There a few different ways to do supersets. One is by alternating between two exercises that work opposing muscle groups, like a chest press (chest) and a bent-over row (back). The thought is that this will allow each muscle group to recover a bit more in between sets, so you can hit them hard again on the next set. Another way to do a superset is by choosing two exercises that target the same muscle group, like triceps kickbacks and overhead triceps extensions. “This fatigues the muscles but also helps build your endurance for that muscle,” says Taylor. For this type of superset, expect to use a slightly lighter weight than you normally would to work the same muscle, since the volume of work is so high.
Whichever way you do them, supersets have an uncanny ability to make any given workout feel more intense.
3. Sub in plyometric moves.
Plyometrics are fast, explosive movements that typically cause your heart rate to skyrocket. The easiest way to think about doing them? Add a jump, says Taylor. For example, if you’re doing lunges in your workout, do one of the sets as split lunge jumps instead of stationary lunges. Same thing with squats—mix it up with jump squats instead. It’s a simple way to dial up the cardiovascular intensity without really changing the course of your workout, and you’ll still focus on the muscle group you’re trying to work.
One thing to keep in mind, though: “You’ll want to be careful that you are also choosing the appropriate weight so that you can maintain your proper form with while adding your jump,” says Taylor. “You can also do these as just bodyweight,” and simply pick the weights back up for the next non-jumping set.
4. Add high-intensity intervals between sets.
Speaking of jumps: Julia Stern, certified trainer at Rumble Training in NYC, suggests incorporating high-intensity intervals in between your sets on the weights. One way to do it would be by adding 30 seconds of squat jumps after a set of squats with heavy dumbbells (this would also qualify as supersetting). “This will get your heart rate up and fatigue the muscle that you’re strengthening,” she says. To keep the intensity going, try to take minimal rest before starting your next set. (But if you’re breathless and need a few seconds, definitely take it.)
Burpees, box jumps, jumping jacks, lateral jumps, and jumping single high knees are all good ideas, adds Taylor. Or, to make it simple, you can jump rope for a minute or so in between each set or circuit to get a little burst of cardio and raise your heart rate.
Taylor also likes adding Tabata-style intervals in particular. “A Tabata is 20 seconds of exercise with 10 seconds rest, for a total of eight rounds. So you can choose any cardio exercise in here—banded runners, jogging on the spot, jump squats, jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, the possibilities are endless,” she says. Then, do it between each strength set. “It helps bring the heart rate up, keeps your energy up, and I find interval training really effective for helping to build stamina,” she says.
5. Finish off your workout with treadmill sprints.
If you’d rather get your cardio burst at the end of your strength training workout, you can tack on a finisher. This is also the best, safest, and most efficient way to pair cardio with heavy strength training, says Atkins. “This way, your muscles can perform powerful moves when they are ‘rested’ and ‘full of energy,’ and then you can expend any additional energy that’s leftover on cardio.”
Stern suggests spending 10 minutes on the treadmill after hitting the weights. In those 10 minutes, alternate between 30 seconds of sprinting and 30 seconds of jogging/walking. If you need to, lengthen the jog/walk intervals until you build up enough endurance, says Stern. But use this time to challenge yourself—you want it to give the sprints all of your effort, so that at the end you can totally check both strength and cardio off your list.