Who ever said that fat loss is impossible without cardio? According to scientific research, no aspect of fat loss is more exaggerated and overrated than cardio and it’s clearly evident that excessive cardio is detrimental to muscle mass. But why force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy (let’s face it, only a tiny minority of gym-goers is able to actually enjoy their cardio sessions) when there are others, far more effective ways to burn off stubborn pockets of body fat and boost your muscle gains at the same time?
Recent studies show that by simply adding high-intensity finisher sets to your workout you can achieve dramatic fat loss without ever having to perform endless sessions of cardio which undoubtedly increase your risk of losing precious muscle mass. In fact, you don’t even have to add any extra work to your routine – all you have to do is optimize your final sets and make them as brutal as possible. Read all about it in this article!
The beauty of finisher sets
A finisher is a very intense exercise or series of exercises performed at the end of the workout. Their one and only purpose is to make sure that you’ve pushed yourself a step beyond your limits and spent every last drop of gas from the tank – a process that only a few masochists would call fun, but as soon as it’s over, you’re bound to get a rush of satisfaction from being so ‘tough’ back there.
Intensity is the key to fat loss – when you opt to crush the final set of an exercise instead of performing it in a traditional way, you get multiple benefits, including accelerated fat burning. One study which compared the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and endurance training on young people found that the HIIT group lost around 9 times more fat than the traditional endurance training group. A similar study that inspected the differences between an average weight training program and a high-intensity resistance training program, found that the subjects who performed the latter had a 450% greater fat loss in the 24-hour post-workout window, even though their session was shorter and included less volume than the traditional program.
What these two and many other studies have revealed is that by simply taking your final sets to the extreme, you can substantially boost fat loss while retaining muscle mass, thereby improving both your muscle size and definition with the help of the same workout. How great is that? Not only that you don’t have to force yourself to go running every morning, you get to do all the work necessary for a chiseled, lean physique in one single trip to the gym.
There are many great ways to optimize your final sets and increase their fat burning power. Below we’ve listed 4 sure-fire techniques you should employ to maximize the fat-loss benefits of your training sessions!
This advanced method is nothing new to the weight lifting world – it has been utilized by pro lifters and gym rats alike for many decades now. Rest-pause training is great for many things: it’s an ideal way to increase your strength and bust through training plateaus; allows you to lift heavier weight for more reps, thereby hammering the muscles and causing a great metabolic stress that contributes to better growth; it keeps you lean by promoting the body’s ability to burn off fat. In the bodybuilding community, the rest-pause method is considered as an effective way to fatigue the muscle fibers more deeply and stimulate a greater force production than you would during a straight set.
Rest-pause training is best used during accumulation phases when the goal is muscle hypertrophy and endurance gains. By incorporating this type of highly intensive training into your routine, you can easily tone your muscles while maximizing their strength and size. That being said, the use of rest-pause sets is most suitable on assistance lifts, not the main ones.
- Pick a weight where you can perform 10 reps with proper form.
- Go to failure on your last set.
- Take a 15-second break.
- Perform another set to failure (aiming to pull off 5 reps).
- Take another 15-second break.
- Perform a final set to failure (aiming to pull off 3 reps).
- As your training response improves, reduce the amount of rest time between the mini sets.
2. Cluster Sets
Cluster sets are those sets in which the main sets are broken into several parts, divided by built-in, short rest periods (no more than 20 seconds), and they serve the purpose of upping the intensity of the workout and allowing you to achieve more volume in less time. Since they are more intensive than traditional straight sets, they promote bigger size and strength gains. The short rest periods help you lift more total weight than you’d lift otherwise, resulting with a optimized anabolic stimulus. The resulting metabolic stress will not only trigger optimal muscle growth, but amplify fat loss as well. Compared to rest-pause training, cluster sets are known as more of a strength technique focused on building power instead of maximizing fatigue.
So for example, instead of doing a straight set of 12 reps, you would do a set of 4+4+4 reps with very short rest periods in between each intra-set. As you can imagine, this set up leaves room for many combinations of weight and volume, all of which offer multidimensional benefits. By manipulating rep pattern and rest duration, you can accelerate your progress and achieve the desired results a lot faster.
- On the last set of your main lift, instead of doing 10 straight reps, perform as many intra-sets of 3 reps as you possibly can, taking 20 seconds of rest between each.
- To make it more brutal, set a timer for 5 minutes and perform as many cluster sets as possible, dropping the number of reps per set when necessary.
3. Drop sets
Drop sets are a popular technique used by many bodybuilders to increase strength and maximize hypertrophy in a short amount of time. The technique essentially involves performing an exercise until failure, then reducing the weight by 10-30% in order to continue for more reps until you reach failure again. The process can be repeated as many times as you’d like, but studies show that 3 drops are all you need to achieve top results because pushing it too far can make you a victim of over-training and even injury. Drop sets allow you to hit more muscle fibers than traditional sets, thereby inducing deeper hypertrophy and greater muscle growth.
By integrating drop sets into your regular program, you will be able to put on the size you dream about in a shorter period of time. A general rule of thumb is to perform drop sets with one exercise per body part.
- Take your final set to technical failure.
- Immediately drop the weight by 20-25% and perform as many reps as possible before reaching failure again.
- Drop the weight by an additional 20-25% and rep out again.
4. 50-rep sets
The method of performing 50-rep and 100-rep sets of a compound exercise with a predetermined percentage of your bodyweight is a staple of old school bodybuilding programs – this type of tough training increases the density of cell’s mitochondria and the oxidative capacity of fast-twitch fibers, enabling you to optimize the results of your workout and build killer mass while enhancing the metabolic rate and further accentuating the fat loss benefits of weight training. The main reason for this is that high-intensity high-volume work targets the red and grey muscle fibers that normally don’t get stimulated by weight training.
Basically, you’d want to start with a weight that’s 40-60% of your 1RM which should allow you to struggle through 50 reps with proper form. If at any point your technique and form deteriorate or you lose the range of motion, you should stop there and rest for 15 seconds. By the end of the 50 reps, you will be completely exhausted and feel your muscles tightened and boiling with blood. Not only will this jump-start new growth and help you break plateaus, but it can allow you to train around existing injuries as the lighter weight won’t put as much pressure on the joints. However, because of the high volume, you should perform 50-rep sets only once per week, while focusing on proper rest and recovery and eating well in the days between sessions.
- After finishing your last work set, reduce the weight by 40% and aim to perform 25 reps.
- Take a 15-second break.
- Perform as many reps as you can.
- Take another 15-second break.
- Continue like this until you get a total of 50 reps.
- As you training response improves, progress to 100-rep sets.