While we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, I recommend adding some fireworks into your training each day. How do you do it? By ruthlessly chasing a muscle pump toward the end of each body-part session. Veins are popping, blood is boiling, and the set's still not done. The match has been lit. Your reward? Explosive muscle growth!
I'll share three of my favorite fireworks finishers, but building your own is pretty simple; combine a single-joint movement with an advanced training technique, which typically extends a set past failure. Don't feel afraid to try outside-the-box ideas; my chest finisher uses a number of variations for each of 4 sets.
Ready? Light the fuse!
1. Triceps Rest-Pause and Dropsets for 10 Minutes
Triceps are a small muscle group, which is why I train them twice over the course of my split. But on a chest or shoulder day when your triceps are already fatigued from heavy presses, you don't need much extra work. In fact, this one-movement workout will give you everything you need plenty!
Here, you'll do the rope push-down—a seemingly unexceptional exercise, right? But what makes this work so well is that you're combining rest-pause and dropset techniques together, going a full 10 minutes almost nonstop. Start with a weight that allows you to perform this movement for 12 and only 12 clean reps. If you don't know that weight off the top of your head, make some adjustments over the first sets to find it. It's OK to err on the slightly lighter side. Trust me, you'll get cooked either way!
Start by setting your timer for 10 minutes and doing—you guessed it—12 reps. Then, take only a 20-second rest between sets before you're right back at it again. That pace ensures you're only partially recovered between sets.
As your arms become increasingly fatigued, you'll quickly find yourself able to do fewer reps. Once your reps drift down to only 8, decrease the load by a single or cable pin. That will initially allow you to do more reps, but the total will soon start to fall again. Continue this fast-paced technique for a total of 10 minutes. Never take a rest interval longer than 20 seconds. You'll discover the most intense triceps pump you've ever achieved!
2. Pump Your Inner Pecs With Partials
The pec-deck machine is another fairly unglamorous move, but with a diabolical programming twist, it can make for an explosive muscle pump.
The inner pecs are the focus of this finisher. Each of the four sets you complete is constructed differently from the others, but the end result is the most intense pump you've ever experienced.
Why the pec deck here? Since it's not a press, there's no triceps involvement, and the front delt is barely involved. However, you can still achieve a decent range of motion, particularly if you adjust the seat back to a position where your shoulders and elbows are at 90 degrees. Just don't let those elbows slip down as you get tired. Keep them up!
Set 1: Select a load you can barely do for 12 reps. You'll use this load for all sets. (A heavier load will haunt you on later sets, believe me.) You'll be able to determine whether you've got the right weight on your very first set, because you're doing the standard movement with a full range of motion to 12. Adjust the weight on your next set if it was too light or too heavy.
Set 2: Using the same weight, perform about 10 reps where you hold the peak contraction for a full second. Not a quick-count "bodybuilder's second" but a full second! You'll have to use a controlled motion to be able to stop and hold the movement. This set is a bit harder than the first, so the number of reps you can manage might vary.
Set 3: Instead of doing just full-range sets, you're going to perform 1-1/4 reps. Perform a full contraction, but instead of going all the way back, let the weight pull your hands about 18 inches apart—no wider!—and complete a quarter rep before returning to the starting position. All of that equals one rep, and you'll perform 10 such reps total. The last ones should be tough.
Set 4: Perform 10 normal reps, but once you hit 10, go right into quarter reps over the top portion of the range of motion. Do as many quarter reps as you can: 10, 15, 20, 25, it doesn't matter. Just keep going until you simply can't do any more. Get help from your partner, use a faster rep speed, or even a little momentum, but keep going! Once you can't do any more, release the handles and sit back to ponder what "good pain" is all about.
3. Run the Rack for Delts
You may be familiar with run-the-rack or down-the-rack training, which is simply a multistage dropset of sorts with dumbbells, each one slightly lighter than the previous one. It allows you to take a single set to muscle failure multiple times, meaning it's a technique best left for the end of the workout, since you'll be completely gassed when you're done.
Traditional run-the-rack training uses dumbbells, but grabbing them all at once may not be the best idea in a crowded gym. Moreover, if you completed your workout correctly up to this point, your delts should already be highly fatigued, which means your form is more likely to be compromised if you continue doing additional free-weight moves.
That's why this version is perfect for the lateral-raise machine. This version will target the middle delt, but you can perform the same technique for the other delt heads on different training days with reverse pec-deck flyes or cable front raises. No matter which you choose, I prefer the bilateral version to cut down on rest time when only one side is working.
Set 1: Start out with your 12RM (that is, your 12RM when you're already tired from your other training). Complete as many reps as you can, then quickly reduce the weight by about 25 percent and do as many more reps as you can. Once you reach muscle failure, jump off the machine and extend your hands directly overhead for a full minute, and not a second shorter. Watch that clock!
Set 2: This is identical to Set 1, but you're going to do an additional dropset. That's three work segments in all. Don't forget the hands-up position for a full minute, too.
Set 3: As you guessed, this adds another dropset. By now, your middle delts should be fried. You'll do four work segments in all, and let's not forget to raise your arms as high as you can for 60 seconds. Your delts should feel fully goosed; there have been times after completing this assault that I've wanted to cut off my arms. However, they were just hanging uselessly by my sides. That should be your training goal!
All three fireworks finishers here start with basic movements, but when they're enhanced with a little imagination, any one of them can really turn up the heat. Now that's the way to finish with a bang!
- Vandenburgh, H. H. (1987). Motion into mass: how does tension stimulate muscle growth? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 19(5 Suppl), S142-9.