Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Supersetting Program – Part VII

This final article on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training recommendations deals with one of my favorite ways of training.

Supersetting

I first read about supersetting in a Muscle Builder article that talked about Joe Weider’s supersetting principle. Back then, everything was a Joe Weider principle – from Weider’s Instinctive Principle to Weider’s Overload Principle.

Anyway…

The last chapter of Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder talked about his superset program. Naturally at 16, I felt completely ready for it – NOT.

I love supersetting, but there are some very important words of caution to heed. I will cover those after I present Arnold’s program.

The Superset Program

This was how Arnold explained his first experience with supersetting:

“I noticed they (Reinhard Smolana and Poldi Mercl, both Mr. Universes) were training differently. I saw them going rapidly from one piece of equipment to the next, and I wondered why they felt they needed to hurry…They explained that it saved time…no reason to train six hours a day…can do the same amount of work in three or four hours.”

And guys nowadays talk about overtraining if you go past 1 hour – these dinosaurs (meant respectfully) worked out all day – what the heck – did they have a job?

“I started training with them…combining certain exercises, cutting out rest periods. And I got incredible pumps. It was a fantastic feeling to experience a pump in the biceps and triceps or in the pecs and the lats at the same time.”

Beyond that Arnold listed some great reasons for supersetting:

  • The pump combines the muscles and allows the bodies to flow
  • Creates a complete body not achievable by continuously working individual bodyparts
  • Improves your heart and cardiovascular system by forcing and circulating more oxygen in the bloodstream.
  • Can do more exercises in a shorter period of time – train faster and accomplish more

Monday and Thursday Program

Thighs Calves Waist

  1. Squats and Leg Curls – 5 sets of 10 reps. Rest no more than 1 minute between sets or just long enough to let your heartbeat slow down; do not allow yourself to relax
  2. Leg Extensions and Lunges – 5 sets of 15 reps.
  3. Standing Calf Raises and Sit-Ups – 5 sets of 15 reps. No rest between sets or exercises; just back and forth – this superset is strictly to save time.
  4. Leg Raises and Sitting Calf Raises – 5 sets of 15 reps. No rest between sets or exercises; just back and forth – this superset is strictly to save time
  5. Twist – Do in one continuous set of 50 to 100 reps. Then move immediately to wrist curls…
  6. Wrist Curls – 5 sets of 15 reps. “Take a weight you can handle for about 15 rep full reps. Then push yourself with some partial reps (burns), even if you area ble to move the bar only an inch.”

Tuesday and Friday Program

Back Chest Shoulders

  1. Bench Press and Chin-ups – 5 sets of 15 reps. After chinning, hang and stretch your pecs and lats before resting a short time and return to bench.
  2. Incline Press and Wide-Grip Barbell Rowing – 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps. Imperative that you move from one exercise to the next without rest.
  3. Dumbbell Flyes and T-Bar Rowing – 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  4. Pull-Overs – 5 sets of 15 reps. Rest very little between sets. This is a great combination movement that also works ribcage, the intercostals, and the serratus muscles.
  5. Press Behind the Neck and Lateral Raises – 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps. “It may appear strange to be putting together two deltoid exercises, but there is a good reason. The press behind the neck develops the front deltiod and the lateral raises develop the side deltoid. You are training one muscle, but it is divided into three parts and these exercises isolate two of three parts.”
  6. Bent-Over Lateral Raises and Wrist Curls – 5 sets of 15 reps.
  7. Standing Calf Raises and Sit-Ups – 5 sets of 15 reps. No rest between sets or exercises; just back and forth – this superset is strictly to save time.

Wednesday and Saturday Program

Arms Calves Waist

  1. Triceps Press-Downs and Incline Dumbbell Curls – 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
  2. Triceps Extension with Dumbbell Behind Neck and Preacher Bench Curl – 5 sets of 15 reps.
  3. Triceps Press Lying Down with Bar and Concentration Curl – 5 sets of 15 reps.
  4. Reverse Curl and Wrist Curl – 5 sets of 15 reps.
  5. Standing Calf Raises and Sit-Ups and Sitting Calf Raises and Leg Raises – 5 sets of 15 reps. All four exercises with no rest at all between exercises until all 20 sets are done.

Side note from Me – I personally would flip and do Tricep Press Lying Down with Bar (skull crushers or Lying barbell tricep extensions) with Preacher Bench Curl as both are barbell movements. And do overhead triceps extension with dumbbell with concentration curls. Again the second two are both dumbbells. You do a set of overhead triceps extension and immediate bend over and do a concentration curl on the same arm before moving to the other arm. You could just go back and forth until the 5 sets are done. Brutal…brutal…brutal.

