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Nobody plans to have a bad workout, but sometimes you get distracted, you can’t use the equipment you wanted to or, try as you might, your strength and muscle pump just aren’t up to snuff. As you grind out the final reps, you realize, "My workout sucked." Stay where you are. Never leave the gym knowing you performed poorly. Help is on the way. Your lackluster workout can be rescued if you immediately administer a stinger.
A stinger is a final sharp jolt of activity. If done correctly, it can resuscitate your bland training and turn a left-for-dead workout into a unique growing experience. The following eight stingers are the best emergency care for a faltering workout. Using any of these, you can leave the gym with a feeling of accomplishment, knowing you went to the brink.
1: GO HIGH
If you get to the end of a workout and feel as if you need to do something more to tax your muscles, simply finish your last exercise by grinding out as many reps as you can. However, instead of doing 40 reps with the same weight (in which case, at least the first 30 reps will be low intensity), for example, we recommend descending sets, wherein you do several sets in a row of approximately eight to 12 reps with a progressively lighter weight. So, you might do 10 reps of side laterals with 40-pound dumbbells, followed immediately by 10 reps with 30s, 10 reps with 25s and 10 final reps with 20s, pushing each of these descending sets to failure.
2: MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Sometimes, to rescue an otherwise dying workout, the best medicine is something new. Consider the exercises you’ve just performed, and then pick an exercise for that bodypart that is as far removed as possible from those exercises. For example, if all of your calf exercises were performed on machines — as is typical — do a final set of high-rep one-leg calf raises while holding a dumbbell.
If you did only free-weight biceps exercises, use a curl machine. It is often effective to end with the most compound exercise possible, such as doing dips after isolation triceps lifts — thus the previous exercises pre-exhaust the bodypart before the final compound lift. Two sets of 12-15 reps of the extra exercise should be sufficient to shock your muscles without overtraining them.
3: BEGIN AGAIN
Often, a workout that starts strong ends weak. If you are at or near your strength peak for your first exercise but your intensity and focus fizzle for subsequent lifts during a workout, return to your initial exercise at the end. If, for example, you bench pressed heavy, followed by incline presses, dumbbell flyes and pec-deck flyes, conclude your workout with a stinger set of 12-15 reps of bench presses. You will generally find that such a strategy boosts your pump while it re-accustoms your muscles to the range of motion and strength of your initial lift.
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4: BE QUICK
For a stinger set, rapid reps can give you a fulfilling final pump. For safety, pick an isolation exercise. For example, do leg extensions instead of squats, and do triceps pushdowns instead of “skull crushers.” Pump out reps at approximately twice your normal speed and maintain good form. Aim for approximately 15 full reps. When you can’t do another, perform partial reps until you reach complete failure. Speed reps are often utilized by competitors pumping up backstage. That kind of rep is the quickest way to bring blood to your targeted muscles.
5: FILL 'ER UP
An alternative strategy for rescuing a lackluster workout is to direct your focus away from the previously targeted bodypart(s). Chris Cook advocates what he calls “fill sets” to bring up weaker bodyparts. These are two to four 12- to 20-rep sets used to pump up a lagging bodypart on a day that bodypart would typically be resting. Such a quick extra pump can aid recovery and growth.
Say you want to bring up your biceps. Two or three days subsequent to your arm workout and on a day when you’ve just trained another bodypart, do curls for two sets of 20 reps, focusing purely on getting a quick biceps pump. Fill sets can be included as a regular part of your training, or you can use them as a stinger on a day when a workout sputters.
6: STRIKE A POSE
Posing after training has long been a popular method for champion bodybuilders to expand upon the iron pumping they just completed. Posing is essentially isometric contracting, and it’s an excellent way to target specific muscles or parts of muscles. Even if you have no intention of ever doing a front double-biceps pose onstage, you can still benefit by simply flexing at the end of your workout. Take five minutes to repeatedly flex the muscle(s) you just worked with weights.
As you reach the end of a disappointing workout, you might think you missed your chance to up the intensity, but you can still infuse a last-minute double-barreled attack. Do a single superset during which you push each of the two exercises beyond failure. For example, for quads, perform a descending set of leg extensions, reducing the weight each time you cannot do another rep. Immediately after that, do leg presses, pushing the set beyond failure with either descending sets, forced reps or partial reps.
8: THINK SMALL
For a stinger, you may want to focus on a specific area of a bodypart. For example, as an addendum to your chest workout, do a superset of incline flyes followed by incline presses, both of which target the upper chest. For medial deltoids, you could superset side laterals with wide-grip upright rows. Pick a specific area and prioritize it with a final rapid dose of high-rep high-intensity work.
IN CLOSING: FEEL THE STING
Never leave the gym knowing you failed to get at least a good workout, if not a great one. You can rescue a faltering training session with a concluding jolt of intense but brief work. Stress high reps and go for the burn. Don’t give up too quickly. With a stinger as your training lifeline, any workout can be rescued. – FLEX