Supersets are one of the most popular training methods we have at our disposal.
By using supersets, we can save time building muscle compared to using traditional straight sets.
They’re not fancy and they don’t require a ton of gizmos or gadgets. Simply put, by using supersets in your training program you can get leaner, stronger, and more muscular in less time. And the pumps are pretty awesome, too.
In today’s article, I’ve got 6 of my favorite upper body supersets to turn you into the Incredible Hulk (or Superhero of choice).
Overhead Triceps Extension/DB Incline Bench Press
The overhead triceps extension is a phenomenal triceps builder. This one will primarily target the long head of the triceps.
Crank this one out first, rest about 10 seconds and then move onto the DB Incline Bench Press. This combination will leave your triceps fried, and you’ll get a nice upper chest pump as well.
Here’s a recent training video of me performing this superset. *Note–you don’t have to wear a belt like I did, but if you do, you’re one step closer to becoming a pro bodybuilder 😉
Workout placement: This one is great after you’ve already warmed up the elbows and pecs with some compound pressing beforehand. I’d place it 2nd or 3rd in your exercise order.
Technique tips: For the OH extension, aim to lower the weight as far down as you can, placing a huge stretch on the triceps. Contrary to popular belief, your elbows also don’t need to point directly straight ahead. In fact, most people’s elbows will naturally point out slightly. You can also use a false grip (thumbless) on these if you prefer.
For the DB incline press, aim to touch the dumbbells to the sides of the chest, making sure you go all the way down and all the way up with a full range-of-motion. Because you’ll be fatigued from the first exercise, place more emphasis on good, quality reps here rather than just slopping through this exercise.
Recommended rep range: 6-12 with moderate weight
Skullcrusher/Close Grip Bench Press
This superset is BRUTAL on the triceps. First, perform the barbell skullcrusher, rest 10 seconds and go right into the close grip bench press. Use the same weight with superb technique. Stop the set when you get about 2 reps shy of failure.
The skullcrusher can be tough on the elbows so feel free to modify and allow the upper arm to stretch back slightly if you need to. In the video below, I perform the skullcrusher by lowering the bar right towards my face. This puts a ton of tension on the triceps and forces you to use them to their fullest. Always aim for solid technique and don’t get sloppy with the reps.
I prefer more moderate reps, moderate weight on these. Super high reps tend to cause me to get sloppy with technique, so think sets of 8 on these. You may not get as many reps on the close grip bench press and that’s fine. The goal is to get quality reps with a slightly different exercise.
Workout placement: Great as a 2nd exercise after flat bench or incline bench pressing.
Technique tips: For the skullcrushers, you have a little bit of leeway when it comes to individual technique. Some prefer lowering the bar to the face, others prefer taking the bar down to the top of the head. Try both and see which feels better for you. On these, aim to use smooth technique, keeping the elbows pointed a bit more forward than during the overhead extension. False grip can also be used on this as well.
For the close grip bench press, aim to keep the elbow, wrist, and bar in a straight line at all times. You’ll likely need to touch lower on your chest since the grip is narrower. Nice and controlled with a full lock out every rep will leave your triceps torched.
Recommended rep range: 6-12. No matter the weight, always be sure to use good technique and use a controlled lowering.
If you like crazy pumps in your arms and chest, give this one a go.
Too many people dismiss the cable pushdown as being a wimpy exercise. But, if you use proper technique, full range of motion, and the right amount of weight, the triceps pump can be incredible.
Then, pair it with a pushup variation and you’ve got one heck of a superset. And one that’s super simple to execute.
For the triceps cable pushdown, I like using the straight handle attachment. Start with the elbows locked into the sides and your hands right about chest level. Simply focus on extending your elbow all the way down, getting a good contraction, and coming all the way back up. I prefer the full range of motion on these as opposed to partial reps or only coming only halfway up.
Try it both ways and go with the one you feel working the triceps the most. Doesn’t matter what I say, just try em for yourself.
Once you complete your set here, drop down and bang out a crisp set of pushups. You can go with a normal hand placement, close for even more triceps recruitment, or wide for more chest emphasis. If pushups from the ground are too challenging, you can perform them off of a bench or a smith machine bar.
Workout placement: Middle of the workout. Likely used towards the end of an upper body training session.
