Written by Tim Rigby & brought to you by PVL Supplements
The “pre-exhaust” principle is widely used by advanced level bodybuilders and fitness athletes, but it’s really quite simple for anyone to use. It’s also a great way to bring up those muscles which you feel need growth quickly. This principle is of greatest benefit to your larger muscle groups, such as your chest, back and quads. It’s based on the concept that your larger muscle groups sometimes don’t get pushed to their fullest potential when you perform compound movements. An easy-to-understand example of this is when you perform the bench press: very often when you reach a level of fatigue that prevents you from lifting one more rep, it’s not the major muscle group that causes the failure (in this case, your chest); rather, it’s those smaller muscle groups which give out and force you to stop lifting (in this case, your triceps or front shoulders).
So how do you treat this phenomenon? Work your major muscle groups exclusively first, to make sure they are truly “pre-exhausted” and stimulated optimally – then you can switch over to the compound exercise involving multiple muscle groups. Using the pre-exhaust principle in the chest example above, you can perform movements like the pec-dec flye or the cable crossover first; these isolate your pectoral muscles nicely and really brings them up. Then, you can proceed over to the bench press. In effect, you’re reversing the order of exercises here by flipping what’s commonly performed as the first exercise with what’s usually the second exercise.
To offer another example, involving the lower body, let’s say that you want to bring up your quads quickly. The conventional wisdom here is to begin with a movement like the squat, in which you can load up substantial weight resistance, and then carry on to an isolation move like the leg extension. Well, with the pre-exhaust principle, you’re going to flip the order of exercises here and begin with the leg extension, which better isolates your quads. Only after you’ve pre-exhausted your quads, you can then move on to the squat, which not only hits your quads but also many other supporting muscle groups.
ONE: While the pre-exhaust principle is effective and efficient, you should appreciate the need to make some adjustments from the weight you use when you’re training conventionally. For instance, when you pre-exhaust your chest with an isolation exercise, and then carry on to the bench press, you’re going to have to reduce the weight employed on the bench – especially if you’re lifting higher reps and looking for a big pump. On the other hand, if strength is your primary goal and you’re only lifting 3-5 reps each set, then you’ll still need to lower the weight in contrast with what you’d normally lift, had you not pre-exhausted.
TWO: Due to the intensity involved, you should perform only one pre-exhaust exercise pairing per workout. Designate your session to one major muscle group only, such that, for example, you might work your chest on Mondays; back on Wednesdays; and quads on Fridays. Allowing a full week’s rest for each muscle group is a smart way to give them proper recovery and help them grow large quickly.
THREE: If definition and getting toned is your primary goal, then don’t take any rest periods when you proceed from the isolation exercise to the compound exercise. Typically, you would use the same period of rest when switching exercises as you do between sets. For example, if you take 45 seconds rest between sets, you’d normally take 45 seconds rest when you switch to the compound exercise, but when you’re looking to get really cut and defined, perform the first movement, and then without any rest, perform the second movement.
FOUR: Like all specialty training techniques, the pre-exhaust principle is effective for a finite period of time. Use it for only 4-6 weeks, then switch over to another protocol. Otherwise, the intensity involved over longer periods of time can potentially lead to overtraining and muscle breakdown. Need proof? Even advanced bodybuilders, fitness competitors and sports athletes know that they can push themselves to the limit only so often; that’s why they leverage this principle for about a month at a time, then switch over to a new muscle-stimulating training protocol.
An excellent post-workout supplement to help you make the most of your pre-exhaust training is TOTAL RELOAD from PVL. It’s packed with BCAAs, electrolytes, lactic acid buffers, vitamins and minerals. These are all to your training advantage, so use them!