Build Strength and Burn Calories – Reciprocal Superset Training

Strength training has been highlighted not only as a way to build muscle, but also as a way to reduce injury and promote weight loss. Since fat is burned in muscle, the more muscle we have the more fat we burn. There are several ways to add strength training to your exercise routine. Some people prefer to work specific muscle groups on varying days (i.e. legs and glutes on Tuesdays, arms and back on Thursdays) while others prefer to do total body training a few days a week. Regardless of what type you do, adding any kind of strength routine will be to your benefit.

dumbells-horizontalA recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that reciprocal superset training not only builds strength, but also torches calories in less time than traditional strength training. Traditional strength training refers to completing a set of single muscle group exercises until fatigued followed by a significant period of rest whereas reciprocal superset training uses consecutive sets of two exercises that target opposing muscle groups followed by a short period of rest.

Reciprocal strength training is based on the idea that while the muscle being targeted is contracting, the opposing muscle is relaxing. For example, when performing bicep curls, the bicep contracts while the tricep relaxes. To apply this principal to reciprocal superset training, you would complete one set of bicep curls until fatigued followed immediately by one set of tricep extensions until fatigued followed by one minute of rest. You complete the set three more times before moving to the next opposing muscle group. To determine how much weight to use, you should be able to complete 8-12 reps of each exercise (or 70% of your one-rep max). Common opposing muscle groups include:

Incorporating reciprocal strength training into your routine challenges your muscles and torches calories due to the short period of rest in between sets. Maintaining an elevated heart rate with less rest period also adds a cardiovascular component to your strength training which leads to increased calorie burn and conditioning. You’ll also reduce your total workout time by completing back-to-back sets consecutively while still completing the same amount of reps as single sets.

Use this exercise protocol to add reciprocal superset training into your routine. Complete the first exercise until fatigued followed immediately by the second exercise until fatigued. Rest for 1 minute and complete 3 more times for a total of 4 sets before moving to the next opposing muscle group:

Superset training edited



2 thoughts on “Build Strength and Burn Calories – Reciprocal Superset Training

  1. Jamie says:

    I love this concept because it makes so much sense… how can I do a reciprocal exercise for my core? I feel like I have a weak core and back since having babies. Every time I do an “ab” exercise, my back is more sore the next day then anything. Would this help?


    • Kristen Forand says:

      Great question, Jamie! The opposing muscle group for the core is the back (particularly the lower back). Although we love our little ones, I’m sure any woman who has been pregnant would agree that their core is not as strong as it used to be. As a result, we tend to use our lower back muscles to compensate for our weak core. This would explain why your back is more sore the next day than your abs. Applying recipricol superset training to the core and back muscles would include completing an exercise that targets the rectus abdominis muscles (i.e. crunches with knees bent at 90 degrees and low back pushed into the floor) immediately followed by the superman exercise. Both of these exercises are explained in detail in the Fuel Your Body section of the website. Hope this helps!


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