9 Brutal Ways to Kill Your Sets
We all know that progression of weight is king, right? Hit the gym, push sets for as many reps as possible and add weight to the bar when you can.
Easy. Safe. Effective. The path to gains.
But there are times when safe is boring. Maybe you’ve just completed 8 weeks of training using the same workout system, and are bored out of your mind and need a mental break. Or maybe you’re training with a buddy this weekend and have set a goal to kill each other in the gym. Either way, this article delivers.
It’s time to get brutal. If you need to blast out of a training rut and try something new, or just took 2 scoops and have all kinds of extra energy, look no further. What follows are 9 ways to kill your effin sets.
#1 – Power Position Burn-Out Reps
Most exercises have a “power position”; a certain ½ or ⅓ of the range of motion closest to the lockout portion of the lift that feels easier. For example, it’s much easier to perform reps when you are only lowering the bar a third or half of the way down during the bench press. This is the power/leverage position of the rep and isn’t nearly as hard as pressing the bar off your chest.
For this muscle-destroying tactic we are going to begin each set with 5 conventional full range of motion reps. After this point you’ll be switching to power position reps. Smash your 5 full range of motion reps and then immediately start performing power position partial reps until failure.
This style of training completely changes the dynamics of a set. It works as a form of pre-fatigue, allowing you to push a muscle hard out of the gate and then beat it while it’s down using partial range of motion burn-out reps.
Bench Press Example – Load up a weight that is approximately 70% of your one rep bench press max. Lead off a set with 5 full range of motion reps, then hammer the top ½ range of motion with as many burn-out reps as possible.
Perform 3 to 5 total sets using this style of training.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…make sure you have a good spotter or are working in a power rack with the catch pins set properly to catch the bar if you fail. You will be able to perform more top-half reps than you think, and fatigue will sneak up on you and wallop you hard when you least expect it.
#2 – Accelerating Rep Speed Sets
No, these are not “speed sets.” You will be accelerating your rep speed, starting with slow tempo reps and transitioning over to reps that feature a natural, conventional rep speed. Here’s how each set works.
- Rep 1 – Performed with a 5 second concentric and eccentric rep speed.
- Rep 2 – Performed with a 4 second concentric and eccentric rep speed.
- Rep 3 – Performed with a 3 second concentric and eccentric rep speed.
- Rep 4 – Performed with a 2 second concentric and eccentric rep speed.
- Reps 5+ are performed with a natural rep cadence.
Took 2 scoops? Get your ass to the gym and blast your muscles into new growth using these 9 torture tactics.
As you can see, as a muscle fatigues you are slowly able to use a more brisk rep pace. This allows you to focus more on muscle contraction right out of the gate when you are fresh, and transition over to raw and powerful reps as the pain starts to set in.
You can utilize this accelerated rep speed approach on nearly any exercise, sans intense posterior chain-focused movements like squats and deadlifts.
I suggest 3 sets per exercise. When you are able to hit 10 plus reps for all 3 sets, add weight to this movement.
Once you try accelerated set speed sets you will likely come to the same conclusion that I did: they are much enjoyable than sets that feature the same (extended) tempo for each and every rep. I simply find that I am more motivated to smash a set harder when using this accelerated speed approach.
#3 – Flip the Switch Reps
Flip the switch reps are another training tool that focus on rep tempo manipulation and variance to heighten set intensity. Your first 5 repetitions will be performed with a 3 second concentric speed and a natural eccentric speed.
After this point you flip the switch and do the opposite. Reps 6 plus are performed using a natural and powerful concentric effort, and lowered back to the exercise’s starting position using a 3 second eccentric speed.
So, to recap:
- Reps 1 to 5 – 3 second concentric speed, natural eccentric speed.
- Reps 6 plus – Natural concentric speed, 3 second eccentric speed.
Perform 3 sets per exercise, pushing for as many reps as possible. When you are able to perform 10 or more reps for each of the 3 sets, add weight to the bar.
If you’re like me, by rep 5 you’ll be sick of using a controlled concentric speed. By flipping the switch in the middle of a set, you are able to more explosively drive home reps as you approach muscle failure while also utilizing DOMS-inducing slow negatives.
