What is a Superset?

This past week I ran a superset workout on Monday. It is a little confusing and took a little research on my part to figure out exactly what it meant when I first saw it. My workout on Monday was: Run 2 x 400/800/1200 meter supersets. It also had pace goals and rest intervals included.

In my training review post I described it as simply “a 1.5 mile interval with alternating paces inside the interval.” Supersets are also sometimes called compound sets and are great for building lactate threshold, VO2 max, running economy, and finishing speed, according to Running Planet.

Body builders use “supersetting” to “build more muscle in a shorter period of time.” Body Building for You defines it this way:

A superset is an advanced training technique where you perform two exercises in a row with virtually no rest in between. Supersets are an excellent technique for muscular development, especially if you are short on time. Supersets are not, however, the most effective technique for building strength or power.

Matthew McConaughey actually does weight-lifting supersets to become an action figure!

Back to the running side of things! Running Planet’s Rick Morris says:

Interval training has been used for many years and is highly effective in building your fitness. But running super sets can provide you with even higher levels of fitness and race performance. Running super sets are very similar to strength super sets. You perform two or more intervals at different paces without a rest period.

He describes three types of supersets –

1) Drop Sets – like the one in my training week these sets start out at near full speed and then back down the pace as the distance increases. These are designed to help your body: “become more efficient at clearing that lactic acid and using it to produce energy. Starting with a very fast pace also makes your 5K and 10K paces feel easier. You become a more efficient runner and are able to “float” or “glide” with a more relaxed stride at race pace.”
2) Progressive Sets – are the exact opposite, you start with a longer and slower distance and then increase it to full speed at a shorter distance. This is a pre-exhaustion workout designed to “help with your finishing kick and train your body to run fast when fatigued.”

3) Compound Sets – combine the drop and progressive sets into one workout. These are similar to ladder workouts where you increase your distance and then bring it back down – valley compound set. You can also do it the other way around and start with a longer distance and decrease it before increasing your distance again – peak compound set. These types of sets are designed to replicate the peaks and valleys of racing.

Supersetting isn’t for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend super sets for everyone, it is part of the training program so the training is designed around the intensity of supersetting. In fact my college cross-country coach doesn’t recommend super sets at all.

His thoughts:

Although a lot of people start off too fast in a race and gradually slow down, it is an inefficient way to race. Therefore, I would not recommend training your body in a way that would be an inefficient way to race.

When we talked about supersets I didn’t have all the information I presented to you to present to him, so I don’t know if that would change his opinion or not. But I think the fact that not many training programs use supersets makes a strong argument.

Last year during training I missed a couple of the early superset workouts so I opted out of the later ones as well. We’ll see what happens this year as I train “properly” from the beginning!

[tags] Super Sets, Speed Work, Training, Intervals [/tags]

3 thoughts on “What is a Superset?

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