Maximize your Efforts for Better Results with Weight Training

More Effort equals Better Results

Spend your Effort and Time in the Gym Wisely for Progressive Gains

Ever since the late '70s the bodybuilding world has been thoroughly "intensified." Give Mike Mentzer and his Heavy Duty system the credit. With his short-but-brutally-tough workouts Mike took his physique through a massive metamorphosis and eventually took a respectable second to Frank Zane's victory at the '79 Mr. Olympia. Considering this noteworthy bodybuilding achievement, Mike's workouts must have been the normal six-days-a-week, two-hour marathon sessions every other champ claims to use, right? Not quite. Mr. Heavy Duty's weight workouts were only four days per week, one hour each session.

Those of us who are interested in maximum gains with minimum time expenditure (that includes just about everyone who has ever picked up a barbell) could probably learn a thing or two from Mighty Mike. He did everything possible to make his workouts harder, not longer. His techniques are sound, logical and effective, but beware: There's pain involved, to say the least.


Probably the most famous technique Mentzer employed was the pre-exhaustion technique. The brainchild of Bob Kennedy (publisher of Musclemag) and later a standard principle in Nautilus training, pre-exhaustion is simply following an isolation exercise immediately with a compound exercise for that same bodypart. This eliminates the "weak link" so that the primary bodypart can be targeted more efficiently.

Having used this technique ourselves, we can attest to its body-blasting effectiveness (see Homebodies, January '89). The pump is absolutely incredible. Here's an example of how you would do a pre-exhaustion set for delts:

Grab a pair of dumbbells and crank out a set of lateral raises. Keep firing out reps until you can't get anymore strict ones (eight to 10). This set will thoroughly fatigue the side delt head. Now, immediately after you finish your set of laterals, grab a loaded barbell (lighter than usual) and push out a set of behind-the-neck presses. This will force the delt muscles to continue to work with the help of the stronger-for the moment-triceps.

The theory is that if you do the behind-the-neck presses first, as most trainees do, your triceps give out before your stronger deltoids, and thus the delts simply don't work hard enough. In the above scenario, however, you pre-exhaust the deltoids with laterals, making them weaker, for the time being, than the triceps.

While the delts are in this weakened state, you fire off a set of presses, which engage the now stronger triceps. This forces the delts to work harder than ever.

Here's a few other pre-exhaustion combinations you might like to try when you're in a masochistic mood:

Thighs: leg extensions/squats; sissy squats/front squats

Hamstrings: leg curls/stiff-legged deadlifts

Lats: pullovers/chins; stiff-arm pulldowns/undergrip pulldowns

Chest: incline flys/incline presses; flat flys/bench presses; decline flys/feet-elevated pushups

Delts: lateral raises/upright rows; lateral raises/presses

Tips on using pre-exhaustion

» Don't rest between the isolation movement and compound movement or the pre-exhausted muscles will gain strength, making the technique inefficient.

» Always keep the weight under control-no jerking or writhing around to get an extra rep.

» Never do more than two pre-exhaustion cycles for a particular bodypart; one is usually plenty. Remember, this is an intensity technique-you're working harder, so do less for best results.

» Don't use pre-exhaustion for more than six weeks for any one bodypart.

With that last point, let us say that working the entire body with pre-exhaustion makes for an overly strenuous workout. The best way to use pre-exhaustion is to pick out one bodypart (two at the most) that needs specialization, and then hit it with this technique for a six-week period (see Homebodies, May '89). After that, pick another lagging bodypart and use pre-exhaustion on it for another six-week period and so on.

Rest / Pause

Even genetic superiors like Mike Mentzer adapt to certain intensity levels. When this happens, new techniques must be implemented to up the effort. Mentzer threw in forced reps and negatives on top of pre-exhaustion to move up the ladder of intensity, but his musculature eventually adapted to these techniques as well. This is when he discovered rest/pause.

Here's a description of a Mentzer-style rest/pause set for the chest:

After a thorough warmup (one set with 50 percent of your work weight, next set with 75 percent of your work weight) recline on the incline bench and unrack a bar loaded with a poundage you can get one good, strict rep with. Do the rep, rack the weight and wait 10 seconds, then attempt another rep. If you can't quite finish the rep, have your partner help you, but be sure he makes it tough for you. Rack the weight again, but this time decrease the weight by about 20 percent during your 10-second rest. At the end of 10 seconds make sure you're back on the bench cranking out another rep. You should be able to get this third single on your own this time. Rack it, wait 10 seconds and do a fourth and final rep-with partner assistance if necessary.

That's it. Do no more than one set per exercise and no more than three exercises per bodypart.

This is a very advanced technique, and unless you've been training for more than two years, you shouldn't attempt rest/pause-at least in the form outlined above. Another problem is, you need a partner; most home-gym trainees train solo.

For those home trainees who would like to try a less-intense version of rest/pause that doesn't require assistance, try employing it at the end of a normal set. Here's how to use this modified rest/pause on a set of barbell curls:

Grab a barbell and do a set of curls to failure. When you can't manage another rep, set the bar down and count to five. Then pick the bar back up and fire out another rep. Rest another five seconds, then do another rep. Once you miss, set the bar down and wait 10 seconds this time. This extra rest should allow you to complete another rep on your own. You should be able to do a total of about six rest/pause reps at the end of your set. Two sets of this and your biceps will be screaming for mercy.

These two intensity techniques, pre-exhaustion and rest/pause, are but the tip of the intensity iceberg. In future Homebodies we'll delve even deeper into the area of effort and give you techniques to make your home-gym workouts harder, yet shorter and much more productive.

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