Burn sets, or burn out sets, can be a very divisive muscle building tool. When talk turns to their usage a solid percentage of lifters chime in with excitement about how much they love burn sets. On the other side of the fence, a good portion of lifters want to know how they could possibly be beneficial since they do not involve “conventional” hypertrophy rep ranges.
If you choose to use burn out sets then understand the perils that come with them. You might be confronted by people telling you they are worthless. No surprise there, huh? We all know how that goes.
The obvious next question is: are burn our sets a useful muscle building tool? Let’s take a look.
Do Burn Out Sets Build Muscle?
Before we explore if burn out sets work, we must define what a burn out set is.
- Burn Set – Also called a burn out set, burn sets are higher rep sets generally performed at the end of a bodypart workout. They usually involve anywhere from 15 reps to 100 reps, and can be performed as continuous reps, or in rest-pause fashion. Where a series of drop sets involve lighter and lighter weights with little to no rest, burn sets are generally performed using the same amount of resistance.
A burn out set is used to “totally destroy an already fatigued muscle”, depleting it as much as possible of any last glycogen and giving it every reason to grow. Some might call this voodoo, but once you’ve given burn sets a try, they are hard to set aside.
Burn sets are intense and exhilarating. They are the muscle building equivalent of skydiving or extreme sports. You are in so much pain – sweating and cringing – and loving every minute of it.
Do they work? Do they actually help build more muscle? Well let’s first dismiss the myth that you can only build muscle by using 5 to 12, or 5 to 15 reps per set.
Tom Platz was known to squat and perform leg extensions for extended periods of time. We all know how well that worked for his leg development. Matt Kroczaleski is well known for his “Kroc Rows”, which are very high rep one arm dumbbell rows. He certainly is no slouch when it comes to muscle mass.
But we all know this is faulty logic. Just because these 2 amazing lifters use a form burn sets doesn’t mean they will be useful for everyone.
As with any tool in the muscle building realm it is best to try burn out sets and decide for yourself. If you like them, use them. If you don’t, pretend they don’t exist.
Muscle building isn’t life or death. Do what you enjoy, especially with regards to the last 10% of your workout when the hard work (and most of the muscle building) has already been done.
How To Use Burn Out Sets
As stated, burn out sets can run anywhere from 15 to 100 reps. They can be performed rest-pause style or as a straight set.
If you are performing them rest-pause, try to limit rest as much as possible. Only rest long enough to catch your breath and your senses, or for the muscle pain or pump to dissipate slightly.
The max rest you probably want to take is 10-15 seconds between reps. If you have to rest any longer than this than you should probably stop the set.
So to recap, here are the burn out set “rules”:
- Last – Use burn sets at the end of a bodypart workout, or end of a fullbody or upper/lower split workout.
- Sets – Use no more than 1-2 burn out sets per bodypart. One should be fine, but occasionally – when you have the energy – two can be a blast.
- Reps – While you can go with anywhere from 15 to 100 reps per burn set, 30 to 50 reps seems to be a nice sweet spot.
- Exercises – It’s best to use exercises that won’t get you injured, and that are easy to load and unload the weight. For example, performed a bench press burn out set can get a little hairy when you are highly fatigued. You will also experience a high degree of form breakdown, which can be hard on the shoulders.
- Rest-Pause – Burn sets can be performed with no rest at all, or with slight pauses up to 10-15 seconds between reps.
- Resistance – Add weight when it makes sense. If a burn set feels too easy, slightly increase the resistance.
Chest Workout Example
This is a sample chest workout that utilizes a burn out set at the end.
- Bench Press – 3×4 sets x 6×12 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3×4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Hammer Strength Press – 3×4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Pec Dec – 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Pec Dec (Burn Set) – 1 set x 40 total reps, rest-pause style.
Bicep Workout Example
This is a sample bicep workout that utilizes a burn out set at the end.
- Barbell Curls - 3×4 sets x 6×12 reps
- Seated Dumbbell Curls - 3×4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Cable Preacher Curls - 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Cable Preacher Curls (Burn Set) – 1 set x 40-50 total reps, rest-pause style.
Final Notes on Burn Sets
If you are working above 40 reps per set, it is best to use a weight that allows for at least 15-20 continuous reps before you need a rest. Anything less than that is probably too heavy.
When working with 40-50 set burn outs, add weight when you are able to:
- Perform the set with relative ease.
- Can perform the first 25 reps without stopping.