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Save Time and Get a Nasty Pump With This Training Method

As I get older it becomes more clear to me how time really gets in our way. Gone are my days where I can take my time in the gym. Dilly dally along, not a care in the world, like I have all day. Now I have to be more precise, more specific to my train goal, all while not sacrificing high quality hard training. One method that I come across that seems to solve this problem is the pre-fatigue or pre-exhaustion method.

The pre-fatigue/exhaustion method is done by performing a single joint exercise, before a multi joint exercise. An example would be, doing a peck deck or chest fly prior to bench pressing. Now those of you that have been lifting for quite sometime may think this is written backwards. I mean, for as long as I can remember, and even through all of my education, I was told it is better to do multi joint exercises prior to single joint ones. However, the order really depends on your level of fitness, your training goals, and what you enjoy doing. That being said, I didn't make a typo.

The intent behind this training method is to fatigue the main muscle your are trying to grow or strengthen. So that it forced to work harder. And if it is working harder, you may think it is likely to get bigger and stronger. Now, in my opinion, there is a right and wrong time to use this method.

For example, if you are trying to get stronger, I don't recommend this. Remember, when we want to get strong, we want to lift as much weight as we can. Which means we should be fully recovered for each set. Thus, it wouldn't make much sense to try and squat as much weight as you can immediately after a set of leg pressing. To me, that is a recipe for either stalled progress, or worse, and injury.

However, if your goal is to tax your muscles by giving them more training volume, maybe increase some metabolic stress, and deliver a nasty pump, then I think you would be smart to try this. Assuming you have mastered the basics first.

Now, does this training method work? Does it actually do what it is intended to do? A few articles can help us determine if it is worth trying.

Like much of science, very rarely is there a clear cut answer.

For example, in one study that looked at the bench press and pre-exhaustion; the triceps activity in a single 95% 1 RM bench press increased after a triceps pre-exhaustion exercise, but the chest and shoulder muscles did not increase after their specific pre-exhaustion exercise (1). The same was shown in a few other studies that employed the pre-exhaustion method to increase chest muscle activation, and still the triceps became activated (2). That being said, this method may not be the best choice for trying to really smash your chest muscles. But it may give your triceps and extra boost. Which can be super helpful if you think you triceps are limiting in your bench press or are lagging behind in their growth.

For the legs, there was an increase in use of leg muscles in the leg press after 15 reps of the leg extension. Which would tells us that the pre-exhaustion method worked (2). What made this work for the legs and not the chest?

The chest press study mentioned above, they used a very high load, and used a pre-exhaustion activity that was for the person's 10 rep max. Basically, pushing people to their limits on both ends of the muscle growth spectrum; pure muscle failure, and high intensities. However, in the leg studies that showed more leg activation, the pre-fatiguing exercise used submaximal weights, ranging from 30-60 % of the 1 rep max (2). In fact, in a separate study, the chest muscles did increase after the pre-fatigue exercise when using submaximal weight (2). Meaning the pre-fatigue exercise should be enough to get the muscles tired, but not 100% exhausted.

So, why and how should you do this method of training?

If you are short on time, or like to keep you workouts short, but don't want to sacrifice training volume (the total amount of work you are doing in a workout), then this can really help you out.

Here is an example of what this might look like.

  1. Leg extensions: 3 sets, 12 reps, at 60% of your 1 rep max (6/10 difficulty if you don't know your 1 rep max).

  2. Hack squat: 3 sets, 12 reps at a 7-8/10 difficulty

Notice I used machines here. This way you can really go hard and put all the emphasis on the working muscles. Or for the upper body.

  1. Dumbbell fly: 3 sets, 12 reps at a 6/10 difficulty. If you want to recruit more triceps, make this closer to 8-10/10.

  2. DB bench press: 3 sets 12 reps at a 7-8/10 difficulty.

There is still a lot to learn about this style of training. There isn't much out there on the back muscles or glutes. However I am confident that the same rules will apply to these muscle groups. Use submaximal or lighter weights in the pre-fatigue exercise, do single joint before multi joint [multi joints before single joints will reduce that amount of volume you can actually do (3)], use machines to increase stability and output when necessary.

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