It's quiz time: What's the part of the workout that currently provides you the least benefit, but could be giving you the most? If you answered, "The end of the session," you win. Yay, you.
The last exercise or set of your workout has the potential to make the biggest difference. However, it's also the part that most people casually brush off like dandruff. Your workout probably doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper... and not the good, satisfied kind of whimper, either.
If we looked at a common training session, it might look something like this:
Bench press 5x5
Close-grip bench press 4x10
Pin press 3x15
Miscellaneous extra triceps work, which includes pointing at cardio bunnies, flexing at the water fountain, and leaning against the Smith machine (with alternating arms, of course).
How can you make sure the intensity is cranked up, not down, at the conclusion of your workout? How can we make sure it's a grand finale, not just a sputtering anti-climax?
Man up and try some of the following challenges. They can coax the last bit of strength out of anyone. They're quick, they're wicked, and you can finally prove that you're tougher than your buddies. Well, we can, maybe not you.
Plate Press Pyramid
Right next to the flat bench, stack one plate of each size, from 5 pounds to 45 pounds (you should have five plates lying there). The lifter's going to be pressing them, the spotter's going to be handing them off.
The lifter first presses the 45-pound plate from chest to full lockout for 20 reps. He's immediately handed the 35-pounder, which he does for another 20 reps. Repeat with the 25, the 10, the 5... and then go back up the pyramid, doing the 10, 25, 35, and 45. It's 20 reps with each plate.
If you're spotting, try grabbing the plates from the hole in the middle instead of the edge, so you can trade plates more quickly. When you're lifting, press the lighter weights as fast as possible; don't use them as a rest. If the whole thing gets easy, go up and down the pyramid twice.
You'll need to make a quick stop at the lumber store on the way to the gym to grab three 2x4s. The lifter loads the bar with 25% of his flat bench press one rep max (1RM), and the spotter stands at his feet, ready with the boards in hand.
The lifter does a standard flat bench press for 7 reps, and then the spotter immediately places one board on the lifter's chest. Without breaking the rep count, the lifter does 7 reps to the board.
The spotter places a second board on top of the first, and the lifter continues for 7 more reps on the two-board press. Lastly, the spotter places the third board on top, and the lifter does 7 final reps.
This works especially well with lifters who've done board pressing before, since they're more familiar with the subtle shifts in elbow posture that help make pressing easier as boards are added.
If you don't get all 28 reps (from no board going up to the three-board), reduce the weight by 20% and try again. Keep going until you finish a full set, or until you can't do the empty bar for 28 reps. At that point, you have to walk to the water fountain and back with your fly down. Hey, I don't make the rules here, but it's international lifting law.
Navy SEAL Push-up Pyramid
Fine, I don't know any SEALs, but I bet they'd kick ass at this!
Start in a push-up position. Do 1 rep, pause at the top for two seconds, do 2 reps, pause for two seconds, do 3 reps, pause for two seconds. Try to get up to 10 reps, and then work your way back down.
If you can't make it to 10 reps, work up to 7 and then down, or 4 and then down. The winner is the guy who gets up to the highest number and makes it back to 1 rep. Be strict!
Put 50% of your flat bench press 1RM on the bar, and lower it to your chest. Start pressing it up, but have your spotter stop it when it's about 2-inches above your chest – keep pushing against his palm for 10 seconds (he counts, not you, speedy.)
Then press it up a little more, to 6-inches off your chest (or your usual sticking point), and have him stop it there again. Press against his palms for another 10 seconds. At this point, you'll be too busy swearing to count. Then lock it out completely and hold it at lockout for as long as possible. Winner has the longest time at lockout.
Grab a 45-pound plate and do a front delt raise for 20 reps, bringing each rep up until you can see through the hole in the middle of the plate.
Immediately after the 20 reps, tip the plate up so it's horizontal to the floor. Press overhead for 20 reps, going from chin to full extension. Be careful not to clip your chin with the plate as you get fatigued, or you'll realize why it's called the accent-spoiler.
Hold that last rep at lockout overhead for time – no moving your feet once you start. Our gym record is just over four minutes.
Had Enough Yet?
There's no new science or black magic here. As the saying goes, these are simple, but not easy. You'll do extra work, you'll make progress, and it'll feel like a game while you're doing it. Of course, afterwards, it'll feel like hell – but the "good" hell filled with meatheads like us and plenty of women to massage our DOMS-afflicted arms.