Technique tips: For the cable pushdown, I like to keep the elbows tight on the sides. This will prevent you from using any body English to lift the weight. Stay nice and upright, with maybe a very slight forward lean, and elbows tight. Be sure to extend all the way down and come all the way up. Some prefer not to come all the way up, but I like to. Try both out, and when in doubt, use the full range of motion 😉
For the pushup, keep your belly and glutes tight the entire time and lower your chest all the way to the ground/bench. Go all the way up so that your arms become straight at the top. As Mike Robertson cues with the pushup, think about making an arrow with your body to help with elbow positioning during these reps.
Recommended rep range: I prefer sets in the 12-15, and even 20 rep range here. I don’t see too much reason you’d want to go super heavy with the pushdowns. Use a weight that will allow you to really feel the muscles working, without having to put your entire body weight into the movement.
Reverse Barbell Curl/DB Curl
Here’s a gun-show builder. The reverse barbell curl is phenomenal for targeting the brachialis first, and then using the palms up DB curl to hone in on the biceps.
For the reverse barbell curl, your palms will face away from you. You’ll want to make an arching motion on the way up, letting your wrists extend at the top to keep constant tension. Lower slowly and make sure you go all the way back down.
Once you’ve knocked those reps out, grab 2 DB’s that you’ll be able to lift for about 10-12 solid reps. Don’t go wildy heavy here, but rather focus on feeling the biceps doing the work.
Workout placement: If it’s an arm focused day, 1st or 2nd in the workout works great. For an upper body training session, I’d place this towards the end after you’ve done your heavier compound lifts.
Technique tips: For the reverse curl, think about making a big arc on the way up. This will place a ton of emphasis on the forearms and brachialis and make for a nice pump. Also, keep your thumbs wrapped around the bar on these.
For the DB curl, start with your arms straight down by your sides. As you begin to curl the weight up, let your elbows move forward slightly in front of your torso. Don’t let them drift behind you or else you’re taking away the range of motion that is beneficial for growth. Go all the way up and control the lowering back down until your arms are straight.
Recommended rep range: 6-10 on the reverse curl, 10 or so on the DB curl.
Underhand EZ Bar Row/Cable Face Pull
You didn’t think I’d leave out back work did you?
Good, because this one is a killer. It’s great for developing the lats, rhomboids, traps, mid back, and rear delts.
With the supinated grip on the EZ bar rows, you’ll get some rear delt activation in addition to the back thickness potential this exercise has. Then, the cable face pull will light up your rear delts, upper traps, and entire upper back.
For your entire back, this combo is a win-win.
Workout placement: 2nd or 3rd as accessory pulling after heavier bent rows or pullups.
Technique tips: For the underhand rows, be sure to start with your arms fully outstretched. Initiate the pull by squeezing at the shoulder blades rather than only pulling with the arms. Pull into your belly while continuing to let the shoulders come together.
For the cable face pulls, I like to set the cable slightly lower than the chest so that there’s a bit of an upward rotation component to this movement as well. Aim to keep the core tight and ribs down. Lead with the elbows as you pull and try to maintain a neutral head position.
Recommended rep range: Perform the rows for sets of 6-12 reps, then 12-20 for the face pulls.
Upright Row/Lateral Raise
I like this one a lot for the shoulders. This is probably a hybrid of a front raise and an upright row. I like to keep my hands out a bit further from my body to keep my shoulders happy. With the bar super close to the body, my shoulders get a bit ticked off.
You can vary the width of your grip on the upright row and experiment with what feels best. I like to go slightly wider than shoulder width. Lead with the elbows on the way up, going up as high as you can pain-free.
After you knock out your upright rows, rest about 10 seconds and then grab some fairly light dumbbells. Keep good technique and avoid using too much momentum to lift the weights.
Workout placement: Perfect for the end of an upper body push workout.
Technique tips: For the upright rows, go up as high as you can without pain or discomfort. Keeping the bar slightly away from the body also helps to alleviate any shoulder issues you might have. Keep an upright torso the entire time. You can also pull the elbows back slightly as you come to the top part of the lift to better engage the rear delts.
For the lateral raises think about lifting your elbows, not your hands. Squeeze the DB’s tight and keep a slight bend in your arms. Again, bring them up to shoulder height or slightly above and lower under control.
Recommended rep range: Higher reps with both of these. 8-20 works quite well. Focus on feeling the delts doing the work.
Become Your Own Superhero
It’s now time to get to work.
You’ve got 6 new supersets to put to the test.
Train hard, train smart and enjoy your new superhero physique.