Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007, 21(4), 1082–1086
? 2007 National Strength & Conditioning Association
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ORDER ON UPPER-BODY
MUSCLE ACTIVATION AND EXERCISE PERFORMANCE
PAULO GENTIL,1,2ELKE OLIVEIRA,2VALDINAR DE ARAU´JO ROCHA JU´NIOR,3JAKE DO CARMO,3
AND MARTIM BOTTARO3
1College of Physical Education, Catholic University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil;2College of Health Science,
University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil;3College of Physical Education and Exercise Science, University of
Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil.
ABSTRACT. Gentil, P., E. Oliveira, V.A. Rocha Ju ´nior, J. do Car-
mo, and M. Bottaro. Effects of exercise order on upper-body mus-
cle activation and exercise performance. J. Strength Cond. Res.
21(4):1082–1086. 2007.—With the purpose of manipulating
training stimuli, several techniques have been employed to re-
sistance training. Two of the most popular techniques are the
pre-exhaustion (PRE) and priority system (PS). PRE involves
exercising the same muscle or muscle group to the point of mus-
cular failure using a single-joint exercise immediately before a
multi-joint exercise (e.g., peck-deck followed by chest press). On
the other hand, it is often recommended that the complex ex-
ercises should be performed first in a training session (i.e., chest
press before peck-deck), a technique known as PS. The purpose
of the present study was to compare upper-body muscle activa-
tion, total repetitions (TR), and total work (TW) during PRE and
PS. Thirteen men (age 25.08 ? 2.58 years) with recreational
weight-training experience performed 1 set of PRE and 1 set of
PS in a balanced crossover design. The exercises were performed
at the load obtained in a 10 repetition maximum (10RM) test.
Therefore, chest press and peck-deck were performed with the
same load during PRE and PS. Electromyography (EMG) was
recorded from the triceps brachii (TB), anterior deltoids, and
pectoralis major during both exercises. According to the results,
TW and TR were not significantly different (p ? 0.05) between
PRE and PS. Likewise, during the peck-deck exercise, no signif-
icant (p ? 0.05) EMG change was observed between PRE and
PS order. However, TB activity was significantly (p ? 0.05) high-
er when chest press was performed after the peck-deck exercise
(PRE). Our findings suggest that performing pre-exhaustion ex-
ercise is no more effective in increasing the activation of the
prefatigued muscles during the multi-joint exercise. Also, inde-
pendent of the exercise order (PRE vs. PS), TW is similar when
performing exercises for the same muscle group. In summary, if
the coach wants to maximize the athlete performance in 1 spe-
cific resistance exercise, this exercise should be placed at the
beginning of the training session.
KEY WORDS. resistance training, electromyography, fatigue
manipulating training stimuli, several resis-
tance exercise order techniques have been employed. Two
of the most popular techniques are the pre-exhaustion
(PRE) and priority system (PS).
Pre-exhaustion involves exercising the same muscle or
muscle group to the point of muscular failure using a sin-
gle-joint exercise immediately before a multi-joint exer-
cise (11). The rationale for PRE utilization probably lies
in muscle behavior during fatigue, but the evidence is
contradictory. Some studies found a progressive increase
esistance training has a fundamental role in
physical activity programs, and has been rec-
ommended by many major health organiza-
tions (1, 12, 16, 22, 29). With the purpose of
in the electromyographic (EMG) signal amplitude during
submaximal isometric voluntary contractions (7, 18, 19).
These results suggested that additional motor units (MU)
are recruited in order to compensate for the loss of func-
tionality of others. However, studies using near maxi-
mum efforts reported that fatigue resulted in a significant
reduction in motor unit activation (5, 15, 18).
The activity of accessory muscles may also be altered
during PRE because of the fatigue of prime movers. Ak-
ima et al. (2), Newham et al. (20), and Nyland et al. (21)
reported that prime movers fatigue is compensated by in-
creasing MU recruitment of accessory muscles. Akima et
al. (2) reported that vastus lateralis fatigue resulted in
recruitment pattern alterations during knee extension ex-
ercise, leading to a decrease in vastus lateralis muscle
activation and an increase in vastus medialis and rectus
femoris muscle activation.
