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Putting Your Exercises in the Right Order

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January 26, 2012 by peakcentre

Ed McNeely

The order or sequence of exercises in a training session can have an impact on the effectiveness of the workout. One of the goals of exercise sequencing is to arrange the exercises in an order that minimizes the impact of fatigue from exercise to exercise, allowing you to complete the workout. There are several ways of ordering your exercises depending on the equipment and time you have available and your training goals.

Priority Ordering

Priority ordering refers to sequencing the exercises by order of importance for your training goals. If you were training for arm wrestling you might choose to do bicep and forearm work first in a training session when you are fresh and have the most energy. Priority ordering can also be used if you need to rehab an injured muscle or you have a strength difference between muscle groups that is increasing your chance of injury. This approach makes the most sense for activities that rely primarily on small muscle groups that typically fatigue quickly.

Descending Energy Cost Ordering 

Some ordering plans call for the sequencing of exercises from those that use the most energy to those that use the least. This allows you to train the hardest exercises without fatigue and before energy stores start to become depleted. Some examples of these schemes are

Large Muscles to Small Muscles

This order suggests that the largest muscle of the body are trained before the smaller muscles. Training large muscles will require more energy and create more fatigue than training small muscles. The typical order would be:

  1. Quadriceps and Glutes
  2. Hamstrings
  3. Chest
  4. Back
  5. Shoulders
  6. Abdominals
  7. Triceps
  8. Biceps
  9. Calves
  10. Forearms

Multi joint to Single Joint

Multi joint exercises are those where more than one major joint in the body is involved in the exercise. For instance in a squat; movement occurs at both the hip and knee joints. Movements involving multiple joint typically require heavier weights and more energy than single joint movements. Some examples of multiple joint movements include:

  1. Squats
  2. Front squats
  3. Bench Press
  4. Incline press
  5. Decline Press
  6. Deadlift
  7. Overhead press movements
  8. Bent rows
  9. Seated rows

High Power to Low Power

Power is developed when the weight you are lifting is moved at high speed. This increases the energy demand of the activity. If speed of movement decreases so does power production and the power training effect. The ability to maintain power depends on the body’s stores of ATP, which are depleted very quickly. Power training is often done early in the training session to take advantage of higher energy levels. The Olympic style weightlifting movements like the power clean, power snatch, push press, and jerk are the most common power movements in the weight room but any exercise can be a power movement if it is done explosively.

Alternating Muscle Groups

Alternating muscle groups is another way of distributing fatigue. The objective of this method is to alternate unrelated muscles from exercise to exercise. This is usually accomplished by alternating push and pull movements or upper body and lower body movements. For instance if you did bench press as your first exercise you would want to do a bent row or seated row as the next exercise because they use unrelated muscle groups. Alternating push pull exercises is used if you are only training a couple of muscle groups in each session, if you are doing a full body workout you alternating upper and lower body is more effective. An example of ordering by alternating muscle groups is:

Push/Pull
  1. Bench press
  2. Bent row
  3. Shoulder press
  4. Arm Curl
  5. Tricep Extension
Upperbody/Lower Body
  1. Bench press
  2. Leg press
  3. Bent row
  4. Hamstring curls
  5. Overhead press
  6. Calf raise
  7. Arm curls
  8. Sit ups
  9. Triceps extensions 

Exercise order is one of the fundamental components of the training program that can have a tremendous impact on whether you are able to reach your training goals or not. Take the time to ensure that there is a logical reason for the order of the exercises in your program.

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