We all know that if we want to get bigger and stronger, we should prioritize our main lifts—Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Pull-Up variations.
As for workout order, these lifts are typically the first exercises after your warm-up. You perform them first to take advantage of a fresh central nervous system (CNS) and a pre-fatigued musculoskeletal system. This usually allows you to move more weight for greater adaptation, strength and size.
But although this approach works in theory, in practice it is not always the best method. If you are an experienced lifter with lots of training miles, or one who takes a little longer to warm up and get into the groove of the pattern, first pre-grooving your main exercises with a couple of sets of an accessory exercise in a similar pattern will allow you to move more weight during your subsequent main lift.
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This Is Not Pre-Fatigue
What I am suggesting is not a pre-fatigue method. You should not go at an intensity that will compromise the main lift that follows.
Unlike classic pre-fatigue methods, where the goal is to exhaust one muscle group before performing a subsequent exercise—such as pre-fatiguing the triceps with a Cable Pressdown before doing Push-Ups—”pre-grooving” targets a pattern and range of motion, not just a muscle group.
If you have ever experienced a session where you just feel stiff or can’t get into the groove of the pattern during your main lift, pre-grooving the pattern will take care of this.
How to Pre-Groove
To pre-groove a pattern, select an exercise of the same pattern, but use single-limb work and/or a unilateral load.
A unilateral load stimulates the stabilizing muscles for that pattern and requires you to use a load that will stimulate your CNS and musculoskeletal system but not fatigue it to the point where the subsequent main lift will be compromised.
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For example, let’s use the Deadlift. Instead of jumping right into heavy Deadlift sets, first complete a few sets of Single-Leg, Single-Arm KB/DB Deadlifts.
Grooving the hip-hinging pattern through a single leg and using an offset load allows you to get into a range of motion that will promote better adaptations from the main lift. And because you are using a lighter load, you are also warming up the tissues and stimulating the CNS without locally fatiguing the muscle groups you will be relying on during your subsequent lifts.
Pre-grooving will make you feel more fluid in the main lift that follows, ultimately allowing you to move more weight through a greater range of motion, which is a recipe for bigger gains and for keeping your joints healthy.
Below are a few examples of some pre-grooving program options.
- Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per side of Single-Leg, Single-Arm DB RDLs before your heavy Deadlift sets.
- Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per side of Single-Leg Squats to a box before your heavy Squats or Front Squat sets.
- Perform 2-3 sets of Single-Arm Walking DB Lunges before your heavy sets of Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squats or heavy Lunge variations.
- Perform 2-3 sets of Lateral Slideboard Lunges before your heavy Lateral Lunge or Lateral Squat sets.
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- Perform 2-3 sets of Single-Arm KB Bench Press before your heavy Barbell Bench Press sets.
- Perform 2-3 sets of Half-Kneeling Alternating Cable Pulldowns before your heavy Chin-Up / Pull-Up sets.
- Perform 2-3 sets of Split Stance Single-Arm Cable Rows before your heavy Row sets.
- Perform 2-3 sets of Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Overhead KB Presses before your heavy Overhead Press sets.
Pattern Grooving Example
Below is an example of what lower- and upper-body days might look like. The first two exercises (1a and 1b) are the grooving exercises, and the following exercises (2a and 2b) are your main heavy sets. This is only one example of workout order and does not cover each pattern; but if you take the principles and apply them to other sessions, you can perform any variation of your main lifts.
- 1a) Single-Arm, Single-Leg RDL – 3 x 8 / side
- 1b) Single-Leg Hip Thrust from Bench – 3 x 8 / side
- 2a) Deadlift – 5 x 3
- 2b) Quadruped Adductor Mobility – 3 x 6 / side
- 3a) Goblet Grip Lateral Lunge – 3 x 8 / side
- 3b) Side Plank Wallslide – 3 x 10 / side
- 1a) Single-Arm Incline DB Bench Press – 3 x 8 / side
- 1b) Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Cable Pulldown – 3 x 8 / side
- 2a) Bench Press – 5 x 3
- 2b) Pull-Up – 5 x 3
- 3a) Band-Resisted Push-Up – 3 x 10
- 3b) TRX Inverted Row – 3 x 10
Remember: with the first two exercises, you are trying to groove the movement pattern, warm up the tissues and prepare your body to get into the ranges of motion necessary for optimal gains during your heavy sets. For this reason, make sure you do not go to failure during the pre-grooving sets.