The formula for building muscle isn't locked away in a vault somewhere like the recipe for Coca-Cola. It's more like the recipe for ice: We all know what it is, but it takes some patience to see the end product.

  • Strength Training + Food = More Muscle

Perhaps that's an oversimplification, but it doesn't make it any less true. If you want to build muscle, you need to lift and you need to eat. These are the universal truths. But they're not enough to fill out a program or a meal plan, so let's get more specific.



When it comes to both food and training, the body constantly seeks to adapt to whatever stimulus you impart upon it. Muscle hypertrophy is a response to certain stimuli, in particular things like tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. So if you want to grow, those are the kinds of conditions your training should strive to create. There are plenty of ways to achieve these conditions independently, but a classic way of combining all three is pre-exhaust training.

Three Steps to Growth

The pre-exhaust method is as popular with bodybuilders as skinny jeans are with hipsters. It's easy to implement, and if used properly it can yield amazing results. Aside from being great for overall growth, it's also perfect for trying to target a lagging body part. Here's how it works:

  • Step 1: Perform an isolation movement for a particular muscle group. For example, biceps curls, dumbbell flyes, or leg extensions.
  • Step 2: Immediately perform a compound movement for the same muscle. For example, chin-ups, bench press, or squats.
  • Step 3: Get big. Yeah, it's really that simple.

Here's why. Normally, say when you bench press, your triceps, deltoids and other assistance muscles will fail before your pecs. However, when you hit your pecs with an isolation movement like the flye, your pecs will then fail at the same time, or even before, those assistance muscles once you begin benching. The result: more muscle fibers hit in the pectorals, and more grow as a result.

More generally, the muscles will sustain significant damage due to the volume and load involved, and metabolic stress occurs because of the short rest periods and concentrated volume. You also create significant tension by selecting effective movements and using a moderate rep range, particularly with your compound exercise.

In short, it meets all the requirements for hypertrophy in spades. It'll get you big.

The Pre-Exhaust Program

No method, regardless of how magical it is, will work well if it's incorporated into a junk program. You need a solid training routine in support, as well as good nutrition, if you want to see real results.

This program uses pre-exhaust movements for each body part, but in a way that doesn't produce overtraining. If you tried to pre-exhaust every movement in a workout, you would end up crushing yourself. Doing one pre-exhausted movement per body part is the smartest way to work.



And make sure you pay attention to those rest periods! The entire purpose of pre-exhaust training is to go into your compound movement with the primary muscle fatigued by the isolation movement.

If you rest too long and the muscle gets extra recovery time, you defeat the purpose of the method.

Week 1

Day 1
1
Superset
4 sets
Leg Extensions
4 sets, 8 reps
Front Barbell Squat
4 sets, 8 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
One Leg Barbell Squat
4 sets, 12 reps
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Dumbbell Rear Lunge
4 sets, 12 reps (Front foot-elevated)
Reverse Crunch
4 sets, 10 reps
Day 2
1
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
4 sets, 8 reps
Pullups
4 sets, to failure (Even though this says 4 sets, you should be doing one set of AMAP after every set of bench, including any warm-ups, so it could be more.)
2
Superset
4 sets
Flat Bench Cable Flyes
4 sets, 12 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press
4 sets, 8 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Cable Rear Delt Fly
4 sets, 12 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets, 12 reps
4
Superset
3 sets
Pushups
3 sets, to failure
Dumbbell Incline Row
3 sets, 12 reps
Day 3
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 8 reps
2
Triset
4 sets
Barbell Hip Thrust
4 sets, 10 reps
Glute Ham Raise
4 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend
4 sets, 12 reps
Day 4
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Side Lateral Raise
4 sets, 12 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press
4 sets, 8 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps
Standing Barbell Press Behind Neck
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Curl
4 sets, 12 reps
Chin-Up
4 sets, 8 reps (weighted)
4
Superset
4 sets
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension
4 sets, 10 reps
Dips - Triceps Version
4 sets, 8 reps (weighted)
5
Superset
4 sets
Seated Biceps Hammer Curl
4 sets, 12 reps
Seated Triceps Press
4 sets, 12 reps

Week 2

Day 1
1
Superset
4 sets
Leg Extensions
4 sets, 10 reps
Front Barbell Squat
4 sets, 10 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
One Leg Barbell Squat
4 sets, 15 reps
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Dumbbell Rear Lunge
4 sets, 15 reps (Front foot-elevated)
Reverse Crunch
4 sets, 15 reps
Day 2
1
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
4 sets, 10 reps
Pullups
4 sets, to failure (Even though this says 4 sets, you should be doing one set of AMAP after every set of bench, including any warm-ups, so it could be more.)
2
Superset
4 sets
Flat Bench Cable Flyes
4 sets, 15 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Cable Rear Delt Fly
4 sets, 15 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets, 15 reps
4
Superset
3 sets
Pushups
3 sets, to failure
Dumbbell Incline Row
3 sets, 15 reps
Day 3
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 8 reps
2
Triset
4 sets
Barbell Hip Thrust
4 sets, 10 reps
Glute Ham Raise
4 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend
4 sets, 15 reps
Day 4
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Side Lateral Raise
4 sets, 15 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press
4 sets, 10 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps
Standing Barbell Press Behind Neck
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Curl
4 sets, 15 reps
Chin-Up
4 sets, 10 reps (weighted)
4
Superset
4 sets
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension
4 sets, 10 reps
Dips - Triceps Version
4 sets, 8 reps (weighted)
5
Superset
4 sets
Seated Biceps Hammer Curl
4 sets, 15 reps
Seated Triceps Press
4 sets, 15 reps

