Bench Press Pre-Exhaustion (PE) Science: PE Works for Triceps, not Pecs & Delts | Plus: DB, Barbell or Smith M.
|The bench press, an effective exercise for both, men and women.|
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- Pre-exhaustion cannot be expected to increase pectoralis or anterior deltoid activity on the flat bench but it works for the triceps, study shows (Gołas 2017) -- Pre-exhaustion (PE) may not be as en vogue as it was 10-15 years ago, but Golas et al. are right to point out that it is still frequently applied in resistance training (RT).
The idea is that pre-exhausting a supporting muscle group by manipulating the order of performing two resistance exercises, a single-joint exercise to momentary exhaustion, followed by a multi-joint movement that includes the same muscle group, will ensure greater recruitment of muscles or muscle groups in the multi-joint exercise to further increase muscle strength and overcome strength plateaus.
Figure 1: The procedures flow chart in sessions 2, 3, and 4. RM = repetition maximum; BP = bench press; PE = pre-exhaustion; MVIC = maximal voluntary contraction (Golas 2017).
- incline dumbbell fly,
- front deltoid raise, and
- lying triceps extension exercise
- Dumbbells are your best choice for bench presses if maximal pec activity is your goal, but there's more... (Farias 2017) -- Yes, Farias latest paper is not the first study to investigate the differential effects using barbells (BB), dumbbells (DB) and the smith machine (SM) on bench press muscle activity. It is however, the first one I can remember that investigated the muscle activation, total repetitions, and training volume for 3 BP exercise modes (Smith machine, barbell, and dumbbell) that were followed by triceps extensions (TE) performed on a pulley system in N=19 healthy, resistance training, male subjects (1–3 hours of recreational resistance training with a training frequency of 3–6 days per week) - All subjects performed 3 testing protocols in random order, which included:
- smith machine bench presses + triceps extensions (P1),
- barbell bench presses + triceps extensions (P2), and
- dumbbell bench presses + triceps extensions (P3)
|Figure 2: Peak muscle activity for the pectoralis major (PM), anterior deltoid (AD), and triceps brachii (TB) muscles for the bench press exercise with and without PE with the load of 95% 1RM (Golas 2017).|
Accordingly, the authors warn coaches not to expect pre-exhaustion protocols to elicit higher PM or AD activity or fatigue, but encourage them to use it whenever increasing the triceps brachii activity during high intensity exercise is the goal - like in the latter part of "chest + triceps"-day, a combination of which the study at hand cleary suggests that it makes sense.
|Figure 3: EMG activity of pectoralis (green), anterior deltoids (blue), triceps brachii (orange) during bench press exercise using the smith machine (full), barbell (medium) and dumbbells (light color | Farias 2017).|
The results indicate that significantly higher total repetitions were achieved for the DBP (31.2 +/- 3.2) vs. the BBP (27.8 +/- 4.8). For the TE, significantly greater volume was achieved when this exercise was performed after the BBP (1,204.4 +/- 249.4 kg) and DBP (1,216.8 6 287.5 kg) vs. the SMBP (1,097.5 +/- 193 kg) - a result that clearly suggests that the smith machine fails to isolate the pecs as it allows you to cheat the bar up using the triceps, which will then be exhausted on the subsequent isolation exercise.
|Figure 4: Interpretation of the EMG results wrt to exercise selection according to training goals.|
Interestingly enough, though, it was neither the dumbbell press with its ability to isolate the pecs, nor the smith machine press which overloads the anterior deltoids and the triceps, but rather the classic barbell bench press that yielded the highest triceps activity during the subsequent cable pulley triceps extensions.
|Want to learn more about exercise selection? Try this SuppVersity Classic: "Cables or Machines: Muscle Activity, Angle & ROM of Arms, Abs, Chest & Shoulders on Chest & Overhead P. & Curls" | read the full article|
Doing lying triceps extensions before bench presses, on the other hand, will sign. increase the activation of the triceps. Interestingly enough, the same goes for doing barbell (yet not dumbbell or smith machine) bench presses before cable-pulley triceps extensions - the reasons for the last-mentioned observation are not clear and, in view of the fact that isolating the triceps is much less of a problem than isolating the pecs, probably also irrelevant.
That's much in contrast to the choice of the right gym equipment. A choice of which the second study in today's installment of "On Short Notice" suggests that it may well, if not should, include dumbbells (DBs), because DBs are clearly the #1 for pectoralis major activity on the bench - a bonus of which I have to remind you, however, that it is the result of a relatively reduced front delt and triceps activity. Your overall upper-body muscular development may thus still benefit most from the classic barbell bench press | Comment!
- Farias, DdA, Willardson, JM, Paz, GA, Bezerra, EdS, and Miranda, H. Maximal strength performance and muscle activation for the bench press and triceps extension exercises adopting dumbbell, barbell and machine modalities over multiple sets. J Strength Cond Res 31(7): 1879–1887, 2017
- Gołas, A, Maszczyk, A, Pietraszewski, P, Stastny, P, Tufano, JJ, and Zaja˛c, A. Effects of pre-exhaustion on the patterns of muscular activity in the flat bench press. J Strength Cond Res 31 (7): 1919–1924, 2017