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Better Muscle Tone with Burnout Sets

Q: Is it beneficial to do burnout sets at the end of a workout? A friend told me that they help to build muscle.


If your goal is to increase muscular development then yes, performing a light “burnout” set at the end of a heavy training session may well have benefits. Research shows that the inclusion of a burnout set in a multi-set strength-training routine produces significantly greater increases in muscle cross-sectional area than a routine not including burnouts.

Although the exact reasons are not fully understood, it is believed that the technique elicits greater fatigue of muscle fibers, thereby enhancing muscular adaptation. Moreover, there may be additional growth-related benefits brought about by increased production of metabolites, particularly lactate. Intramuscular lactate buildup facilitates various anabolic processes, including acute spikes in growth hormone production and cell swelling. All things considered, it can be a powerful technique for enhancing muscle tone.

The best way to implement burnouts is in the context of a split routine, where multiple sets are performed for a specific muscle group. Here’s how to go about it: let’s say you just worked your thighs with several sets of squats, lunges, and leg extensions. Upon completion of your last set, you would perform an additional set of a given leg exercise with approximately 50 percent of your one-rep maximum (the most weight you can lift at one time). You must try to push past the burn, repping out until the point of momentary muscular failure. A single burnout set is all that’s needed to produce results.

Now before you attempt to apply the technique in your workouts, a few words of caution. First, burnouts are an advanced training technique and are generally not advisable for beginners. Don’t attempt them if you have less than about six months of training experience, as they’ll likely exceed your body’s threshold for efficient tissue remodeling.

Second, be careful to avoid utilizing burnouts too frequently. The fatiguing nature of the technique substantially increases the potential for overtraining, which can bring about a host of negative consequences and actually impair muscular development. It’s best to cycle their use over the course of your workout regimen. This can be accomplished in numerous ways, including alternating their inclusion every other week or employing them in a block of several weeks, then abstaining for a given period of time.

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on training for muscle development and fat loss. He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on various exercise- and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of multiple fitness books including The M.A.X. Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), which has been widely referred to as the “muscle-building bible” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge, body-sculpting program targeted to women. Brad also has authored the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text devoted to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. In total, Brad’s books have sold over a half-million copies. For more information, visit For more information, visit