The pre-exhaust technique involves working a muscle group using an isolation move before before moving on to a heavier compound joint exercise. This goes against a basic rule of beginning bodybuilding which tells us that a good rule of thumb is to perform heavy multi-joint exercises first, then move on to the lighter isolation moves. There is a method to the madness though. The pre-exhaust technique allows us to fatigue the targeted muscle group so that when we perform the heavier compound joint movement, the targeted muscle will be the first to fail as opposed to the secondary accessory that are used in the exercise.Let’s look, for example, at using the pre-exhaust principle for chest. To isolate the chest muscle, we’ll start off with a move that eliminates the accessory muscles often used in chest moves like the triceps and shoulders. Pectoral flyes are a good choice (I like to do these on the pec-deck machine for pre-exhaust work, but dumbbells work fine too). Once you’ve finished your flye sets, move on to a heavy compound lift like incline or flat bench barbell presses. Because you’ve already pre-fatigued your chest with the flyes, your chest should give out before your triceps and shoulders, thus ensuring a complete workout of the pectoral region. Often, in chest and back work, you may find some of the accessory muscles involved in the movement (triceps and biceps respectively) giving out before the larger muscle you’re trying to target does. The pre-exhaust technique is a way around this problem and a great way of busting through plateaus to boot. Give it a try!
Here are some other examples of pre-exhaust movements for various other bodyparts:
Back: Pre-exhaust with Straight-arm Pulldowns or Machine Pullovers, then move to Lat Pulldowns or Barbell Rows
Legs: Pre-exhaust with Leg Extensions or Leg Curls, then move to Squats or Leg Presses
Biceps: Pre-exhaust with Concentratrion Curls, then move to Barbell Curls
Triceps: Pre-exhaust with Dumbbell Kickbacks, then move to Skull Crushers
Shoulders: Pre-exhaust with Lateral Raises or Front Raises, then move to Shoulder Presses
Note: I recommend beginners avoid using pre-exhaust in their routines as it could possibly lead to overtraining. Intermediate lifters can use the technique, but should be careful of how frequently they employ it in their routines. Using it every workout can lead to overtraining.