Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)

Turbo-charge your Workouts: the Miracle of Super-sets (20-minute chest workout included)!

6 Comments

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Are your workouts getting stale? Can’t seem to get over your strength plateau? Too busy at work, so you can’t seem to put the time into the gym? Well dear brothers and sisters, you gotta try doing some Super-Sets of the same muscle group! Better yet, do super-sets, but do them with strip-sets mixed in, like in my video below (refer to my prior post on Strip-sets). Especially if you have not done them before, they will blast you into a new orbit… I mean, if you do them right, they will catapult you from low-level airspace into the stratosphere of muscular development and maturity. It’s like putting Miracle-Grow fertilizer on your muscles…`you get the point already. Take a look at an example from my recent workout:

What are super-sets, and why are they important? Quite simply, they are an advanced training method in which you do two exercises, one after the other, with little or no rest in between. They can either be for the same or different muscle groups. I’ve found that the primary benefits of super-sets are that they really increase the intensity of my workouts and overload my muscles and force them to adapt, grow, and get stronger. Doing these have helped redevelop the deep “hardness” in my muscles that I’ve been lacking for so long while running startups in the Valley. In addition, for busy bodies, like most of the people reading this blog, it’s an amazing way to reduce the number of total sets that you perform, and thus reduce the time you need to spend in the gym while getting great results. I mean, if you’re like me, you absolutely HATE doing things that waste your time, right? By the way, I usually do these at the tail end of each muscle group. You don’t want to make every set a super-set, since super-sets are really intense, and constantly training like that without ample rest and so-so nutrition could easily lead to over-training and regression.

When you do super-sets here’s what you need to focus on:

  • Use Maximum Intensity. Do these like they are the last things you will do on earth. The more you get closer to your maker, the better your results will be, I guarantee it. That’s why I often do one, even two strip-sets before immediately super-setting a second exercise, to make it that much more intense!
  • Be Mindful of Your Form. Again, it’s okay if your form becomes a little less perfect, especially when you are cranking out your last few reps, but try to get as many with good form as possible. After all, you do have to do them properly to maximize muscular gains.
  • Feel Each Rep, Don’t Just Go through the Motions. Too many people just go through the motions of a super-set, frantically trying to just “finish” or “survive” the set. This is the wrong mindset. Each rep is actually taking you closer to where you want to be physically, so cherish it. Enjoy it (as much as you can, anyways). And most importantly, FEEL it.

Here’s an Example of super-sets that I enjoy doing for my CHEST when I’m pressed for time. Of course, I change up my routine quite a bit, but I mix in the chest workout below on occasion, especially when I’m trying to “cut up” and develop deep density in my muscles. It’s an effective part of a great chest routine. So try it out, and tell me what you think… your chest should be quite pumped and dead after this one!

 

20-MINUTE CHEST SUPER-SET ROUTINE

This routine is ideal for the busy, working professional or parent. You can be in-and-out of the gym in about 20 minutes and still get great stimulation on your chest!

