12 Powerful Exercise Pairs

STACK lays out 12 excellent supersets so you can build strength in less time.

It's important to get the most out of your valuable time in the gym. So instead of idly sitting between sets and exercises, incorporate supersets into your workouts to do more reps in less time.

Supersets allow you to do more work by pairing two exercises that engage different (usually opposing) muscle groups. The technique calls for no rest between exercises and no more than two minutes of rest between sets. As your conditioning improves, you can reduce your recovery time.

You can pair any two exercises together as long as they engage different muscles. For example, many gym-goers superset upper- and lower-body exercises.

It's possible to increase your strength gains if you pair exercises that engage opposing muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that performing supersets in this fashion produces greater strength gains than traditional sets.

Below are 12 supersets that follow these principles. They use the same equipment, so you won't take up too much space in your gym. Choose between two and four supersets to integrate into your workouts. For best results, regularly vary your selections.

1. Push-Up and Inverted Row

Benefits: Horizontal pushing and pulling strength, focusing on the chest and traps.

Coaching Points:

  • Adjust a barbell in a squat rack or Smith machine to hip height.
  • Perform a set of Push-Ups, then position your body under the barbell to perform Inverted Rows.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x12-15 each exercise

2. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Row

Benefits: Works the same muscles as the Push-Up and Inverted Row, but develops strength equally on the left and right sides of your body.

Coaching Points:

  • Choose dumbbells of a weight appropriate for each exercise.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the sides of the bench after each Bench Press set.
  • After assuming the rowing position, reach down and grasp the dumbbell on the same side as your rowing arm.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x6-8 each arm, each exercise

3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press and Dumbbell Pullover

Benefits: Trains the body to push and pull vertically rather than horizontally.

Coaching Points:

  • Choose a set of dumbbells appropriate for the Dumbbell Shoulder Press, and a single dumbbell for the Dumbbell Pullover.
  • Perform the Dumbbell Shoulder Press standing in front of a bench.
  • Lie back on the bench and perform the Dumbbell Pullover with the single dumbbell.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x8-10 each exercise

4. Chin-Ups and Close-Grip Push-Ups

Benefits: Builds stronger biceps and triceps, while also strengthening the chest and back.

Coaching Points:

  • Perform Close-Grip Push-Ups near a chin-up bar.
  • Perform each exercise through a full range of motion.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x12-15 each exercise

5. Single-Arm, Single-Leg Cable Row and Single-Arm, Single-Leg Cable Press

Benefits: Strengthens your upper body, challenges your left and right side and builds core strength. 

Coaching Points:

  • Adjust a cable machine to chest height.
  • Use a light weight so you don't compensate with poor form.
  • Keep your core tight and your back flat throughout each exercise.

Sets/Reps: 2-3x8-10 each side, each exercise

6. Front Squat and RDL

Benefits: Builds the major muscles on the front and backside of the lower body, including the quads, glutes and hamstrings.

Coaching Points:

  • Choose an appropriate weight for both exercises, but no more than 75 percent of your Front Squat max.
  • Lower the bar from the Front Squat to the RDL as you would lower the bar from a Clean.

Sets/Reps: 4x5 each exercise

7. Dumbbell Step-Up and Single-Leg RDL

Benefits: Targets the same muscles as the Front Squat and RDL, but develops strength equally on the left and right sides of the body.

Coaching Points:

  • Choose a set of dumbbells that are an appropriate weight for each exercise.
  • Perform a set with your right and left leg before moving on to the next exercise.

Sets/Reps: 3x10 each leg, each exercise

8. Sled Push and Sled Pull

Benefits: Increases overall lower-body power and improves conditioning without causing muscle soreness.

Coaching Points:

  • Add no more than 15 percent of your body weight to the sled.
  • Keep your back straight and your core tight.
  • Drive through the ground with your feet when pushing and pulling.
  • Push the sled for the specified distance and immediately pull the sled back to the start to complete a set.

Sets/Distance: 5x20 yards

9. Physioball Quad Extension and Physioball Hamstring Curl

Benefits: A replacement for the Leg Extension and Leg Curl, these two exercises build the quads and hamstrings and work your core.

Coaching Points:

  • Choose a medium to large physioball.
  • Keep your core tight throughout each movement.
  • Perform as an auxiliary exercise toward the end of your workout.

Sets/Reps: 2x12 each exercise

10. Mini-Band Abduction and Pilates Ring Adductor Isolation

Benefits: Targets your inner and outer hip muscles—often ignored by Squats and other lower-body exercises—to increase stability and help prevent hip and knee injuries.

Coaching Points:

  • Attach a resistance band around your shins, just below the knees.
  • Maintain an athletic stance.
  • Adductor Isolation: Exhale as you squeeze your knees together.

Sets/Reps: 2x12 each exercise

11. Physioball Jackknife and Physioball Rollout

Benefits: Trains your core through flexion and anti-extension moves, which builds stronger abs and increases overall power.

Coaching Points:

  • Position your hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Keep your abs tight and drawn in.
  • Do not let your back arch.

Sets/Reps: 3x10 each exercise

12. Deadbug and Superman

Benefits: Strengthens your abs and lower back without putting pressure on your spine.

Coaching Points:

  • Make slow and controlled movements.
  • Take a full exhale on each rep.


Robbins, D. W. (2010). "The Effect of an Upper-Body Agonist-Antagonist Resistance Training Protocol on Volume and Efficiency." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 24 (10), 2632-2640.

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