Arm Fatigue

Dustin Myers

Have you ever attempted a PR on Bench Press, only to have your triceps give out and fail on the lock out? How about going for a big number of Chin Ups, but your biceps seem to fail before your lats?

“I could do more Push Ups but my arms are giving out” is a phrase I have heard from countless clients over the years. The dreaded “Arm Fatigue” is something every lifter has experienced, and it is especially relevant with new or beginner weight room warriors.

Basically, here is the problem - all “pushing” compound movements for chest (Push Ups, Dips, Bench Press variations) also require the front delts and triceps to complete the movement. Likewise, any “pulling” compound movements for back (Chin Ups, Lat Pulldowns, rows, etc.) also utilize the forearms and biceps. The arm muscles (biceps/triceps) are essentially the weakest link in the chain on those movements, so they are bound to fail before the bigger muscles of the lats or pecs are overloaded.  Here are a couple strategies to help improve this:

Strategy #1: Train Heavier on Arms

Most people make the choice to train arms after their main lift, such as hitting some tricep work after bench press. That makes sense, but by that time, the triceps are already fatigued from the bench press or dumbbell press, and typically most people will utilize higher reps (sets of 12-15) on these accessory exercises. This is fine from a “feel the pump” perspective, but if your triceps are the weak link then you need to train them for strength.

The Solution? A separate HEAVY arm day. You can still do accessory bicep and tricep work after your pull ups or bench press, but by adding a separate day where the focus can be on building strength in the arms with heavy weight in a lower rep range will help alleviate arm fatigue on the big movements.

Here’s an example meat head arm day:

 

  1. Straight Bar Curls - 10, 6, 4, 3, 3, 2*, 1*

            *perform a 5 second negative on these reps

  1. Superset: 5 sets

            DB Alternating Curls - 3 each arm

            Hammer Curls - 3 each arm

            Preacher Curls - 5 reps

  1. DB Skull Crushers - 5 x 5
  2. Superset: 5 sets

            Overhead Tricep DB Extension - 5

            Tricep Kick Backs - 5

            Machine Press Downs - 8

 

 

  1. Superset: 3 sets

            Underhand Chin Ups - until failure

            Narrow Push Ups - until failure

Strategy #2: Pre-Exhaust the Big Muscles

Since the smaller muscles in your arms are giving out before the larger muscles in your chest and back can become overloaded, you may not be getting the most out of your heavy compound lifts with respect to the target muscle. Try this method of super-setting an isolation movement before the compound movement. This strategy allows the prime mover muscle (chest) to become fatigued, so when you move to the compound movement (bench press), it will become overloaded before the small muscle (triceps) gives out. The key is feeling a good burn on that first, high rep exercise by concentrating on both the stretch, and the contraction. I recommend mixing these “pre-exhaust” sets into your routine once or twice per month.

The Solution? Try these pre-exhaust super sets:

 

  1. Chest
  2. Superset: 5 sets

                        DB Chest Flys - 12 reps (stretch at the bottom, squeeze at the top)

                        DB Chest Press - 5 reps

  1. Superset: 5 sets

                        Machine Chest Flys (Pec Deck) - 15 reps

                        Push Ups - max reps

 

  1. Back
  2. Superset: 5 sets

                        Seated DB Shrugs - 10 reps (Sit down, lean forward slightly and squeeze your shoulder blades back as you shrug, focusing on the rhomboids rather than the traps. Pause at the top for 2 seconds.)

                        Seated Row Machine - 8 reps

 

  1. Superset: 5 sets

                        Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns - 15 reps (standing, arms locked)

                        Seated (Regular) Lat Pulldowns - 8 reps

 

 

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