Augustsson et al. (3) investigated the effects of PRE
exercise on lower extremity muscle activation during leg
press and reported that the performance of 10 repetition
maximum (10RM) knee extension exercise immediately
before leg press exercise resulted in a decrease in the ac-
tivation of rectus femoris and vastus lateralis muscles.
Although the data showed no significant change in glu-
teus maximus muscle activation, the authors suggested
that it is possible that there were changes in the activa-
tion of other muscles, such as adductors and gastrocne-
mius. It is important to note that Augustsson et al. (3)
did not investigate EMG activity on leg press exercise fol-
lowed by a knee extension exercise.
Another popular resistance training method is the PS.
It is usually recommended that the major goal exercises
should be placed first in a training session in order to
perform these exercises with maximal intensity (11). Sfor-
zo and Touey (23) reported that the total work of a train-
ing session was greater when multi-joint exercises were
performed first in the workout session. When analyzing
a single exercise, Sima ˜o et al. (24) found that the number
of repetitions was decreased when the resistance exercise
was performed later in a training session. However,
Spreuwenberg et al. (26) reported that performing the
squat exercise after a whole-body workout session may
result in a greater power output. Therefore, the effect of
PS on muscle performance is still unclear. Additionally,
to our knowledge no study has investigated the effect of
exercise order on EMG activity of upper-body muscles.
Thus, the purpose of the present study was to investigate
the effects of exercise order (PRE vs. PS) on the total work
output, total number of repetitions performed and upper-
body muscle activation in trained young men.
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ORDER
Experimental Approach to the Problem
EMG was recorded from 3 upper-body muscles (triceps
brachii [TB], anterior deltoids [AD], and pectoralis major
[PM]) in 2 different situations: (a) PRE (peck-deck before
chest press) and (b) PS (chest press before peck-deck).
Total work (TW ? resistance ? repetitions) and total rep-
etitions (TR ? sum of repetitions performed during chest
press and peck-deck exercise) were also recorded during
PRE and PS.
Thirteen healthy men (age: 25.08 ? 2.58 years; weight:
71.68 ? 8.65 kg; height: 172.50 ? 6.49 cm) with 7.37 ?
4.42 years of resistance exercise experience volunteered
to participate in the experiment. In order to do so, sub-
jects must have been performing recreational resistance
training at least 3 times a week during the previous 12
months and have had no health problems that could be
negatively influenced by the tests. All subjects were ac-
customed to training with both exercise orders. None of
the subjects had a recent or remote history of significant
upper-body injury. Before participation, each subject read
and signed a detailed consent form. The study was ap-
proved by the Institutional Review Board.
Determination of 10 Maximum Repetition Loads
Ten repetition maximum (10RM) tests were used in order
to attenuate errors between subjects and exercises due to
the application of percentages of maximum loads (14, 28).
In the week before the experiment, the load for 10RM was
determined for each subject in the chest press and the
peck-deck exercises (High On model, Righetto Fitness
Equipment, Sa ˜o Paulo, Brazil) by using the maximum
weight that could be lifted for 10 consecutive repetitions
at a constant velocity of 4 seconds per repetition (2 sec-
onds in concentric and 2 seconds in eccentric phase). If
the subject did not accomplish 10RM in the first attempt,
the weight was adjusted by 4–10 kg and a minimum 5-
minute rest was given before the next attempt. Only 3
trials were allowed per testing session. The tests were
repeated in all subjects and data were analyzed by Pear-
son product moment correlations to estimate day-to-day
10RM reliability (r ? 0.98). Peck-deck and chest press
10RM load were 71.54 ? 13.13 and 66.92 ? 15.91 kg,
Recommendations of the International Society of Electro-
physiology and Kinesiology pertaining to the use and in-
terpretation of electromyographic data were followed for
collecting, managing, normalizing, and analyzing EMG
data (17, 25).
