Extended Set Methods - Part I: Upper Body

Extended Set Methods – Part I: Upper Body a few years back, I wrote an article about Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets; and have yet to write anything, to this day, that has generated more of a response. It seems that people really enjoyed the information, and couldn’t get enough of the concept.

This is going to be a quick and dirty pseudo-sequel; that offers you a bunch of cool exercises you can utilize at your whim. Not all of them are technically ‘Mechanical Advantage’ exercises; I’m going to open the flood gates here to a bunch of good methods to, in short, extend a set beyond failure. Mix a few into your current program to terrorize a lagging body part, get nuts and use them all at once, use them when you’re bored, hell, call an audible and pull one out when a cute girl strolls by you at the gym. I’m sure she’s paying attention. Or, maybe she’s looking at you thinking “It’s Under Armour, jackass, not Over Armour”. Either way, this can only raise your stakes.

Mechanical Advantage dropsets describe a concept brought to the forefront years ago by Charles Poliquin. It describes changing the body position, grip orientation, or some other factor, that takes an exercise from a weak biomechanical position to a strong biomechanical position.

This allows the trainee to fully exhaust a larger number of muscle fibers instead of terminating the set. Traditional methods for this include training to muscular failure, or beyond failure with the help of a spotter.

Personally, I hate training to failure. Concentric failure, eccentric failure, form failure, all of it. To me, it’s an overused method that seems to have manifested from inadequate pack males attempting to achieve a state of pain and fatigue replicated only with a severe baseball bat clubbing. This severe trauma for some reason has a psychological link to workout efficacy in the mind of the masses. I suppose it is fairly invigorating, your partner announces their lack of contribution as they lift most of the weight for you, simultaneously commenting on your incredible ‘baby trapped under a car’ super strength when throwing up that last rep. Sure, you shit your pants, but who cares? It was all you, and your intensity is damn near inhuman. Guess what…if you don’t exceed that same workload next workout, and again the following workout, you’re stagnating at best.

When it comes down to it, how much weight you lift, or how many reps you wretch out today doesn’t matter. It’s how much, or how many more you perform next workout that really matters. Driving yourself to failure and beyond invoking forced reps; workout after workout is an archaic method for achieving long term progress.

What makes more sense, although requiring far less high five-ing and grunting, is striving for continued progress over the long term, and staying 1-2 reps shy of failure. Not convinced? A recent well designed study in the Journal of Applied Physiology (January 2006) took a good look at this exact theory. When comparing groups of males that trained to failure vs. not training to failure, they gained almost exactly the same strength and muscular endurance comparatively. Interestingly, the group not training to failure even performed better in lower body power output testing than the failure group at the end of the experiment. It gets better…after looking at hormonal profiles, the group not training to failure showed reduced concentrations in resting cortisol and increased serum total testosterone!

So, why work harder than necessary and increase your chance of injury? Just like my math teacher never told me, I would rather work smarter.

That’s exactly what these methods are about, extending a set for optimal muscular fatigue, and working smarter. That being said, these methods are more taxing than traditional training, so ensure proper recovery. Specifically, proper during/post workout nutrition, sleep, antioxidants, controlling inflammation through dietary methods, stress, stretching, and watching Reno 911.


How the exercises work:

You’ll start the exercise with a weight you would normally use to complete 6-8 reps in good form. Leaving 1-2 reps ‘in the hole’ (as in, you could have done 1-2 more with good form), you’ll then switch to the 2nd phase of the exercise (with 0-5 seconds rest as indicated) and continue your set for as many reps as possible, always maintaining good form. Still, it’s a good idea to leave one in the hole. You should look to add 3-10 extra reps during the 2nd phase, depending on the exercise and your specific strengths/weaknesses.

Below are the exercises, marked by phases, including any tips you might need to know for successful completion.



1 Arm Cable Preacher Curl

Pronated Grip Preacher Cable Curl (1)

Supinated Grip Preacher Cable Curl (2)


Be sure to lower your arm to full extension against the bench at the bottom of each rep.

After performing 6-8 reps with your palm down, supinate your grip (flip the handle over) and keep going with no rest.


EZ Curl-

Pronated Grip EZ Curl (1)

Supinated Grip EZ Curl (2)


Depending on your bi-acromial width/comfort, grab the EZ curl bar either narrow or wide with your palms down (reverse curls). Perform 6-8 reps, set the bar down on the ground, rest 5 seconds, and continue the set with your palms up.


Extended Wrist EZ Curl-

Extended Wrist EZ Curl (1)

Neutral Wrist EZ Curl (2)


Curl the bar with your wrists dropped down as far as you can extend them. Keep them this way the entire time for 6-8 reps, then flex your wrists back to neutral and continue the set with no rest.


Incline Curl-

Offset/Supinated Incline Curl (1)

Hammer Grip Incline Curl (2)


Lie back on an incline bench at about 40 degrees. Grab the inside half of 2 dumbbells and perform incline curls, keeping the elbows behind the body the entire time. After 6-8 reps, sit up and rest the dumbbells on your thighs for 5 seconds, then continue the set with a hammer grip.




Decline Extension-

Supinated Grip Decline Extension (1)

Pronated Grip Decline Extension (2)


Hold the bar with your palms facing you on a decline bench, lower the bar to the top of your head and back to start. After 6-8 reps, sit up, rest the bar on your legs and flip your grip over so that your palms will be facing away from you the rest of the set.


