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There really is no secret to building muscle. Honestly, it comes down to a few simple biological sequences. First, provide enough muscle stimulation to provide the environment for muscle growth. Second, keep adding additional muscle stimulation with each passing week to keep the environment for muscle growth open. Third, provide the body with a continuous amount of calories, over and above what your body is expending on a daily basis. Fourthly, get plenty of rest. Combine all of the above and the result is a strong, healthy and muscular body.
The real trick to building additional muscle mass is point number two: Keep adding additional muscle stimulation with each passing week to keep the environment for muscle growth open. So what does this mean? It means that muscle tissue adapts very quickly to exercise stimulation. The body strives to correct any imbalances it encounters by improving or adapting to various stress levels in order to reach its equilibrium. This is an important point to remember The body will always strive to reach equilibrium in order to correct any imbalance it perceives as a threat. For example, how does the body strive to protect itself from weight training? It gets stronger to meet the demands of weight training. If the threat continues, the body will build additional muscle mass to accommodate additional strength levels, provided the stimulus is strong enough.
This is where a lot of beginners and intermediates go wrong .
A lot of times, beginners and intermediates fail to see the connection between higher levels of muscle stimulation and muscle growth. In order to keep building muscle mass, one must continue to work harder and harder with each passing workout. That is, one must continue to add more and more intensity with each passing workout in order to keep the body growing. A failure to do so results in muscle stagnation A point where the body reaches equilibrium.
How do you keep building muscle and avoid muscle stagnation?
There are numerous ways of doing so and one of the most effective ways is to keep adding additional weight. For example, doing 3 sets of 8 with a 135 pounds, week after week will not optimize muscle growth. The problem is that the body will not be forced to do any additional work. In other words, there is no reason for it to grow and the body will quickly adapt to doing 3 sets of 8 with a 135 pounds.
However, suppose after two weeks, we add another 20 pounds to the bar for the last set. What do you think will happen? The result is additional work and intensity. The body isn't prepared for this and will expend additional effort in order to get the weight up. In essence, we added an additional element of intensity. The scales have tipped and in order for the body to reach equilibrium, it must get stronger.
The use of heavier, progressive weight is but one way of forcing the body to work harder. This is a very effective way and one of the more popular methods. However, there are other techniques to add additional levels of intensity. One such technique is called pre-exhaust.
Pre-exhaust is an advanced technique that allows an exerciser to exhaust a certain muscle group using one exercise prior to performing another which will totally exhaust the targeted muscle group. The idea is to exercise one area without exhausting its secondary muscle groups (which help move the weight). For example, a pre-exhaust exercise combination is an isolation exercise such as seated dumbbell laterals followed by a compound movement such as seated shoulder dumbbell presses. Here's an example set:
Seated dumbbell laterals:
Perform 1 set of 15 repetitions . Upon completion, immediately perform:
Seated shoulder dumbbell press:
Perform 1 set of 12 repetitions.
Why do this?
The shoulders are a large and complex muscle group and require a lot of work to grow. One of the more effective methods to stimulate muscle growth is to perform a compound movement such as the seated shoulder dumbbell press. We all know that compound exercises are the most effective movements for building muscle mass. However, the biggest problem with getting the most out of this movement is that we are at the mercy of our triceps (secondary muscle group).
Triceps will always give out first and because of this, our shoulder muscles (deltoids) may not receive full stimulation for optimal muscle growth.
This is where pre-exhaust comes into play. By using an isolation exercise such as seated dumbbell laterals prior to a compound movement such as seated dumbbell presses, we do the following:
• Take the triceps muscles out of play (with the first exercise) to pre-exhaust the shoulders
• Ensure that our shoulders are totally exhausted (And therefore stimulated) by the time the second compound exercise is complete
Essentially, we are taking triceps out of the equation and ensuring that our shoulders give out first in our second compound exercise. In essence, we are totally exhausting our shoulder muscles (deltoids) as opposed to partially exhausting. This means more potential muscle growth.
I've tried pre-exhausting and it works. Pre-exhausting is an effective muscle building technique and has been for over 30 years. I've always used the super set pre-exhaust system (as above) with great results.
The second main benefit is injury prevention and training around injuries .
Using heavy weight is one of the best known methods to building strength and muscle mass. However, using heavy weight for too long or in poor form can have a negative impact of connective tissues such as ligament and joints. I'm not saying heavy weight is purely to blame for injuries but if used for extended periods of time (with no rest) or in used in poor form, can lead to injuries.
By using pre-exhaust, one can still maintain the effectiveness of a compound movement while reducing the amount of wear and tear one may receive by continuously using heavy weight (day in and day out). This may help mitigate the risk of using heavy weight for extended periods of time.
Here's a tip. Always take a break from training heavy on your compound movements. Ideally, take a month long break from doing compound movements. Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about injuries. Using heavy weight day in and day out without giving your body a rest will ALWAYS lead to injury. Given what I know now, it's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. Play it smart and give your body (joints, ligaments and muscles) a chance to recover. I know, you may think you're going to lose your hard earned gains but trust me, you won't. It's better to take a week or two to get back into the shape before you took a break than the month (perhaps longer) you'll need because of injury.
Using pre-exhaust to train around injuries
Pre-exhausting also works great for those of us who can't use super heavy weight anymore. For example, I can't slap on heavy weight for any type of shoulder press due to my shoulder tendinitis. Yes, it sucks because the older I get, the harder it is to stay in shape and build muscle (I'm too stubborn to quit).
Mind you, I still do shoulder pressing just without using a barbell. If I use dumbbells, I always turn my palms inward and never forward (more natural for the arms and shoulders). I also use a technique that is called training in the box. The best way to describe this technique is to image your upper torso is in a box. In doing so, your elbows will never go below a 90 degree level on the downward portion of a movement and never fully extend to the top. This way, you ensure you never over extent your ligaments beyond a certain level as to avoid further injury.
However, these days I usually use a shoulder press machine that allows me to use an inward grip (palms facing towards my body).
To get the most from shoulder pressing, I will use pre-exhaust. Here's what I do. My first exercise is usually 3 sets of light bent over laterals. The second exercise is a pre-exhaust, super set combination between seated dumbbell laterals and machine shoulder pressing. I'll usually perform 15 to 20 sets in the seated dumbbell lateral and immediately (no rest) perform a set of 20 repetitions in the shoulder press. I usually do 3 to 4 sets with this combination and my shoulders are usually very exhausted afterwards.
The main benefit is that I don't have to use super heavy weight to build muscle. If you've ever had biceps or shoulder tendonitis, you'll appreciate the fact that heavy weight only makes the injury worse. I get the benefit of using a compound movement (shoulder press) while minimizing further injury to my shoulder. It's a win win situation, provided I don't get careless and start piling on the weight (I've learned the hard way to not do this).
I think the pre-exhaust technique is a fantastic way to help boost intensity levels and build quality muscle mass. It will help also help:
• Keep the effectiveness of compound movements while reducing the chance of injury with heavy weight
• Train around injuries such as tendonitis
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All the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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