top of page


When it comes to sculpting an impressive physique and building strength, the journey for the most effective training methods are always changing. Among the various strategies, the pre-exhaustion method stands out for its potential to push muscles to their limits and is backed by case studies proven to encourage muscle growth.


Pre-fatigue training is a useful technique for individuals who want to maximize their muscle gains. When weight training involves the simultaneous action of two muscles with different strengths, it can be difficult to fully stimulate both muscles. Typically, the training would need to stop once the weaker muscle becomes fatigued, leaving the stronger one. One method to solve this issue is when an isolation exercise is performed using only the stronger muscle to pre-fatigue it before the bigger main compound exercise. This approach ensures that both muscles have a similar relative failure point and are equally engaged during training. 

While lifting more weight can lead to more mass, it may not always target the intended muscle group. Compound exercises can be problematic if a weak link limits your ability to fully stress a specific muscle group. Fortunately, pre-exhaust can help mitigate this issue by targeting the specific muscle before doing the compound exercise to enable better engagement.


If you're interested in trying out the pre-fatigue training technique, it's important to use it correctly to avoid overtraining. Limit yourself to a single lift in each workout session and avoid using this technique too frequently. The body can only handle so much stress, and the total rest and set number (also known as total volume) will impact your performance.

It's best to schedule your pre-fatigue exercise for early in the workout session, when you're feeling most fresh and energetic. Aim for just two sets of each isolation exercise prior to the main compound lift to avoid exhausting yourself. Additionally, it's important to have a spotter with you at all times for safety purposes. Pre-exhaust training can be an effective solution by targeting the specific muscle first before moving onto the compound exercise, resulting in better engagement and overall muscle growth.


An example setting could be the barbell bench press as your target exercise. It is common for the triceps and other supporting muscles to reach failure before the muscles in the chest do. Therefore, it can be beneficial to pre-exhaust the chest with an isolation movement first like cable flys or a pec deck machine. This will make it so that the chest reaches the same level of fatigue in the bench press without being compromised by other weaker muscles. The same rules apply to doing leg extension before squats, lateral raises before overhead presses, and so on. By doing so, the targeted muscles reach a state of fatigue earlier in the workout, forcing them to work harder during subsequent compound exercises. 


Enhanced Muscle Engagement

Pre-exhaustion ensures that the targeted muscles are fully engaged and activated during compound movements. When muscles are pre-fatigued, they are more likely to reach failure during compound exercises, leading to greater muscle fiber recruitment and growth stimulation.

Increased Time Under Tension

By starting with isolation exercises, pre-exhaustion prolongs the time under tension for the targeted muscles. This extended workload can contribute to muscle hypertrophy, enhancing the effectiveness of the workout.

Mind-Muscle Connection

If you experience difficulties "connecting" with your muscles while executing compound exercises, pre-fatigue training might be an effective solution. Starting with an isolation exercise helps develop a mind-muscle connection with the intended muscle, allowing you to focus and activate targeted muscles during a compound movement. This approach can help you get into the optimal headspace, leading to better results.

Working Around Injuries

Pre-exhaustion can be a useful strategy for working around an injury or aching joints. By pre-exhausting the larger muscle group, you can get a similar training response while using less weight on an exercise that otherwise may cause issues when using a heavier load. 


When it comes to intensity techniques like this, it's crucial to utilize them correctly to prevent injury and overtraining. Depending on the exercises selected, it may be necessary to have a spotter present for safety reasons. Scheduling the pre-fatigue exercise early in the workout session, when you're feeling most alert and energetic, is the safest and most effective approach.

Exercise Selection

Choose isolation exercises that effectively target the muscle group you aim to pre-fatigue. It can be counter-intuitive to pre-exhaust supporting muscles like biceps and triceps, unless of course, that is the muscle you are trying to target specifically. Limit yourself to pre-exhausting a single muscle group in each workout session.

Manage Intensity and Volume

Control the intensity and volume of both the isolation and compound exercises. Start with lighter weights for isolation exercises to ensure proper form and avoid over-exhaustion before moving on to compound movements. Aim for just two sets of each isolation exercise prior to the main compound lift to avoid over-fatiguing the targeted muscle.

Recovery and Variation

Pre-exhaustion can be taxing on the muscles, so ensure adequate rest and recovery between workouts. My recommendation would be from around 60s to 90s. Everybody is different so use that as a guideline and listen to your own body. If you need more rest, take it. If you are ready for the next set, then go! The body can only handle so much stress so keep an eye on your rest periods or it will impact your performance.


Pre-exhaustion is a valuable technique that can aid in achieving muscle growth and strength. As with any training method, it's essential to customize this method to individual fitness levels and goals, prioritizing proper form and recovery. When used judiciously, pre-exhaustion can be a potent tool in sculpting a well-rounded and robust physique.

-Ashton Poage - Certified Personal Trainer. You can reach Ashton at for more tips and training!



bottom of page