Exercise Order


Exercise Order – How To Arrange The Exercises In Your Workout

Studies demonstrate that the order in which exercises are performed can strongly affect the overall quality of the results.

Once you select the weight training exercises you will perform during each of your workouts, the next decision you need to make is what order to perform them in.

Though there are exceptions to nearly every rule, some general guidelines can help you determine the best order of exercises.

There are numerous guidelines given in books or on the internet that will help in your routine design but remember that these are only guidelines and can be changed to suit you personally. The more experience you get with higher levels of neuromuscular efficiency you will normally be able to go outside the guidelines to obtain different training effects.

general rules of exercise order

general rules of exercise order

Best Order of Exercises – General Guidelines

  • Perform compound exercises before isolation exercises of the same muscle group. Generally speaking, you should do exercises that allow you to lift the most weight (compound exercises) early in your workout. For example, if you plan to do two pressing movements for chest and one fly movement, do your flys after presses. (One exception to this rule is a technique known as pre-exhaustion).
  • Perform free-weight exercises before machine exercises. So, if you plan to do two pressing exercises (a barbell press and a machine press do the barbell press first. If the machine exercise happens to be a compound exercise and the free-weight exercise is an isolation exercise, follow the previous guideline and perform the compound exercise first. But, again, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule—many advanced lifters flip-flop the order on occasion with good results.
  • Barbell exercises should be performed before dumbbell exercises. An example is doing a barbell incline press before a dumbbell flat bench press. You will likely be able to lift more weight on the barbell exercise, so to maximize gains in size and strength, do the barbell exercise when your muscles are fresh; that way you’ll be able to use more weight. If you are planning on doing two barbell pressing movements, such as incline and flat bench, you could do either first.
  • You should prioritize your exercises based on weaknesses. For the previous example, when deciding whether to do the flat bench or incline press first, keep in mind where your weaknesses lie. If your upper pectorals are underdeveloped in relation to your middle and lower pectorals, do the inclines, which emphasize the upper pectorals, first.
  • Most experts believe that exercising the larger muscle groups first provides a superior training stimulus to all of the muscles involved. This is thought to be true because exercising more and larger muscle groups stimulates greater neural, metabolic, endocrine, and circulatory responses, which potentially augments the training of subsequent muscles later in the workout. The thighs, chest and back require considerably more energy to be stimulated than the biceps, triceps and shoulders. There’s also a more practical reason for leaving the biceps and triceps until last. These smaller muscles are also used when training the larger muscles. The biceps are assisting muscles in upper back exercises. Likewise, the triceps come into play on most chest exercises. Training the smaller assisting muscles first would severely hinder your progress on your larger muscle groups, and make injury more likely.
  • Perform more intense exercises before less intense ones (particularly when performing several exercises consecutively for the same muscle group).

-ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription: 6th edition
-Exercise Physiology: McArdle, Katch and Katch. Fifth edition.
-Muscle Mechanics: Everett Aaberg. Second edition
-Physiology of Sport and Exercise: Wilmore and Costill. Third edition.


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