What Is Pre-Exhaust Training?

Stuck in your muscle growth journey and don’t know how to keep making progress? Take a look at the pre-exhaust training technique!

What Is Pre-Exhaust Training?
Photo by Alora Griffiths / Unsplash
6 min. read 6/30/2023, 9:24 PM

When it’s time to try new things at the gym to promote muscle growth and strength, one of the first things you think of is either increasing the volume or the weight you’re using. However, there are many different approaches you can try instead, such as changing your regular straight sets for pyramid sets or the very popular supersets.

If you’re not familiar with supersets, they’re a strength training approach that involves performing two exercises that usually target two opposing muscle groups back to back. But if you want to spice things up, you can try a different superset technique, such as pre-exhaust training, which targets the same muscle group back to back.

This technique is praised by some and rebutted by others, and we’re here to tell you all about it so you can make an informed decision when planning your workouts. From how it works to why it’s so controversial and how you can use pre-exhaust training to your benefit, so keep reading!

Pre-exhaustion training explained

As we mentioned before, pre-exhaustion involves targeting the same muscle group back to back. This is done by performing an isolation exercise with your targeted muscle first, followed by a compound exercise that recruits the previously isolated muscle. But why?

The idea behind this technique is that, by pre-exhausting the target muscle group with an isolation exercise, it will then give out quicker during the compound exercise. This way, you’ll be fully pushing it to exhaustion so that it does all the work it can possibly do, maximizing muscle output and growth.

Let’s say you want to focus on your quads and plan to perform a compound exercise such as squats. By pre-exhausting your quads first with an isolation exercise such as leg extensions, you’ll make sure that your quads don’t outlast the rest of the muscles and instead give out first to make sure your goal was accomplished.

So, to put it in even simpler terms, pre-exhaust training is making sure that your target muscles give all they’ve got. And while it’s a technique commonly implemented with supersets because of how it’s structured, you can add it to any kind of strength training approach that you use.

Why is it controversial?

If you look for more info about pre-exhaust training, chances are that you’ll encounter a few studies that seem to advise against this technique, calling it counterproductive. But this is all a matter of perspective, and here’s why...

Looking at it from a performance standpoint, you could argue that pre-exhausting your muscles with isolation exercises notably decreases muscle activity and strength during subsequent compound exercises. And while this may sound like a downside, that’s actually the whole point of this technique!

Pre-exhaustion training is not about improved performance; it’s about exhaustion, as the name suggests. You are taking your target muscle to the limit along with the secondary muscles to maximize growth, which is the end goal. This means that fatiguing your target muscle isn’t a downside but a benefit in terms of muscle growth.

Now, if your focus is on increasing muscle performance or maintaining it throughout your workout instead of prioritizing muscle size, then pre-exhaust training isn’t the right technique for you. So keep this in mind next time you’re working out!

How to implement pre-exhaust training in your workouts

Something to know before giving pre-exhaust training a try is that this approach isn’t suited for beginners. It’s an intermediate-to-advanced muscle growth technique primarily aimed at those on a strength and muscle-building journey who have hit a plateau and are struggling to grow more muscle.

Others who might benefit from this technique are active lifters who are recovering from injuries and those who are looking to add some variety to their workouts, either for fun, for gains, or to avoid hitting a training plateau altogether.

So, if pre-exhaust training sounds like something you might need and want to try, here are the basics and some tips:

  • Isolation exercise first, compound exercise second. You probably know this by now, but doing things in this order will ensure that your target muscle is the only one that’s pre-fatigued before you recruit the rest of the muscles in your superset. Don’t get confused!
  • Always push for failure during the compound movement. The whole idea behind pre-exhaust training is to take your target muscles to the limit, so make sure to push your sets to failure or near failure using higher reps and a lower weight, which takes us to the next point…
  • Make sure to lighten the load of your compound exercise. Even if you know you can squat 170 lbs on a good day, you need to remember that your target muscles will be partially exhausted at this point, so you won’t be able to perform at the usual rate.
  • Limit your pre-exhaust training to one or two muscle groups per workout. This means no more than two pre-exhaust supersets either, or you’ll risk overtraining and even injuring your muscles. Even if you’re an advanced lifter, your body isn’t a machine!
  • Allow some time to adjust. At first, you might feel too tired from your isolation exercise to complete or even begin your compound sets, but that’s completely normal! Play with the volume until you find a good balance that allows you to reach the end of your workout without struggling too much or feeling like you’ve still got more in you.

The main thing to remember when trying pre-exhaust training is that you’re taking your muscles to the limit, so you need to take the necessary precautions. If you push yourself too hard post-exhaustion, you might actually put a halt to your gains and progress instead of maximizing them, so be careful!

Conquer your muscle-building journey with the right approach

Pre-exhaust training can be a great tool for muscle growth when correctly used and not abused. Make sure to follow our tips so you can safely approach this method and make the most out of your strength training workout the next time you step into the gym!

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