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    Advanced Strength Training Hacks

    By Cinder Ernst–

    In the last column you learned basic strength training principles, such as peak contraction and continuous muscle tension. This time you will discover some easy to implement suggestions for building the intensity and improving the effectiveness of your strength workouts. Try adding one at a time to your routine to see what feels best for you.


    Supersets are where you combine two strength training exercises with no rest in between. The objective is to switch from one exercise to the other as quickly as possible. Exercise intensity is increased when you reduce the rest period. When deciding upon your superset, consider how quickly and efficiently you can move from the first exercise into the second.

    Opposing Muscle Supersets

    Choose to focus on a pair of opposing muscles. For instance, you could do a back/chest superset with a pulley row for your back and a push up for your chest. It is easy and quick to go from a row to a push up. Another good example is a back pull down with a pulley chest fly, since that equipment is often close by in the gym. Biceps/triceps and hamstring/quads are opposing muscle superset combos. 

    Same Muscle Supersets

    Here I want to define the difference between a compound or basic exercise and an isolation exercise, so you can choose how you create your same muscle combination. An isolation exercise puts more specific emphasis on the exact muscle you are working by attempting to isolate that muscle. Positioning makes this possible. For instance, when you do a chest fly, your hand position takes out some of the help you get from your shoulders and triceps. Conversely, the hand position on a chest press allows the shoulders and triceps more participation, and so a chest press is considered to be a compound (sometimes called a basic) exercise. All muscle groups have isolation and basic options.

    Pre-exhaustion Isolation Supersets

    When doing a superset with just one muscle group, you can go either way. I prefer what is called a pre-exhaustion isolation superset. This just means that by doing an isolation exercise first, you pre-exhaust the muscle and then allow the compound exercise to help you push further.

    The main component in a pre-exhaustion isolation superset is failure. Failure is actually a principle in strength training. When you work the muscle beyond failure, you break down the muscle fibers. Your body then repairs that muscle and it comes out stronger. This process is called muscle adaptation. Supersets are a safe way to go beyond failure. (Cheating is also a principle in strength training. You can cheat with your form or range of motion to push past failure. This is a riskier path to take, and I do not recommend it. Having a spotter is a safe way to cheat.)

    Great examples for a pre-exhaustion isolation superset are flat dumbbell chest flys to failure (for exercise #1) and then turn your hands to press position and continue with a set of dumbbell presses. Another fun superset consists of lateral dumbbell shoulder raises that segue right into overhead shoulder presses. Think ahead and set up your dumbbells/barbell machine ahead of time.

    Drop Sets

    With a drop set, you take one exercise and drop the weight each time you reach failure. As with all supersets, the quickness between exercises is the key to effectiveness. One of my favorite drop sets involves lateral shoulder dumbbell raises. Start with your heaviest weight for 10 repetitions, drop to a lower weight for 10 reps and then drop again for 10 reps. I used to start with 7.5 pounds followed by 5 pounds, and then I could barely lift my arms 10 times and I loved it. Drop sets are fun to do using machines where you can easily move the pin in the weight stack.

    Be creative in setting up these beneficial exercise combos. Also, do not forget to allow yourself an extra rest after a superset workout for your muscles to recover and adapt.

    Cinder Ernst, Medical Exercise Specialist and Life Coach Extraordinaire, helps reluctant exercisers get moving with safe, effective and fun programs. Her book, “Easy Fitness for the Reluctant Exerciser” (, is available in paperback and E-book. She specializes in fitness and rehab for plus-size clients, but her stress-free approach is suitable for all. Find out more at