Does the Order of Exercise Matter? This is What You Should Know

There are some things that just have to be done in a particular manner. You wouldn’t put on socks after wearing shoes, would you? The same goes for a good workout!

Ignoring the sequence of your exercise might be costing you strength, endurance, and flexibility gains. 

If you’re jumping from one set to another randomly, we’ll break down the whole process of how to optimize your workout order.

Why Does the Order of the Workout Matter? 

A workout order matters a lot, depending on what sort of results you’re looking for. 

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Also, having an organized and comprehensive exercise plan to follow ensures that you use up all of your energy and strength in an appropriate manner. Just doing a few burpees followed by deadlifting won’t help you much in the long run.

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Since there is no one-size-fits-all plan, it may take some time to perfect your strategy, but a good gym trainer can help you curate the perfect exercise order to enhance your performance and capabilities.

General Rules 

Before we get into specifically targeting exercises, there are a few general rules you should know. Just being mindful of these rules can help you create your own workout plan! 

Complex Exercises First

Usually, one sentence sums up the whole process; more difficult exercises should be done first, and then the easier ones. 

At the beginning of a workout, you have more energy, strength, and even focus. But as you get through the training, your performance ability declines slowly. 

But what determines what a difficult or demanding exercise is? Several factors come into play, such as how much weight you’re lifting and the number of muscles and joints involved. 

Let’s take the barbell back squat, for example. This is where you hold the weight behind at the back of your neck and then squat. This exercise requires coordination of a lot of joints and involves many muscles. 

On the contrary, a seated leg extension is where you lift weights with your legs while sitting down. This one is done sitting down, meaning only the lower portion of your body will be active.

That’s why most exercises like bench pressing and deadlifts should be done first, and then calf raises, and biceps curls can be done. 

Focus on Bigger Muscles Before Smaller Ones

Knowing the anatomy of your muscles can come in handy a lot of times, especially if you’re looking to build up some muscles. 

You should train bigger muscle groups such as hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, back, and chest first and then focus on smaller muscles, which are your shoulders, triceps, biceps, and calves. 

Macro-muscles are the primary source of movement and strength, and they help activate the micro-muscles to their fullest potential.

Determining the Best Order of Exercise 

After the general rules, you can get a little bit more specific with which exercises go where. Here are some of the more detailed rules you should consider. 

1. Cardio Or Strength Training 

Most people would start off with a slight cardio warm-up, but that might not be suitable in all cases. 

If you want to bulk up, you should start with about 15 minutes of light to moderate cardio, just to get your blood pumping. A few minutes on the treadmill or the elliptical is enough to start you off. 

If you get right into muscle building, you might fatigue your muscles out before you can get anything done. 

In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers set up a few workout strategies for strength training. Some of them did some running, then strength, and some cycling, then strength. To their surprise, they discovered that people did free reps if they ran or cycled first. 

Another study shows that if you run on a treadmill first, your energy during strength training could plummet, and you could also lose muscle power. 

Consequently, if your main goal is strength training, do some light cardio, do your strength training and then finish with heavier cardio if you’re determined to pack that in.

But, if your goal is stamina building or cardio endurance, start with some heavier cardio and then walk over to the weights. High-intensity cardio or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) can drain you, so be mindful of that when you’re preparing to lift weights. Don’t overburden yourself since that will only harm your body and take you longer to recover. 

Instead, try doing your strength workouts on days you don’t need to do heavy cardio. Balance is important. Only one, either cardio or strength training, can be heavy.

2. Plyometric Movements 

Plyometrics is a type of exercise that uses speed and repeats stretching of the muscles to increase strength. It’s also known as jump training or Pylos. It includes activities like running, jumping, kicking, throwing, and pushups, all high-impact stuff. 

Many experts advise doing Pylos only twice a week. Since it’s such a high-intensity exercise, do it after warming up, but before anything else. These movements are guaranteed to make you stronger, but they require the most of your energy. 

At the end of your workout, your Plyo moves aren’t going to be robust. 

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Sure, some people prefer ending their gym session with a cardio burn, but even then, you need to be careful. 

You can increase your chances of injury if you try stuff like depth jumps, single-leg hops, or jump step-ups when you’ve already exhausted yourself out. Stick to squat jumps and burpees at the end.

3. Compound Before Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises are the core of strength training workouts. 

Exercises such as a back squat, deadlift, and push-presses involve multiple joints, such as knees, hips, and shoulders. Overall, they enhance full body strength, balance, and coordination. 

When you’re doing a compound exercise, you need to be as fresh as possible because they require absolutely accurate form. 

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, can be done at the end. They focus on one major muscle rather than many at once. 

It is more about the risk of injury than your total effort. Doing compound movements when you’re all drained means your form might get wonky, and you might pull a muscle easily. 

4. Abs At the End 

You might think it’s wise to do your core circuits in the beginning. But the truth is, when you do your compound exercises first, you’re more likely to engage your core in them already. 

Full-body moves like pushups require much more out of your core than a simple crunch or a plank. That’s why the best decision is your abs at the end. 

If you think you’re too tired for abs at the end of the workout, try making a few easy core moves at the start, such as planks, side planks, and such. You’ll be able to work more muscle and burn more calories, too. 

5. Reps

Unlike compound and isolation exercises, the question of how many reps you should do doesn’t have a definite answer. 

If you’re done with your muscle group pairings and workout routine, you have to figure out the number of reps you should be doing. But this mainly depends on the weights you’re using and also the goals that you’ve set for yourself. 

If you want to build strength, start with 4 to 6 reps or less if you’re a beginner. For endurance and cardio, though, 15 reps should be the baseline. 

6. Mix and Modify 

Many workout routines are based on specific muscle groups. 

You might do back and shoulders on the weekend, and chest and triceps on Monday, and so on. This method helps you reduce injury risk while optimizing your muscle growth. 

You should keep changing your order of exercises because if you keep doing the same workout order every week, you might get bored and not perform well. 

If you’re tired of the same old workout machines, try joining a Zumba or a yoga class to spice things up. You can even get a friend to do fun stuff with. 

Research has shown that people are able to do more repetitions of the first strength exercise than any other in their circuit. When you keep doing the same routine in the same manner, your body will get used to it and adapt to it, which is a sign you’re growing stronger! 

But it also means you need to challenge your body to burn more calories than before. 

The solution is simple, keep altering, and you’ll be good to go. 

Final Verdict 

Getting a gym plan and building a routine can be very exciting and sometimes even daunting. 

But if you spend a little more time planning and researching your goals, you can come up with an excellent plan on your own. Don’t feel too obliged to do everything in an orderly manner. Take rest days when you need them, and switch to lighter exercises if you’re not feeling up to it. 


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