Week 3​​​​​​​

Day 1
1
Superset
4 sets
Leg Extensions
4 sets, 6 reps
Front Barbell Squat
4 sets, 6 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
One Leg Barbell Squat
4 sets, 10 reps
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 8 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Dumbbell Rear Lunge
4 sets, 10 reps (Front foot-elevated)
Reverse Crunch
4 sets, 10 reps
Day 2
1
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
4 sets, 6 reps
Pullups
4 sets, to failure (Even though this says 4 sets, you should be doing one set of AMAP after every set of bench, including any warm-ups, so it could be more.)
2
Superset
4 sets
Flat Bench Cable Flyes
4 sets, 10 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press
4 sets, 8 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Cable Rear Delt Fly
4 sets, 10 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row
4 sets, 10 reps
4
Superset
3 sets
Pushups
3 sets, to failure
Dumbbell Incline Row
3 sets, 10 reps
Day 3
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Leg Curl
4 sets, 8 reps
Romanian Deadlift
4 sets, 6 reps
2
Triset
4 sets
Barbell Hip Thrust
4 sets, 8 reps
Glute Ham Raise
4 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend
4 sets, 10 reps
Day 4
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Side Lateral Raise
4 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press
4 sets, 6 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps
Standing Barbell Press Behind Neck
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
Chin-Up
4 sets, 6 reps (weighted)
4
Superset
4 sets
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension
4 sets, 10 reps
Dips - Triceps Version
4 sets, 6 reps (weighted)
5
Superset
4 sets
Seated Biceps Hammer Curl
4 sets, 10 reps
Seated Triceps Press
4 sets, 15 reps

Week 4

Day 1
1
Superset
4 sets
Leg Extensions
3 sets, 8 reps
Front Barbell Squat
3 sets, 8 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
One Leg Barbell Squat
3 sets, 10 reps
Seated Leg Curl
3 sets, 8 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Dumbbell Rear Lunge
2 sets, 12 reps (Front foot-elevated)
Reverse Crunch
2 sets, 10 reps
Day 2
1
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip
3 sets, 8 reps
Pullups
3 sets, to failure (Even though this says 4 sets, you should be doing one set of AMAP after every set of bench, including any warm-ups, so it could be more.)
2
Superset
4 sets
Flat Bench Cable Flyes
3 sets, 10 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press
3 sets, 8 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Cable Rear Delt Fly
3 sets, 10 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row
3 sets, 10 reps
4
Superset
3 sets
Pushups
2 sets, to failure
Dumbbell Incline Row
2 sets, 10 reps
Day 3
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Leg Curl
3 sets, 10 reps
Romanian Deadlift
3 sets, 8 reps
2
Triset
4 sets
Barbell Hip Thrust
3 sets, 8 reps
Glute Ham Raise
3 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Side Bend
3 sets, 10 reps
Day 4
1
Superset
4 sets
Seated Side Lateral Raise
3 sets, 10 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press
3 sets, 8 reps
2
Superset
4 sets
Face Pull
4 sets, 15 reps
Standing Barbell Press Behind Neck
4 sets, 10 reps
3
Superset
4 sets
Barbell Curl
3 sets, 10 reps
Chin-Up
3 sets, 8 reps (weighted)
4
Superset
4 sets
Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension
3 sets, 10 reps
Dips - Triceps Version
3 sets, 8 reps (weighted)
5
Superset
4 sets
Seated Biceps Hammer Curl
3 sets, 10 reps
Seated Triceps Press
3 sets, 10 reps

Eat Big To Get Big

This is an unadulterated mass-gaining program. As such, it demands hypertrophy-oriented nutrition behind it to drive your results. That means you need to make sure you eat enough. Second, choose high-quality calories! Don't grab a double quarter pounder after every session just because you're bulking, bro. Make sure you get enough protein and complex carbs!

Conversely, this isn't the time to try a ketogenic diet. Maintaining full glycogen stores signals your body to grow.

Another simple change you can make to aid your muscle building during these four weeks is to incorporate pre- and intra-workout nutrition. Ingest a small pre-workout shake and some intra-workout amino acids to ensure that your body is always ready to grow. If you can keep all these things in line and not slack in the gym, you'll be investing in bigger shirts in no time.

About the Author

Christopher Smith, CSCS

Christopher Smith, CSCS

Chris Smith is a strength coach from New York City and the founder of Train Better Fitness.

View all articles by this author