As with accelerated rep speed sets, I do NOT recommend running this protocol during movements such as squats and deadlifts. There is no need to crap out your spine or throw out your lower back.
#4 – Pause Rep Your Big Hitters
Unlike the previous 2 training tactics, paused reps are a perfect way to destroy your body using squats. They are also a top notch choice for increasing bench press intensity, back training, overhead press training, etc.
The concept behind paused reps is simple…implement a slight 1-2 second pause between the eccentric and concentric phase of a movement. This slight hesitation might seem like a trivial tweak but trust me, once you try paused reps you will become a believer.
Here are some recommend ways to pause your reps and increase your set intensity:
Squats – Pause in the hole for a 1-2 second count. Make sure to keep your body as tight as possible during each rep. Sloppiness on squat paused reps can place extra strain on your lower back.
Bench Press – Lower the barbell to your chest and pause for a one second count while…(wait for it)…remaining tight. This slight pause will take the momentum out of your lift, help to get your chest and triceps firing on all cylinders, and make each rep more challenging.
Overhead Press – Pause the bar for 2 seconds at chest level before initiating each rep.
Calf Raises – Pause each rep at peak contraction for 1-2 seconds.
Seated Cable Rows & V-Bar Pull Downs – Pause each rep at your torso for a 1-2 second count.
You can implement paused reps into virtually any existing set and rep scheme. With that said, I would avoid using paused squats sets of over 8 reps. The muscle soreness that comes with paused squats can be rather unbearable.
#5 – Mid-Rep 1-2 Second Pauses
Instead of pausing in between the eccentric and concentric phases of a rep, mid-rep pauses have you hitting the stall button during the middle of a rep. So instead of pushing the barbell all the way up during bench presses, you would instead pause for 1-2 seconds at the mid-point of each rep before proceeding to complete each lockout.
And if this doesn’t sound painful enough, you could also double down and implement a second pause during the eccentric phase of each rep.
Mid-rep pauses almost completely take the momentum out of a movement. Although you will be using a lighter weight on the bar, each set will feel much more debilitating and muscle-destroying.
These style of pauses can be used on everything from leg presses to barbell curls, though I would most definitely avoid them when performing deadlifts. How about squats, you say? Perhaps as a one set finisher, but that’s about it.
If you’re going to try this barbaric approach, I recommend starting with no more than 3 sets per exercise. Once you get the feel of mid-rep pauses, you can add in more volume if you feel it’s needed. (Though it probably isn’t)
Power position reps completely change the dynamics of a set. They work as a form of pre-fatigue, allowing you to push a muscle hard out of the gate and beat it while it’s down
#6 – 3 Second Pause Between Reps
Take note, this style of paused reps has you pausing for 3 seconds AFTER each rep, not in the middle of it.
What’s the point, you ask? Static holds require a muscle, or group of muscles to contract hard to help maintain balance, lockout, grip, etc. So while a muscle will be working hard to complete each rep, you will also be introducing bonus contraction time as you pause for 3 seconds in between each rep.
Also, this extra period of time in between reps can also act as a mini-recovery period. Think paused squats, for example. Sound contradictory? It is, but in a good way.
If you’ve ever held a barbell on your back for an extended period of time you know how hard this simple act can be. So while you might be able to prolong a set and add in several more reps by implementing these 3 second pauses, there is a strong likelihood that you will feel physically destroyed after each set.
Pausing between reps, in a sense, is like performing HIIT cardio. You go all out, rest and repeat. And once you finished that first prolonged set, you might not want a second or third set. So while you might be training as long, you will be training harder.
Still not sold on the brutality of this seemingly contradictory method of training? Let’s look at an example using deadlifts.
Deadlift Example – After locking out each rep, and while remaining in the standing position, you will perform a 3 second static hold. While this is allowing for some minor muscle recovery in between each rep, and while it’s allowing you to slightly catch your breath, your traps are also fighting hard trying to help keep your arms attached to your body.
Talk about the ultimate contraction.