All EMG measurements were taken on the dominant
side of the body. Bipolar 9-mm shielded silver-silver chlo-
ride electrodes (DelSys Incorporated, Boston, MA) were
placed parallel to the muscle fibers of the TB, AD, and
PM following shaving, alcohol cleansing, and mild abrad-
ing of the sites. Electrodes were held in place with special
double-sized adhesive tape. Recommendations by Zipp
(31) on anatomical reference for electrode placement were
followed for TB and AD. For PM, the electrodes were
placed according to the procedures proposed by Clemons
and Aaron (8). All test sites were identified and prepared
by the same investigator. After electrode positioning, im-
pedance was verified and accepted when less than 5k?.
The analyses were made with the mean of the EMG sig-
nals calculated from the repetitions performed, excluding
the first and the last repetitions. Raw EMG signals were
recorded using the Bagnoli-8 EMG system (DelSys) with
a common mode rejection ratio of 90 dB. The EMG signal
was preamplified with a gain of 1,000 and band pass-fil-
tered between 20 and 500 Hz. The signal was sampled at
a rate of 2,000 Hz and rectified. The average of the am-
plitude was calculated using the root mean square meth-
od. The amplitude was normalized to the peak EMG val-
ue obtained during the tests for each subject (6, 30).
Subjects were instructed not to perform any resistance
exercises involving the PM, AD, or TB muscles during the
72 hours before the tests. Before testing, each subject was
instructed in the proper technique for each exercise. Sub-
jects were instructed to maintain a constant velocity of 2
seconds in the concentric phase and 2 seconds in the ec-
centric phase, with no pause between phases. To help con-
trol movement velocity, a metronome was used.
All exercises were performed at the load obtained dur-
ing the 10RM tests; therefore, the load for chest press and
peck-deck was the same during PRE and PS. During
PRE, the subjects performed 1 set of the peck-deck exer-
cise to the point of muscular failure, immediately followed
by 1 set of as many repetitions as possible of the chest
press exercise. PS involved the performance of 1 set to
failure of the chest press exercise, immediately followed
by 1 set to failure of peck-deck. PRE and PS were exe-
cuted in the same day in a balanced crossover design (7
subjects performed PRE first, and the other 6 performed
PS first), with 20 to 30 minutes of rest between them.
Results are presented in values of mean ? SD. The 10RM
load for chest press and peck-deck were compared using
a dependent t-test. A 3-way analysis of variance (ANO-
VA), 2 ? 2 ? 3 (exercise order [PRE and PS] ? exercises
[peck-deck and chest press] ? muscles [AD, TB, and PM]),
was used to compare EMG signal. When differences were
found, multiple comparisons were made with confidence
interval adjustment according to the Bonferroni proce-
dure. TR and TW were compared between PRE and PS
using a dependent t-test. An alpha level of 0.05 was used
for all comparisons.
There were no differences in 10RM load between the
chest press and the peck-deck exercises (p ? 0.05).
Three-way ANOVA revealed a significant exercise or-
der by exercises by muscles interaction (p ? 0.05). There
were also significant interactions between exercises and
muscles for EMG activity (p ? 0.05).
During the chest press exercise, PM muscle activation
was significantly higher than TB (p ? 0.05) for both ex-
ercise orders. There were no significant differences in
EMG signal amplitude between AD and PM, or AD and
TB during chest press for PRE and PS (Figure 1). No
significant difference for AD and PM muscle activation
was reported between PRE and PS during the chest press
exercise. However, significantly (p ? 0.001) higher TB ac-
tivation was reported in the chest press exercise during
PRE compared to PS (Figure 1).
There was no significant difference between AD and
PM muscle activation during the peck-deck exercise in
both exercise orders; however, PM and AD muscle acti-
1084GENTIL, OLIVEIRA, DE ARAU´JO ROCHA JU´NIOR ET AL.
plitude during priority system (PS) and pre-exhaustion (PRE).
