What’s Your Exercise Order?

Exercise order affects muscle growth.

Are you looking to add some muscle growth in your life? It’s time you pay attention to the exercise order of your workout. According to the latest research, lifters should be training their arms first, or on a separate day. Why? There are many variables which can affect muscle growth, such as training intensity, training volume, amount of recovery between workouts, rest duration between sets, workout frequency, and speed of movement. It is recommended that larger muscle groups should be trained before smaller body parts.

The rationale for this theory is that performing small muscle exercises first causes fatigue to the minor muscle fibers required to carry out compound movements, thereby impairing subsequent multi-joint performance. So, if you train triceps first, it would result in a decrease in overall bench press strength because the triceps are heavily recruited during the bench press. Most bodybuilders will train arms after chest or back, but if your arms are lacking, then you need to train weak body parts first. Researchers from Brazil examined the impact of training arms before more prominent body parts, compared to training arms after a larger body part such as chest/back.

The subjects were assigned to two different groups of weight training for 12 weeks. The subjects did four sets of each exercise. For the first four weeks of the experiment, the subjects used weights at which they could perform 12-25 repetitions. Then they went up to weights at which they could manage 8-10 reps. Between each set, they rested for two minutes.

The subjects were divided into two groups:

  • One group started off with the barbell bench press, lat-pulldowns, triceps extension machine, then a standing biceps curl with a straight bar. Large muscle groups first, followed by arms.
  • The other group trained in the same way, but they did the exercises in a different order. They first trained their biceps, triceps, lats, and then their pecs. Smaller muscle groups first, followed by larger muscle groups.

At the end of the 12-week study, the muscle group that was trained first made the best improvements in muscle strength. Notably, exercises placed at the end of the workout showed the least improvement in both groups. This study clearly shows an unfavorable influence on exercises completed at the end of a workout. Thus, confirming the hypothesis which suggests that an exercise order should begin with exercises that are particularly important for the training goals of a program, whether or not it is a large or a small muscle group exercise.

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Simao R, Farinatti Pde T, et al. Influence of exercise order on the number of repetitions performed and perceived exertion during resistance exercises. J Strength Cond Res 2005;19:152-156.

Simao R, Farinatti Pde T, et al. Influence of exercise order on the number of repetitions performed and perceived exertion during resistance exercise in women. J Strength Cond Res 2007;21:23-28.
Simao R Spineti J, et al. Influence of exercise order on maximum strength and muscle thickness in untrained men. J Sports Sci Med 2010;9:1-7.

Simao R, Figueiredo T, et al. Influence of exercise order on repetition performance during low-intensity resistance exercise. Res Sports Med 2012;20:263-273.