15, 2023 at 20:22
  • Excellent. Thanks for additional citations from the coaches. That always helps when doing my research. Yes, I get what you mean. I will just continue with using this approach and see how it goes. I do find that there is a lot of cardio demand when doing these drop sets, so I am just trying to get used to that cardio and neurological demand. But that is coming along well. Good to know that the approach is sound though.
    – krishnab
    Aug 15, 2023 at 20:37

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