Building the body of your dreams is often a very bumpy road filled with up and downs. Sometimes the gains just come natural and at other times, it just seems next to impossible for your muscles to grow.
Lagging body parts seem to stick no matter what you try and do. However, there is hope and with a little creativity and hard work, you can get past those plateaus and get your body back on the road to growth.
Different techniques will employ various levels of intensity which force your body to work in a manner it’s not accustomed to. By doing so, your body adapts in a different manner. One such technique is called the pre exhaust method.
The pre exhaust technique is used to add a different element of intensity to your training. What it does is to exhaust a certain muscle group, such as the chest, with an isolation exercise such as flat bench fly’s and than use a compound exercise such as the bench press to complete the progression.
Why pre exhaust a muscle group? By using this technique, one can thoroughly work a muscle group by forcing it to work extra hard on a compound movement. You see, when doing a single compound movement such as the bench press, it’s usually the triceps that give out first. Compared to the chest, triceps is a relatively small muscle group and it will be the first to fail before shoulders and chest. If your training chest, you want your chest to exhaust because it’s the targeted muscle group. By pre exhausting the chest with an isolation exercise, you ensure it’s worked thoroughly before the triceps give out on the compound movement (such as the bench press).
There are various advantages to this type of technique. First, it employs a high level of intensity by forcing your muscles to work harder on compound movements, which may translate into more muscle growth. Secondly, it takes some of the stress off of your joints and connective tissues. Thirdly, it’s a great technique to get past those sticky training plateaus.
Pre exhaust training can be used for just about any body part. The key to effectively employing this technique is to ensure that the first exercise is strictly an isolation exercise. You don’t want to exhaust the secondary muscle groups (You want to keep those fresh). Secondary muscle groups will be used to help keep the weight moving and working all muscle groups, ensuring the primary muscle group is totally exhausted.
I’ve personally used the pre exhaust technique with a high level of success. Although I use it sparingly, it’s a great technique to add a different element of intensity to your training program and to get those lagging body parts growing again. In the past, I’ve used this type of technique to get past bench press sticking points. What I’ve noticed, when using this technique for the chest, was that my chest actually gives out first when performing a compound movement such as the bench press. It’s actually a strange feeling because I’ve gotten so used to my triceps giving out first when doing the bench press. However, it really taxes my chest so one or two pre exhaust exercises is all that’s needed.
Now, I put a different spin on the pre exhaust. I prefer to “super set” my two exercises in which I perform the isolation exercise first and immediately perform the second compound exercise next. This way, the intensity levels are high and it forces my body to work extra hard.
So, how do you use the pre exhaust technique? Here’s an example of a pre exhaust routine for the chest using two progressions in a “super set” fashion.
Exercise 1 – Cable cross overs pre exhausted with flat bench press
Isolation exercise 1: Cable cross overs 3 x 12 repetitions
Once completed, immediately perform:
Compound exercise 1: Flat bench press 3 x 8 to 12 repetitions
Rest for about two minutes and perform the second pre exhaust progression as outlined below.
Exercise 2 – Incline dumbbell fly pre exhaust with incline barbell press
Isolation exercise 1: Incline dumbbell fly 3 x 12 repetitions
Once completed, immediately perform:
Compound exercise 1: Incline barbell press 3 x 8 to 12 repetitions
Once you’ve performed the first isolation exercise, you immediately perform the second compound movement as outlined above. This is considered 1 pre exhaust set. Once you’ve completed one set, take a minute to rest before performing the second set.
I recommend performing 3 to 4 sets. However, this will depend on your training level.
Other examples of the pre exhaust technique is as follows:
Shoulders: Side lateral raise followed by the seated shoulder press
Biceps: Concentration curls followed by standing barbell curls
Triceps: Standing cable press downs followed by the close grip bench press
Legs: Leg Extensions followed by squats
Back: Standing straight arm press downs followed by barbell bent over rows
You can either perform the pre exhaust technique using a full body routine or a split routine. I personally prefer the split routine because it allows me to concentrate on a lagging body part, such as chest. However, it you wish to use a full body routine, simply use the above examples for a routine.
You may also use what is known as a “double pre exhaust” system in which you perform two compound movements after your first isolation exercise. For example:
Isolation exercise 1: Cable cross overs 1 x 12 repetitions
Compound exercise 1: Bench press 1 x 8 repetitions
Compound exercise 2: Incline bench press 1 x 8 repetitions
This technique is a high intensity technique and usually, one pre exhaust set per body part is enough to stimulate a body part for growth.
Points to remember about using the pre exhaust technique:
• Choose an isolation exercise and perform it first;
• Immediately perform the second compound exercise immediately after the isolation exercise with minimal rest time (Super set fashion);
• Perform either one or two compound in succession after an isolation exercise – Super set manner;
• Rest for about 50 to 60 seconds in between sets;
• Rest for about 2 minutes between exercises
• Keep the weight moderate and make sure you perform the prescribed repetitions;
• Always have a spotter on hand for your compound exercise. You won’t be able to handle your normal weight.
• Perform pre exhausts for 6 to 8 weeks for maximum effect. However, this is a high intense technique so I wouldn’t recommend you do it for any longer;
• This is a high intense technique so it’s not recommended for beginners.
If you want to try something new, or you have a lagging body part, try using the pre exhaust technique to kick start your gains. You won’t be able to handle the weight your used to in the compound lifts but trust me, you’ll soon start seeing results.
For those of you who are looking for a complete program, I highly recommend Kyle Leon’s program called “The Evolution of Muscle Building”. This program customizes a complete nutrition and weight training program based on your body type, age, gender, and metabolism. Click here to check it out.
I’ve also completed a review of this program located at:
Good luck and all the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.