How to Pair Exercises in a Workout 

How to Pair Exercises in a Workout With James FitzGerald

The word superset gets tossed around a lot. But what are supersets? 

A superset is just a fancy name for the pairing of two exercises together. There are a host of benefits to the superset, including spending less time in the gym and burning more calories.

In this week’s Ask Me Anything sneak peek OPEX Fitness Founder, James FitzGerald, explains the basics of exercise pairing and provides some sample exercises pairs. 

Current OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP) coaches can submit a question for James to answer in next week’s AMA here. New to OPEX Fitness? Get a free introduction to our coaching methodologies here.

What is Exercise Pairing?

Exercise pairing is the act of programming or performing two exercises of opposing muscle groups back to back during a workout. Typically exercises are paired together to increase the efficiency of the training session and create a better metabolic advantage. 

But before a coach can begin pairing exercises they must first understand the client’s movement abilities. Learn the basics of conducting movement assessments in this free coaching course.

How to Pair Exercises in a Training 

Before pairing exercises together there are three main factors a coach needs to consider:

1) The Muscle Group

As stated earlier, it is best to use opposing muscles to maximize the effectiveness and reduce the amount of fatigue during the workout. However, one can pair similar muscle groups together if the goal is to push the muscles past fatigue.

2) The Client’s Training Age

A client’s training age is how long the client has been exercising for. This is important because clients that have a higher training age will not be able to pair as many exercises together as beginner clients. 

Clients with a higher training age are capable of digging deeper into their central nervous system during an exercise than a beginner. Therefore, their bench press might actually take away from the squat they are pairing it with. In contrast, a beginner’s muscles, motor control, and neuromuscular efficiency are not developed enough to tax their nervous system and so the challenge remains structural.

3) The Order of the Exercises

When pairing exercises the name of the game is energy management. The more complex a movement is the more energy it will require. So when pairing exercises put the most complex exercises (think compound movements like deadlifts and pull-ups) first in the training day followed by accessory movements (tricep extensions, hamstring curls, etc). Learn the basics of energy management is this free download on concurrent training

Sample Exercise Pairs:

Push/Pull

This is the most traditional way of pairing exercises. Examples of this pair include a bench press and a row, or a half-kneeling landmine press and a pull-up. The options with the push/pull pair are infinite.

Bend/Push

This pair combines the upper and lower body. Pair push and not pull exercises with bend exercises because in a bending movement such as a deadlift there is a static pull occurring with the upper back engaged to keep the scapula depressed and retracted, so those muscles will already be fatigued. Sample bend/push pairs include a deadlift and push-ups, or kettlebell swings and shoulder press.

Squat/Pull

Another common pair is the squat/pull. Examples of this pair include split squats and single-arm rows, or a back squat and elevated ring rows.

Writing Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Workout Plans

Pairing exercises is a great way to improve the overall efficiency of a workout as well as burn some extra calories. But a key part of pairing exercises begins before writing a workout plan–the assessment. 

During the assessment, a coach determines what exercises their clients can and can’t do, providing direction for pairing exercises. Learn how to conduct assessments that will give you a starting point for your programs today and sign up for The Free 7-Day OPEX Coaching Course. 

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