Article Page
Reciprocal Superset Training Burns More Calories
Len Kravitz, Ph.D.

Study Reviewed
Kelleher, A.R., Hackney, K.J., Fairchild, T.J. et al. (2010). The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1043-1051.

Developing and implementing a resistance training program that improves musculoskeletal health is one strategic goal many personal trainers strive for with clients. Moreover, many personal trainers seek to create time-efficient training programs that optimize caloric expenditure for clients, who are trying to combat weight gain and obesity. However, with resistance exercise program design, not all training methods elicit the same energy expenditure outcomes. Traditional resistance training (TRAD) incorporates the completion of an exercise set of repetitions (to fatigue or near fatigue) followed by an appropriate recovery period. Reciprocal superset training (SUPER), also called agonist-antagonist superset training, involves performing two consecutive exercises of opposing muscle groups, with no rest between exercises. Then, after completion of the SUPER there is an adequate rest period. Thus with SUPER the exerciser does two opposing action exercises (i.e., bench press and bent over row; biceps curl and triceps extension; leg extension and leg curl; latissimus dorsi pull-down and shouler press; machine fly and machine reverse fly) and then will take a rest period. The original question investigated in this study was whether SUPER elicits greater exercise energy expenditure, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) (i.e., the post-exercise calorie burn) and blood lactate response as compared to TRAD.

Overview of the Study
All subjects completed 1RM testing followed by two testing sessions: SUPER and TRAD. The SUPER and TRAD trainings were separated by a 7-day recovery period, which is often referred to as a 'wash-out' period in research. During the 'wash-out' period participants were encouraged not to do any other supplementary exercise. SUPER was always performed on the first of the two training sessions, because pilot testing showed this type of training was more fatiguing. Thus, the SUPER training established the number of repetitions performed for each exercise. For this study the exercises, sets, repetitions, and repetition speeds were perfectly matched with the SUPER and TRAD. Only the rest periods after exercises were different between the two protocols.

To help ensure similar dietary plans before each training period, participants recorded their normal food choice and portion size in the meals and snacks they ate for two days prior to the 1st training session (SUPER). Then, the researchers requested that participants eat the same two-day diet prior to the TRAD testing session. The researchers did this because dietary food choice and portion size can influence energy expenditure, which was a main interest variable of this study.

Ten males (age=22 yrs; weight=75 kg) participated in this study. Participants were recreationally trained, which the researchers defined as participating in 45-90 minutes of TRAD, 2-4 times a week for the 6 months prior to the beginning of the study. However, the researchers highlighted that none of the participants had ever completed SUPER prior to the 1st training session of the study.

1RM Testing
All subjects completed 1RM testing (following nationally established protocols for 1RM testing) of the 6 exercises in the training protocols. The 1RM testing was performed on the following exercises in the following order: bench press, bent over row, biceps curls, lying triceps extension, leg extensions and leg curls. From the 1RM testing, the researchers were able to determine the 70% of 1RM training intensity for all exercises. Thus, the 1RM testing established the greatest load each participant could lift just once for each exercise. Then, for each training session the participant trained at 70% of his 1RM for each exercise.

SUPER Protocol
Each SUPER was completed by performing a set of an agonist exercise IMMEDIATELY followed by performing a set of the opposing muscle actions. Each exercise was performed to maximal voluntary muscle fatigue. After each SUPER the subjects rested 60 seconds before beginning the next SUPER. The paired exercises in the SUPER group were bench press with bent over row; biceps with lying triceps extension; and leg extensions with leg curls. Participants did 4 sets with each pair of exercises before moving to the next pair of SUPER. All exercises were performed with a 2-second concentric phase and a 2-scond eccentric phase.

TRAD Protocol
All 10 males performed all TRAD sets to voluntary muscular fatigue for each of the 6 exercises. Participants performed 4 sets of each exercise with a 60-second rest between exercises and then moved to the next exercise (and began after a 60-second rest). All exercises were performed with a 2-second concentric phase and a 2-second eccentric phase.

Resting Energy Expenditure Measurement
Resting energy expenditure (REE) was measured before each training session. Participants were reminded to reframe from any resistance training and aerobic exercise prior to each training protocol and to avoid drinking alcohol within 24 hours of training and also reframe from caffeine consumption within 12 hours of training. In addition the researchers requested each subject not eat for 5 hours prior to each training session, which were between 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm on a training day. All of these precautions were taken in this study as they are factors that can influence energy expenditure. Prior to a training session the subjects rested for 30 minutes in a supine, calm position and the researchers attained their REE from a 10-minute collection of metabolic gases.

Exercise Energy Expenditure and Blood Lactate
Participants wore a breathing gas collection facemask, which has attached to a portable metabolic analyzer (that straped to their body) during and after the workout. This was used to measure exercise energy expenditure and EPOC. EPOC is the increase of energy expenditure, above pre-exercise levels, following exercise. The EPOC measurements began after the workout was completed and continued for 60 minutes post exercise. Blood lactate levels were also collected during and after the workout.

The energy expenditure during the workouts, when expressed relative to the workout time (SUPER=30 minutes and TRAD=36 minutes) were significantly greater for the SUPER (8.1 Kilocalories/min) as compared to the TRAD (6.2 Kilocalories/min).
The EPOC energy expenditure of the SUPER was 33% higher as compared to the TRAD for the 60 minutes post-exercise it was measured.

Peak and average blood lactate levels during the exercise protocols were significantly greater in the SUPER compared to the TRAD. Blood lactate levels are an excellent predictor of overall exercise intensity. These increased blood lactate level concentrations in the SUPER are likely due to an increase in anaerobic metabolic demands from doing the consecutive exercise sets with no recovery between paired exercises.

Practical Application
Since this was an acute study, no chronic adaptations in regards to total weight loss, fat loss or changes in muscular strength and endurance can be compared between SUPER and TRAD. Thus, it would be beneficial for the protocols in this study to be investigated in a 4-12 week study, as it is very likely there would be different training adaptations over time. The clear findings of this study indicate that SUPER produces greater energy expenditure releative to the time of the actual workout, much higher EPOC, and significantly greater lactate responses. Thus, the results of this study suggest that personal trainers working with clients on restricted exercise time-lines would be well-advised to consider using a reciprocal superset training methods, as they clearly have meaningfully grander metabolic effects for energy expenditure as well as higher intensity demands of the training program.

bio:Len Kravitz, PhD, is the program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where he won the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. He has received the prestigious Can-Fit-Pro Lifetime Achievement Award and American Council on Exercise Fitness Educator of the Year.