Advanced Muscle Building: Pre Exhaust

by Chris on April 2, 2013

There are quite a few advanced training techniques that are just bro down to the core but none so much as the classic pre-exhaust approach. It has the best of everything: isolation movements, compound movements, a pump and muscle building.

Pre-exhaust like most effective, advanced techniques is incredibly complicated, but I’ll give you a crash course:

Step 1: Perform an isolation movement for the desired muscle group

Step 2: Immediately move on to a compound movement that incorporates the same muscle

Holy crap that was complex. Seriously though – have you ever noticed that some of the most effective methods are really, really, simple?

So let’s break it down a little more. First you’re going to perform an isolation movement. These are things like curls, flyes or leg extensions that really only use one muscle group. This fatigues the muscle. Then you want to move right into a compound movement that also uses that muscle such as a chin-up, bench press or squat.

Congratulations, you understand how to pre-exhaust.

So why would you do this?

Good question. Pre-exhaust is a great way to put some extra emphasis on a particular muscle group. Maybe you’re weaker than you’d like to be in a particular muscle. Maybe that muscle isn’t as well developed as you’d like. Or maybe it is SO strong that it overpowers everything else on your compound movement.

By knocking out some isolation reps first you are doing double duty on that muscle. Since you can handle much more weight on the compound movement, you are making the pre-exhausted muscle work even harder. As an added benefit the other, weaker muscles have to kick in more as well.

How to do it

Here’s a few examples of good pre-exhaust pairs:

  • Quadriceps – Leg extensions into front squats
  • Hamstrings – Leg curls into Romanian deadlifts or back squats
  • Chest – Cable fly into dumbbell bench press
  • Upper back – Reverse fly into overhand row
  • Biceps – Barbell curl into chin-ups
  • Triceps – Skull crusher into close grip bench

Generally speaking you want to minimize rest between your isolation and compound movement as much as possible. Keeping the transition to 30 seconds or less is a pretty safe bet. Stick to higher reps on the isolation movement (e.g. 10-12) and keep the reps slightly lower on the compound (e.g. 8-10).

The pre-exhaust technique is great for use during a hypertrophy phase. It’s a favorite of bodybuilders for a reason: it works.

Distance Coaching. It’s like personal training. But…with distance.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Sven April 3, 2013 at 10:02 am

What are the benefits of doing post-exhaustion over pre-exhaustion?

Christopher Smith April 3, 2013 at 10:13 am

Sven a post exhaust would simply burn out the muscle and wouldn’t give any of the benefits I mentioned above such as making the muscle work harder on the compound move, etc.

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