TB ? triceps brachii; AD ? anterior deltoids; PM ? pectoralis
major. * p ? 0.05, TB activity during PS vs. PRE. † p ? 0.05,
PM vs. TB activity during PS. ‡ p ? 0.05, PM vs. TB activity
Chest press electromyographic (EMG) signal am-
tude during priority system (PS) and pre-exhaustion (PRE). TB
? triceps brachii; AD ? anterior deltoids; PM ? pectoralis ma-
jor. * p ? 0.05, TB vs. PM; TB vs. AD, during PS. † p ? 0.05,
TB vs. PM; TB vs. AD, during PRE.
Peck-deck electromyographic (EMG) signal ampli-
Exercise performance during pre-exhaustion (PRE) and priority system (PS). Values expressed as mean ? SD.
Chest press (repetitions)*
Total work (repetitions ? kg)
* p ? 0.05, PRE vs. PS.
5.33 ? 1.15
10.17 ? 0.58
15.50 ? 1.17
1,093.17 ? 249.90
9.50 ? 0.80
5.17 ? 1.64
14.67 ? 1.72
1,013.92 ? 283.62
vation was significantly higher than TB (p ? 0.05). No
significant differences for TB, AD, or PM muscle activa-
tion were observed between PS and PRE during the peck-
deck exercise (Figure 2).
Repetitions performed during the peck-deck exercise
were significantly higher during PRE in comparison to PS
(p ? 0.01). However, repetitions performed during the
chest press exercise were significantly higher during PS
(p ? 0.01). There were no significant differences between
exercise orders for TR and TW (Table 1).
Pre-exhaustion resulted in a 33.67% increase in TB mus-
cle activation during chest press, concomitant with a non-
significant reduction of 5.44% in PM muscle activation.
These results are in agreement with previous studies,
which reported greater activation of accessories muscles
after fatigue of prime movers (2, 20, 21). The increases in
TB muscle activation without a significant decrease in
PM muscle activation could be explained by the differ-
ences in muscle sizes, which might have resulted in an
expressive increase in TB muscle activation to compen-
sate for a slight decrease in PM muscle activation.
Some authors propose that fatigue may be a protective
strategy to maintain muscle reserve and inhibit muscle
activity before any irreparable damage occurs (9, 10, 13,
27). It has been suggested that high-intensity contrac-
tions may result in several peripheral changes that acti-
vate this protection mechanism and impair exercise per-
formance. Some peripheral mechanisms are: impaired ex-
citation-contraction coupling, shift of Na?and K?concen-
reductions in Ca??release (9, 10, 13, 27). Although the
changes at the muscle level have an important role in
fatigue, the central nervous system may also be involved
(13, 27). Thus, recruitment strategies may be changed in
order to preserve muscle functionality and maintain the
performance of a determined task.
During PRE, after the peck-deck performance, a por-
tion of the PM motor units may became fatigued, and the
tension could have been distributed to other muscles in
order to protect fatigued fibers and allow the exercise to
continue, which may have lead to an increase in TB mus-
cle activation. Similar results were reported by Akima et
al. (2); the researchers induced fatigue of the vastus la-
teralis muscle in 6 male subjects by transcutaneous elec-
tromyostimulation. Quadriceps muscle activation during
the knee extension exercise was compared using magnetic
resonance images between 2 situations: (a) before and (b)
immediately after electromyostimulation. The results
showed that fatigue of the vastus lateralis muscle induced
a greater recruitment of vastus medialis and rectus fe-
moris muscles during the knee extension exercise. Ac-
cording to the authors, the motor program was apparent-
ly modified due to fatigue of 1 muscle; therefore syner-
gists were used to a greater extent.
