Try Pre-Exhausting the Chest for Growth!

The typical workout breakdown goes in the following order: power, strength, hypertrophy and finish with endurance. This includes starting the workout with compound, multi-joint movements, then finishing the workout with isolation work. Pre-exhausting the muscle puts the isolation movements first. It’s a great way to switch up your training and force your muscles into growth. I’ve also noticed that this strategy can be easy on the joints. When you get to your multi-joint movements, you won’t be able to lift as much, putting less stress on the joints. Give this chest workout a try!

Exercise Sets x Reps
Dumbbell Pullover 3 x 15
Incline Cable Fly 4 x 12
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 8–10*
Flat Dumbbell Fly 4 x 12
Flat Barbell Chest Press 3 x 8–10*
Superset:
Incline Machine Chest Press
Flat Machine Chest Press
3 x 15
3 x 15

*After the last set, perform a drop set (drop 25% to 30% of the weight and do as many reps as possible).

1. Dumbbell Pullover

I like to start this pre-exhaust workout with the dumbbell pullover. It’s an isolation movement that gets a great stretch of the chest. It was made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who claimed it even expanded his ribcage and allowed him to build more size. On these, really focus on a slow negative and getting a full stretch of the chest before squeezing the chest to raise the weight. Many times this exercise is used as a finisher, but this workout is about pre-exhausting the muscle.

Pullover
Pullover

2. Incline Cable Fly

I really prefer cables (compared to dumbbells) when performing chest flyes. I really feel the tension through the entire range of motion. On these, I take a brief pause on the stretch, along with a brief pause on the contraction. Don’t let your hands drop as you get tired. Really focus on keeping the tension and focus on the upper chest.

Incline fly
Incline fly

3. Incline Dumbbell Press

Now that you’ve completed your upper-chest isolation movement, move to the compound exercise. Don’t forget that you will not be able to lift as much weight as you normally do because of the pre-exhaust. Find a weight that allows you to complete 8 to 10 solid reps. Don’t cheat on these. Get a full stretch and full squeeze at the top. Also, on the last set, drop 25% to 30% of the weight and complete as many reps as possible.

Incline press
Incline press

4. Flat Dumbbell Fly

Now that the upper chest is fried, it’s time to hit the middle/lower chest. I decided to switch to dumbbell flyes just to hit the chest differently (even though I prefer cables). I try to slightly tilt the bottom of the dumbbells together to make sure I am focusing to the lower portion of the chest. You will perform sets of 12 here before moving on to a compound movement.

Dumbbell fly
Dumbbell fly

5. Flat Barbell Bench Press

Everyone knows the bench press, and everyone wants to lift as much as possible. But at this point of the workout, you won’t be lifting big weights if you have been doing everything properly. By this time, you’ve crushed your upper chest and pre-exhausted your middle/lower chest. I highly suggest grabbing a spot on these as you will tire out quickly. Perform them with proper form and push to get 8 to 10 reps. Again, on these, complete a drop set after the last set.

Bench Press
Bench Press

6. Incline Machine Chest Press/Flat Machine Press

On this final superset, you’ll have to really dig deep to get 15 reps. Really try and get all 15. If you can’t get all 15 reps, take a rest-pause (rest 15 seconds, then finish the reps). At this point, it’s just about burning out every last bit and pushing yourself further than you thought possible. If your chest isn’t completely fried after this superset, then you weren’t pushing yourself hard enough!

Incline machine press
Incline machine press
Flat machine press
Flat machine press