10-Minute Yoga Supersets: Better than Another Hour of Yoga

Sadie Nardini by Sadie Nardini | June 22nd, 2011 | 17 Comments
topic: Weight Loss, Yoga

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This year, after 15 years of yoga practice and transforming my body, I found myself hitting a plateau. Though my practice regularly involves power moves like jumping forward into Crow Pose and holding Warrior Pose for a long time, my muscle tone seemed to be stuck on autopilot: never decreasing, but never really going to that next level, either.

My body, it seems, has become accustomed to the level of my practice. Whether it’s in weight loss or athletic training goals, hitting a plateau is normal. It’s the balancing point that happens any time the body gets used to what you’re asking of it, especially if you don’t ask any more. If you’re not getting out of bed some mornings a little sore and able to pinpoint the muscles you’ve worked the day before, then you might benefit from a shake-up, too.

To move past the plateau, I could have just started practicing more. But although I’m a “Top NYC Yogi,” according to the kind folks over at Page Six Magazine, I still want a life that doesn’t include more time than I already spend on a mat.

I know what some of you are thinking: “This chick owns a yoga studio and practices a ton … I don’t have that much time.” But I’m an unconventional yogi, asking lots of questions and searching outside the box for ways we can incorporate the intelligence of other exercise forms into our yoga poses. And as my quads, hamstrings, biceps and triceps, and abs can attest today … I have found something that works.

The magic word here is “supersets”

Bodybuilders and exercise physiologists have known about the benefits of the superset technique for years, and it’s time we brought it onto the mat. Supersets are three back-to back sets of 5 to 30 repetitions, each done utilizing opposing muscle groups until you can barely finish the last few moves. This will trick your muscles into creating more muscle fibers to handle their new responsibilities, even if you’re not working out all the time.

In yoga we often do one repetition of any given pose — say, Chaturanga (Pushup Pose) — then move on. And when we spread poses out across a whole practice, it doesn’t place as much emphasis on building muscle. Now you’ll turn your one Chaturanga into three rounds of them, sorta like regular pushups.

Doing a number of the same movements in a row, while lifting your own body weight, can be as effective as using weights on a bench. And it will help you boost your metabolism, sculpt lean muscle, and rock your yoga poses as you become stronger.

So instead of staying at the yoga studio for another hour, add a 10-minute superset three times a week.

Yes, supersets are intense, but the boost in muscle definition, endurance and power — and your humming metabolism — will be so super worth it!

Be sure to read the “Tips for adding supersets to your yoga practice” section at the end!

3 yoga supersets to try

Begin with 5 minutes of your regular Sun Salutation or Core Salutation warm-ups to prepare your muscles and joints. End with your own stretches, or if you have more than 10 minutes, do a few more minutes of a more vigorous yoga for extra-credit cardio before cooling down.

SUPERSET 1: BICEPS/TRICEPS/CENTER ABS

Chaturanga Knee-down Pushups

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Come into Plank Pose, shoulders over wrists, then place your knees down. Keep engaging your navel into your body and strongly lengthen your tailbone so your lower back doesn’t sway.

Inhale here, and on an exhale, being sure to keep your elbows right above your wrists, float your heart forward as you bend the elbows. Your shoulders should never go lower than your elbows.

When you feel your arms strongly engage at a point you can still do 5-10 reps of, hover there, and as you inhale, press the arms straight again.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Rest in Child’s Pose in-between for 3 breaths.

Cobra Waves

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From your last Child’s Pose, come onto your belly, hands plant by your low ribs. Hug the shoulders onto the back and squeeze elbows in. Carve your tailbone towards the mat.

Inhale, and wave up through the spine, heart and head curling up last. Keep your back neck long as you slide your skull back in line with the spinal curve. Resist your hands back towards your hips [don’t move them, just pull them back while stuck to the mat] to work your triceps more.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Rest in Child’s Pose in-between for 3 breaths.

Core Curls

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Come onto your back. Press your fingertips into the back of your head, and hug the elbows in. Bring your feet together and lift your knees, hips flat on the floor.

Inhale here, and using your abs instead of yanking the head, exhale to curl your knees towards your elbows and elbows to the knees. Your tailbone and shoulders should lift from the floor. Keep your chin lifted, and as you exhale completely, tack your navel down into the floor.

Do 3 sets of 10-15. Rest on your back in-between, stretching arms overhead for 3 breaths.

