Pre fatiguing: how to target muscles better

Have you considered using pre fatiguing? It basically means stressing a specific muscle using an isolating movement and works especially well for larger muscle groups. Let me give you an example. Think of quads: what do you most work them out with? What is the focus exercise of your leg program? Probably squats. Thing is, you can only squat so much for so long: what tires first isn’t your quads but your upper-body musculature.

Your lower back gets tired. Your core wears out. You start to round over. Your pelvis is dancing its own tune and you’re sucking in air like a drowning man when what you really want is your damn legs to tire first. But they don’t — instead, they get tired last whilst everything else fucks out on you. You have to stop squatting because you can’t squat any further.

So in terms of efficiency yeah, squats will build legs, but you’re “leaking” power elsewhere. So what should you do? Well, you could pre fatigue quads so that when you hit squats, your legs really will tire first which is what you want. This is exactly what I do using barbell hack squats — to do those puppies correctly, check out the example I’ve linked to by Charles Poliquin. They’re killers.

You could of course use leg extensions for the same purpose. In fact, you could use a wide variety of exercises to pre exhaust your quads such as split squats, step-ups, lunges, you get the idea. Hell, you could hold yourself in a sitting position against a wall if you wanted and wait till your thighs cave in. The point is, when you squat after pre fatiguing quads, your legs will fuck out first.

Isn’t that the entire point of hypertrophy training — targeting the, ah, target muscle?

For an older lifter like moi this is great news. I get to target specific muscles first which means lighter weights after. The ongoing stress of heavy weights — understand my use of the word “heavy” is of course subjective — upon ligaments, joints and musculature is thereby reduced. Win-win. Because I’m focused on hypertrophy over and above strength, reduced weight isn’t an issue anyway.

…which is why not everyone can incorporate the use of pre-fatigue.


Too many of us focus on pushing weight rather than building muscle: if it’s not hard (and getting heavier each week mind) then it’s not effective. At least in your head. You have to squat this, push that, pull the other thing and wear your grannies underwear while you’re at it — y’know, the unwashed ones. You have to hit quads from different sides, angles and whatever else it is.

You have to work to earn those quadzillas. You have to sweat, hurt and puke using every machine in the gym (and preferably puke over every machine in the gym). If this is you, you’re incapable of using pre fatiguing simply because you’re convinced you need to use high reps, high volume, high intensity, high everything. Pre fatigue quads and only do 2–3 sets of squats? Are you crazy?

For the smarter users, do some research into the program of, say, Dorian Yates: he worked up to a max set and that was it. Sometimes there were only 1–2 sets before his max set. Yes, it can be a thin line between warm-ups and pre fatiguing but if you know your shit, you can make your warm-ups part of your pre fatiguing focus. You can apply pre fatiguing to all major muscle groups prior to your compound lifts and I encourage you to give it a go.

Kia ora koutou!