There is no universally correct way to order exercises during a resistance training workout. Exercise order may vary considerably based on your personal goals. However, there are some basic principles that will usually apply in most cases.
In short, you want to perform more demanding exercises before less demanding ones to get the most out of your resistance training. For more detail, continue reading below.
6 steps for exercise order in resistance training
- Warm up
- Power or explosive exercises
- Compound or multi-joint exercises
- Accessory or single-joint exercises
- Core exercises and general conditioning
- Static stretching
Every athlete knows the importance of a proper warm up. It is essential to prepare your muscles and joints for the stress they are about to endure. The ideal warm up will vary depending on the type of resistance training you are doing and your personal preference. However, it’s a good idea to include between 5 to 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity to get your body feeling warm, followed by some dynamic stretches that mimic the movement patterns you are about to perform. Check out some examples here.
Power or explosive exercises
If you are including explosive work, such as plyometric training, it is usually best to perform it first thing after your warm up. This is because it requires maximal effort whilst maintaining good form, so you don’t want to be performing it in a fatigued state.
Some people might be ok to finish a training session with lower-risk explosive exercises like sprints, squat jumps and burpees. But higher-risk exercises like box jumps, depth jumps and single-leg bounds and hops may be best placed at the beginning of the session while you are fresh to avoid injury.
One exception to this is a technique called complex training or post-activation potentiation, where strength and power exercises are combined back to back. This technique would usually be reserved for more advanced athletes with a high level of technical proficiency.
Compound or multi-joint exercises
Compound or multi-joint exercises, which involve several muscle groups at once, would usually be the next priority. Examples include squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, pull ups, push ups and rows. Due to the large amount of muscle recruitment, they are more taxing on the body and best performed prior to any isolation exercises. They also tend to be more functional with direct application to daily activity or sport, so it makes sense to prioritise them.
Accessory or single-joint exercises
Accessory or single-joint exercises focus on an individual muscle or muscle group. Examples include leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises, glute kickbacks, bicep curls and triceps extensions. Although these exercises don’t usually have direct application to daily activity or sport, they can still be valuable to include after your compound exercises if you are looking to target and strengthen a certain area – such as your glutes – or correct a muscular imbalance.
Core exercises and general conditioning
Targeted core and ab exercises are best saved for the end of a training session. This is because your core plays a large role in stabilising your body during compound exercises, so you don’t want to pre-fatigue it with targeted ab work.
General conditioning exercises, such as sled pushes and high repetition work would also usually be included at the end of a workout as a finisher.
In contrast to dynamic stretching during a warm up, static stretching is where you hold a stretch position for a period of time. If time permits, static stretching straight after training can be ideal. Not only is it a relaxing way to reset after a tough session, your body is also warm so there’s less chance of pulling a muscle.
It can be used to improve flexibility and may also help to reduce stiffness and soreness after exercise. If you don’t have time to stretch straight away, you can also do it later in the day or before bed to unwind prior to sleep.
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