SUPERSET 2: QUADRICEPS/HAMSTRINGS/GLUTES/SIDE ABS

Down Dog Splits

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Come into Dog Pose. Firm all 10 fingertips into the mat, and lift your right leg. Kick out through your heel to strengthen the leg, and start with your hips squared, toes facing the floor.

Pulse your heel and back leg higher with each inhale, as you curl your tailbone down into the mat to provide resistance against the glutes. Keep your shoulders on the back, arms lifted and strong.

Do 3 sets of 10-15. Rest in Child’s Pose in-between for 3 breaths. Continue to the next superset on the SAME leg. When finished with both sides, continue to the Navasana Twists.

Knee Bent Lunges

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On your last Down Dog, sweep the right foot to the right thumb. Draw into your navel and come up to a High Lunge. Keep your hips square and legs strong.

Inhale, and bend your back knee towards the floor without touching it. Exhale to straighten the front leg. Feel free to take your hands to your hips if they fatigue.

Do 3 sets of 10-20. Rest in Child’s Pose in-between for 3 breaths.

Navasana Twists

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Come to sit. Place your fingertips behind you, facing back towards the hips. Keep your navel and low back both moving into the body, lengthen your side waist and maintain an open heart.

Inhale, and reach your knees away a couple of inches. Exhale to lift your right hip off the mat, as you spin your heart over it, to the right. Inhale back to center, reaching the knees away. Exhale over the lifting left hip.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Remember, a twist to the right, then left is ONE rep. Rest on your back between sets, stretching arms overhead for 3 breaths.

SUPERSET 3: CHEST/BACK/LOW ABS

Shakti Kicks

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Come onto hands and knees. Spread and plant all 10 fingertips, and draw your shoulder blades gently onto your back. Pull your navel in to lift your hips and kees off the mat. Keep your arms stacked, shoulders over wrists.

Walk your big toe mounds together, and with every exhale, engage your low belly to hop and kick your feet towards your sitting bones. Hold your arm position as you take low or high kicks, as your body allows.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Rest in Child’s Pose in-between for 3 breaths.

Swimming Locust

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Move onto your belly, forehead on the floor. Keep your back neck long as you curl up, lifting your extended right arm and leg up, and bending your left leg. Reach for your left leg with the left fingertips but don’t grab it. Inhale here.

Exhale, and remain lifted as you switch legs, bending the right knee and swimming the left arm and leg long. Continue.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Remember, a swim to the right, then left is ONE rep. Rest in Child’s Pose or lie on the floor for 3 breaths. Rest in Child’s Pose for one minute or more after the last set of Swimming Locust to reset your back.

Crossed Kicks

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Come to lie on your back. Press your palms down by your hips, and lift your legs into the air, ankles crossed.

Inhale, and prepare, and exhale to lift your legs as straight up towards the ceiling as you can. Only your tailbone should lift, to engage the lower belly. Try not to reach them towards your face, but up, away from the hip joints.

Do 3 sets of 5-10. Hug your knees into your chest and roll circles in-between for 3 breaths, and longer after your last rep.

Tips for adding supersets to your yoga practice

  • Although supersets use yoga poses, they are not like a regular practice. Don’t aim to do all of these every day, even if you can. You want your energy to go to one area, and be able to properly repair the localized muscles and deal with one area of soreness instead of the whole body.
  • Studies show that it takes 7-10 days for unused muscle mass to decrease, so if you alternate all 3 supersets within a week or so, you will still maintain your lean muscles all over your body.
  • If you do three regular yoga classes a week, add in three days of supersets on your off days. Start with Superset 1 one day, then the next time, do Superset 2, then the next, do Superset 3. Start with 1 on your next superset day, and so on.
  • Take 1-2 days a week off of any vigorous exercise for your muscles to repair. This rest is important, because when your muscles can repair, your metabolism gets even higher.
  • To create your own supersets, work these opposing muscle groups using your own sequence that mirrors the intensity and repetitions I’ve set forth here. If you can’t finish this many without losing your alignment, do fewer repetitions in proper alignment and you’ll just fatigue earlier.
  • If your body acclimates to these 5-10 reps I’m suggesting, so that you’re finishing them all without near-fatiguing, then add more reps [up to 30] or one more set until you do fatigue, hold some light weights or books during your lunges, or have someone lightly press on your back [Chaturangas], shoulders [Up Dogs], feet [Crossed Boat Kicks] or somewhere to help you bear a little more weight on the place you’re working. Don’t do more than 30 reps in a set: you might not be super sore some days after your supersets, but rest assured: they are still effective.
  • Do the sets with only a three-breath Child’s Pose or other quick counter-stretch in-between each. Go right into the next set without too much rest. You can rest for 60-90 seconds between different body parts.
  • When intensity builds, remember to inhale on the lighter move, and exhale during the weight-bearing move. Keep your focus on this mantra: “It’s … Only … Ten … Minutes!”

