It’s a great feeling when you know that you are getting stronger. Stepping into the gym, grabbing your weight and pushing yourself for even a couple more reps than you have ever gotten before can be very exhilarating. It can set the tone for that day and days to come. And likewise, if you are lifting and you can’t lift as much as the last time, or your gains have stopped for an extended period of time you might feel demoralized and not want to go on. However, what if you planned to be able to do less?
Pre-exhaustion is a technique by which you will work your muscles to the point that you will not be able to move the kind of weight that you may want to, to the extent that you are actually trying to increase your own muscle mass. It sounds a bit confusing, but sometimes by pushing yourself to the point of near-exhaustion even before you really start lifting you will be able to maximize the amount of muscle tissue being worked and increase muscle growth and endurance. Here are some examples for pre-exhaust exercises.
Start by going to the leg extension machine. You goal here is to do high reps with the most weight that you can handle. This isn’t just about the weight or the reps alone, you should be pushing yourself as hard as you would for any other set to the point that you will be tired before even getting to your next station. I like to shoot for about 20 reps as heavy as I possibly can. If you don’t usually do any warm-ups make sure that you do a lighter set to start just to warm up your muscles and reduce the chance of injuries.
Follow this up with a large muscle group exercise. While extensions work on isolating your quads, you should do either squats, leg presses or hack squats in order to get the most out of your efforts.
Start at the pec deck or machine fly station. This is a great way to isolate your pec muscles as well as tiring out your front delts and biceps, which also assist in this range of motion. By exhausting your supporting muscles, your chest will have to work much harder in order to complete the lift.
Your next exercise should be either a flat, incline or decline barbell bench press in order to utilize the most weight that you can handle and put the greatest amount of force on your muscle. You can do dumbbell exercises as well, but the very nature of dumbbells keeps you from using the same amount of weight as a barbell would.
Pre-exhaust can be done with any muscle group, but often has the greatest effect on your larger muscles groups since said groups also require the support of smaller muscle groups in order to perform the exercise. These exercises should always be done with a spotter, especially since muscle failure is much more common when you have already exhausted your muscles.
Perhaps the most popular machine for the latissimus dorsi muscles is the lat pull down machine. Much like the bench press it is a staple in most if not all gyms, both home and public.
Also, one would likewise think that with such wide usage, that correct form would be a give-in. However, this machine is often one of the most, if not the most, misused machine in the gym.
Think you’re doing it right? Let’s find out.
Step one: adjust your seat.
You should adjust your seat so that the bar overhead is just out of reach in order to ensure the largest range of motion. Also, you should adjust the leg padding so that your feet can rest flat on the floor while still having a snug but not tight fitting on the top of your legs once you are in position.
Step two: pick your grip.
There is no right and wrong when it comes to the grip that you use while performing a lat pull down. The fact is that it is actually good to vary your grip (close grip, wide grip, overhand, underhand, and different attachments) so that you can work more areas of your back. You lats are very large muscles and can be worked from a lot of angles, take advantage of that fact.
Step three: lean back.
Don’t lean back to far, just a slight lean is good enough to ensure a deep pull as well as keeping your back in line. Do not lean forward! This is a very common mistake that causes you to put stress on your neck and take your spine out of alignment and is much more likely to cause shoulder and neck pain.
Step four: pull down to the top of your chest.
This is also a very common mistake. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that when pulling down you should continue until the bar is to their stomach or waist. I’m not sure why this has caught on so widely, but it is very important that you don’t do this for a couple of reasons. First of all, this causes you to use a great deal of momentum when in the process, taking the pressure off your muscles and putting them on your joints. Second of all it is putting emphasis on different muscles that shouldn’t even be involved in the process. Remember, this is a lat exercise.
Step five: Squeeze!
Do you feel this exercise in your back? You should, that’s what it is meant to work. Many people don’t and it’s because of the simple fact is that if you don’t feel your back contracting, then it isn’t really doing much of the work. The primary muscles used in this exercise are your lats and your biceps (most back exercises involve pulling with directly impact the biceps as well) so don’t feel strange if your biceps get tired, too. Regardless, you should be feeling the greatest amount of work in your back. To do this, the easiest way is to imagine that you have a pencil begin held on your spine. As you pull down the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to hold the pencil in place. This is true back contraction and is the basis for all lat exercises, without this squeeze, you are wasting your time.
Step six: raise bar to full arm extension and repeat.
Since you are simple extending your arms, you should feel safe in the knowledge that your joints aren’t locking out, so letting the bar raise all the way until you feel like you are hanging is appropriate. As your arms extend, however, make sure that your butt doesn’t raise up off the seat. Doing so will cause you to create momentum to get the bar going again. Pulling down as hard as possible and bouncing goes against everything that you should be trying to accomplish.
This is not a difficult motion, it is just misunderstood. Don’t use too much weight so that you can control the weight and make sure that you contract the right muscles and you will get a leg up on your fitness goals.
You’ve made the decision to lose weight and get into shape. At first, the pounds fell off and the gains came rapidly. Then, all of a sudden, everything halted. Nothing works. In fact, it seems as though some weight is going back on! People in the fitness industry call this hitting a wall, or hitting a plateau. It is normal and everyone who sincerely works at a fitness goal arrives at it, sooner or later.
The Dreaded Plateau
Having a fundamental understanding of why a plateau exists and how to handle it can make the difference between achieving your goals successfully, and burning out and giving up, or even getting injured and having to stop completely. There are three significant factors that contribute the the plateau effect, and three significant ways anyone who applies them can emerge victorious.
Important Factors for Plateaus
The first factor that contributes to a plateau effect is the body’s innate ability to conserve its own energy and use the best fuels in the most efficient way. In other words, eating enough so that the body does not shut down its fat-burning mechanism can appear self-sabotaging, but it is not. Anyone can lose weight quickly by eating next to nothing, but the price is paid in deterioration of the immune system and fatigue- not to mention the body using muscles as energy instead of fat. That’s right: the body breaks down muscles and uses the components as energy and saves the fat due to survival. The way to convince the body to burn fat is by eating enough food, and eating frequently enough to meet metabolic needs.
Take your own body weight and multiply it by 100. This is the minimum number of calories you need just to support the body’s functions, such as brain function, digestive function, and other essentials. If this bare minimum is not met, the mind does not work right, and the body becomes sluggish and listless. Add to that number at least 600 calories, to support the body’s metabolism to do the work on the days you exercise. This number is roughly what one should consume per day, eating proportioned meals and spreading them out to 5-6 meals per day.
The second significant factor that contributes to the plateau effect is doing the same exercises at the same intensity day in and day out. The body adapts to exercise very quickly. Intensity can be increased by lengthening the workout, changing the exercises, or doing them more vigorously. These choices jump start the body’s adaptation mechanism, which includes burning more fat for energy- given that there is enough fuel to do the work!
The third factor that contributes to the plateau effect is the amount of rest one gets. This is not only rest at night in terms of sleep, but rest between workouts so that the body’s muscles and joints can grow back stronger and more resilient. Exercise is only part of the growth equation; in fact, it is the “tearing down” part. Rest is when the body repairs itself, grows stronger and more efficient. Too much training without rest and enough sleep removes this all-important factor, and gains stop- including weight loss.
Never Give Up and Have Fun!
So, eat more, rest more, and vary up the routines when hitting the wall. What will happen is that the metabolism becomes kick-started, the energy returns, and the weight comes off anew. Voila! You’ve reached a new level of understanding and fitness.
Have fun! That’s what it’s all about.