Generally speaking, I recommend following set training routines that are adapted to a person’s specific goals and not messing with them. The reason is that if these routines were designed by an intelligent trainer, there’s likely a reason everything is laid out as it is.
Nevertheless, sometimes there are some routines that are structured in a way that completely waste time that could be better utilized. That time is the time spent resting between sets.
When analyzing many resistance training routines, you’ll see that more often than not the majority of the time is spent resting. In fact, some high intensity routines may only have you doing a few minutes of actual lifting per 30-45 minute workout!
Let’s say you have a full body workout routine done three times a week with these exercises:
- Squat 3×12
- Calf Raises 3×15
- Bench Press 3×10
- Barbell Rows 3×12
- Barbell Curls 3×12
- Tricep Pushdowns 3×12
If each set took 1 minute to complete, that means you spend approximately 18 minutes doing actual lifting. If the routine calls for 2 minutes rest between sets, that means you’re spending about 2/3 of an hour long workout just resting between sets!
We can take this exact same workout and reduce the workout time by around 50%. All we have to do is use supersets/alternating sets. That means going from one exercise to another back and fourth in alternating fashion so two exercises are completed in the time it would normally take to complete one.
Let’s look at how we can set up a superset workout using the previous template:
- A1. Squat 3×12 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then move onto Calf Raises
- A2. Calf Raises 3×15 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then go back to Squats – Repeat cycle until all three sets completed.
- B1. Bench Press 3×10 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then move onto Barbell Rows
- B2. Barbell Rows 3×12 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then go back to Bench Press – Repeat cycle until all three sets completed.
- C1. Barbell Curls 3×12 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then move onto Tricep Pushdowns
- C2. Tricep Pushdowns 3×12 – Rest 30 seconds after set, then go back to Barbell Curls – Repeat cycle until all three sets completed.
A side benefit is that the reduced rest time also builds up cardiovascular conditioning.
Another way to utilize supersets is something called “active rest.” This means doing “assistance” exercises that aren’t very demanding like calf raises, rotator cuff work, and forearm exercises while resting between sets for your “primary” exercises. This way you can get extra work without adding additional time to your workouts. For instance, I rarely do ab or calf exercises by themselves. Rather, I do them while “resting” between sets for other exercises.