What is Pre-Exhaustion Training?

Exercisers commonly use pec flys to

Pec flies before bench press is commonly used for pre-exhaustion training.

There are a many different workout techniques that can help jump-start the effectiveness of your workout. Like drop sets. Or negatives. Or pyramid sets.

Another common workout technique is termed pre-exhaustion training.

In a nutshell, the technique involves per-fatiguing a given muscle with an isolation exercise – and then finishing things off with a compound exercise. For example, exercisers commonly perform leg extensions before squats to practice this technique. The theory is that fatiguing a muscle with an isolation exercise before a compound exercise will lead to greater muscle recruitment.

Unfortunately, most bodybuilders would be surprised by pre-exhaustion research. Instead of increasing muscle activity, several studies have determined the technique to be no more effective than traditional strength training.

A recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research divided young men into two groups. The pre-exhaustion group did a set of pec flies and then performed bench presses until failure. The second group only performed the bench presses. Researchers found no greater activation of the chest muscles when using the pre-exhaustion technique. However, they did find an increase in triceps activation by 17.8%. As the chest muscles became fatigued, the triceps activated to help complete the movement.

It’s also worth noting that pre-exhaustion exercises can impact form. If, for example, your bench press form is compromised from pec flies, you may be setting yourself up for injury – so caution (and spotting) is definitely advised!

Personally, pre-exhaustion training isn’t something that I implement or that I’d recommend, but let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you tried it? Does it work for you? Let me know! And if you’re looking for gains in muscle size with strategies that work, check out my workout program – Size Matters: Davey Wavey’s Foolproof Guide to Building Muscle!

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  1. I’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t really do it for me (and I stuck with it for quite some time!) But, like you say, it may perhaps help jump-start the workouts for some, and since we’re all different, I’m sure it works very well for some people. Cheers!

  2. Gabriel Salazar says:

    How many times a week should I work out my chest? I’m a slim guy trying to get a big chest with volume and shape. Do I need to use creatine for my chest workouts? Because I only use whey protein isolate for recovery.

    Thank You,
    Gabriel Salazar.

  3. I think per-exhaustation training is good, for the most part.

    By completing a series of isolation type movements (targeted muscle group being trained) is a great way to increase the blood flow to the region.

    It helps the muscles warm up, and supplies the muscle tissues with extra circulation and oxygen, which definitely helps during your “intense” lifting session.