Burns – Pushing Past Muscle Failure

Standing Calf Raises End

Burns! We have written about various methods for pushing a set beyond the point of muscular failure. These are techniques that force a working muscle to hypertrophy more quickly. Common methods used to push a muscle past failure include rest-pause, forced reps and descending sets. But what about burns?  I haven’t heard or read anything recently about them. Yet they are another excellent technique for pushing a muscle beyond the point of failure.

Let’s Talk About Burns!

Few highly competitive bodybuilders would argue. No doubt pushing past failure on 1-3 sets per body part is highly beneficial. It leads to quicker and greater muscle gains. It also improves muscle density and (to some extent) even vascularity. That’s certainly been the case for me over the last few years. Pushing beyond failure will bring me even greater gains in the future.

Don’t Over-Train!

Admittedly, there are a few bodybuilders who actually over-train if they push a single set past failure. This is because of vastly inferior recuperative ability. Such bodybuilders would be better off training to about 80-90% of failure. They should also use a low-set workout approach.

For those who can push beyond, there are several options.

Beyond Failure Techniques – Rest Pause

There’s a number of ways to use rest-pause. One of the most common is easy to use. Push your set to failure, then rack the bar. Count to 8-10, un-rack it, and knock out 2-3 reps. Rack it again. Count to 8-10 again.  Un-rack the bar and knock out 1-2 more reps.

Forced Reps

Another way of lessening the poundage is to have a training partner grasp the middle of the bar. As you’re failing, they pull or push upward with just enough force to allow you to get through the sticking point. That’s how you finish the rep. Normally, a maximum of 3-4 forced reps are done at the end of a set. The muscles are fatiguing at an accelerated rate. Therefore, any additional assisted reps would literally be wasted.

One Of Arnold’s Favorite Techniques

Quite a few bodybuilders have followed the lead set by Arnold. He used descending sets, which he called stripping sets. With this technique, loose plates are loaded in identical configurations on each end of the bar. The collars left off.

At the failure point, two training partners simultaneously strip off a predetermined number of plates. This allows you to continue your set for 3-4 more reps. A second, and sometimes a third weight drop can be made when doing a single set of descending poundage’s.

Obviously, this is a very intense way to induce hypertrophy. It should be followed by the more highly conditioned athletes in the sport. And only after a preconditioning period to enhance assimilation of the method.

Partners & Burns

While partners aren’t necessary for rest pause reps. They are essential for both forced reps and descending sets. The use of partners can set up some annoying situations. You need one partner for forced reps, usually two for descending sets. For burns, you need no partner at all. That’s one reason a champ will prefer to do burns to push a set past failure.

The term “burns” comes from the burning sensation you feel when you’re using the technique. It’s like a blowtorch blasting the area. Can you handle this type of physiologically induced pain? Then the greater will be your ultimate development each time you step onstage for competition.

Calf Raises – What A Exercise To Introduce The Technique!

I usually introduce a rising bodybuilder to burns by first placing him on a standing calf machine. I allow him to do two or three warm-up sets with progressively heavier weights.  I have him load up a stack that limits his set to 10-12 good, solid and complete reps. As soon as he fails to complete the last full rep, he goes into burns.

Use Them At Any Point Of The Exercise

Burns can be done either at the top, bottom or middle position of each movement. With standing calf raises it’s easier to do them in the bottom, fully stretched position. Keep tension on your calf muscles while maintaining straight legs and a firm upper body. Begin to bounce quickly up and down. Use a range of motion of 2-21/2 inches. Part of the impetus for this movement comes from the actual resiliency of the calf muscles as you bounce at the bottom. Part also comes from a very hard upward push. You’re trying to get up on your toes again on each bounce.

These short bounces are called burns. Your calves should begin to burn with the fire of Hades after only a few brief reps. You’ve gone to genuine failure prior to starting a set of burns? Then you probably won’t be able to do more than 10-12 burns beyond the failure point.

Done? Stretch!

When doing burns, particularly with calves, you should stretch the muscle vigorously as soon as you end the set. The quicker you start stretching, the more rapidly the pain will subside. That allows you to prepare for another set.

Other Uses Of Burns

On occasion I’ll use burns when I’m not actually trying to extend a set past failure. For example, if I’m after more quadriceps separation just prior to competing. I’ll do a few full, slow reps on leg extensions. Then I’ll spend a minute or more doing burns. I use a range of motion of two or three inches. I do it at the very top of the movement. Obviously, this can be very painful. Particularly if you do multiple sets with burns at the end of each one. But it’s also very productive in terms of bringing out the rips between and within the quadriceps muscles.

The same sort of application of burns can be done in the middle range of a movement. Either to advance a set past failure or to work on bringing out specific muscular details. I’ve used this approach extensively in this manner. I’m sure you will, too, once you’ve given burns a good trial in your own workouts


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