The quest to be your best requires pushing yourself harder and farther than you ever thought you could go, both in and out of the gym. It means finding new ways to test your limits and dig deeper into your pool of willpower, strength and courage.
A biceps workout was on the menu last Friday, and the recipe I was cooking up included a new variation of the Punisher (the Punisher is described on page 60 of Alpha Male Challenge). My training posse and I like to mix things up and regularly keep each other surprised by what’s thrown in the mix, particularly when it comes to bicep workouts. They weren’t expecting a Punisher-style component in this particular workout, but they are a band of true warriors and without a complaint they rose to the challenge.
The idea of the Punisher is to do a total of 100 repetitions in as short a time as possible. You can stop intermittently, but only long enough to catch your breath and let the intense pain and deep ache subside a little. The Punisher isn’t about using heavy poundage. You use only about half the training weight you would normally use, and you should try to get at least 40 solid reps in good form before stopping. But we were going to make this a “Punisher Plus” set of standing barbell curls by using a heavier weight, even if the initial rep count before stopping was lower, and incorporating the concept of a “Drop Set” (page 60 of Alpha Male Challenge). This new hybrid is an advanced technique designed to take things to a whole new level of punishment … and productivity. But it’s not for the faint of heart.
There were three of us: me, Big Phil, and the Iron Chef (my bet for the strongest guy in my gym for his age and weight, by far). We set up an Olympic barbell at hip level on the squat rack, did a couple light warm-up sets, and then put a dime (10 pounds), two nickels (5 pounds each), and a collar (to prevent the weights from sliding) on each side. That’s just a bit over 85 pounds – a little more than half of what we’d typically use for working sets of strict standing barbell curls.
Once you begin your Punisher Plus set, you can’t stop for more than a few seconds. You have to continue until the 100 reps are completed. We all knew before starting that this would be a journey of self-discovery deep into the pain zone. It is sets like these that tell you what you’re made of.
When it was my turn, like the others, I picked up the barbell with a shoulder-width grip and started curling in strict form – no swinging, no leaning back, no momentum. Each repetition was full, using only my biceps to curl the bar up from a position at my hips to a position just in front of my chin. The tempo was smooth and controlled on both the raising and lowering segment of each rep, stopping for just a brief instant at the top.
I completed 20 consecutive reps, with the last 3 giving my biceps a serious burn. When I picked up the bar a few seconds later to resume curling, my biceps were on fire after only 5 or 6 more reps. I’ve done alternate dumbbell curls with 50 pound dumbbells for 25 reps at the end of a biceps workout recently, so I’m used to mixing it up with high reps at moderate weight. But this was something else. I completed 10 reps, put the bar down for a few seconds, and then picked it up again and did 10 more. My biceps felt like they were being burned with a blow torch, and I could barely squeeze out the last 3 reps. That’s when my training partners pulled off a 5 pound plate from each side. I grabbed the bar and curled another 15 solid reps, passing the halfway mark at 55 reps, with 45 yet to go. I stepped away from the rack only long enough to gulp down a few lung-fulls of oxygen, grabbed the bar, and grinded out another 10 strict, painful reps. At this point, the rep count becomes a chant. Nothing else on earth matters except pushing on to the next number. Now my partners stripped the remaining nickels off the bar, and I kept going for another 15 reps, followed by two more sets of 10 strict reps with minimal rest in between. Even the final reps were strict and controlled, despite the searing pain. Your biceps feel like they are being engulfed in flames – even your brain feels like it’s on fire!
All three of us survived the ordeal. But our biceps felt like smoldering ash when we were done. It’s Monday now, and my biceps still look and feel pumped even though I haven’t trained any upper body since then (see pic)! They are still sore to the touch, a deep soreness no matter where on the muscle you touch.
The Punisher Plus isn’t necessarily something to do too often. But the take-home message is that there’s more to a workout than 3 sets of 10. Make a serious assessment of your workouts. Are you just going through the motions? If so, you’re wasting precious time and effort. Are you sore after a training session? If you almost never are, you may not be pushing hard enough to force your body to adapt and improve. If you have a workout so brutally intense you feel compelled to share it with others, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Stop going through the motions. Leave your comfort zone far behind. Dig deep and challenge yourself to do something incredible. Conquering a workout like the one I’ve described will make you feel capable of vanquishing anything. You’ll feel pumped both physically and mentally for days! Try out the Punisher Plus on your next biceps workout, and let me know what you think!