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Weighing up pre-exhaust training

06 October, 2014

There is some conflicting information floating around regarding pre-exhaust training. This technique is named as such because it reverses the conventional order exercises are performed in, so that isolation moves are performed first, followed by compound exercises. The goal is to fatigue the muscle group that you want to work on before you have to use your other muscles. This allows you to significantly exhaust your target muscle, without overloading the rest of your body and thus limiting the amount of work you do in a given session.

This technique has met some scepticism following two research studies in 2003 and 2007 respectively. The 2003 study came from Sweden, and involved trained males performing a set on a multi-joint leg press, both with and without pre-exhausting. The results of this study found that the activity of the subjects’ quadriceps was decidedly reduced after pre-exhausting. Thus, the conclusion of this study was that pre-exhausting is not more effective at enhancing muscle activity when compared to standard weight training.

Similarly, the 2007 study from Brazil examined the results of weight-trained men performing a set each of isolation exercises and compound exercises in alternating order. When the subjects performed the isolation exercise (pre-exhaust) first, their triceps muscle activity was higher and their pectoral muscle – which was targeted – was lower during the compound exercise. Like the Swedish study, this paper concluded that pre-exhausting is ineffective.

However, the key point missed by both of these studies is that the goal of pre-exhaust training is not to increase the activity of the targeted muscle, but to fatigue it. In fact, the results of these two studies demonstrate that pre-exhaust training does achieve its goal. When a muscle is exhausted, its activity is reduced, as documented in both respective studies.

It is important to do your research and make sure you completely understand the implications of what you are reading. Although the results of these studies on pre-exhaust training were not incorrect, the implications made from them were. Not only was pre-exhaust training featured in a 1996 study to demonstrate how to build more muscle than regular training, but there is also plenty of word-of-mouth evidence from bodybuilders who have used this approach in order to increase their muscle gains. Until science proves otherwise, pre-exhaust training remains a smart and effective way to train when targeting a specific muscle group.

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