7 Ways to Feel the Burn Better

So you know that to get those sexy muscles on your wish list you need to burn ‘em up, right? Sure, your muscles may hate you in the moment, but ah, to look in the mirror and see that beautiful growth. Weight lifting – yes, that’s the ticket. In a rut? Not feeling it lately? Try these techniques to get the burn (and sexy muscles) you’ve always wanted.

1. Drop Sets

You’ll get quite a nice burn with drop sets, even in muscle groups you find hard to challenge. You will be sore tomorrow. Best done with weight you can switch quickly, like machines or dumbbells. Drops are such a nice way to polish off the muscle group you were just working. Start with a weight heavy enough so that you can do only two or three reps. Drop the weight 10-15% and do as many more reps as you can. Drop the weight another 10% and – you know what to do. Yes, the weight will be low, but the burn is going to make you grunt (and your gym mates steal glances enviously).

2. Giant Sets

I love doing giant sets for abs. For the oblique crunch, keep your feet in the air (legs bent) and rotate from side to side.

“Killing it” has new meaning when you complete a giant set. Here you work a single muscle group with three successive exercises, and yes, it burns. Pick three exercises for a muscle group, like shoulder presses, lateral raises, and reverse flyes. Next, figure out much weight you can do for each exercise (lighter than usual, please). Have your weights ready to go and start with the exercise with which you can lift the most. Do about 10 reps, then immediately complete the exercise with the next-most weight. Do the last exercise right after the second, then rest two to three minutes between sets. You may just be done working your shoulders after your third set.

3. Super Sets

I have copiously touted super sets in this blog and rely on them at least once every workout. Check out my Fast and Intense post for more info on this staple of weight lifting. I even wrote a post about doing super sets for a full-body routine.

4. 21’s

Ah, there’s something old-fashioned about 21’s that make them downright appealing. Here you do 21 reps of the same exercise without rest while hitting the muscle at different ranges of motion. Here’s an example: Grab a barbell or two dumbbells a little lighter than usual. Do seven reps of a bicep curl with arms extended to about 30 degrees. Immediately do seven more reps from the midrange (30 degrees) to about 60 degrees. Right after that, do seven full reps. You’ll be feeling your biceps, guaranteed (if not, increase the weight!). A variation includes doing only the uppermost range last instead of the full range. 21’s are also great for triceps press downs! Sigh… I love 21’s.

5. Pyramids

Everyone should use pyramids to burn the muscle. Again, it’s nice to do pyramids with dumbbells or machines so that you can add/strip weight easily. Start with high reps and a low weight. Do enough reps to feel it (say 20), then immediately switch to a higher weight (uh, yes, you’ll do fewer reps this time). Add more weight and even fewer reps still. By the time you add the last weight, you should only be able to do one to six reps, depending on your ability. If you really want to torture your muscles into submission, go right back down the pyramid, similar to drop sets, without resting.

6. Negatives

Are you ready for this one? Negatives stimulate muscle fibers you don’t normally hit when you’re doing traditional reps. Grab a dumbbell (or barbell) that is about 10% heavier than your 1 rep max. You may need a spotter to do this. With help from your spotter, hold the weight at the end of the rep instead of the beginning (for example, at the top for a bicep curl). Hold the weight at the top for a few seconds and then slowly lower the weight, for a total of about six to 10 seconds. Take note: You aren’t just letting the weight go down on its own – you’re actively resisting it all the way down. I suggest doing these at the beginning of your workout, if that tells you anything.

7. Partials

I’ve used partials a few times when I couldn’t get past a certain weight. With this technique, you move the weight through a partial range of motion instead of the entire range of motion. This allows you to work through your “sticking point,” that place that is weakest in the muscle’s range of motion. For example, say you have trouble moving to a higher weight on your squats, and at a certain point, you have trouble moving upwards (this has never happened to me, no siree, ahem). Find a power rack and place the pins near the top of the range of motion, then only move through a very limited range of motion for amazing, muscle-building tension. I’ve done partials for chest exercises, too, and was able to increase my overall lifting weight after doing partials a few times. Be sure to complete a couple of full-range reps after partials and stretch afterwards too.

There are plenty more weight training techniques to choose from – this is just a start. But I think at least a few of these should keep you busy for awhile. Let me know how you like the better burn!

18 thoughts on “7 Ways to Feel the Burn Better

  1. Though I have practiced and punished myself 🙂 with all of these techniques, I still think the best way to get deep deep deep inside a muscles is with that good old fashioned technique called CONCENTRATION. When one is mentally connected to the body-part(s) in question, and seeks to feel them thoroughly, and can blcok out all other thoughts and all exterior sensory, the workout is just in another place — the zone as it were.


    • Agreed, no one talks about concentrating on the muscle contraction, the specific muscle you’re working, and what it actually feels like. I think we take it for granted that it takes being 100% in the present to effectively build muscle. Thanks for reminding us, and – it looks like you have another post up so I’ll be visiting soon.


  2. Love the explanation of the various lifting combinations. Being relatively new to lifting (after a 20 year break!) I loving finding ways to get the burn without the boredom. Haven’t tried 21’s yet though…they may be next on my list! Thanks for the insight!


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