Comments

  1. sadie! i’m interested in taking your yoga teacher certification (home version), but the website sadienardini.com is listed as “expired.”

    help!
    lenny martineau
    lenny@wellnesseducation.us

    lenny | June 13th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Hi Lenny,

    Thanks for writing! It was just a glitch–it’s up now! So go, see, and sign up! Let’s do this.

    Namaste,
    Sadie

    Sadie Nardini | June 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Hey Sadie!

    What is the RSS feed for this blog? Or must I sign up for the whole Gaiam yoga blog? :S

    Please let me know how to just sign up for yours if it’s possible and you get a chance!

    Namaste,
    Natalia

    Natalia | July 13th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. Hi Natalia,
    The RSS feed URL for just Sadie’s blog is: http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/author/sadienardini/feed
    Enjoy!

    Mary Jo Cameron | July 13th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. [...] Many new fitness classes start up in the fall, and gyms offer back-to-school specials. If you already have a good fitness routine, why not take this opportunity to add something new — we can all benefit from some new energy, and adding a new kind of workout or technique to your routine is a proven way to boost fitness results or break through a weight loss plateau. [...]

  6. Hi Sadie,

    i am an Indian, & to see u carry forward one of the oldest Indian Heritage in the finest & graceful of the ways is immensely admirable. I am fascinated by the fact that the yoga asanas on a westerner body come across much more fluid than on an eastern body. and, ur’s are Flowing ..I am a swimmer who’s put on a lot of flab around my lower abdomin(post pregnancy & hypothyroid now ) i need help in dealing with this. Having done yoga in my earlier years , i am wanting to return to it. U have been a huge reason for that. Could u guide me thru about how to join ur online yoga classes coz that seemingly is the only way to connect with u just now.

    Ritu | March 19th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Thanks for posting I subscribed to rss feed!

    Anonymous | April 22nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  8. first time I’ve heard of supersets with yoga – can’t wait to try it

    Deanna | April 27th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  9. Can I get a DVD of this Yoga training?

    Anonymous | May 2nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  10. Sadie offers a few different DVDs on her website: http://www.sadienardini.com/. Check those out, or browse our selection of yoga DVDs here: http://www.gaiam.com/category/yoga-studio/yoga-media.do?SID=WG117SPRTAPEMACS&extcmp=life_prod. Thanks!

    Gaiam Life | May 6th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  11. FT mum of 3 yr old and 3 mth old, finding hard to maintain time for regular practice. Would super sets be a good alternative. I’m at an intermediate level.

    SethxKoree. Aka, Jen | June 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  12. this is fantastic great news for the yoga community that more fitness info is being integrated into yoga practice, yay!

    my wife’s and mine’s whole approach, with seniors and folk just starting out, likes this sort of thing

    also love your intro tip for adding the supersets, “Although supersets use yoga poses, they are not like a regular practice. Don’t aim to do all of these every day, even if you can.”

    and the ten minute blocks are our favorites ;-)

    thanks so much!

    adan | June 28th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  13. Sadie,

    Thanks for this! I play golf and like most others who play golf, time is a priority so finding this post is perfect. I love yoga for a few reasons and think this would be great for many golfers to have.

    Jordan J. Caron | July 7th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  14. Hey thats great I have come to listen about Superset in yoga for the first time and thinking of to read about this more and tried this out as soon as possible.
    It sounds so useful for the ones body.

    Yoga New York City | September 19th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  15. thank you.. I’m not there per say but this is a great article.. namaste/namaskar

    ophie99 | March 23rd, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  16. Super cool! I love the shakti kicks and wish i could do them as perfectly. I Wish my muscles were plateauing at handstand! But definitely what you have written makes sense. It goes back to the teachings of guru Tony Horton on muscle confusion. See his body at 50years old, amazing!

    Ana | August 29th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  17. This article, even if it is legal, it is a crime against Yoga.

    Angelo | August 3rd, 2013 | Comment Permalink

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