Pre-Exhaust Training


  • What is Pre-exhaust training?

  • Why you should do it.

  • Understanding muscle physiology and biomechanics.

  • How you can use this method.  


Muscle growth usually is a very typical process. Most fitness enthusiasts and athletes stick to the same style of training. This typically is focused around doing three sets of ten with the occasional increase in reps or sets. But what if I told you that there is a lot more to training than the typical, outdated, boring training routine. Most gym members focus on training their main movements followed by “isolation” exercises after. This makes sense because the secondary muscles are going to assist during the main movement. Thus, leading to hypertrophy of the arms and stabilizers. But this does not have to be the only way to train. Let's take a look at the physiology behind switching this process. We are going to take a hard look at the benefits of doing isolation exercises first, only to follow them up with the main compound exercises. This process is called Pre-exhaust training. And this may be the reason why your muscles are not growing quick enough.

When you exercise, the body knows exactly how to orchestrate a movement. Utilizing the strongest muscle first, followed by the smaller muscles only to assist. The smaller muscles sometimes referred to as secondary muscles, like the forearms, biceps, triceps, calves and so on. Fatigue pretty rapidly because of how limited they are at producing force. This limitation, is exactly the reason why we want to exhaust the smaller accessory muscles first. This may seem like a simple idea, but when in practice it will result in more fatigue and stress on the muscles going into the compound/main movement (at the end of the session). In order to fully understand why this is beneficial you need to understand basic muscle physiology.

Muscles are a intricate system of contractile proteins. This means each muscle is composed of microscopic filaments that slide past each other causing a shortening of the muscle belly. This is the prime reason why muscles need tremendous amounts of force to stimulate the growing process. When the filaments slide past each other under stress they become damaged. Thus causing the muscle cells to create bigger, stronger muscle. When we start our workout session with isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, quadricep extensions we are fatiguing those muscles without other muscles helping the movement. When we transition after into multi-joint exercises like the bench press and squat, we can increase the metabolic and mechanical demand on the tissues. Therefore, muscle growth is stimulated maximally.

This process is very easily applied to any training program. If you are following a typical bodybuilding split, you can apply pre-exhaust training rather easily. The first thing you do is take a look at your workout program for the day. If you are working out legs, you will want to do all the single joint exercises first. For example, start with leg extensions, leg curls, hip extensions and calf raises. After these exercises are completed then you can move into deadlifts, squats and hip thrusts. It's important to start with the least intense exercise and work your way into the most intense, like expressed below.  Give this a try, your muscles will feel it.

Key points of why Pre- Exhaust training is great.  

  • Pre- Exhaust training is the process of starting your workout with isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions and leg extensions.

  • Pre- exhaust training applies muscle damage before doing the main lift. Thus promoting more muscle growth.

  • Using isolation exercises first, will pre fatigue the muscle causing more mechanical stress onto the muscle cells.

  • This method can be used in any training program, especially bodybuilding programs.

  • Start with the least intense exercises (Isolation/single joint) first then work your way to the most intense (multi-joint/compound).

  • This method will break plateaus and promote new muscle growth.     



Monday - lower body

  • Leg extensions 4x 15-20

  • Leg curls 4x 15-20

  • Hip thrust 4x 10-12

  • Romanian deadlift 4x 8-10

  • Back squat  4x 6


Tuesday - Upper body push

  • Tricep extension

  • Overhead tricep extension

  • Front shoulder raise

  • Lateral shoulder raise

  • Shoulder press

  • Dumbbell bench press   


Wednesday - Upper body pull

  • Hammer curls

  • Bicep curls

  • Zottman curls

  • Straight arm pushdown

  • Lat- pulldown

  • Bent over row



This is a sample of what a typical workout will look like, for example we want to use the least intense exercises and lead into a more intense exercise at the end. We want to do the complete opposite of what most workout programs follow. The isolation or single joint exercises will cause an increased demand on the muscle by warming up the connective tissue and damaging the muscle cells prior to performing the main multi-joint exercise. Thus allowing increased mechanical demand on the body resulting in more muscle growth. Happy gains! Hope you find this beneficial and you can add this method to your current program.




Article by: Joshua Maslag 

a certified personal trainer who holds an AS and BS degree in exercise physiology.

He has been working in the fitness industry for several years in the North Jersey area. While he is continuing his education in physiology. Josh has personal interests in clinical applications and advanced sports performance modalities. This makes Josh an expert in sport physiology and fitness exercise coaching.