As you can see, the paused aspect during each lift has the potential to tax one muscle group while allowing another to slightly recover. Ahhh, now you’re getting it. In this case, your traps are getting hammered while your lower back is allowed to recover for a just a moment.
This crazy time under tension will be excellent for trap growth while not detracting from the overall potency of the movement.
Now, go implement pauses between bench press and curl reps and report back tomorrow…
#7 – Ramp the Stack Quints
Do you even quint, bro?
Quintuple. noun. A fivefold number or amount; a set of five.
Yes, this is a tactic for machine exercises. So what? Not every exercise must involve a barbell or dumbbell.
You have been warned: these sets can take a bit longer than conventional sets. This is especially true if you are quite strong for a given exercise.
Start by performing 5 reps using the lightest weight on the stack. Immediatley (as in do not rest in between these “mini-sets”) move the pin up to the next heaviest weight and knock out 5 more reps. Continue this pattern until you are no longer able to perform 5 reps with a given weight.
There is a chance that this ramping style of training might lead to 50, 60 or more total reps per set. Fun time, huh? Pump-inducing, for sure.
This run the stack style of training works excellent as a muscle finisher. I would not – I repeat – I would not start a workout using a machine exercise unless you are currently on some sort of a sick and twisted deload/light/non-linear pediodization week.
Start a workout with a heavy, compound movement. Then, after a muscle has been beat into submission, swoop in with a training tactic like this to beat it into further growth.
If you really are a glutton for punishment, you can run the stack back down in weight after you reach your peak, or heaviest weight. Here’s how a set like this would work. For this example we’ll pretend you are using seated cable rows that has a machine stack that increases in 15 pound increments.
Seated Cable Row Example – You start at 15 pounds and perform 5 reps. Without resting, you keep knocking out quints (5 rep sets), working your way up to 165 pounds. At this point you struggle to complete 5 solid reps. Now, you can either choose to stop the set, or run the stack back down. If you decide to work your way back down, simply continue the pattern of dropping the weight and knocking out 5 reps sets.
Boom! This is not a game!
#8 – Bodyweight Superset Hell
Bodyweight supersets, eh? Sounds easy right? Not so fast.
Each superset combines a compound movement with a bodyweight set to failure. Start by performing a conventional compound exercise set of 6 to 12 reps (or perhaps one of the brutal set structures listed in this article), and immediately superset this movement with a bodyweight movement that is similar in nature.
Here are some exercise pairings that work well together:
- Bench presses and push ups
- Barbell rows and pull ups
- Squats and bodyweight lunges or jump squats
- Overhead presses and pike push ups
- Barbell curls and chin ups (palms towards face)
- Close grip bench presses and dips
- Deadlifts and hyperextensions
- Weighted sit ups and planks
- Seated calf raises and jump squats
Make every effort to take the bodyweight movement aspect of this superset to failure, or at least to the point where your conditioning breaks down.
Start with 2 of these supersets per major muscle group. If you survive, add in a third superset.
#9 – Pre-Fatigue Burn Set
You’ve probably heard of pre-fatigue exercises. This practice usually has a lifter targetting a muscle group with several sets of an isolation movement before moving on to a compound exercise.
Well the type of pre-fatigue work in this section, my friends, is far more demanding. Instead of starting with a mere isolation exercise, you will begin each training session with a pre-fatigue burn set. Pick an isolation exercise you could perform about 20 reps maximum with, and then proceed to hammer out 40 total rest-pause reps. Rest as need (only briefly), but get to 40 total reps as quickly as possible.
Once this initial burn set is finished, you then move on to your primary compound movement. Here are some burn set/compound exercise pairings that will serve you well:
- Leg extensions and squats
- Pec dec and bench press
- Skullcrushers and close grip bench presses
- Machine pullovers and barbell rows
- Leg curls and stiff leg deadlifts
- Side lateral raises and military presses
Please note that you only want to perform one burn set prior to your compound exercise sets. If you decide that you want to up the ante’ a bit, you can perform a second 40 rep rest-pause burn set after your compound sets have been completed.