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Another study attempts to investigate pre-exhaust and fails miserably.


Maybe you heard the news from some mass-media website that the "popular bodybuilding training technique of pre-exhaust does not work." Sure, if you read just the abstract (as most journalists do) you might also conclude that. But if you actually know a thing or two about exercise science and you read the full study, you would walk away with a completely different picture.

Two previous studies also failed miserably at analyzing pre-exhaust. To read my breakdown of these two lame studies, click here:https://www.jimstoppani.com/home/articles/pre-exhaust?preview

Back to this latest experiment. It attempted to look at the true training effects of pre-exhaust over a 12-week period. Before we take a look at some of the fatal flaws that made this study completely useless, let me tell you briefly what they did and what they found.

The study was performed by researchers from the UK along with the American-based fitness facility Discover Strength in Plymouth, Minnesota. They had 39 male and female "trained" subjects (I'll get to the "trained" part as well as more detail on these subjects in shortly) split up into three different groups.

Group 1 was considered the "pre-exhaust" group. They performed the following workout twice a week for 12 weeks: One set of machine flies supersetted with one set of machine chest press; one set of leg extensions supersetted with one set of the leg press; one set of the machine pullovers supersetted with one set of pullovers; and finally, one set of machine crunches supersetted with one set of machine back extensions. That's it! They did take each set to muscle failure, though. (More to come on the "one set" and "superset" mentions.)

Group 2 did the same exercises in the same order but were allowed to rest for one minute between each exercise. Group 3 did one set of all the compound exercises (in this order: chest press, leg press and pulldown); then one set of all the isolation exercises (in this order: machine fly, leg extension, and pullover); followed by machine crunches machine back extensions.

After 12 weeks of performing this workout of one set per exercise, the researchers reported in a 2014 issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism that there was absolutely no difference between any of the groups in terms of muscle strength or body composition (muscle mass gain or fat loss). All groups saw significant gains in muscle strength but no change in muscle mass or body fat. They concluded that pre-exhaust is a completely useless training technique.

Jim's Take-Home Points:

Before you go off believing that pre-exhaust was just proven to be useless, wait one minute. As I mentioned earlier, this study had many fatal flaws. Let's break these down:

Problem #1: Age of the subjects – The mean age of the subjects was 49 years old. The age range of the subjects was 36-62! There's a reason why most training studies use young male subjects: They respond far better to exercise. Older people simply don't respond as well. Plus, any well-designed study picks a fairly tight age range because age can have a dramatic impact on results. Such a wide age range and old population looks to me like they were just trying to get any subjects they could for the experiment. That's not how you do a well-designed study.

Problem #2: Gender of the subjects – 30 of the 39 subjects were female and only 9 were male -- more than three times as many females as males! If you're going to study both genders, you typically attempt to get a fairly even distribution. This again shows that they were just trying to get anyone to participate.

Problem #3: Training status of the subjects – The researchers stated that the subjects were "trained." Yet they further stated that "trained" meant at least six months of training experience. The last time I checked, someone with six months of training experience under his or her belt is an intermediate at best, and likely still a beginner as far as strength-training research goes. Most well-done strength-training studies use two years as the cut-off point for being considered "trained."

This a problem because untrained (or very inexperienced) subjects usually make significant gains in strength yet little gains in muscle mass. And that's exactly what the researchers reported. Despite only doing one set of each exercise, they still made significant strength gains whether they did supersets of isolation exercises followed by compound exercises, rested between all sets or did all compound exercises first and then all isolation exercises. Typically, only beginners or newbies would respond this same way.

Problem #4: Description of pre-exhaust – The researchers explained pre-exhaust as doing an isolation exercise immediately followed by a compound exercise without any rest between the two exercises. What they described is an advanced technique of pre-exhaust called "pre-exhaust supersets." Pre-exhaust in its typical form is more like what Group 2 did: Do an isolation exercises first, rest a minute, then do a compound exercise. The fact that they don't understand what pre-exhaust is makes me wonder what they really know about training.

Problem #5: Only one set per exercise – How could anyone design a strength training study and use only one set per exercise?! One set per exercise and only two exercises per muscle group is NOT a training program. It's a warm-up. Hence, the study is useless.

Problem #6: They're missing the point of specialty training techniques like pre-exhaust – The whole point of pre-exhaust is completely missed here. Pre-exhaust isn't any better than any other training technique. Pre-exhaust is DIFFERENT from most other training techniques. That difference is important when you've been doing the same style of training for a long time -- years, even decades. That's when pre-exhaust is beneficial. It's not a question of whether or not pre-exhaust is better than another training technique. You don't stick with one training technique indefinitely. Variety is the key to making continued progress in the gym.

So don't worry, this study did far from prove that pre-exhaust is ineffective. It's just another case of researchers not really knowing what they're doing when it comes to strength training. Perhaps they should get into the real gym a little more often!


Fisher, J. P., et al. The effects of pre-exhaustion, exercise order, and rest intervals in a full-body resistance training intervention. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, In press, 2014.

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