Exercise Order: Does It Matter For Hypertrophy? - Iron Paradise Fitness
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Here's All You Need To Know About Exercise Order And How To Structure Your Training To Build Muscle

You're reading this because you want to build muscle. And in the process of creating your training programme, you question if exercise order really matters. In this article, you'll get the answer to that question, as well as the science behind it.

The truth is, exercise order is an important, yet under-appreciated variable in any training programme. While it's not as important as exercise selection and progressive overload, it's something not to be ignored.

Get exercise order wrong and you can compromise your ability to lift more weight and do more reps. So, there's an argument to say exercise order could be a limiting factor on progressive overload, if not considered.

If you're guilty of meandering from machine to machine, doing whatever you feel like, then STOP!

Take 5 minutes to read this article. It's going to save you the frustration of wondering why you're never making progress, month after month.

And if you want to listen to the audio version of the article, click the play button below:

The Common Theory On Exercise Order

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"Big Muscles First, Small Muscles Last Might Be Too Simplistic"

As you step on to the gym floor, motivation is high.

You have maximum energy and strength at your disposal.

Pumped full of caffeine and pre-workout (joke), it's time for the all important first exercise. Common theory would dictate doing the big movements first. Squats, deadlifts, and bench press. The mass movers.

And this approach makes sense. After all, bigger, compound movements require more skill, stability, mental focus, and effort. So manipulating exercise order around these movements allows you to give everything to these most taxing exercises.

Planning them at the end of a workout doesn't to make sense.

Think about it.

Will you be able to the best possible squat at the end of a gruelling leg workout? Probably not, unless you're a squatting beast!

Overall, the squat is a more demanding exercise than a leg extension. You're working more muscles and have a greater risk of injury if form starts to slip. As a result, the popular approach to programming would involve positioning these complex exercises at the start of your workouts. Then, everything else is an afterthought. As long as you've done the heavy lifting first, do whatever you feel like.

But while popular theory makes sense, it could be too simplistic.

Prevailing theory is big moves first and small muscles last. But does that get the results you want?

 

The Right Way To Approach Exercise Order

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"If You Don't Have A Clear Goal For The Workout, Exercise Order Is Irrelevant"

One major factor is missing from the "Big First, Small Last" approach to exercise order.

And that's YOU.

You should be the biggest consideration in the creation of any training programme. Guidelines and principles can be used as a start point, influencing how workouts are developed. But, ultimately, if your goals and preferences aren't in the thought process, the programme could be useless.

Clear goals need to be in place from the outset.

A clear goal for your overall physique is of paramount importance.

What type of body are you trying to sculpt? Nice shape to your shoulders? Biceps that rip through t-shirts? Or glutes that resemble the most perfect peach?

Whatever the goal, your workouts need to factor this in. And that influences exercise order.

With the overall goal defined, you need to go one step further. Each workout should have a clear purpose and focus. If exercise selection, exercise order, and other variables don't point in the direction of your goal, then you might as well just take a Zumba class.

Ok... Maybe that was a bit extreme, but you get the point.

 

Programming For The Goal

Programming for the goal needs to be the phrase imprinted in your brain. If you only remember one thing after reading this article, let it be this.

Because following arbitrary rules is nonsense. Often, people get attached to simplistic buzz-words that lack practical application.

Training with big movements first may work incredibly well for some. But it doesn't mean it's the right approach for you. So programme for the goal.

If your main goal is to build bigger glutes, focus on glute exercises first within a workout. You may want to order the most demanding glute exercises first, this makes sense. But don't start with a quad-dominant squat. It's counter-intuitive to the primary goal of the workout.

And that goes for all muscle groups. If you desperately want better lats, maybe you don't want to do deadlifts at the beginning of your workout.

And... pssst. Maybe, you don't need to deadlifts at all. Weight training blasphemy, but ask yourself... "Does a deadlift help me achieve my goal?"

So here's a three step process to follow to ensure your exercise order is programmed for the goal.

  1. Define the primary goals for your physique.
  2. Define the ONE primary goal for the workout.
  3. Programme exercises that directly achieve the goal first. Prioritising the most complex and challenging exercises

It's that simple. Prioritise the exercises most important for achieving your goal. The challenge might only be in detaching yourself from long-standing beliefs and misconceptions.

Have a goal for your physique and a goal for each workout. Then structure exercise order to achieve the goal.

What About Pre-Exhausting The Muscle?

You might wonder about when and if pre-exhausting muscles should be considered.

If this is an unfamiliar concept, think of it as using more "simplistic" exercises to fatigue a muscle before performing more taxing movements. For example, leg extensions before squats.

This isn't something to focus on. Largely pointless and irrelevant for the purposes of building muscle.

However, if performing a smaller movement before a larger, more complex one fits your goal, then go for it.

 

How Important Is Exercise Order In The Grand Scheme Of Things

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"Exercise Order Might Be Important. But There's Other Things To Get Right First"

Where does exercise order fit into the list of training priorities?

It's not the MOST important thing, but it still matters. A bit like food choices aren't as important for fat loss as a calorie deficit, but they're still important.

More often than not, the goal of a beginner is to become more proficient in the gym. Learn exercise execution, practise movements frequently, thereby building skill and confidence. In these scenario, some of the nuances of training are much less important. Throwing a cat rapidly around your head multiple times will probably build some muscle. So getting bogged down in exercise order isn't a good use of time.

As a beginner, setting goals for your workouts is still important. But the "bigger first, smaller last" approach, might be a good enough place to start, without adding unnecessary complexity and confusion.

A focus on progressive overload and selecting the right exercises will deliver way more benefit than too much about the order in which you do them.

However, if you're more advanced and have been training for several years, then optimising exercise order is worth your time and attention.

Ultimately, regardless of experience, the 3 core principles of programming for the goal still apply.

  1. Define the primary goals for your physique.
  2. Define the ONE primary goal for the workout.
  3. Programme exercises that directly achieve the goal first. Prioritising the most complex and challenging exercises

Depending on your goal and experience level, exercise order may or may not be important. Exercise execution, exercise selection, and progressive overload, remain the core of your training.

 

The Bottom Line On Exercise Order For Hypertrophy

Exercise order matters more for some than others. As a beginner you can do pretty much anything and make progress. But with more experience, you need to concentrate on some of the smaller details that matter..

Exercise order matters. But getting right isn't complicated.

Keep your training programme as simple as possible, prioritise the exercises most important to you within each workout. And don't forget to train your butt off.

 

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But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.

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