Some Words of Advice

  • Do not decrease weight in any exercise. Tough program but in a month or so, you will adjust to it.
  • Go instantly to the second exercise after you’ve finished the first one.
  • Rest between 45 seconds and 1 minutes between superset except where noted.
  • Shoot to finish each workout within one hour and 15 minutes. Push yourself with less rest to finish under this limit.

Importance of Positive Mental Attitude

  • Approach all training with positive mental attitude and firm conviction that you will succeed.
  • Visualize the body you want and then train relentlessly until you get it.

Last words from Arnold:

“Mentally, supersetting puts an additional strain on you. Suddenly you have to focus your mind on two muscles – visualize two muscles – visualizing, for instance, how you want to pump the back and pump the pectoral muscles at the same time. You have to set your goals differently than before. The way you think and feel about your body and the way you put your mind into your muscles is entirely different now. You have to split up your attention. Sooner or later you will get used to it; you’ll see the logic in making a single unit and think of your whole body as a single unit over which you have complete control.”

Amen

Final Thoughts From Me

I love supersetting, tri-setting, and giant sets. I think that if you have reached – or is near reaching – your fitness goals, then supersetting is a great way. I understand that in the beginning single sets are good, if not crucial. It develops form, it develops concentration and it develops that all important mind-muscle link. You have to put your entire focus on the muscles that the exercise is working on.

Obviously with supersetting, that is more difficult as well explained by Arnold. But after a while, after you have mastered the form, after you have develop that good mind-muscle connection; supersetting can only increase the intensity and effectiveness of your workouts.

Tom Venuto wrote a great article on supersetting – A Technique for Gain More Muscle in Less Time – and he opens it thusly:

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a safe and natural way to build more muscle in a shorter period of time? In this day and age of exercise gimmicks and quick fix solutions, most smart trainees would be skeptical if they heard such a claim. But guess what? Such an “animal” really does exist.

No, it’s not a drug. It’s not some miracle supplement, either. Nor is it a newfangled piece of workout machinery. If you’ve been seriously for any lenght of time, it’s something you’re probably already familiar with, but haven’t fully exploited to the maximum degree. What it this method for building more muscle in less time? Surprise, surprise; it’s called supersetting!

Rest of the article here…

Tom goes on to really dig deep into all the possible ways of using supersettings and reasonings and rationale. Well written and comprehensive. It is a must read for expanding your knowledge of weight training.

My current routine is basically supersetting with some trisets and giant sets thrown in:

  • I triset my shoulders because I hurt it – still hurts and seeing a specialist to get to the root of the pain – and is geared to working around the pain.
  • I triset legs because it is not a priority for me and it essentially a way for me to blaze through legs, get my sweat and heartbeat up.
  • Abs are just perfect for giant sets. I don’t do calves because if Bodylastic bands have one failing – you really can’t do effective calf movements with it plus my calves are fine.

Chest and Back

  • Incline Press and Chin-ups
  • Chest Flyes and Bent-over rows Pullovers

Legs (Tri-set)

  • Squats and Sissy Squats and Stiff Legged Deadlifts

Abs

  • Giant set of 4 different Ab exercises

Shoulders

  • Face Pulls and Standing Laterals and Handstand Push-ups

Biceps and Triceps

  • Standing Curls and Triceps Pressdowns
  • Spider Curls and Bent-Over Triceps Extensions

Forearms

  • Wrist Curls and Reverse Wrist Curls

Abs

  • Giant set of 4 different Ab exercises

Supersetting increases intensity and gets your sweat going bigtime. But…

  • Don’t sacrifice form for speed. You want to minimize rest between exercise but take all the time you need to correct perform the exercise itself.
  • Although Arnold said not decrease the weight – that’s after you start. Before you start, look at using a lighter weight if you feel yourself getting sloppy or not getting the reps in.
  • Think through your workouts first. Make sure you have the equipment lined up so that you do not have to wait on somebody to do the second exercise (can be an issue in a small gym or crowded gym).

For me, saving time is a side benefit of doing supersets; not an objective. Sometimes you could be pressed for time and supersetting will certainly allow you to finish a workout quicker. But I think the main and only reason to do supersets is to up your intensity level.

Conclusion

These seven articles were entirely based on the great book – Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. All the quotes, exercise recommendations and notes came from that book. Some quotes were reproduced exactly and others paraphrased.

My intention was not to reproduce the book here to but present a look at how the best bodybuilder of all time looked at training back in the 1970’s.

While you could get a good flavor for what he wrote by reading the 7 articles that I wrote, I urge you to check out this seminal book from your local library. It’s a great look and lends truth the saying…

The more things change, the more things stay the same

In nearly 40 years, working out hasn’t really changed that much – has it.

My Arnold Schwarzenegger Articles:

 

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