Augustsson et al. (3) assessed the EMG activity of the
rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, and gluteus maximus in
17 recreationally trained young men during the leg press
exercise with and without PRE. In the study, PRE was
characterized as a previous set of 10RM on the knee ex-
tension exercise. According to the results, PRE promoted
a decrease in the quadriceps muscles activation, with no
alterations in gluteus maximus muscle activation; how-
ever, the authors suggested that it is possible that there
was different activation of other hip extensors or plantar
The present results reported that MU activation did
not increase due to fatigue, which is in agreement with
previous studies (5, 15). However, Carpentier et al. (7)
and Moritani et al. (19) reported an increase in MU ac-
and extracellular fluids,
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ORDER
tivation during prolonged contractions. These contradic-
tions could be attributed to contraction intensity. Carpen-
tier et al. (7) and Moritani et al. (19) reported an increase
in MU activation during isometric contractions at 40 and
50% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), respective-
ly. In these studies, a limited number of MUs were re-
cruited initially and this number increased with the pro-
gression of the exercise. However, at near maximum ef-
forts, as used by Babault et al. (4), Kay et al. (15), and
the present study, most of the muscles fibers were re-
cruited at the beginning of the exercise and, therefore,
there was a possible limitation to the increase of MU ac-
tivation. Furthermore, Moritani et al. (18) compared the
EMG activity in the biceps brachii of 12 male subjects
during 2 different intensities of isometric contractions: (a)
MVC, and (b) contractions at 50% of MVC. The authors
reported that EMG amplitude was progressively reduced
during MVC, while the opposite occurred during contrac-
tions at 50% of MVC.
According to the results, if an exercise was performed
first it was possible to perform more repetitions with the
same load, leading to a greater work, as previously shown
by other authors (3, 24, 26). Thus, the present results
confirm that if one wants to put an emphasis in an ex-
ercise, this exercise should come first in the training ses-
In the present study, TW and TR were not different
between PS and PRE. Contrary to our results, Sforzo and
Touey (23) reported that TW was significantly greater
when multi-joint exercises were performed before single-
joint exercises. However, there were important method-
ological differences between the 2 studies. Sforzo and
Touey (23) studied muscular performance of 17 trained
young men during 2 resistance training sessions with dif-
ferent exercise orders: (a) squat, leg extension, leg flexion,
chest press, military press, and triceps pushdown; and (b)
leg flexion, leg extension, squat, triceps pushdown, mili-
tary press, and chest press. The subjects performed 4 sets
of each exercise, with 2 minutes of rest between sets. In
the present study only 2 exercises (chest press and peck-
deck) were used, with 1 set of each exercise with an in-
terval of less than 20 seconds.
In the study of Sforzo and Touey (23) the multiple
joint exercises (squat and chest press) are normally per-
formed with higher loads than the single-joint exercises
(leg extension, leg flexion, and triceps pushdown). Thus,
when the multiple joint exercises were performed first,
TW (repetitions ? load) was greater. In our study, how-
ever, there were no differences between resistance used
for chest press and peck-deck. Consequently, TW was not
affected by exercise order.
According to the present results, there is no difference
between the performances of a single-joint exercise im-
mediately before (PRE) or after (PS) a multi-joint upper-
body exercise. Also, we confirmed that independent of the
exercise order (PRE or PS), subjects performed less rep-
etition when the exercise was performed later in a train-
ing session, when load was kept constant. Therefore, if
the coach wants to maximize the athletic performance in
1 specific resistance exercise, this exercise should be
placed at the beginning of the training session. However,
it appears that PRE may have an increasing effect in the
accessory muscles activity (TB). Regarding this finding,
future research in the area of exercise order should look
for the effects of a fatiguing synergistic muscle group,
rather than a prime mover agonistic muscle group, before
performing the primary exercise movement. A practical
example of this strategy is performing bench press after
performing the triceps pressdown. Future research
should also address the chronic effects of PRE and PS to
assess the long-term consequences of these acute alter-
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Address correspondence to Paulo Gentil, paulogentil@