Pre-exhaust, as the name implies, is pre-fatiguing or pre-tiring a certain muscle of a body part (e.g., chest, legs, deltoids) using an isolation or "single-joint" exercise first and then finishing with one or two compound or "multiple-joint" movement(s). Utilizing two single-joint exercises followed by a multiple-joint movement is typically referred to as a "double-pre-exhaust".
Pre-exhaust training is an excellent technique by forcing your muscles to work twice as hard on compound movements ensuring muscular fatigue first before neurological fatigue sets in. Secondly, because single-joint movements are used first and bio-mechanically great exercises for joint stability it can be used to limit the force on the joints and tendons when doing multiple-joint movements. And thirdly, pre-exhaust can be used during training plateaus, training through an injury or for a change in training mode to maintain interest. It is typically used to offset the body's ability to adapt to a certain exercise stimulus, i.e. an exercise and/or mode of training.
Beginner's should not attempt to incorporate the pre-exhaust technique in their training as it can quickly lead to over-training (unless they are using the pre-exhaust to treat an injury). Intermediate's can incorporate the pre-exhaust training technique but with caution in regard to frequency. Advanced trainers may use the pre-exhaust to suit their needs for desirable hypertrophic growth.
Isolating your Exercises
This is how to incorporate the pre-exhaust in your training. First begin with an isolation or single-joint exercise or movement that is specific for a muscle group without using other muscles to assist the weight (e.x. flyes, cable crossovers, leg extensions, hyperextensions, sitting leg curls, smith machine squats, concentration curls, barbell curls, lying dumbbell tricep extensions, cable kickbacks, cable or lying lateral raises). Finish off with one or two compound or multiple-joint movements that uses other muscles to lift the weight in addition to the muscle you are primarily working, (e.x. bench press, bent-over rows, dead lifts, squats, leg presses, cheat barbell curls, lying triceps extensions, shoulder presses). Utilizing the pre-exhaust technique is basically cycling your training loads - A change of intensity if you will. You are working out just as hard but harder, since you had already pre-exhausted the belly of the muscle on single-joint exercises prior to multiple-joint exercises.
For example, the bench press is not a single-joint exercise because it also involves the shoulders (shoulder joint) and triceps (elbow joint) for lifting the weight. Cheat barbell curls (as discussed above) is not a single-joint exercise too because the shoulders (shoulder joint), elbow joint, and lower back assists the weight up. Doing concentration curls first and then barbell curls last will allow for less momentum from the shoulders and back when doing barbell curls because you had pre-exhausted your biceps prior. An example pre-exhaust or double-pre-exhaust routine(s) would look like this:
- Chest: Flyes, Inclined Press, Bench Press.
- Biceps: Concentration Curls, Dumbbell Curls, Barbell Curls.
- Shoulders: Side Lateral Raises, Front Lateral Raises, Shoulder Presses.
- Triceps: Kickbacks, Pushdowns, Lying Tricep Extensions.
- Legs: Leg Extensions, Hack Squats, Leg Presses or Squats
- Back: Hammer Rows, Machine Pulldowns, Bent-Over Rows.
Arriving at compound or multiple-joint movements like bench press when using the pre-exhaust training technique you'll be guaranteed the chest will be the first to tire out before the shoulders and triceps do. Doing squats first in your workout the lower back and hip muscles tire out first before the quads actually do. Therefore, focus on the muscle being worked with the goal of muscle hypertrophy - to isolate or emphasize it. Do isolation or single-joint exercises first and then your compound exercises. This way the muscle you are focusing on will be the first to fatigue, thus, gaining a hypertrophic response.