The Pre Exhaust Technique

One of the first weight training methods I came across was what we commonly call the pre exhaust method. A very simple but highly effective technique used for a variety of weight training purposes. The basic premise of such a system is to isolate a given muscle group by selecting an exercise that will allow minimal assistance from supporting muscles. This results in maximal stimulation of muscle fibres within a selected muscle. The next step will be to incorporate an additional exercise for the same muscle group, this exercise will be complex in nature and will therefore allow the unfatigued supporting muscles to take designated muscle to total exhaustion. Pre exhaust can be used in both fat loss and hypertrophy modalities and can be implemented within numerous types of set systems. A basic understanding of human anatomy will help one to assess correct exercise selection both for the isolation and complex components of the movement. Options for this technique are almost limitless and as a result a good personal trainer or gym user will want to familiarize themselves with as many different alternatives as possible. Exercise combos classified as pre exhaust are plentiful as are the options for its use within a training program. Although not limited too, below are 3 examples of how one can incorporate pre exhaust and why you would do so.

Muscle Building via Maximal Muscular Fatigue

Whatever your standpoint on training volume, when it comes to building muscle you will want to achieve maximal muscular stimulation. In order to achieve maximal stimulation and thus fatigue, it is paramount that we recruit as many of the muscles fibres as possible. These fibres can be broken down into fast and slow twitch and if truth be told subdivided even further still. However, for the purpose of this article we will keep things simple and discuss the fact maximal muscular stimulation will occur when we can fatigue both slow and fast twitch fibres.The pre exhaust technique is probably one of the most efficient systems for stimulating a large cross section of a desired muscle and thus impacting all types of muscle fibres. By using an isolation exercise prior to a compound we can be certain of stimulation to all muscle fibres. Using the deltoids as an example, a simple yet effective muscle building example can be seen in a seated lateral raise followed by a military barbell press. Deltoids should feel like a couple cannon balls after this one.

Feeling the Muscle Hardgainer’s Pre Exhaust

As any true hardgainer will tell you, feeling the muscle they are intending to work can often be a problem. Most of us can remember being there at some point, and I can confess to being royally pissed off every time I trained chest as I would always feel my anterior delts and arms way before my chest ever got a pump. Similarly I often find my personal training clients complaining of intense pumps in the forearms without even an element of tightness in the lats when training back. One of the solutions to such a problem is the inclusion of a pre exhaust technique. Generally this specific application is not done in a superset format, instead we can target a muscle group through an isolation exercise in order to switch that muscle group on and highlight the mind muscle connection. Not only does the pre exhaust technique target a particular muscle in terms of fatigue, but it can also serve to actually focus the individuals attention to correct muscular contraction. A perfect example of this can be seen when using a fly movement to start off a chest workout. By using a moderate weight (60-70%RM) one can perform a couple high rep sets prior to their bench. This will increase blood flow to desired muscle and also switch on motor units within the chest, thus warming up the muscle and nervous system for the more complex movement to follow.

IncreasingWorkout Difficulty Fat Loss Pre Exhaust

Intensity within the workout world actually refers to weight lifted and is often mistaken as a guide to how difficult a workout has been. Increasing intensity e.g weight lifted is a very important component both in terms of strength and hypertrophy. However, from a fat loss aspect, intensity is not always so important and in some individual cases is actually something we must be careful not to over emphasise. In the case of a female fat loss transformation project we can see a situation where increasing intensity is not a priority but body composition is. Progressive overload is important but is not required at the same rate as that of a hard gainer. This being said it is still of the up most importance that we increase the difficulty of subsequent workouts. Pre exhaust can be utilised to increase a workouts difficulty without changing weight lifted and in fact in some cases we may even be able to use lighter weights than previously lifted yet still make progression. A perfect example of this can be seen in a simple superset often used here at definitive physique during our fat loss workouts. We will take a lower body series for the quads as our demonstration. The client will perform a super slow method on leg extension at a tempo of 3030 for a total of anywhere from 12-15 reps. This will cause direct fatigue to the quads whilst only using a low % of clients maximal strength capacity. Immediately after we will take client into walking lunges for a moderate number of reps using a moderate amount of weight. As any of our clients will attest this is certainly not an easy combination to perform.

Pre exhaust is a great training technique but as is the case with all training systems it can be used incorrectly. I would conclude that the biggest error concerning this technique is probably over use. Like myself many novice lifters come across this technique early on in their training life. And due to its simplicity to execute and feel instant physiological impact, they will often find themselves incorporating the technique far too often. Volume of sets and the frequency of its application within a particular workout must be considered. Like many things in life, moderation and timing can be the key to success or failure in it’s practice.

This article was written by Mike Porter, Director, Definitive Physique

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