Incline Pressdown

Supinated Grip Incline Pressdown (1)
Pronated Grip Incline Pressdown (2)


Set the incline bench to about 60 degrees. By using a bench as opposed to performing this standing, it eliminates body english and minimizes cheating. Keep the elbows locked at the sides, and perform pressdowns with palms facing up. Be sure to raise the bar all the way up so that the forearm can’t go any higher without the elbow coming away from the body. No stopping at 90 degrees. After 6-8 reps, lower the weight stack and flip your grip over, no rest, keep going.



Chest Dip (1)
Triceps Dip (1)


Start out with elbows flared, leaning as far forward as possible. You should attempt to raise the body up so that you are almost performing a parallel dip. Weight should be on front of hands, by the thumb and index finger. Perform 6-8 full range dips, lowering your body down as far as it will go. Then, tuck your elbows and posture yourself more upright, keeping the weight on the back of your palm towards the pinky side…perform as many more reps as possible with no rest.


Overhead Extension

Supinated Overhead Extension (1)

Pronated Overhead Extension (2)


Perform exactly as you did the decline extension, only standing. The angle of the arm from the body changes the recruitment pattern of the exercise.


Narrow Grip Extension/Half Press

Pronated Narrow Grip Extension (1)

Pronated Narrow Grip Partial Overhead Press (2)

Pronated Narrow Grip Partial Overhead Press (3)


Grab the EZ curl bar narrow with palms up, and perform 6-8 overhead extensions. Only leave 1 rep in the hole, you can come close to failure on this one. Then, flare the elbows out to the sides, and perform a narrow grip overhead press from the head level up. Take a 1 second pause at the head, then press to just before lockout. This is still for the triceps, so don’t try to use your shoulders.

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Dumbbell Flye/Press

Dumbbell Flye (1)

Dumbbell Press (2)


Simply perform a traditional neutral grip flye for 6-8 reps, then pronate your grip, and turn the exercise into a dumbbell bench press until just shy of failure. No rest inbetween.


Incline Varying Degree Press

Incline Varying Degree Press (1))

Incline Varying Degree Press (2)

Incline Varying Degree Press (3)


Set an adjustable bench to about 70 degrees, and perform 6-8 incline presses. Lower the bench to about 40 degrees, and immediately perform as many more reps as possible (leaving 2 in the hole). Lower the bench a final time to about 20 degrees, and perform as many more as possible. You can also have a partner lower the bench as you sit forward resting the DB’s on your thighs, resting 5 seconds between drops.



Kneeling Straight Arm Pulldown/Standing Row

Kneeling Straight Arm Pulldown Start (1)

Kneeling Straight Arm Pulldown Finish (1)

Standing Cable Pulldown Start (2)

Standing Cable Pulldown Finish (2)


Drive the weight with your elbows, and try to force the chest upward throughout the movement. Mimimze tricep involvement. If triceps are fatiguing from this, stretch them statically first. After 6-8 reps, stand up and perform cable rows to the neck with no rest in between.


Prone Incline Flye/Row

Prone Incline Flye (1)

Prone Incline Flye (1)


Pretty self explanatory on this one. Keep your movements the exact opposite (inverse) to the chest flye/press from above.


Incline 1 Arm Row

Pronated Grip Incline 1 Arm Row (1)

Neutral Grip Incline 1 Arm Row (2)


Row the weight up and towards the hip, first with elbow flared and pronated grip for 6-8, then with elbow tucked and neutral grip to finish.


Lat Pulldown

Pronated Grip Lat Pulldown (1)

Supinated/Medium Grip Lat Pulldown (2)


Start with a medium-wide grip and palms facing away. Pull the bar to the clavicle, maintain a slight lean and tight arch in the back. Keep torso motionless, no swaying. After 6-8 reps, lower the weight, rest 5 seconds, and grab the bar with your palms facing you and a medium-narrow grip.




Overhead Flye/Press

Neutral Grip Seated Overhead Flye Start (1)

Neutral Grip Seated Overhead Flye Finish (1)

Pronated Grip Seated Overhead Press Start (2)

Pronated Grip Seated Overhead Press Finish(2)


This is performed just like a chest flye, but done overhead. Dip the elbows just below horizontal at the bottom of each rep, and arc them together at the top. After 6-8 reps, switch to a pronated grip, and perform traditional overhead presses to finish the set.


Incline 1 Arm Lateral Raise

Incline 1 Arm Lateral Raise Start (1)

Incline 1 Arm Lateral Raise Finish (1)


Lie on a 30 degree incline, and raise the dumbbell straight up, terminate slightly before the dumbbell/arm hits the vertical plane barrier. After 6-8 reps, stand up and walk around the bench, support the body with the non-working arm and perform standing lateral raises. Keep the elbow slightly bent and the dumbbell path slightly in front of the body.


Overhead Press/Push Press

Standing Overhead Press (1))

Split Stance Push Press (2)


Perform traditional standing overhead presses with feet parallel. After 6-8 reps, split the stance, and perform push presses to finish the set.

Enjoy! Use these intelligently and judiciously and you should expect serious new strength and growth in the areas applied.

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