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Circuit Supersets for Total-Body Strength

A superset format is a great way to deliver a high-intensity, straightforward workout. In this circuit-training class, each superset includes three exercises that target different areas of the body. For example, you work the legs while the arms recover, then you target the core while the legs have some reprieve, and so on. The selected moves are classics, selected for their ability to efficiently target major muscle groups. They are simple to follow and execute, which allows the class to move at a steady pace.

Serious Superset Details

Total Time: ~55 minutes

Goal/Emphasis: to strengthen every major muscle group

Equipment needed: per person: one to two sets of dumbbells and an exercise mat for floor-work (Since you’re teaching high repetitions, encourage participants to switch out dumbbells at any point or drop them completely if fatigued.)

Music: 130 beats per minute or slower

Warm-Up (6 minutes)

Perform each of the following for 30 seconds, then repeat three times:

  • Do bob-and-weave pattern, either as simple step-together or adding squat as you sweep through center.
  • Cue alternating knees. Encourage advanced participants to bring knees above hip height, and ask everyone to engage abdominal muscles and “crunch” ribs to hips.
  • Teach traditional jumping jacks or side-taps with full-range arms as low-impact modification.

Add some flowing, dynamic stretches into the mix:

  • Do calf stretch in lunge position.
  • Stretch hamstrings by sitting back with leg forward.
  • Interlace hands behind back to open chest.
  • Do standing quadriceps stretch.

As you go through the warm-up, explain how the entire workout will follow this format. Point out that every warm-up move can be completed at a variety of intensities. Assure participants that they can also modify all strength exercises.

Work Phase (40 minutes)

Perform 24 reps of each exercise unless otherwise indicated. Go through each round three times and then move to the next one, taking time to rest only as needed or during transitions.

Superset #1

  • Upright row. Stand with feet wide, knees slightly bent. Keep shoulders relaxed and engage between shoulder blades and spine. Raise and lower dumbbells in controlled upright row, being careful not to cause impingement.
  • Sumo squat. Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out, and lower into wide squat. As you come up (slowly and with control), lift knee (alternate sides). Modification: Eliminate knee lift. Progression: Hold dumbbell against chest. 16 reps.
  • Slow mountain climber. Start from plank position and slowly bring in one knee toward chest, moving at half-speed. Keep hips low, hands under shoulders, and brace through core. Modification: Hold full plank. 16 reps.

Superset #2

  • Wide push-up. Keep hands far apart so elbows are 90 degrees at bottom of move. Perform on knees or with straight legs.
  • Alternating lunges. Hold dumbbells and step forward with right foot, getting knee as close to ground as possible. Alternate for 16 reps.
  • Forearm plank. Brace through core and come onto forearms and toes, keeping back in neutral. Modification: Place knees on floor. Hold 1 minute.

Superset #3

  • Overhead press. Press dumbbells overhead in arcing motion. Elbows are at shoulder level and 90 degrees at bottom of move. Control the return.
  • Squats. With feet parallel and hip-width apart, lower into squat while keeping chest lifted. Hold one dumbbell against chest with both hands. Modification: Don’t hold dumbbell.
  • Back extension. Lie prone with arms by sides, palms up. Reach fingertips and toes toward back of room while lifting chest and thighs off ground. Engage gluteals and spinal erectors. Hold for 3 counts. 8 reps.

For Supersets 4 and 5, see “Sample Class: Serious Supersets” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2016 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


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Pamela Light, MA

Pamela Light is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA with a bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology, a Master’s in writing, and 25 years’ experience in the fitness industry. You can find videos of Tape Box workouts in her Facebook group, Pamela’s Light and Fit Community.

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