Workout of the Week: Pre-Exhaust Your Chest For Maximum Growth

Pre-exhaust your chest to develop new growth.

June 23, 2014

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS

This week we’re going to step away from the heavy powerbuilding and hammer out a pre-exhaust routine. This isn’t a break—we’re just introducing a painful, fun and effective new stimulus.

Performing heavy compound movements are the No. 1 priority for getting big and strong, so approach them mentally and physically fresh.

Pre-Exhaust Defined

What is pre-exhaust training? As the name suggests, taking a single-joint “isolation” movement to failure and then finishing with a heavier multi-joint “compound” movement is called pre-exhaustion training. A practical example would be doing leg extensions before front squats (for the quadriceps), or cable flyes before the bench press for the chest.

This technique was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Pumping Iron. If you watched it, you’ll remember Arnold performing leg extensions before squats. The theory behind pre-exhaustion training is when you fatigue the prime mover muscle with an isolation exercise prior to a heavier compound movement, you will lead to greater muscle fiber recruitment because muscular fatigue will set in before neurological fatigue.

Compound movements require a far greater degree of neuromuscular activity than single-joint movements do.

Some prominent coaches and trainers believe pre-exhaustion training is friendlier on the joints. The idea is, as muscular fatigue sets in, prior to training heavy compound movements, these movements can now be trained using lighter loads yet still yield hypertrophic benefits.

Why Pre-Exhaust

The Repeated Bout Effect (RBE), in a nutshell, says doing the same exercises over and over will cause less muscle damage (a key variable in the muscle growth equation) over time. Essentially one adapts. Pre-exhaust training is one way to throw a monkey wrench at RBE.

Since we’re focusing on the chest this workout, think about lifters with disproportionately strong triceps and shoulders. They may have a hard time adequately stimulating the chest with traditional pressing movements. This workout helps take the triceps and shoulders out of the equation.

Plus, many lifters could stand to give their joints some relief. Most likely your elbows could use a break from heavy pressing by starting the workout with lighter isolation movements; pressing movements will not need to be performed as heavy to stimulate the chest.

Finally, it’s fun to change things up; a new workout provides a new challenge. We’re going to pay homage to former MuscleMag Publisher, the late Robert Kennedy, whom popularized pre-exhaust training in 1968 when he first publicized it to the masses.

The Workout

Pre_Exhaust_Chest Routine

Click on workout to print. 

Cable Incline Fly–superset with–Cable Decline Fly: Start with a weight you can do 12 reps with on an incline fly, do it to failure and keep perfect technique. After failure is reached immediately do the same weight to failure on a decline fly.  Hold the contracted position for one second.  Reduce weight 20% each superset. Rest two minutes between supersets.

Flat-Bench Dumbbell Fly: Emphasize stretch and technique.  Do each set with as much weight possible, keeping in mind range of motion is more important than the weight being used. Rest 75 seconds between sets.

Standing Uppercut Fly –superset with–Push-Up: Perform uppercut flyes standing between cables; hold contracted position at top for one second. Start with a weight you can do 12 reps with on an uppercut fly, do it to failure and keep perfect technique. After failure is reached, immediately perform push-ups to failure. Reduce weight 20% each superset on flyes, use bodyweight each set of push-ups. Rest two minutes between supersets.

Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: Pick a weight that is 15% of your bench press max in each hand. If you can bench press 300 pounds, use 45-pound dumbbells. At a steady tempo, perform as many reps as possible for 90 seconds at failure continue with partials. Do not drop the dumbbells no matter what, even if they are moving a quarter inch.

Bench Press: In the bench press, you will be fatigued, but still go as heavy as possible. Rest two minutes between sets.

Time to hit the pig iron!

Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit