Added On September 20, 2011
HIT Training Basics: The Pre-exhaustion Principle Explained
The High Intensity Training or HIT is not as famous as the classic volume approach to bodybuilding but it sure works just as good, if not better. The main idea behind HIT is that your muscles do not need endless sets of various exercises and you don't have to train for 5 hours a day to get result. All that you have to do is one to two sets per exercise, bring the muscles to failure and go home - no need to do 20 sets per body-part or something similar because it will only cause recovery problems. Just get the job done and go home - let the Jay Cutler wannabes live in the gym.
One of my favorite principles part of HIT is called pre-exhaustion. The main concept behind the pre-exaustion technique is fairly simple. Let's say that you are doing a heavy set of squats. Usually the weak link will be your back and your respiratory system. The truth is that your legs are very strong and can lift a lot of weight. However the trunk which transmits power from your legs to the bar will start complaining way before your quadriceps have failed. In other words it's hard to effectively hit the legs because the back fatigue goes in the way. This is where the pre-exhaustion principle comes in. If you perform a few sets of leg extensions prior to squats you will make your quads weaker and you will fail because your legs are exhausted while the back will remain relatively fresh. Also you will have to use a lot less weight for squats while getting more quadriceps stimulation and saving your joints from the heavy weight. This is particularly useful if you have back problems and you can't squat heavy because of it. However since your squat may be cut in half big egos will get hurt. Remember nobody cares how much you lift. When you pre-exhaust your quads with leg extensions 150 pounds may feel like 300 pounds for your legs. Only your ego can make the difference between 300 pounds and 150 pounds. Your upper leg does not know how much is on the bar. However if you are a powerlifter using the pre-exhaust system will be stupid since your goal would be to squat the most weight and not to stimulate the most upper leg growth.
The pre-exhaust system works with any body-part. For example I like doing pull-overs prior to rows and other pulls in order to make my lats the weakest link and to hit them harder. That way my I don't ever use straps because my lats are weaker and I end up lifting less weight. Also it's easier to develop that mind-muscle connection because you will feel your lats working all the time. This is especially important for back training unless you want to end up like those silly trainees with gorilla arms and non-existent lats.
I usually use the pre-exhaust system on back and leg days only. I don't like using it when training chest. Let's say that you decide to do flies or some type of cable isolation. It would be impossible to get the shoulders and their stabilizers out of the way and you will end up hitting the compound exercises with tired rotator cuff which is dangerous. The problem is that the shoulder is highly vulnerable joint during pressing movements and I personally don't like playing with it. However a lot of people are successfully using the pec deck for chest pre-exhaustion. The movement is not as demanding on the shoulder compared to a dumbbell fly for example. You can try it too. I train in a dirty gym and there is no pec deck machines so I've always had to use dumbbells when trying to pre-exhaust my chest and my shoulders don't like flies at all. Anyway that's just me and you know your body better than I do.
Conclusion: The pre-exhaustion principle is great and I highly recommended using it because it will help you achieve higher stimulation of the target muscles while lifting less weight and saving your joints. However remember that every tool can be useful only when used correctly and what works for you might not work for me. It's up to us to find the exercises and the methods that bring progress.
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