There is nothing more frustrating for a bodybuilder than hitting a dreaded plateau – reaching that point when you are no longer making any noticeable progress and feeling like you are just wasting your time in the gym – and so you begin searching desperately for a solution.
Pre-exhaust training is an advanced discipline which can reignite the dying embers of any stale routine and set you back on track towards lean muscle growth.
What is Pre-exhaust training?
The basic concept of this training method is to begin your workout by burning out your target muscle group, incorporating Isolation exercises and single joint movements to fatigue your muscle
You then move onto the crux of your session, beginning your compound movements and multi-joint exercises, now forcing your muscles to work doubly hard during each set having already been pre exhausted. This may seem like an alien approach and you may be scratching your head thinking: ‘But surely this will limit my ability to lift heavy weights?’ And you’d be correct in your assumption.
Pre-exhaust training is not for powerlifters or for anyone looking to set new 1RM’s every session – it is simply a tool that if correctly implemented can stimulate gains in strength and muscle quickly and effectively.
Not only is this method tried and tested for stimulating growth, it is also great for minimizing the risk of injuries and joint pain. By starting out with low weight, high volume set’s; you can warm up your muscles efficiently and make them more pliable as you enforce a full range of motion with every repetition.
What are the main advantages of Pre-exhaust?
There are several key benefits of this advanced training method which make it so popular amongst bodybuilders and athletes alike.
As I have already touched on, Pre-exhaust training is great for optimal warm-ups – getting your muscles firing effectively before starting on Compounds and thusly improving your overall flexibility.
It is also fantastic for developing symmetrical definition – as opposed to conventional training which sometimes causes muscle imbalances and for you to feel stronger on one side than the other – by isolating and fatiguing your target muscle group initially you reduce the reliance on assisting muscles during compound movements.
Above all else though, the number one perk of using this technique is the fact that you can cause maximum damage to your muscle fibers; pushing yourself to the point far beyond failure when your muscles are full of blood and neurologically you are fatigued to the greatest possible extent.
By pushing your body to such extremes and forcing your muscles to work harder for longer periods of time, you will be able to stimulate significant growth and increase your strength levels exponentially.
How To Pre-Exhaust
Pre-exhausting is so taxing on your body that I do not recommend using it for each and every exercise in your session, simply incorporate it as a starting point or intermittently throughout a workout and listen to your body.
If at any point you feel unable to continue or keep up such a high intensity, reduce your workload and increase your rest times in order to recover effectively between sets.
Here I will outline a simple example of how to implement this method into your routine, specifically for a Chest related session:
EXERCISE 1: INCLINE DUMBBELL CHEST FLYS – Use a low weight that you can manage to lift for 15-
20 repetitions whilst maintaining strict form.
Perform 3-4 sets, focusing on the contraction in the eccentric (downward) phase of the lift and
exploding powerfully in the concentric (upward) phase.
EXERCISE 2: FLAT BENCH BARBELL PRESS – Having already fatigued your target muscle, bear in mind
that when moving onto your compounds you will be unable to lift as heavy as you might normally be
Load up a weight you can manage to lift for 6-8 repetitions over 4-5 sets. Push through the pain barrier and try to push out 1 or 2 extra reps in and around the point of failure.
As you can see here, the goal initially is to aim for volume and produce a full pump in your target muscle group before starting the heavy lifting. Remember these principles whenever you are pre exhausting and be sure to mix it up and use this technique on different muscle groups every week.
Exercise Pairings For Pre Exhaust Training
Sometimes differentiating between isolation and compound exercises can be tricky, so it’s helpful to have a rough idea in your mind about the main different movements for each category and how they work best in tandem for the pre-exhaust method.
Below are the best pre-exhaust pairings for each muscle group:
Isolation – Leg Extensions and Leg Curls
Compounds – Squats & Lunges
Isolation – Hamstring Curls & Flat Bench Leg Curls
Compounds – Romanian Deadlift & Dumbbell Back Extensions
Isolation – Single arm lateral raise & Cable front raise
Compounds – Arnold Dumbbell Press & Military Barbell Press
Isolation – Concentration curls & Single Arm Cable Curls
Compounds – Standing Barbell Curls & Standing Alternating Rotating Dumbbell Curls
Isolation – Cable Triceps Kickbacks & Single Arm Seated Triceps Extension
Compounds – Triceps Dips & Close Grip Bench Press
Isolation – Chest Flys & Pec Dec Machine Flys
Compounds – Dumbbell Bench Press & Incline Barbell Bench Press
Isolation – Single Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises & Single Leg Machine Toe Press
Compounds – Lunges & Jump Squats
Isolation – Lying Leg Raises & Kneeling Weighted Cable Crunch
Compounds – Plank & Medicine Ball Rollout
Frequently Asked Questions
How soon can I expect to see results using the Pre-exhaust Method?
Varying the stimulus in your workouts is a sure-fire way to stimulate real muscle growth quickly, so incorporating Pre-exhaust is a great way to spice up a stagnant routine and start to see real progress.
Expect to see noticeable gains in lean muscle mass within 2-4 weeks and a vastly improved pump during workouts instantly; however not without putting in the hard work necessary outside the gym walls too. Yes, I am talking about dieting and recovery.
Make sure you are eating enough and make sure the calories you are ingesting are high quality and rich in nutrients.
Never neglect or underestimate a good night’s sleep – during a deep sleep, your body releases GH (Male Growth Hormone), which is vital in the muscle building process.
Finally, make sure you stretch thoroughly pre and post workout – a vital component of any good recovery plan – because the last thing you need is for your progress to be scuppered by injury or joint pain.
How often should I use the Pre-Exhaust technique?
I discussed earlier the fact that this method of training is especially grueling and can take a huge toll on your body if you are not careful. Therefore, I would not suggest pre-exhausting before every single compound or during every single session you do after reading this.
4-5 times a week would suffice, maybe using it once per session and ideally as the opening to your workout when you are feeling fresh and energized. Once your body adapts and your strength levels increase, push it to twice per session but be conscious not to over-train.
With that in mind, including intra-workout supplements can be a great way to keep your energy levels up and ensure that your body is always primed for muscle growth. Protein shakes and BCAA’S (branch chain amino acids) are two very popular supplements that can be easily prepared and taken during a session.
This article should have given you the impetus to begin including Pre-exhaust training into your bodybuilding routine because, in terms of causing damage to your muscle fibers and stimulating growth, it really is right up there as one of the most effective techniques in the sport.
I would also suggest researching other advanced training methods and starting to use several in conjunction with each other on a weekly basis. The number one way to avoid hitting the wall in the gym and failing to make the gains you crave on a steady basis is to keep your routine varied.
Never stick to the same training plan for longer than 6-8 weeks and always try to keep things fresh incorporating different ways of training. Your muscles adapt quickly and remember how you train and to what degree of intensity; so, it is absolutely necessary to shock your body and push yourself to new limits in order to stimulate muscle growth and achieve the physique of your dreams.