Ah! It sucks!
When the weight stack just can’t cope with your superlative strength!
You’ve taken a machine to the limit, so what can you do?
Here are 9 different things you can do when you’ve kicked a machine’s ass.
(1) Change to a free weight alternative exercise.
This is probably the most obvious answer. A good workout can incorporate both free weights and machines (despite what all the “machine-bashers” would have you believe).
However, don’t become too dependent on machines. With the type of strength increases we experience with THT training, you can max out a machine pretty quickly.
- When you max out the overhead press machine, change to overhead barbell or dumbbell presses.
- When you max out the pullover machine, change to weighted pull-ups
- When you max out the lateral raise machine, do dumbbell lateral raises
THT doesn’t call for too much machine work, but when you need an alternative exercise, just check out the THT Exercise Bank for a suitable replacement.
(2) Set a dumbbell on top of the stack.
I’ve done this when it was absolutely called for. You can easily fit one or 2 dumbbells right on top of the weight stack (if turned perpendicular to the direction of the stack).
(3) Hang a plate on the pin itself.
This depends on the exact equipment used, but for most machines the part of the pin that sticks out of the stack can serve as a “hook” to hang a plate on. Just make sure you’ve secured it well so that it doesn’t fall off during your set.
(4) Go unilateral.
If possible, you could work 1 arm or leg at a time. For example, if you max out the leg extension machine, work one leg at a time. If you end up someday maxing out the stack with one leg, you sir…are a beast!
(5) Slow The Cadence.
For reasons I’ve outlined in the THT book, slow reps are not optimally effective for stimulating size and strength increases. A cadence of 1-second:2-seconds (positive:negative) works best. But are you actually taking 2 seconds to lower the weight? Before declaring that you’ve maxed out a machine, check your cadence.
If it’s good and you still need a temporary solution, slow down a little. I’d rather you add time to the negative than the positive, so start off with a 3-second lowering of the weight.
(6) Pause at the Peak Contraction Point (PCP)
The PCP of any movement is that point where peak contraction occurs; or you could say the point when the muscle is maximally contracted (think legs fully extended out during a set of leg extensions).
To start with, during every rep, pause at the PCP for 1-2 seconds. You’ll be amazed at how many less total reps you can get this way. You’ll also be amazed by the total muscle fiber activation. If doing a set of cable preacher curls, pause at the top of the rep. On tricep pushdowns, pause at the bottom.
The idea is to briefly hold the weight statically while the muscle is maximally contracted, which is at the point where you’ve just completed the positive, but before you start the negative part of the rep.
(7) Use a pre-fatigue set.
A pre-fatigue is not a superset. Some people use different terminology, but I don’t class a pre-fatigue as a type of superset. A superset is when you work 2 different body parts back-to-back with no rest. I think they’re pointless and counter-productive to anyone training for size.
A pre-fatigue is working the same muscle back-to-back. So you use an isolation exercise to failure, and immediately follow this up with a compound movement for the same muscle.
An example would be doing a set of dumbbell lateral raises, followed immediately by an overhead press at a machine.
A machine works very well for the second exercise because you’ve just fried the lateral head of your deltoid and trying to stabilize a free weight would be near impossible. Taking stabilization out of the equation allows you to focus 100% of your remaining strength on pushing the heaviest weight possible.
So with a pre-fatigue you can still make use of those machines that you’ve maxed out.
Regarding the specific pre-fatigue I’ve mentioned here, since the lateral head will be solely responsible for reaching positive failure on the lateral raises i.e. the other 2 heads will not reach the point of failure, the inclusion of more muscles in the compound overhead press pushes the lateral head BEYOND positive failure and stimulates AWESOME growth in that head.
This will really help widen your body at the top and accentuate that ‘V’ shape.
(8) Use a higher rep range.
This is another temporary solution. I’m not a fan of very high rep ranges, but if you can’t increase the weight for the time being, consider working to failure in the 14-16 or even 16-18 rep range. It will do until you find a more permanent solution.
(9) Use constant tension.
Are you giving yourself a break during the set? In this article ‘How To Get More Reps’ I advocate one pause towards the end of a set to help hammer out an extra rep or 2. However, that should be about it.
For the rest of the set, there should be constant tension on the intended muscle. Again, let’s say we’re doing a set of leg extensions, does the attachment ‘hit’ at the bottom, taking tension off the quadriceps briefly? During tricep pushdowns, do you bring the bar too high up at the top of each rep, taking tension off the triceps? Stopping when your forearm is at or just above parallel to the floor, keeps tension on the triceps throughout the whole range of motion.
And so it goes with every exercise. Are you using constant tension? You don’t need instruction on this; just observe yourself next time you are training. Feel the intended muscle through the entire range of motion. You might even visualize the working muscle as it’s being worked (as Arnold used to do). It works. And it’s very effective!
So tell me. What machines have you maxed out?
And do you have any other suggestions on what we can do when we max out?
Hope this helped.
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