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Fitness Corner -- Super Setting

Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley is back for another installment of his Fitness Corner column.

Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to

Here is an archive of past columns. Dan and Ray have also made the club's strength and conditioning manual available. Click here to download it.

Now more from the Sultan of Sweat…

I have heard of the benefits of "Super Setting" in the weight room. Is this most beneficial for strength gains or is it to improve cardio?* *

-- Larus

         Foulger, Palo Alto, California

* Before trying to answer your question we'd like to thank Seth Payne for helping us with this weeks installment. It's early Monday morning (the day after the Jacksonville game) and Seth is in the midst of a total body workout. *

* We have a saying we periodically post on our players computer workout sheets. It states, "Anything less than your best effort is unacceptable." This statement personifies Seth and his work habits. *

* We've stressed many times to coaches and athletes that in-season training must be a priority. It doesn't make any difference how hard an athlete trains in June if they are not willing to work equally hard the first day of summer camp until the last game of the season. Our in-season strength program mirrors our off-season program. Why do something different during the time of the year when our players need to be their strongest? If you want to learn something about an athletes strength program, ask them, better yet, observe how they train during the season. *

It's not easy to come in the day after a game when players are beat up and sore and exert an all out effort. Seth has the discipline and mental toughness necessary to do this week after week.

Larus, we aren't sure what your definition of super setting is. We define super setting as the completion of two or more exercises in succession. The purpose for performing exercises in a given sequence can vary.

In the past we had our athletes perform an entire workout one exercise after another (non-stop) from the beginning of a routine until it was completed. Weights were preset and the athlete moved immediately from one exercise to the next.

This is a grueling format to use. It also requires some time to adapt to this style of training. If you try this method we suggest you first get a good physical and then buckle up.

Before completing an entire routine from beginning to end we'd recommend starting out with three or four exercises back to back. Take a little time to recover and then continue with another three or four exercises. Eventually you'll be capable of stringing an entire workout together from beginning to end.

Significant muscle strength and endurance can be improved with this protocol. We now use this style of training as a change of pace. Currently we allow 90 seconds rest between most exercises or sets unless we are pre-exhausting an area of the body.

The "Pre-exhaustion Principle" is a technique designed to enhance the ability to recruit the highest percentage of muscle fibers in a particular area of the body. Two different exercises are performed immediately one after another. Both exercises target a specific muscle group.

The theory behind the Pre-exhaustion Principle is that more muscle fibers will be recruited by performing an isolation exercise followed immediately by a multi-joint exercise. It is crucial that our players recruit every available muscle fiber if our goal is injury prevention and maximum development.

The intent of the first exercise is to isolate and pre-fatigue a specific area of the upper body without involving the smaller muscles of the upper arm. A single-joint isolation exercise is necessary to do this. The intent of the second exercise is to use a multi-joint exercise involving the upper arm muscles to further exhaust the area targeted.

For example, the purpose of performing the seated row (1; 2) is to develop the muscles of the upper back. The primary muscles used to perform the seated row include the lats, rhomboids, rear delt, and the biceps.

The upper back encompasses a large amount of muscle compared to the smaller and weaker muscles of the arms. Using the Pre-exhaustion Principle our players perform a rowing motion on a piece of equipment designed to isolate the upper back without involving the biceps. This exercise is followed immediately by a pulling multi-joint exercise.

The first exercise isolates and fatigues the upper back muscles. The second exercise brings into play the biceps that help to further exhaust the upper back to a degree that cannot be obtained by performing either of these exercises separately.

Another exercise our players use to isolate and pre-exhaust the upper back is the Pullover (1; 2). The Pullover forces the upper back to perform all of the work without using the smaller arm muscles. After completing a set on the Pullover our players immediately perform a lat pulldown (1; 2). The smaller and weaker arm muscles are no longer the weak link. They are rested which allows them to help further exhaust the muscles of the upper back.

Maximum benefits can be obtained if the appropriate equipment is available to perform single-joint exercises. The equipment industry calls it direct resistance and rotary resistance. When pre-exhausting a muscle you will recruit more muscle fibers with equipment that offers direct and rotary resistance.

Any time you isolate an area of the body it involves muscles contracting about a single axis of rotation. For maximum recruitment you need a piece of equipment that changes the angle of resistance as the muscle contracts about its axis of rotation. Full range exercise cannot be accomplished without rotary resistance when performing single-joint exercises.

Observe Seth performing the lateral raise on a piece of equipment designed to provide direct and rotary resistance. The resistance is applied directly to the upper arm where the shoulder muscles insert (direct resistance). The angle of resistance changes to accommodate the changing angle the muscle is pulling on the moving bone (rotary resistance). This takes place as the as the weight is raised and lowered

This same exercise can be performed with a dumbbell (1; 2). With a dumbbell the angle of resistance doesn't change. Resistance is always applied at an angle that is perpendicular to the ground. In the contracted position a dumbbell provides resistance at the appropriate angle. In the starting position there is no resistance applied at the angle necessary. Part of the deltoid will never be strengthened because a dumbbell doesn't provide rotary resistance.

Whenever possible use equipment that provides direct and rotary resistance. You will then capitalize on the benefits that can be achieved by using the Pre-exhaustion Principle.

We have several other exercises our players use to pre-exhaust a body part. Our players use the Pec Fly (1; 2) to pre-exhaust the chest. This is followed by any multi-joint chest exercise. With conventional equipment you could perform a dumbbell fly (1; 2) instead of using a Pec Fly.

Instead of the Nitro Rear Delt you could pre-exhaust with a dumbbell bent-over raise (1; 2) followed immediately with the bent-over row (1; 2). To pre-exhaust the deltoids with conventional equipment perform dumbbell lateral raises (1; 2) followed immediately by the dumbbell seated press (1; 2).

Super-setting (pre-exhausting) is a technique we use to create variety and generate maximum gains. Super-setting can be super productive. From the Fitness Corner we suggest you give it a try.

         </span>Go Texans!
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