  • FLAT BENCH PRESS: this exercise targets the middle of your chest. Be sure to bring the weight all the way down and touch the middle of your chest before powering it back up. You can vary the tempo of your down (eccentric) and up (concentric) motion to vary the focus and impact it has on your muscles (use faster concentric motion for speed & power training and fast-twitch fiber recruitment). In general, a moderate pace up/down is fine.
    • Set 1: 15 reps. Warm-up Set. Go lightly. Do not go to failure. I use 135 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: 10 reps. Intermediate Warm-up Set. Do not go to failure. Use moderate weights, about 60% of your 1RM (1-Rep Max – heaviest weight for which you can complete exactly one rep).I use 225 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 3: 6 reps. Heavy Warm-up Set.  Do not go to failure. Use 70~75% of your 1RM. I use 275 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 4: Stripping Super-Set! Go intensely to failure. Ask a spotter to help you.
      • Start: Use 85~90% of your 1RM. I use 315~335 pounds here (see video). Go to failure.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 60% of your 1RM and go until failure again. I use 225 pounds here.
      • Super-set: grab moderately light dumbbells and do as many Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys as you can. By this time, I am pretty tired from doing heavy strip-sets, so I usually use 60~75 pounds.
      • Rest 2~3 minutes.
  • INCLINE BENCH PRESS: Remember to bring the weight down high on your chest. Try touching your chest with your chin… where your chin touches your upper chest (almost at the base of the throat) is where the bar should come down to. If you put the bar too low on your chest (like MOST people do), then you are cheating yourself of growth in your upper pecs, which is the target of this exercise.
    • Set 1: 4~8 reps. Heavy warm-up set. No need for light warm-up, as you are already warmed up from the last few sets. Use 60% of your 1RM for flat bench. I use 225 pounds here.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: Stripping Super-set! Go intensely to failure. Ask a spotter to help you.
      • Start: Use 70~80% of your 1RM on Flat Bench. I use 275~315 pounds here.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 50% of your 1RM on Flat Bench. I use 185~225 here.
      • Super-set: grab moderately light dumbbells and do as many Incline Dumbbell Flys as you can. I use between 50~75 pounds here.
      • Rest 2~3 minutes.
  • DECLINE FLYS: Go wide on your flys on a moderately declined bench. Focus on flexing your pecs/chest when your weights are at the top of the motion. You should feel this at the bottom and sides of your chest.
    • Set 1: 8 reps. Heavy warm-up set. Use dumbbells where you can barely do 8 reps using good form. Remember to go wide on your flys and squeeze your chest when the weights are at the top of the movement. I use 70~80 pounds.
      • Rest 90 seconds.
    • Set 2: Strip-set! Go intensely to failure.
      • Start: Go up ~20% in weight from your prior set. Go to failure. I use ~80~90 pounds.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 70% of your prior weights. Go to failure. I use about 60 pounds.
      • Strip-set: Strip down to about 70% of your prior weights. Go to failure. I use about 40 pounds.
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Author: Paul Kim

I'm a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Certified Personal Trainer who is passionate about fitness! Come join my blog, as I deal with topics that are most pertinent to fitness for working professionals and homemakers. Follow me on Twitter @paulkimpk

6 thoughts on “Turbo-charge your Workouts: the Miracle of Super-sets (20-minute chest workout included)!

  1. Cool video and good power! How come you don’t fully extend your bench presses? I know you are not suppose to fully lock out due to potential joint injuries but I see you extending ~70% and then for your last 2-3 reps you fully extend? Thanks!

    • Hi Barry, great question! Actually, I periodize my workouts quite a bit and go into different “phases” of training where sometimes I will do slower reps, sometimes fast, quick reps, etc… it just so happens that I am working on building fast-twitch fibers, and focusing particularly on the most critical part of the bench press motion for chest development, which is the part from the bottom until the point your triceps begin assisting more… as such, the video shows me doing both 315 and 225 very quickly, concentrating on the lower part of the motion. In general, unless you are working on something specific like this, I would recommend going up a bit higher for all of your reps. Let me know if you have other questions!

  2. If time isn’t an issue, how many sets is too much for the chest? And how many times a week?

    • Hi Dan, great question. If time is not an issue, the key to getting maximal chest development is to do as many sets as you can, as intensely as you can, while still being able to recover and NOT over-train. This varies widely based on person to person, and how much experience a person has with working out. The longer a person has been working out, the more sets (s)he can generally do while still recovering properly. In general, for beginners, I recommend starting with a warm-up set, and then a total of about 4~8 sets after this total for a muscle group (i.e. for chest, this would include flat bench, incline bench, and decline flys, for example). For intermediate folks, they can add 2~4 sets on top of this (warm-up set + up to 12 sets), and for advanced folks, they can add another 2~4 sets on top of that (warm-up set + up to 16 sets). Of course, this is a general rule of thumb… the variance is wide among the population. In terms of frequency, if you hit your chest hard, you will need AT LEAST 4 days in between workouts to recover, and usually 5~6 days. I usually hit chest every 4~7 days. Sometimes, when I have a really intense chest workout, I am still not fully recovered after a week, so I will wait another day or two so that I can blast my chest again. But on average, it takes me about 5 days to recover, meaning if I hit chest on Monday, I don’t hit it again until Saturday. If it makes it simpler to calculate, you can hit chest once a week, and that’s generally fine. Hope that helps, Dan!

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