There's nothing like finishing off a workout with a muscle pump. You just trained hard and lifted some heavy weights, so you deserve to get your swole on. It's a reward for your hard work.
One of the best and easiest ways to get a pump is with a high-rep finisher. Choose an exercise and use a light weight that allows you to crush more than 20 reps. The results: an almost unbearable burn and a serious pump.
Although the pump gradually fades, it's been proven to stimulate muscle growth. According to research from hypertrophy (muscle growth) experts Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras, a muscle pump creates metabolic stress within the muscle. As byproducts from the repeated muscle contractions and blood pool in the muscle from the high reps, the muscle is forced to adapt and ultimately becomes larger. We covered how this process works in detail here.
When doing a high-rep finisher, set a rep goal above 20 and use a light weight that starts off feeling easy but becomes ridiculously difficult toward the end of the set. Sometimes you might need to take a quick break, and that's OK. But try to perform your reps consecutively to maximize your pump. Focus on getting a serious burn to the point of near failure, not on gradually trying to lift more weight like you do with your main lifts.
Below are five of our favorite high-rep finishers. There are many more exercises, but these work particularly well. All but one of the moves involve a resistance band, which we find particularly effective. Although light resistance is used, the accommodating resistance of the band challenges you throughout the full range of motion of each rep. If you don't have bands, you can swap in dumbbells or cables.
With the exception of an arm finisher superset that works both biceps and triceps, we advise sticking to only one high-rep finisher per workout. There are several set and rep schemes below for each exercise. Feel free to experiment and try different schemes for each exercise.
Banded Face Pulls
Face Pulls are one of the most popular high-rep finisher exercises. I first experienced them when using Jim Wendler's Beyond 5/3/1 program, which calls for doing a total of 100 reps taking as many breaks as needed—the fewer the better. It absolutely fried the backside of my shoulders and I also felt a solid pump in my traps. Since then, it's become one of my staple finishers, especially on a chest-focused day.
How to: Kneel on one knee and hold a band with your arms extended at eye level. Keeping your core tight, pull the band until your hands are at the side of your face. Your elbows should finish higher than your shoulders. Avoid extending through your lower back.
Reps: 100 - Your goal is to do 100 reps total, taking as few breaks as possible.
I picked this one up from John Rusin's Functional Hypertrophy Training Program. After a back workout that featured some heavy reps, this is a great way to get a serious burn in your pulling muscles, which isn't always easy to achieve.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a band with your arms extended at chest height. Pull your shoulders back to initiate the row and continue pulling to just under your chest. Squeeze your back on each rep.
If we are talking about getting a pump, it would be a crime not to mention the biceps. Banded Curls are a brutal way to light your biceps on fire and get blood flowing to your muscles. Since you're using a band, it's possible to knock out reps even when you have almost nothing left in the tank.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart on a resistance band. Hold the handles with your palms facing out. Perform a Biceps Curl, finishing with your elbows slightly forward at the top of the rep. Lower in control.
Sets/Reps: 2x30 + 1xMAX
Banded Tricep Pushdowns
Big and strong triceps make your arms look full and improve your pressing strength. That's why Rick Scarpulla has his athletes hammer their triceps at the end of two workouts per week.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your torso bent forward. Hold a band at shoulder height with your elbows at 90 degrees and palms facing down. Drive your arms straight down so they're perpendicular to the ground.
Frog Pumps are one of my new favorite exercises I learned from Contreras. They're a bit goofy looking and might get some stares if you do them in a gym, but they create a serious glute burn to finish off a lower-body workout.
How to: Lie on your back, bend your knees and position the bottom of your feet together. Drive your hips into a bridge position. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
Sets/Reps: 4x30 + 10-second hold on last rep
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