Tertiary exercises and why you need to do them

How do you structure your workout, and do you include any tertiary/pre-hab exercises?
What are tertiary/pre-hab exercises? Read on and you will learn what this is about and why it’s important.

Exercise categories

I like to split exercises up into three main categories.
Primary exercises are your goal or target exercises. For example, you might want to bench press your own body weight.
Secondary exercises are things you do to complement the primary goal.
Tertiary exercises are the ones that strengthen the synergist muscles (the ones you never knew the names of until something goes “pop” and you need to visit a physiotherapist).

Tertiary exercise example. Internal shoulder rotation with resistance band.


You can create your exerecise program a few different ways to fit these in. The bench press is used below as an example.

  • Start with some tertiary exercises to warm up the shoulder muscles. These are performed using very low resistance, and should work the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles. These are also known as the rotator cuff (the ones you’ve probably never heard of until they go “pop”).
  • For your secondary exercise you can do a few full range pushups, maybe also including an isometric hold in the high position. Along with other benefits, this will train you to properly control and stabilize your scapulae against the rib cage, which creates a stable platform to push against.
  • Now your muscles are ready and warmed up, and it’s time to hit the primary exercise. The warmup and the neuromuscular coordination you gained with the secondary exercise will set you up for a safer, and most likely more efficient bench press.
  • The long term benefits of the tertiary exercises include reduced risk of shoulder injury from exercise or day to day activities.


There are other combinations when programming these types of exercise, but the main objective is to fit them into your program somewhere. If you need some help with this, working with an exercise professional can be useful.
Contact me if you would like some help creating an exercise program that will progress you towards your goals.