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Pre-fatiguing strategy in weight training.

Updated on February 15, 2010
Image taken from and used under Creative Commons- Attribution licence
Image taken from and used under Creative Commons- Attribution licence

I think pre-fatiguing may be the best kept secret in the world of weight training, or at least it seems to be a very under-utilised strategy. In this article I'll attempt to explain the theory behind the pre-fatigue training strategy and give some examples of my favourite combinations of exercises.

The goal of pre-fatiguing is fairly simple, to ensure adequate fatigue and exhaustion of the main targeted muscle of your workout. This is the goal of any muscle building workout program, but it is not uncommon for people to finish a big workout feeling like they have run out of steam without really exhausting their targeted muscle group.

Taking the bench press as an example, the main targeted muscle group is the chest or pectorals. In addition to the pecs, the triceps and also shoulders are utilised in this exercise. When you consider the size of the pectoralis major muscle compared with the triceps, it's easy to imagine that the triceps may fatigue long before the pecs do. I suspect that a lot of people can relate to finishing a set of 12 bench presses, and having to stop due to tricep (or shoulder) fatigue and not really feeling much of the exercise in the targeted chest area at all.

So how can we ensure that the pectoral muscles are properly fatigued from the bench press, forcing them to adapt with increased strength and endurance? Well, it's quite simple although it may run opposite to your current workout strategy – before we get to bench press we need to pre-fatigue the pecs through an isolation exercise such as dumbbell flyes.

This approach is counter to the more common strategy of starting out (after a warm up, of course) with your heaviest compound exercises so that you can be sure of lifting the heaviest possible weight while you are still fresh. This is a popular strategy and one that I still employ from time to time, but as I've described above there is a big question mark over how much of that lifting strength has truly come from the targeted muscle group.

For chest my personal favourite combination of exercises is dumbbell flyes followed by dumbbell bench press. You could substitute any other chest isolation exercise such as pec dec, cable flyes etc, but personally I like dumbbell flyes best! Try sets of 12 flyes with correct technique, followed by sets of 8 – 12 dumbbell press.

What you will notice first is that your ego takes a pounding as you are forced to use a much lighter weight for the pressing exercise, but at the same time you feel a lot more of a burn deep in the pectoral muscles, and less in the shoulders and triceps. You should also feel nice and sore in the pecs a day or two afterwards, as the muscles recover and adapt.

There are a few options as to how to program the two exercises. You could do all your sets of dumbbell flyes first, and then move on to dumbbell press. My favourite to really hit the chest hard and feel that deep burn in the muscle fibres is to use supersetting, with 12 reps of flyes followed immediately by 12 reps of dumbbell press. Often I'll have to use a rest-pause technique to be able to get to 12 reps of pressing.

In case anyone out there is not already familiar with the terms, a super set is quite literally going straight from one exercise into another, without taking a rest. Rest-pause is a technique where upon reaching momentary exhaustion, you can rest for a few seconds and then continue to your desired amount of reps. In fact I would almost go so far as to say if you can complete your full 12 reps of dumbbell press without using a rest-pause at around the 8th or 10th rep, you need to go a little bit heavier.

Some other combinations of exercises I have used to pre-fatigue a particular muscle before using a compound exercise are;

For shoulders; seated side lateral raise + seated shoulder dumbbell press.
This combination targets the lateral (or middle) head of the deltoid muscle of the shoulder. Although the shoulder press targets the anterior (front) head primarily, you should feel a good burn through the middle delt throughout this combination.

And for legs; seated leg extension + seated leg press.
This combination targets the quadriceps muscles. You could use a leg curl instead of extension if you wanted to target the hamstrings & glutes instead. Doing this as a superset is particularly exhausting!

Incorporate some pre-fatiguing into your workout strategy and I am sure you will notice some good results!

Science + intensity = results!



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    • nickhart profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm reading the book "Get buffed" by Ian King and he describes these methods. But he didn't really clear up exactly what "pre-fatiguing" is so this cleared that up nicely for me. Thanks =)

    • UhOhChongo profile image


      7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Good article, I'll have to change things up now and again. One thing that used to work well for me and helped get my bench up to 375 while weighing 205: drop sets. After a typical workout, I'd jump back down to 225 and bench till failure, immediately drop to 185 and bench till failure and then 135 to failure. If you can hit 3 sets of those after a normal "pyramid" bench routine, you will see huge gains over time. Key being a lot of reps in those sets. Even if you have to drop the weight more for 2nd set(205).......


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