Pre and Post Exhaustion Techniques in Strength Training: Pros and Cons, By Matthew Romans
Posted June 30, 2020 by Matthew Romans
Intelligent effort and safety are the most important considerations when trying to stimulate positive physical change. The human body, left to its own devices, is very resistant to change and will usually do what it can to maintain the status quo, unless a significant stimulus is introduced. Many gym rats and weightlifting enthusiasts try to make up for a lack of exercise intensity (momentary effort) by increasing exercise volume and frequency, which frequently leads to overtraining, injury, and greater risk for illness due to overtaxing the immune system. There are a great many so-called "advanced training techniques" that have been used in gyms for decades by athletes and bodybuilders; most of them are pointless and provide very little benefit. A couple of techniques that do have some merit are pre and post exhaustion movements. How effective are they, and how frequently should they be used? Let's take a closer look.
A pre-exhaustion involves performing a single joint exercise immediately before a multiple joint exercise for the purpose of more deeply inroads (fatiguing) the larger or primary musculature. Often, the smallest muscle group in a compound movement becomes a limiting factor in terms of getting the most effective inroad. A good example of this is the Leg Press. The prime mover in the Leg Press is the glutes, but often the quadriceps fatigue before the glutes can be thoroughly inroaded. While the quadriceps is a strong and powerful muscle group, the glutes are even larger and stronger. However, by performing the Abduction exercise before the Leg Press, you can more deeply fatigue the glutes and achieve a more effective exercise stimulus. Pre-exhaustion can be beneficial if used sparingly and strategically, and is more feasible when used in certain combinations, such as Abduction/Leg Press or Pullover/Pulldown. We often have clients perform the Leg Curl exercise first in the exercise order just before the Leg Press. In some ways this could possibly be considered a pre-exhaustion, but not really. We do this more to target the hamstrings effectively, but the hamstrings are not a prime mover in the Leg Press. Also, performing a knee flexion exercise (Leg Curl) before performing a knee extension exercise (Leg Press) allows us to thoroughly warm up and lubricate the knee joint. This is beneficial for all clients, but especially those with knee issues.
A post-exhaustion entails performing a single joint movement after a multiple joint movement. Ostensibly, this is to more deeply fatigue a smaller muscle that may get overlooked in a larger exercise. A good example of this would be to perform a bicep curl right after doing a Pulldown or Compound Row exercise. Performing post-exhaustion can make your muscles feel more "pumped", i.e., engorged with blood, similar to doing pushups prior to going to the beach. Many bodybuilders strive to achieve this feeling because it feels good and gives them a sense of accomplishment. Post-exhaustion can also be very effective for correcting a muscular imbalance or helping to rehabilitate an injury, such as performing the External Rotation exercise for the small rotator cuff muscles after doing the Overhead Press. Speaking of the Overhead Press, in addition to the major muscles of the shoulder it also involves the posterior (rear) part of the neck, so performing a Cervical Extension exercise after the Overhead Press could be considered a pos-exhaustion for the neck musculature. Strong neck muscles are important for everyone, in order to prevent injury and improve posture.
It is very easy to take pre- and post-exhaustion too far, in my opinion. Exercise volume is like a dosage of medication; both have a narrow therapeutic window. Recovery ability can be fragile, especially if one is active outside of their Total Results workouts, so exercise frequency, volume, and intensity need to be regulated to avoid overtraining. Post-exhaustion is largely unnecessary, since it further weakens the already weak link in compound exercises. The slow movement speed and precise turnaround technique of the Total Results exercise protocol enable us to target the intended musculature much more thoroughly, so performing a pre-exhaustion is not required in most cases. Even Ken Hutchins (founder of our exercise protocol) wrote a chapter in the Super Slow Technical Manual titled "Where Pre-Exhaustion Went Awry." During Hutchins' time at Nautilus, his boss Arthur Jones became increasingly intrigued by the concept of pre-exhaustion, and had several Nautilus machines built to more efficiently accomplish this. After Hutchins left Nautilus and further refined our exercise protocol, he came to understand the dangers of too much exercise volume and largely moved away from the concept of pre- and post exhaustion.
In order to achieve optimal results, you need a balanced exercise protocol and routine that will stimulate positive change without damaging the body in the process. That's where Total Results comes in. We have studied exercise history, equipment design, anatomy and physiology, concepts of motor learning, and nutrition for nearly twenty years, and we will customize our selection and sequence of exercises to help you succeed without getting injured. Get Total Results today.