Make Your Arms Burn with This 6-Exercise Circuit

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

The pushup is the consummate bodyweight exercise: You need stability from head to toe to hold the position, and “you have to rely on every muscle in your chest, back, and arms to work in unison—which is why it starts to burn even after just a few reps,” says Muscle Morphosis Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., author of Turbulence Training.   But for a move so good, the pushup can be a potential roadblock. “People often hit a wall with the number of pushups they can do in one set and assume that they can’t use the exercise to build upper-body strength and size,” Ballantyne says. “So they move on to heavi...

The pushup is the consummate bodyweight exercise: You need stability from head to toe to hold the position, and “you have to rely on every muscle in your chest, back, and arms to work in unison—which is why it starts to burn even after just a few reps,” says Muscle Morphosis Ballantyne, C.S.C.S., author of Turbulence Training.  

But for a move so good, the pushup can be a potential roadblock. “People often hit a wall with the number of pushups they can do in one set and assume that they can’t use the exercise to build upper-body strength and size,” Ballantyne says. “So they move on to heavier exercises, like the bench press.”  

That’s why Ballantyne recommends doing pushups in what’s called a drop set. With each round of the exercise you perform, you drop the number of reps you have to do.  

"This allows you to exceed the amount of reps you would ordinarily perform because as your muscles get more tired, the volume of work you have to do gets smaller,” he says. “That way, you can perform all of your reps with maximum intensity.”

Ballantyne also recommends adding in noncompetitive moves—exercises that hit different muscle groups—between sets to keep your heart rate up and your metabolism revved.

Before you begin, find out how many pushups you can do with perfect form in one set without resting. That's your max. You'll use it to determine how many pushups to perform in each set of the circuit. For example: If you can do 20 pushups in a row, 75 percent of your max would be 15. 

Here's how to do it: Do each exercise back to back without rest. When you reach the end of the circuit, rest for 60 seconds before repeating. Perform the 6-move circuit 3 times total for a complete, upper-body blasting workout.

1. Bodyweight squat - 20 reps

2. Pushup - 75 percent of max

3. Inverted row - 15 reps

4. Pushups - 50 percent of max

5. Prisoner squat - 10 reps

6. Pushup - 25 percent of max