Exercise Order: How to Structure Your Workout

Do you realise that something as simple as the order you perform your exercises in can affect your ability to build muscle and make progress in the gym?

This is because every exercise you do from the beginning to the end of your workout adds to your overall fatigue. Which means that whichever exercise you start with will get the benefit of you being at your freshest, whereas the last will be suffer from you being at your most fatigued.

By getting the order of exercises in your workout right you can actually build more strength, gain more muscle and before better at the exercises which really count.

Exercise Order: How to Structure Your Workout

Several research studies (12) show that the sequence you perform your exercises in can negatively affect your performance, with exercises being completed towards the end of your workout being more difficult than those at the beginning. 

For this reason, there really is only one rule when it comes to exercise order;

Always train the bigger muscle before the smaller muscle.

This means doing your compound movements before your isolation movements. The reason being, if you fatigue the smaller muscles first it will negatively impact your performance when training the bigger muscles.

For example, if you fatigue your triceps or shoulders before training the chest you’ll quickly discover you cannot bench anywhere near as much as normal.

This is why you always want to prioritise compound movements over isolation movements and the smaller muscle groups.

For example;

  • Chest before shoulders and triceps

  • Shoulders before triceps

  • Legs as a whole before individually doing glutes, hams or quads

  • Back before biceps

If you’re doing a combination of free weight, body weight and resistance machines, then you want to give priority to the free weight and body weight exercises before switching to machine weights.

This is because free weight and body weight exercises require more stabilisation and therefore more overall work to perform in comparison to resistance machines.

But what happens if you’re training multiple big muscle groups in one workout?

It’s a good question.

What If You’re Training Multiple Big Muscle Groups?

It’s not uncommon to perform multiple compound movements in one workout, hitting several of the big muscle groups. If this describes you then you want to prioritise the body part that you want to focus on.

For example, if you can choose between training squats or bench press first, you would choose the body part you want to focus i.e. is your training focus your legs or chest?

This is because although they train completely different body parts, your performance will gradually decline as you fatigue, particularly if you’re training with heavy loads.

Takeaway Point

If you want to get more from your workouts you need to pay attention to the order in which you perform your exercises. Always train the bigger muscles and more demanding movement before moving onto the smaller accessory movements.

By ensuring that your exercise order matches what you want to achieve you can make more progress and build more muscle.


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