There are a number of ways to look at and dissect exercise order. According to most resistance training guidelines and recommendations, putting multi-joint exercises early in your workouts is optimal for performing them later. This is based on the idea that multi-joint performance will be impaired when smaller muscles are fatigued during single-joint exercises. When looking at this from a Hypertrophy point of view, is this optimal?
While I “typically” perform my multi-joint exercises early (my preference), this is not always the case and this is likely not an issue as research has not demonstrated a hypertrophic benefit in controlled studies, up to this point. Meaning, that when training for hypertrophy, and not strength, you have flexibility in your exercise ordering. So let’s look at the options you should consider in determining your strength training exercise order.
What Are The Factors To Consider?
I will be discussing several factors to consider and these are in no particular order, except for I am putting equipment available to you at #1. Why am I doing this? What difference does it make if an exercise is optimal over another if you don’t have the capability to perform it? For example, many would describe incline dumbbell presses as a superior choice for building muscle and strength gains in your upper pecs over but if only own a flat bench, that does not incline, what difference does it make?
What Equipment Do You Have Available
The first factor I would describe for choosing exercises is clearly choosing those based on the equipment you have access to. If you work out at a commercial gym, you likely have access to a number of choices but if you work out at home, you might have fewer options. There is no point in programming leg presses if you don’t have access to the machinery. This is an easy one and it does not require much more explanation. If you are however looking to purchase more equipment, like a squat rack, for your home gym, Renegade has you covered.
The limiting factor describes that it is better to be choosing exercises that when training that muscle group, another one is not giving out first. A good way to describe this is if your grip gives out on shrugs before your traps do, this would be considered a limiting factor. You can of course help correct this by using straps as this will assist your grip from limiting your capability to perform more repetitions. Muscle growth occurs with stimulation and if the exercises you are using are stimulating muscle fiber the way you need to, then you should look to another exercise that will perform better.
Exercises that consist of both a concentric and eccentric phase, are preferred to those that are only isometric, concentric or eccentric. Why is this the case, each of these phases results in different muscular adaptations? If you are looking to maximize muscle hypertrophy in your resistance training routine, performing exercises, like the bench press will maximize muscle gain.
Although not talked about often, how the stress of an exercise is distributed between muscle and tissue, should be a consideration. This is especially important if you are concerned about longevity and preventing injury or aches and pains. if an exercise routine consists of exercises putting too much strain on your connective tissues, it is only a matter of time until the risk of injury increases. This is not ideal as injuries will prevent you from performing exercises and can even cause time away from weight training. Unplanned time off will not help strength or size goals.
Range Of Motion
Exercises that use a greater range of motion are superior to those with shorter ranges of motion. Are full squats better for muscular strength than quarter squats? Try this article on for size, pun intended – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31092132/. why ROM is important is that this achieves higher muscle activation and increases mechanical tension.
If you have desires to improve one muscle group over another, examining your body part order in your workout routine is also important. If you have a plan to increase the size of your biceps and you are always putting these last in your exercise session, when you are likely more fatigued, this will not optimize muscle growth and you’ll be using less weight, than if they are at the beginning of your program. Do you always have to program them first, no, but doing this from time to time will help grow that lagging muscle. While we’re talking biceps, I wanted to describe one exercise. While I love the biceps curl, with a barbell, the range of motion on this is limited because of hitting your lower body. There are solutions to this and one of my preferred ways is to do incline dumbbell curls. This setup would be preferred over standing curls as the range of motion is greater. With this said, I will continue to do barbell curls but this is a good way of showing how to optimize your exercise choices if this is a priority for you.
Also, If you have been upper body focused for several months and don’t want your lower body to lag behind, then switch it up and reorder those muscle groups.
The Age-Old Multi-Joint Exercises Vs. Single Joint Or Isolation Exercises
Compound exercise options have always received the love with single-joint exercise options being pushed to the end of the line. Does this have to be the case? Compound exercises do tend to higher neurological and hormonal demands on our body than simpler isolation exercises. Our muscles respond to tension, check this study out for reference – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29312007/. When comparing a single joint program versus a multi-joint program, changes in body composition were not statistically significant. Again, what matters is exposing your muscles to the appropriate amount of mechanical tension.
Do I care what order you do exercises in? No, choose whatever you want as I have programmed workouts both ways. in this case, use other important exercise criteria first and or your preferences and have at it!
I will start by stating from a hypertrophy standpoint, what you should be considering, is performing lagging muscle groups first as evidence indicates a hypertrophic benefit going this route. This allows you to expend the highest amount of energy by prioritizing lagging muscles first in your programming. When optimizing hypertrophic responses, this should take precedence over whether it is a large muscle group or a small muscle group. What I am saying is whether large or small should be your secondary concern. This of course requires you to know where you are lagging.
This can also be applied to which muscle groups you want to grow the most, by putting them first in your workouts, you will again have the most energy, focus, and prioritization set forth for those muscle groups. This does not always have to be the same either. You can modify your order in blocks as this can ensure you are never neglecting a muscle group and can create periods where each muscle group can have emphasis.
Take some time to evaluate this and see how modifying your exercise order can impact the growth of targeted muscle groups.