Pre-Exhaustion Method – Weight Training Technique for Muscle


Lifting weights. A phrase as straight forward as a desperate 35-year-old woman after a first date. There’s nothing to it right? Just go to the gym, pick up some dumbbells and start feeling the burn! However, with all of the fitness guru’s, get-fit-quick schemes and workout DVDs on the market today, apparently there is more to it than that. There is a certain science to building muscle and I’m not talking about the steroid injections that have become more popular among athletes than Britney Spears with the paparazzi! I’m talking about the many weight training methods that have been passed down from locker room to locker room by each generation of muscle heads. One in particular that has been around longer than Larry King, the pre-exhaustion method, is my all time favorite in my mass adding, fiber expanding, vein popping arsenal of muscle building greatness (okay, now I sound like one of those corny supplement ads on every page of those fitness magazines!)! Now that I have your attention, let me educate you on this awesome, yet simple, technique!

In the distant past, a normal day in the gym for me would be to walk straight over to the bench press, load it up with a lot of weight and try to get between 2-4 reps. Well, that’s great for gaining strength, but not so much for building mass. In my opinion, mass building happens when feeling the ultimate pump is attained. I never felt the pump when only doing a few reps on the bench press (not to mention zero phone numbers from the fairer sex after pushing around the big weight and screaming like a lunatic!) and didn’t report any gains in size on my chest after a few months of training this way. So, I decided to incorporate the pre-exhaustion method. The main premise for this technique is to pre-exhaust the biggest muscle group, which is the chest in this case, so you can get the maximum effort from it before the smaller, secondary muscle groups give out (i.e. the triceps and shoulders), therefore hindering the growth potential of the bigger muscle group. Knowing I would be sacrificing some of my bench press strength for the good of building muscle, I reluctantly started my workout with flat dumbbell flyes instead of bench press. I did 4 sets of 12 reps before going over to the bench press and doing 4 sets of 8-10 reps. The difference was like night and day! I felt it more in my chest and was actually sore the next day, which I hadn’t experienced in quite a while! I still practice this method today and credit it to my ability to break through my old plateaus and gaining muscle size.

The pre-exhaustion method doesn’t just have to be used with sizing up the chest. It can also be used with the thighs. Simply do 3-4 sets of 15 reps with leg extensions prior to performing 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps with squats or lunges to get the maximal effort out of the quads. It also works really well to superset dumbbell flyes with bench press or leg extensions with squats instead of doing them individually. I tend to switch up between the two. It’s also a good idea to do machine rows before bent rows to pre-exhaust the back so that the biceps and shoulders don’t give out before maximal effort is reached with the bigger muscle group. It’s a pretty simple technique that one could get pretty creative with!

In conclusion, pre-exhausting the biggest muscle group is a great way to feel the pump and, more importantly, stimulate muscle growth. I know that every individual is different and certain things may not work the same way it would with another person, but this is a great method to use to switch up a stagnant workout routine. Give it a try if you aren’t afraid of sacrificing a little strength or not horny for throwing around a lot of weight!

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About Author

Jeffrey Beck

I am a fitness model and bodybuilder originally from Cedar City, Utah and now reside in Salt Lake City. I received an Exercise Science degree with a Nutrition minor from the University of Utah and I'm a IFPA Certified Personal Trainer. See my profile page for more information!

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