Best Pre-Exhaust Exercises for Every Muscle Group

Pre-exhausting your muscles isn’t a new thing. It’s a method that lifters use to make sure that the muscle they’re targeting will fail at the exact same time as the muscle groups that assist it during a compound lift. You see, doing your compound lifts first so that you are the most refreshed isn’t the best way to get buff – this method makes a lot of sense and you might want to consider using it whenever you need it.

This method is used to build intensity with intermediate and advanced lifters, so you need to pick an isolation exercise that will put all of its focus on the muscle group you are going to work on. For example, if you abide by the international rule that Monday is always chest day, you go into the gym on Monday and pre-exhaust your chest by doing 2 or 3 sets of 12-15 reps each on the pec deck. After that, feel free to go on to your compound lifts, such as bench presses. This is done because most lifters have a disproportionately stronger chest compared to the muscles that assist it in compound lifts. If your assisting muscles are unable to continue the workout before your chest muscles are exhausted, you are losing out on significant gains.

The pec deck flyes will help you tire out your stronger muscles before putting them through the harder exercises so that they will fail at the same time as your weaker muscles. This technique is usually used by bodybuilders, which is logical because all bodybuilders ever think about is the stress and the time under tension for their muscles, so that they can get them to grow more – unlike other lifting styles which concentrate on mechanical stress.

There are certain isolation movements that you can do to pre-exhaust your muscles and get them ready for the big workout. You just need to remember that you are there to exhaust a specific muscle by training it isolated from the others, so make sure to squeeze the target muscle at the top of the movement. This will give your muscles a large pump and your mind to muscle connection will improve significantly for the compound lifts you are going to do later. If you want to achieve hypertrophy and isolate a certain muscle, you have to hone it to perfection. You are only going to do this once every week, so make sure that you place enough stress on it to get the results you want. Below we are going to list the best ways to isolate major muscles.

1. Chest

Most lifters have insufficiently developed upper chests, and if you’re one of them you need to handle this at the start of your chest training. Use incline dumbbell chest flyes to pre-exhaust your chest muscles effectively and to add even more effect, squeeze your pecs during each contraction. Do 2 or 3 sets of this exercise and you will feel the pump right before you dive into the compound movement for the day.

2. Back

It’s hard to isolate your lateral muscles, especially if you let your biceps dominate your back exercises. However, it’s not impossible. You can achieve this by doing some straight-arm pull downs and pullovers. While the former are better for you if you can work your pecs harder than your lats in pullovers, if you want to avoid getting your chest pumped up on back day, do some straight-arm pull downs before anything else. Get on the cable machine, crank out a few sets of these and then go on to a bent over heavy barbell row or some weighted pull ups.

3. Quads

There are people who say that it’s okay to pre-exhaust your quadriceps’ with leg extensions, but I think they’re wrong and you could work on your quads much harder with some 1/4 rep squats. This is because going further down will replace the tension in your targeted quads to your non-targeted glutes and hamstrings, as well as other leg muscles. Bottom line – if you’re going to the gym to work on your quads, do some 1/4 squats before doing squats or leg press.

4. Hamstrings

It’s really hard to target your hams if you’re quad-dominant in your leg training as most lifters are. This is why it’s vital to pre-exhaust your hamstring training and more broadly, your leg day. For this I would suggest you do some glute ham raises, which are not an isolation movement per se, since they also activate your calves and your glutes, but they will get the job done. If you want to work on both your hams and your quads in the same workout, these are especially effective. I would suggest you throw in some glute ham raises to pre-exhaust your hamstrings whenever you plan on doing your next leg day. You might be unable to do many at first, but after a while they will prove to be really effective in balancing your quads.

5. Shoulders

If you work a sedentary job at a desk, you’re going to love the pre-exhaust method for your shoulders. This would be your typical band pull-apart which will work on your shoulders. Upper crossed syndrome tends to occur in people who work desk jobs, where their head goes forward and the shoulders round back, but the band pull-apart is a really good method of correcting this. With your posture improved, you will be doing some shoulder press movements that will help you target all the heads in your deltoids. Put this pre-exhaust exercise before your shoulder workout or even your warm-ups for best effect.

6. Biceps

When you do exercises for your biceps, you are probably already doing an isolation move, but if you want to really benefit from a pre-exhaust exercise, I would suggest doing some concentration curls right before your bicep training. While curls will usually involve your shoulder and even your back if your form is terrible, concentration curls will eliminate all of those variables and concentrate on the biceps. Use this exercise to pre-exhaust your muscles before doing some heavier stuff, such as barbell curls.

7. Triceps

Your triceps make your arms, so if you have big triceps, you will have big arms. If you pre-exhaust your triceps you may find some benefit if you want to build some bigger guns. There are loads of exercises out there that target the triceps specifically, but my favorite one is the no-handle cable tricep kickback. You do this exercise by taking the cable (without the handle, of course) and pulling it to do some kickbacks. Remember to only use your elbow for moving, and not your shoulder – the focus should be on the triceps, not other muscles. Place some weight on the machine for best effect, but don’t go too heavy – you aren’t going to muscle failure! This exercise will keep the tension on your triceps, and the fact that you’re grabbing a cable instead of a handle means that your hand will move more naturally. Do a couple of sets before doing some tricep benches or dips.

8. Calves

Calves should always be trained to balance out the rest of your body. Nobody wants to see that one person who obviously missed leg day with their gigantic chest and toothpick legs. Add some calf exercises to the end of your workout and you will get there, but you can still pre-exhaust your calves as well. Do some single leg bodyweight calf raises, which will allow you to focus on one muscle at a time, while pushing a lot of blood into each calf muscle. Just be careful to use proper form and never exhaust your body too much to avoid injury – you are doing this to make yourself better instead of worse!

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