Weight Training: What Order Should I Use?

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Have you ever been confused about what order to do your weight training routine or are you unsure of what machine to use first? There are many options when it comes to weight training that include varying your weights, reps, sets, rest time, etc. but the sequence or right order that you perform your exercises can be crucial to your workout. The other day at the gym I saw someone starting their workout with a killer ab routine! This is a huge mistake. To find out keep reading…

Here are some tips to help you determine the correct sequence, regardless of what your goals are:

1.    Always start with LARGE muscle groups first.
Why: Larger muscles require more energy and should be done first before you fatigue the rest of your body. Also, when training large muscles, you burn more calories and if you start with this first you will burn more calories throughout the rest of your workout.
What: Exercises or machines that work just one (large) muscle at a time such as: quads, hamstrings, chest and back.
How: Example – Seated leg extension (quads), cable lat pulldown or overhead shoulder press (shoulders).

2.    After you’ve done your larger muscle groups, move to COMPOUND exercises.
Why: Compound exercises usually work one large muscle group and one small muscle group so it’s important to put these in the middle to get the most benefit.
What: Exercises and/or machines that work more than one muscle group at a time such as the shoulders + chest or quads + hamstrings.
How: Example – The seated row. This exercise works primarily your back but also engages your rear shoulder muscles and biceps. If you were to tire out your biceps (a smaller muscle group) first, this exercise would be harder to do and you could compromise form.

3.    After you finish large muscles and compound groups, move on to your SMALL muscle groups.
Why: Your smaller muscles such as biceps, calves, forearms, etc. almost always assist your body when you are performing other exercises. If you were to fatigue your calf muscles at the beginning of your workout, they would not be able to assist you during difficult moves such as a squat or lunge. Therefore, you want to save these isolation exercises for last.
What: Machines or exercises that work only one (isolation) small muscle group.
How: Example – Bicep curls, triceps pull-down or calf raises.

4.    Save your hard-core ab workouts for the END! I’ve seen many people start with abs first and this is a bad idea.
Why? You will be using your abdominal muscles in almost every other weight training exercise you do as a stabilizer. If your abs are exhausted at the beginning of the workout you could injure yourself by not having correct form. Also, you need strong (not tired) abs when performing agility drills, balance work and almost all standing exercises to keep you balanced and aligned.
*Is it ok to mix in a few crunches during a circuit training session? Sure! Just save the weighted or high-rep work that will fatigue your abs till the end of your workout.

Keep in mind that although this is a general recommendation, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) always do the same exercises in the same order day after day or you and your muscles will get bored. You can still change up your routine while sticking to these guidelines. For example, instead of doing the seated hamstring machine first, do stability ball rollouts. Or instead of doing the cable chest press, do lying bench presses.  Also, don’t forget to mix up your cardio routine to keep your mind and body interested and to achieve maximum results from your weight training (refer to my previous articles for tips).

Have questions or comments about this topic? Post your comments below or email me and I will respond ASAP! Also, to get a free workout assessment or personal training package, email me at [email protected]

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