Supersets for Runners

By Rick Morris

Supersets or supersetting is a very familiar training technique among body builders and power sports athletes. Supersets, which are also known as compound sets, involve performing two or more different exercises without the use of recovery between the exercises. When used during strength training, an example of supersets would be performing a series of bench press repetitions followed by a series of incline bench press repetitions without any rest between the two exercises. This type of training is very efficient at building strength and muscle mass.

Most runners perform interval training that involves short to moderate length repeats at a fast pace followed by short recovery intervals. Interval training has been used for many years and is highly effective in building your fitness.  But running supersets can provide you with even higher levels of fitness and race performance. Running supersets are very similar to strength super sets. You perform two or more intervals at different paces without a rest period. These supersets for runners are excellent workouts for improving your lactate turn point, vVO2 max, running economy and your ability to hold race pace when fatigued. There are three primary types of super sets for runners – drop sets, progressive sets and compound sets.

Drop Supersets

Drop supersets are the most commonly used type of superset for runners. When doing drop sets you start with a short run at nearly full pace. You then drop your pace for each successive part of your superset. An example of a drop set is a 4 x 200-400-800 superset. To perform this superset you would run 200 meters at nearly full pace. Then slow to 5K pace for 400 meters before slowing again to 10K pace for 800 meters. You would not rest at all between the different paces, but would recover for 4 minutes between each superset. You will generate a considerable amount of lactic acid during this super set. Your body is forced to become more efficient at clearing that lactic acid and using it to produce energy. Starting with a very fast pace also makes your 5K and 10K paces feel easier. You become a more efficient runner and are able to “float” or “glide” with a more relaxed stride at race pace.

Progressive Supersets

A progressive superset is the opposite technique as the drop sets. With a progressive set you start your workout at below race pace. As your progress through the workout you gradually speed up to nearly full pace. This type of workout is great for training you to run a race pace or faster when you are already fatigued. This is similar to the pre exhaustion technique used by strength athletes. An example of a progressive set is 3 x 1600-800-400. You start the workout with 1600 meters at marathon pace. You then increase your speed to 5K pace for 800 meters and finish with 400 meters at the fastest pace you can maintain. This is a superb workout for developing your finishing kick and training your body to run at a fast pace when fatigued. You take no recovery between the different paces, but recover for 4 minutes between each super set.

Compound Supersets

This type of workout is combination of drop sets and progressive sets. This type of running superset is an excellent way to practice race conditions. During a race you rarely run and the same pace. You will have bursts of speed when you are passing other competitors and at the end of the race with your finishing kick. You may drop your pace slightly in the middle of the race or after a strong surge for recovery. The purpose of compound supersetting is to duplicate those types of race conditions. An example of a compound set is 3 x 400-1600-800-200. To perform this workout you start with 400 meters at nearly full pace. You then slow to 10K pace for 1600 meters before speeding up to 5K pace for 800 meters. Finish this superset with 200 meters at full pace. Take no recovery between the paces, but recover between each superset for 4 minutes.

There are two other types of compound supersets that are commonly used – peak sets and valley sets. Peak sets are compound sets in which you run at progressively faster paces up to the peak and then back down with progressively slower paces. For example – 800-400-200-400-800. You would run 800 meters at marathon pace, 400 meters at 5K pace, 200 meters at full pace and then back down with 400 meters at 5K pace and 800 meters at marathon pace. A valley set goes in the opposite direction – 200-400-800-400-200. Start with 200 meters at full pace, slow to 400 meters at 5K pace and 800 meters at marathon pace. Then back up with 400 meters at 5K pace and 200 meters at full pace.

As you progress through your training cycle you should gradually adjust your supersets so that they become more and more specific to your training goal. Your volume should increase and your recovery time between super sets should decrease. For example, if your goal is a 10K race, your first drop set may be 3 x 200-400-800. You could gradually progress to 4 x 400-800-1300 with 2 minutes of recovery between each superset. At that point you are running 10,000 meters at race pace or faster with just 6 minutes of recovery time and you are peaked for a top 10K performance. Keep in mind that while these type of workouts are highly effective they are also very intense and demanding. You should perform these workouts no more than one time per week and allow for sufficient recovery time. After progressing through a program of supersetting you should back off on your training for a recovery period before beginning your training cycle again with new training goal.