Let’s discuss the subject of the Principle of Pre-exhaustion and how it can be used for our own benefit.
Many bodybuilders, in their pursuit of maximum muscle mass, use basic exercises. Practice shows that these exercises, especially the standard ways of performing them, are not always the most effective in stimulating maximum muscle growth for different reasons – weariness, poor development, or not good enough recovery of the accessory muscle groups. The principle of pre-exhaustion is an out of the ordinary method of dealing with this problem.
The idea behind this very basic principle is to do first an isolation exercise for a given muscle group and then repeat the series with a Compound exercise working the same muscle group. Basic exercises are the ones which work the main muscle group and a great number of synergists (groups of muscles working together). Isolation exercises are those which work the main muscle group and a minimum number of synergists.
First, let me explain a compound exercise. A compound exercise is a movement that uses several muscle groups. Think of the squat, deadlift, bench press, etc. An isolation exercise, on the other hand, is an exercise that basically just works with one muscle group, I.e. dumbbell flyes, leg raises, lateral raises.
Barbell bench press is a basic (compound) exercise. The main load is taken on by the chest muscles, but the exercise is specific in that part of the load is carried by the triceps. If the triceps are incapable of performing the part of work that is assigned to them, the whole movement becomes much more difficult.
This can happen when they are not strong enough or if they are tired. When the triceps are not able to perform their task in lifting the load, they get tired before the chest muscles, so the chest will not be effectively worked. If, for instance, you have to do eight repetitions and for tiredness of the muscles you stop at the fourth or the fifth, the chests won’t be worked enough.
In this case, it is better to use the principle of pre-exhaustion. First, you start with peck-deck or lying dumbbell flyes. Thus, the chest is worked, excluding the triceps. After a failure is reached, the series continues with barbell bench press. As the chest muscles are already tired by the flyes and the peck-deck, a lighter than normal weight is obviously used and the triceps will be able to work in cooperation with the chest. Thus, an effective workout of the chest muscles is achieved.
If triceps are unable to work together with the chest muscles, then why should barbell bench press be done at all? Can one simplify things by doing flyes only, instead of first doing flyes and then barbell bench press? In this case, doing only flyes is possible, too.
However, barbell bench press works the chest in a different way. Combining flyes with barbell bench press ensures better loading of the chest muscles.
As a general rule of thumb, in this combined series during barbell bench press muscle fibers will be included that have not taken part in the flyes, to make the chest work together with the triceps. And on the whole, a much larger number of muscle fibers will take part. Involving a great number of muscle fibers is the second application of the principle of pre-exhaustion.
In shoulder bench press, if the triceps are unable to work together with the shoulders, the principle of pre-exhaustion can be applied as well. For example, you can start dumbbell bench press for the shoulder front or dumbbell lift before the body and continue the series with shoulder bench press.
The principle of preliminary fatigue can be used in work-outs for thighs. The series could start for example with lying extension (thigh extension exercise) and after reaching failure continue with barbell squatting. As the quadriceps are already tired by seated thigh extension, in barbell squatting a smaller than normal weight will be used.
The lighter weight used decreases the risk of injuries. Tendons, joints and joint connections get loaded less. The disadvantage of this combination is that due to the preliminary fatigue of the quadriceps it is possible to unconsciously direct the load at the glutes. This can be avoided by doing leg press instead of barbell squat.
A model variant for applying the principle of pre-exhaustion in workouts for chest:
- Barbell bench press – 15 repetitions (warming-up series);
- Dumbbells flyes – 12 repetitions, followed by barbell bench press – 12 repetitions (warming-up series);
- Dumbbells flyes – 10 repetitions, followed by barbell bench press – 12 repetitions (warming-up series);
- Dumbbells flyes – 8 repetitions, followed by barbell bench press – 8 repetitions. .
Such weight should be used to make the failure in both exercises come about the eighth repetition. You can do more than one heavy series like the above, but bear in mind that there is the risk of overworking.
A similar system can be used in workouts for the upper and lower part of the chest. The exercises done are up to you. Instead of flyes you can do peck-deck, and instead of barbell lying lifting – barbell bench press or lying or seated machine bench press, etc.
The principle of the pre-exhaustion is not recommended for beginners or intermediate bodybuilders.
This is really a technique that is for the “advanced bodybuilder” and should be used sparingly. I like to use it if I’ve noticed I’m making great increases in size and strength overall. For example, let’s say I’ve put on 10lbs in a bulk. I’ve noticed I’m getting bigger/stronger, but I’ll see my biceps and think, “Mhmm, they didn’t improve how I expected,” so I’ll do it on the biceps to give them a “kick start,” perse and get it to the required standard.
My chest and back always grows for fun, but if it ever gets stuck in a sticky point I’m always sure to do this and it’s worked extremely well. You shouldn’t need it until about 2 years into your training, in my honest opinion.
But there is a lot to take from this article and I hope you found it educational and useful. I plan to do more like these in the near future, more articles to help us get out of these little “sticking” points.”