The other day I wrote about the pitfalls of high repetition strength training.
One of my commenters pointed out that done on an occasional basis, a day or two of high repetition workouts can sometimes help you push past a stubborn strength training plateau. (You know, that exercise that you just can’t increase your weights on no matter how hard you try).
While I agree that this is a reasonable use for high rep training, my go-to ‘strength training plateau buster’ workout is a pre-exhaust superset.
Let me explain. Compound exercises (which we should all be doing….) require the use of more than one group of muscles. However, not all muscles are created equal. Some are larger, and hence, potentially stronger than others. Often times, it’s the smaller, weaker muscle required for a particular exercise that ‘exhausts’ before the larger, stronger muscle, preventing us from progressing on the lift.
Take chest presses as an example. Although chest presses target the pectoral muscles, the triceps are needed to extend the arms fully and complete the lift. The smaller, weaker triceps are fatigued at a much lighter load (or volume of repetitions) than required to fatigue the pecs. Unless you work to increase the strength of your triceps, you’ll hit a strength training plateau on this exercise.
Pre-exhaust training offers a solution. Perform two exercises for the target muscle group, super-set style, in the 8 to 12 rep range. (Hint: choose a weight heavy enough to exhaust the target muscle by the end of the set, otherwise you’ll never get over your plateau).
The first exercise of the pair will be an isolation exercise; one that doesn’t require the assistance of the smaller, weaker muscle that’s inhibiting progress. Work to failure and then immediately follow with a compound exercise targeting the same muscle group. The larger muscle, although temporarily fatigued, will be assisted by the smaller muscle, allowing you to continue stressing it and ultimately, increasing its strength.
I use pre-exhaust training in my own workouts every few months, for a week or two at a time (caution, if you overuse the technique, like any other form of training, your body will adapt to it and it won’t have the same benefits). I’ve found it a particularly useful technique for overcoming strength training plateaus of the chest, back and biceps.
Try the following exercise combinations and see if the pre-exhaust method doesn’t make a difference in your training.
Chest: Incline dumbbell flys (isolation) followed by chest (or incline) chest presses (compound)
Back: Seated row (isolation) followed by barbell bent over row (compound)
Biceps: Preacher curl (isolation) followed by under hand grip chin ups (compound)
Have you ever tried pre-exhaust training?
What’s your go-to strength training plateau busting technique?