Advanced Training Techniques Series – Pre/Post Exhaustion

In line with the series, this article will highlight pre and post exhaustion techniques to elicit muscle gains. Following, will be a few methods which will; first, help bring up any imbalances which you may have, and second, can be used to add progression to your current program and benefit from increased muscle gain.

While this may be known to many of you, its how and when to set it up that allows it to serve its purpose.


Pre-exhaustion involves first performing an isolation exercise, immediately followed by a compound exercise. One very important factor is the target muscle. Pre exhaustion is best suited for muscles that make up only a small fraction of the recruitment required during a compound exercise. In other words it will be effective trying to bring up rear delts during a back exercise performing a row.

Taking the above scenario, you would perform rear-delt flys right before bent over rows. This will cause the rear delts to activate first before the back muscles and thereby will be recruited first during the second exercise. Once the rear delts are fatigued, the back muscles will kick in. Note that this will not work if the muscle order was reversed, i.e you should not use pre-exhaustion to bring up the back muscle by pre-exhausting the back before the exercise. For that, you use post-exhaustion techniques.

Post Exhaustion Techniques

Re-education of correct muscle/motor recruitment is harder for lifters that train in lower rep ranges ( less  than 6 reps). Even though they are aware of it, its hard to mentally induce the correct muscle recruitment and isolate the targeted muscle group. Overcoming the latter, we have post exhaustion techniques.

For example, a lifter wanting to bring up his/her pecs will perform a bench press / dumbbell press directly followed by chest-flys. This approach will help you feel the chest muscle better during the consecutive sets due to the isolated tension induced after the compound movement.

Note: Post exhaustion is best suited for larger muscle groups. For example, Performing pullovers right after pull-ups to activate your lat recruitment.

The latter approaches were targeted at correcting motor unit recruitment discrepancies, what will follow is bringing up lagging muscle groups that are not associated with inefficient recruitment issues. This may simply be due to uneven development or as stated in the intro article of this series, athletic history promoting accelerated growth in other muscle groups.

Time under tension

When performing an exercise, even though the muscle is used to move the weight, some exercises include phases in which the load is taken off the muscle and transferred to the associated joint. This either happens in the contracted or lengthened position. To implement time under tension techniques, one must identify in which category the given exercise falls under:

–  Decreased tension in the contracted position

Squats, leg presses, most pushing exercises like the bench press, shoulder press etc fall under this category. In this case, the muscle is able to rest at the end of the contracted position. i.e in a squat, the weight is transferred to your skeleton (joints), in a bench press, as you straighten your arms, the tension is transferred to your arms, shoulders and joints, alleviating the tension on your pecs (chest muscle).

To implement time under tension for those exercises, you simply limit the range of motion right before lockout. You can take it further by holding the end position (before lockout) for a couple of seconds before the negative portion starts

–  Increased tension in the contracted position

This category involves exercises that have a continuous tension property throughout the contracted position and relieve of tension takes place at the end of the lengthening phase. These involve exercises such as the bicep curl, most back exercises like pullups, rows, and tricep kick-backs. With these exercises, you must refrain from fully relaxing the muscle at the end of the negative movement, i.e do not fully straighten your arms with the row, or drop your hands during curls. As with the previous example, you can maintain the contracted position for a couple of seconds before descending.

Wrap up

There you have it. Pretty simple, ey? Incorporate these into your program and benefit from gains. The simplicity and ease of execution allows you to keep with your current program while at the same time incorporating these simple techniques will help you better your gains.

Comment with your favorite pre/post exercises for your favorite muscle groups 🙂


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