The simplest way to describe pre-exhaust training is that it is a method using isolation (also called single-joint) exercises to target a particular muscle group before moving to compound (multi-joint) movements for the same muscle. The objective of the technique is to get the target muscle fatigued as possible before subjecting it to multi-joint exercises. Take the chest for example. Before hitting your bench presses, a pre-exhaust exercise would be the flat-bench dumbbell fly or even the cable crossover or pec-deck machine.
During the flye, only the pectorals are involved in performing the movement. When the chest is fatigued, you move to the bench press, where the pecs gain assistance from the shoulders and triceps. During a typical bench press the chest gets help from the delts and the tricpes, that that assistance limits the amount of fatigue it can achieve. Since the triceps and delts are much weaker than the chest, the bench press always ends because the triceps or delts fatigue, not because of the exhaustion of the chest-muscle fibres.
For that reason the pre-exhaust method is used to break down the target musculature before adding in the help of other assisting muscle groups. In the bench press example the triceps and delts are fresh so they will not be subject to such quick fatigue (as are the already worked pectoral fibres) which further compound the exhaustion of the pecs. The ultimate goal is that once the triceps and delts are fatigued, so too is the chest. All three bodyparts involved in this exercise are completely worn out and used up. That is the basic premise of pre-exhaust.
In a normal workout you do the isolation movements at the end of your training session after the multi-joint exercises. However, reversing the scheme to target the muscle fibres in this way is a phenomenon only the pre-exhaust method can duplicate. In the normal routine, with the isolation exercises coming last, you do not know for sure if the target muscle is completely fatigued simply by using the isolation movement as your litmus test. The pre-exhaust method is a surefire way to to know the job is done because you will have completely failed and fatigued at both the compound and isolation exercises after removing the assistance muscles form the equation.
A lot of reasons why athletes tend to stay away from pre-exhaust is that it obviously limits the amount of weight you can lift on the compound exercises because you are not doing them first when your energy levels are at their highest. This can be a mental hurdle to overcome. Physically, you will probably break down the muscle better with the pre-exhaust method than ever before, despite the fact that you are using less weight on the subsequent compound exercises. Because you are going lighter on the multi-joint movements, you are actually extending the life of your elbow, shoulder, hip and knee joints.
Angles come into play during pre-exhaust training as they do in regular training. To pre-exhaust your chest before doing heavy incline bench presses, you would not use the decline flye as your pre-exhaust exercise. You would use an incline flye. You want to mimic, within reason, the angle for both exercises simply because you are recruiting the same fibres, not different ones. For chest exercises, pre-exhaust is relatively easy, but it is not so easy on other bodyparts such as back. In the end the main characteristic is fatigue of the target muscle, with exercise angles being secondary in importance.
Here is a brief tip sheet to get you started on using pre-exhaust, an advanced technique that can help deliver serious muscle growth.
– Try the pre-exhaust method for each bodypart for about four weeks before going back to your standard routine.
– Your rest periods between the isolation exercise and the compound movement are normal. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. This is not a superset in which you want to rest as little as possible.
– Though you are starting with the isolation exercise you will still want to perform a few warm-up sets. When you get to your working weight, you will be able to lift slightly heavier than you normally could because you have not done any presses to fatigue the muscle. Choose a weight with which you can do 10 reps to failure. The set also serves as a warm-up for the compound exercise to follow. You may need only 1-2 warm-up sets to get ready for your working weight. Remember, the weight you are able to lift when following a pre-exhaust movement will be substantially less.
– In your pre-exhaust routine do 3-4 sets of the isolation exercise (excluding warm-ups) with the same number of sets for the compound movement that follows. After you have performed the pre-exhaust method, you can complete your routine in straight-set fashion on your favourite exercises for that muscle group. Many athletes actually repeat the method with other exercises and angles throughout the routine, but be careful not to overtrain.