Pre-Exhaustion Chest Workout

As another chest day arrives, you’re getting ready to head out to the gym where you’ll most likely perform a series of compound movements before wrapping it up with a few isolation exercises. After all, that’s how the best chests around were built, right?

Right. And wrong. See, just because something works for someone else, that doesn’t mean it will produce the same results for you. People come in all shapes, sizes and anatomical predispositions, so sometimes you need to try out a few approaches before confidently deciding what works best for you and your goals.

Which brings us at the point of this article: the pre-exhaust workout. Often, the exact opposite of what works for many people, also works, and it could even be far better for your gains. The conventional bodybuilding workout that begins with multi-joint exercises and ends with isolation work has helped many guys build impressive chests. But for those who find it less than optimally effective, a pre-exhaustion set up in which isolation moves come first and multi-joint exercises come last could literally work wonders. As long as you do it correctly, it will give your joints a much needed break and provide a new promising stimulus for your chest! Here’s how it works.

The Structure of the Pre-Exhaust Workout

This type of training is ideal for chest development. By beginning your workout with isolation exercises which, as the name implies, effectively isolate your chest fibers, you will be able to adequately fatigue your chest before moving on to the multi-joint presses which will engage the front delts and tri’s as secondary muscle groups, allowing you to keep on pounding hard and heavy with the assistance of these fresh muscles. As expected, with this set up, your chest will reach failure first, and that’s exactly what you should be looking for on chest days. More often than not, when you work your chest the traditional way, your workout ends when the assistance muscles get completely exhausted, even though you feel like there are a few drops of fuel left in your chest.

Why Pre-Exhaustion Works

Keep in mind that at the end of a pre-exhaust workout you’ll be most likely to bench far less weight than you normally would. This is completely normal and expected, so leave your ego at the front door and don’t let it distort your perception of this type of training. When you leave your big moves for the end of the routine, you won’t be able to lift the same loads or perform the same number of reps as you would otherwise because of accumulated fatigue. But on the other hand, although this will force you to work with lighter loads, you will still be able to get a powerful training effect while reducing the pressure on the joints. It’s basically getting a double bang for your buck: great pump and injury prevention.

Tips on Getting It Right

  • Always warm up well before beginning the workout, then start with one or two single-joint movements. If you want to do some pressing with dumbbells, perform it at the beginning of the workout.
  • For the first exercise, select a weight that you can work with for at least 8-10 reps rather than aiming for 6 or lower. As tempting as it seems, avoid going full force on the single-joint movements and placing undue pressure on the joints.
  • Emphasize proper form and technique all throughout the workout without any exceptions and excuses!
  • For the second part of the workout, pick a few compound barbell movements that work the chest from different angles. If needed, adjust the weight from set to set in order to reach the prescribed amount of reps. Also, while performing the compound movements, make sure to have a spotter nearby to help you out when necessary and keep an eye on your form.
  • Using too much weight on presses will increase your tendency to press your flies, which defeats the purpose of the exercise and the entire pre-exhaust structure of the workout. Mind your form to prevent this from happening.
  • If you’re still experiencing difficulties maintaining proper form while performing dumbbell flies, especially with the elbow position, either select a lighter weight or switch to the pec-deck machine which allows you to lock your elbows in the correct position.
  • Consider doing the last exercises on a machine to gain a better control of the weight and be able to solely focus on pushing.
  • Follow this program for no more than six weeks, then return to your regular style of training. From then on, use pre-exhaust workouts infrequently, whenever you need to up the challenge or push through a training plateau. That being said, feel free to replace some of the exercises listed above with ones that could better target your personal weakest points.

Pre-Exhaust Chest Workout

Dumbbell flies

  • 1st set: 15 reps
  • 2nd set: 12 reps
  • 3rd set: 10 reps
  • 4th set: 8-10 reps

Incline dumbbell flies

  • 1st set: 12 reps
  • 2nd set: 10 reps
  • 3rd set: 10 reps

Decline dumbbell bench press

  • 1st set: 12 reps
  • 2nd set: 8 reps
  • 3rd set: 8 reps
  • 4th set: 8 reps

Barbell bench press – medium grip

  • 1st set: 12 reps
  • 2nd set: 10 reps
  • 3rd set: 8-10 reps

Incline chest press

  • 1st set: 12 reps
  • 2nd set: 10 reps
  • 3rd set: 10 reps

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