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Pre-Exhaust Your Shoulders

Use pre-exhaust training to isolate your shoulders and produce big gains.

The pre-exhaust training method involves using single-joint “isolation” movements to tire out a specific muscle group before performing a heavier multi-joint “compound” movement. A practical example would be doing leg extensions before front squats (for the quadriceps) or cable flyes before the bench press for the chest. Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized this technique in the movie Pumping Iron.

The theory behind pre-exhaustion training is fatiguing the prime mover muscle with an isolation exercise prior to a heavier compound movement leads 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 also friendlier on the joints because 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

If you’ve been training for any length of time those, “I can’t lift my arms above my head” days are probably few and far between. This is because of The Repeated Bout Effect (RBE). The simplified definition says that repeatedly doing the same exercises will cause less muscle damage (a key variable in the muscle growth equation) over time. Essentially, your muscles adapt. However, muscle damage is a good thing when it comes to building muscle. Using the pre-exhaust training method is one way to throw a monkey wrench at RBE.

Related: Pre-Exhaust Your Muscles To Awaken New Growth

Since this workout focuses on shoulders, it can serve as a remedial course in re-establishing the mind-muscle connection with shoulders. Anecdotal evidence from top bodybuilders suggests that concentrating on purposeful recruitment of the particular muscle you intend to work more effectively targets that muscle (for instance, feel your side delts work when performing a lateral raise).

This pre-exhaust routine will give you a chance to rekindle that connection. The isolation exercises in this pre-exhaust routine will give you a chance to rekindle that old flame.

The Workout


Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Movement:Grasp a dumbbell in one hand. Lie on 30° to 45° incline bench with the opposite side of your body on incline, arm over top of bench, lower leg positioned on front side of seat, and upper leg on back side of seat. Position the dumbbell inside of your lower leg, just in front of your upper leg. Raise dumbbell from until upper arm is perpendicular to torso. Maintain slight fixed bend in elbow throughout exercise. Lower dumbbell to front of upper leg and repeat.

Tips: Start with a weight you can do 12 reps with on an incline dumbbell lateral raise, do it to failure and keep perfect technique. Emphasize the stretch at the bottom of the movement; otherwise it’s a wasted movement. After failure is reached, immediately do the same weights to failure on the standing dumbbell lateral raise.

Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Movement: Stand holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm extended toward the ground, and hold onto a bench with your left hand for support. Start with your right arm slightly bent and at your side. Keeping your elbow in that fixed position, pull the weight straight out and up by contracting your delt until your arm is parallel to the ground. Return to the start position and repeat for reps, then switch arms.

Tips:Hold the contracted position for one second. Reduce weight 20 percent each superset. Rest two minutes between supersets.

Reverse Dumbbell Fly

Movement: Lie down on an incline bench with your chest and stomach pressing against it. Grasp the dumbbells with palms facing each other (neutral grip). Extend your arms in front of you so they are perpendicular to the angle of the bench. Maintaining the slight bend of the elbows, move the weights out and away from each other (to the side) in an arc motion while exhaling. The arms should be elevated until they are parallel to the floor. Feel the contraction and slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position while inhaling.

Tips: Emphasize technique. Do each set with as much weight possible, keeping in mind range of motion is more important than the weight being used. Your torso should be parallel to the floor. Hold the top contracted position for half a second. Rest 75 seconds between sets.

Dumbbell Front Raise

Movement: Stand with a straight torso, grasping a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs at arms length with the palms of the hand facing your thighs. Lift the left dumbbell to the front with a slight bend on the elbow and the palms of the hands always facing down. Continue to go up until you arm is slightly above parallel to the floor. Exhale as you execute this portion of the movement and pause for a second at the top. Inhale after the second pause. Lower the dumbbell back down slowly to the starting position as you simultaneously lift the right dumbbell. Continue alternating sides.

Tips: Perform the dumbbell front raises should with strict from, holding the top contracted position at top half of a second. Start with a weight you can do 12 reps with on the front raises, do it to failure and keep perfect technique. Reduce the weight by 20 percent each superset on front raises. After failure is reached, immediately perform handstand push-ups to failure.

Handstand Push-Up

Movement: With your back to the wall bend at the waist and place both hands on the floor shoulder-width apart. Kick yourself up against the wall with your arms straight. Your body should be upside down with the arms and legs fully extended. Keep your whole body as straight as possible. Slowly lower yourself to the ground as you inhale until your head almost touches the floor. Push yourself back up slowly as you exhale until your elbows are nearly locked.

Tips: Use bodyweight for each set of handstand push-ups. Rest two minutes between supersets. If you’re unable to do a handstand push-up, try the downward dog variation, or have a spotter help you. Also, make sure that you keep facing the wall with your head, rather than looking down.

Face Pull

Movement: Attach a rope to a pulley station set at about chest level. Grasp both ends of the rope with a pronated (overhand) grip. Step back so your arms are fully extended in front of you. Feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart with a soft bend in your knees. Pull the center of the rope toward your face by retracting the scapulae. Think about pulling the rope apart not back. As your hands near you face externally rotate them so your knuckles are facing the ceiling. Pause and return to the start position.

Tips: Pick the maximum weight you can use for 15 repetitions, maintaining perfect form. Cheating on this exercise cheats you out of the intended benefits. Emphasize a full range of motion and hold the contracted position for one second. This exercise as demonstrated through EMG (measuring the electrical activity of muscle) not only hits the posterior aspect of the shoulders as expected but significantly hits the side portion. Take a one-minute rest between sets.

Standing Overhead Press

Movement: Stand holding an Olympic bar at shoulder height (upper-chest level). Keep your head neutral, abs tight and low back arched. Spread your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width. Powerfully press the bar overhead to full arm extension. Squeeze your shoulders for a count, then slowly lower the bar back to your upper chest and repeat for reps.

Tips: You will be fatigued, but still go as heavy as possible, rest two minutes between sets.