What Order Should You Do Exercises in?

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There are two key points to an effective workout: executing each exercise with proper form and structuring the exercises in a sound order. This article will discuss some strategies to program exercises correctly, focusing on the optimal order for resistance training workouts.

Programming exercise order correctly can lead to increased gains, sustained energy throughout the workout, and a lower likelihood of injury.



Start with the Exercise that you Want to Improve Strength in the Most

This tip may seem vague at first, but fitness goals differ from person to person. A recent systematic review found that “increases in muscular strength are the largest in the exercises performed at the beginning of an exercise session” (1).

For example, if someone wants to improve their hex bar deadlift the most, they should program it at the start of the workout. This is because they can put in the most energy, which means they will train more volume and load. The more volume and load, the more strength gains will occur. 

If you schedule the hex deadlift exercise at the end of your workout routine, you will likely be fatigued and unable to lift as much weight or do as many repetitions as you would if you did it earlier. Consequently, this could limit your progress and slow down your improvement.

Start with the Exercises that Take the Most Energy

This tip discusses the three energy systems of the body: the phosphagen creatine system, the anaerobic system, and the aerobic system. Exercises are arranged from the most energy used to the least based on the energy systems they utilize.

  1. Power (Olympic lifting, plyometrics, other high-speed and explosive exercises)

  2. Strength (barbell squat)

  3. Hypertrophy



  4. Metabolic/anaerobic conditioning

  5. Cardio

If your workout contains exercises for several different training outcomes, such as strength, and conditioning, then order the exercises according to the energy system used. For example, don’t switch from hypertrophy to cardio, then power, and lastly, back to another hypertrophy exercise. Doing so does not optimize the use of the body’s energy system.

Instead, order exercises that use the same energy system together and then sequence them following the order in the list above. An example of this could be:

  1. Power exercise 1

  2. Power exercise 2

  3. Strength exercise 1



  4. Hypertrophy exercise 1

  5. Hypertrophy exercise 2

  6. Hypertrophy exercise 3

  7. Cardio exercise 1

Start with the Complex Exercises 

When fatigued, mental processing slows down and technique begins to slip. This is why ordering the most complex exercises first in a workout is essential. Complex exercises require the most attention to detail, technique, and awareness. For example, don’t program an Olympic lift towards the end of a workout after several other main lifts. 

Most often, the most complex exercises are the biggest movements that take the most energy, so the last tip will still apply. However, if the intensity of a complex exercise is substantially lowered, it is viable to train a complex exercise towards the end of a workout. 

Final Thoughts

Go into your workouts knowing what movements and exercises you want to do. Think about what you want to improve most, and do exercises to help accomplish that closer to the beginning of the workout. 



Put the more complex, heavier, and energy-intensive exercises closer to the beginning of the workout and the simpler, less energy-intensive ones towards the end. However, if a certain exercise helps achieve a specific goal of yours, put it in the beginning.

Sources

  1. Nunes JP, Grgic J, Cunha PM, Ribeiro AS, Schoenfeld BJ, de Salles BF, Cyrino ES. What influence does resistance exercise order have on muscular strength gains and muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb;21(2):149-157. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1733672. Epub 2020 Feb 28. PMID: 32077380.

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