Exercise Sequence: Does it Matter?

Written by Dana Bushell

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Exercise Sequence: Does it Matter?

Devising a training program customized to your specific physique needs is as unique as the genetics you possess. Ensuring that each muscle group is sufficiently taxed over the course of the week should be your top priority when developing such program, but more important than that could be how you go about executing each and every workout. This is when you have to take into consideration exercise sequence or the order in which you’ll utilize the exercises available to you in your gym. Much emphasis has been put into the idea of training larger muscle groups first in a workout followed up by smaller muscle groups. The idea here being that the larger muscle groups need more energy, more recruitment of other muscle groups to fully exhaust hence training it first so as to not diminish any efforts by training the ancillary muscle groups first. Well, what if those larger muscle groups are already well developed and the smaller ones need more attention to bring your symmetry up as a whole? Should you be training blindly because that’s what you’ve been told to do or should you take stock of what your physique needs and customize your exercise sequence so that it meets the criteria necessary for your overall gains?

Here are a few training principles that may help you answer the question: Does exercise sequence matter?



The principle of pre-exhausting a muscle group follows the idea that by utilizing a concentration type of exercise such as preacher curls prior to completing a compound movement such as straight barbell curls, you will achieve two important things: you’ll ensure that the muscle group being trained is fully warmed up and ready for heavier weights and two you won’t have to go as heavy as you normally would for the compound movement because you’ve already “pre-exhausted” it therefore giving your joints a rest from the hard and heavy pounding it would have endured otherwise. There may be another great reason for utilizing pre-exhaust techniques. Since I’ve given you a biceps example let’s stay with that and say you need more thickness to your biceps. Would it make sense to just start your workout off with alternate dumbbell curls followed up by barbell curls and then finishing with hammer curls or should you start your workout off with hammer curls when you’re fresh and can put a lot of energy into developing that part of your arm? If you did start with hammer curls (in this example) you would be in essence completing a pre-exhaust movement for the biceps yet still attending to one of your weak points and changing up your regular exercise sequencing which leads me to my next example.

Mental Imagery For Training

Principle of Prioritization

Most people I know and train with love to start their workouts with a heavy pressing movement for chest or shoulders; namely flat bench or dumbbell presses or barbell/dumbbell shoulder presses. On back days it starts with heavy off the floor dead lifts or rack dead lifts and on leg day it’s the squat. These exercises have become engrained in our psyche as the “go to” exercises for building mass in those areas and for very good reason; they do just that. But what if you are looking for a rounder look to your shoulders? What if your upper chest needs more meat? What if your hamstrings are lacking in size compared to your quadriceps? Just because most people like to open up their workouts with their favourite movements and the ones they’ll handle the most weight with to either give themselves a psychological boost or to impress others watching what they’re doing, does that always make sense for them? Of course not. What’s wrong with skipping the pressing movements first and doing something like a lateral raise for the medial head of your delt or the reverse pec deck for your rear delts first? How about starting off your chest workout with some incline flyes or opening up leg day with some lying hamstring curls followed by walking lunges? The prioritization principle addresses issues of lagging body parts and gets off the beaten track of regular sequencing altogether.

Circuit Training

For the Beginners

From reading my remarks made above, you may have gotten yourself to a point where you’re second guessing the exercise sequencing that you’ve been currently using; don’t! The above strategies would be congruent with someone who has a ton of training time already under their belts, has developed their physique to a point where they can pick out and address any weaknesses in their overall symmetry and don’t necessarily need any more overall mass on their frames. In a sense these individuals are now just being picky with their physiques and have all the muscle they’ll ever need and are now just continuing to mould and shape it to what they think looks right on them. For you, all you should be focused on is putting on quality size and muscle mass by attacking your body in a way that makes the most sense; and that’s larger muscle groups to the smaller ones. You have no idea which body parts with respond best to the training stimulus yet so in order to fully tax your body properly over the course of your training week I would suggest you do what I just said. Here’s a good example of a workout program that incorporates the type of exercise sequencing I’m talking about:

Chest: flat bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, flyes (you choose the angle of the bench)

Shoulders: seated overhead barbell presses, dumbbell lateral raises, bent over dumbbell lateral raises, barbell shrugs

Back: wide grip lat pull downs, bent over barbell rows, one arm dumbbell rows, rack dead lifts

Biceps: standing barbell curls, alternate dumbbell curls, cambered bar preacher curls, hammer curls

Triceps: rope push downs, close grip bench presses, lying skull crushers or dips

Quads: leg extensions, squats, leg presses

Hamstrings: lying leg curls, stiff legged dead lifts

Calves: standing calf raises, seated calf raises

So to answer the question posed in the title of this article: Does exercise sequence matter? The answer in my humble opinion is a resounding yes. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll order your exercises to fit your needs and goals and forget about what the masses are doing on a regular basis. Like I said, your exercise sequence for a workout should be as unique to you as your genetics are so make sure you are making the right decisions about the order of the exercises you choose to do.

Author: Dana Bushell

AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, ENDEVR athlete, SKECHERS Brand Ambassador, Sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc.

Online training: http://customtrainingpro.weebly.com

Contact: [email protected]

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2 thoughts on “Exercise Sequence: Does it Matter?”

  1. I am 68 and go to the gym 5 or 6 days a week. I start with weight lifting move on to the treadmill and then swim. I s this a good sequence or does it even matter. Most people say I should swim first.


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