You walk into the gym, you say “sup” to the person at the front desk. Maybe chat them up a bit if you’re a people person. You go to the locker room. Drop off your stuff, and step out onto the gym floor.
There’s free weights to your left. Machines to your right. Cardio in the back. What should you do first?
Of course in a world where Coronavirus is still very much the forefront of the world's issues, you may not have a gym to go to.
In which case, remember to practice “Gym 2.0” to get the best results.
Maybe that means driving around the block and pulling back into your driveway to make it feel like you drove to the gym. Walk through the front door and have your significant other use their cell phone to scan you into the gym. Go to the “locker room” aka your bathroom to drop off your valuables, so you don’t leave your wallet on the gym floor. Ya never know what kind of shady characters lurk around your house aka “Gym 2.0”. You walk over to your workout area, look at your bands, dumbbells, and bench, and it’s time to get it on.
Here are 3 strategies you can implement, to figure out the correct order in which you should be performing your exercises.
All 3 strategies were covered in this week’s Made To Excel Fitness Podcast (Episode 9), if you’d rather listen to them, and my Barry White-esque voice.
First thing’s first, Rest In Peace Uncle Phil. Fo’real.
Before implementing any of the 3 strategies I’ll outline below, the first thing you should do is warmup.
A warmup is imperative to preventing injury, increasing range of motion, and improving overall performance.
So if you dislike pain, and value being an overall badass, make sure you’re warming up.
Some studies suggest that static stretching can actually decrease strength and could inhibit your ability to perform exercises in a session, so unless you really enjoy static stretching, maybe avoid it for the time being. (Bending over and touching your toes probably aint doing shit for you).
Dynamic stretching goes a long way. (You can learn to do anything on YouTube)
Even something as simple as getting on a piece of cardio for a light 5-10 minute brisk walk/jog.
Or at the very least, performing the first exercise you intend on performing, with a really light weight for a few sets, in order to prep your muscles for activity.
If you’re a person who is/feel like you’re more susceptible to injury, take some extra time and do an extensive warmup.
As much as it sucks to “waste” valuable gym time by warming up, imagine how much it’d suck to pop a hammy.
Make the smart decision.
Warm up, please.
Begin with compound exercises, end with isolation exercises.
A compound exercise is one that utilizes more than one muscle (/muscle groups) in order to perform.
Forearms (unless you like dropping weight plates on your toes.)
All those muscles, and presumably more depending on the person, and their technique, all get utilized to perform 1 rep of a deadlift.
Same thing goes for other compound exercises such as the Squat. Glute Bridge. Pull Up. Bench Press.
Imagine all the different muscles that are in use with any of those exercises, and how much energy your body requires in order to perform these properly.
Compound movements are great overall muscle and strength builders, and will for a lot of people act as the foundation for training. And they use boatloads of energy.
That being the case, the moment in any workout where you have the most energy, is right at the very beginning. After your warmup, of course.
So in order to ensure getting the best out of your compound lifts, getting them out of the way immediately usually bodes best.
If your entire workout consisted of solely compound lifts, odds are your body would fatigue pretty quickly, and you’d probably have a short workout. So as your workout progresses, it’s also as important to perform isolation lifts as well.
An isolation exercise is an exercise that only utilizes one muscle at a time.
A Bicep Curl. Tricep Extension. Calf Raise.
All these exercises are very specific, and target that one muscle group solely, if done correctly of course.
That being said, they don’t consume as much energy as compound lifts do.
So tucking these isolation movements into the ends of your workouts, where the gas tank is beginning to empty, will work out just fine.
It’s going to take a lot more energy to deadlift, than it is to bicep curl, so make sure you’re doing these in the correct order.
Big Muscles to Small Muscles
This strategy runs very much so parallel to compound and isolation exercises in many ways, as it is a matter of energy use.
Big muscles require lots of energy like compound lifts do.
Small muscles require less energy like isolation lifts do.
So starting your workouts out with big muscles makes a lot of sense.
So here is a list of the biggest muscle groups in the body.
Quadriceps - (the quads work in unison towards the same goals so we refer to them as one cohesive unit, but it’s actually 4 different muscle that comprise the entire quadriceps group)
Glutes - booty power
Calves - Shoutout Johnny Drama
Hamstrings - refer to the parenthesis in #1
Delts - (Shoulders, 8 muscles total)
Tie for every specific muscle in the chest and back, all relatively the same size
Triceps - looks like a horse kicked you in the back of the arm
Biceps - Curls for the girls, or bi’s for the guys
It’s no surprise that the top 4 biggest muscles (/groups of muscles) in the body, are found in the lower body. This makes a ton of sense seeing as unless you’re bound to a wheelchair, you’re always standing up, sitting down, walking around, running, going for a hike, etc. etc.
All these activities require your legs and not necessarily anything in the upper body.
Calves, even though lots of people complain about them not being big enough, and there’s full blown content on how to train them properly, get a lot of use everytime you take a step in the real world. Hence it being #3. It was a shocker to me too.
Any time you do use your upper body, you’re more than likely using your arms. And the pivot point for your arms is the shoulders, likely resulting in it being the largest muscle group in the upper body.
The rest of the muscles that make up your torso are all relatively similar in size. Pecs. Rhomboids. Latissimus Dorsi. Etc. etc. You don’t really need to know any specific muscle names, just that the muscles of the chest and back are on relatively the same playing field.
And lastly, the muscles of the arms are the smallest. (Without getting into the muscles that help you open and close your hands. You’re probably not in the gym doing hand exercises.)
With this knowledge, (and you can probably screenshot from the list above if that helps you in the gym), you can assume that the order in which the muscles are listed in size, is the order as to how much energy they use/require.
Quads needing the most energy, biceps the least.
So, depending on how your exercise split is set up, this could potentially help you determine the best order to perform these exercises.
Say you do full body exercises, and on any particular day, you plan on doing different compound exercises.
A squat, and a bench press.
Both take a tremendous amount of energy to perform, but we know that the lega are the biggest muscle groups in the body, so performing the squat first probably makes the most sense in this scenario. (Unless of course there’s no squat racks available, and there’s plenty of benches. You just gotta do what you gotta do at that point.)
If you perform separate upper body days and lower body days, you can try and go down the list in order.
I will note that using the list for the upper body is slightly more tricky.
The shoulders are technically the biggest muscle group in the upper body, but it consists of a bunch of smaller muscles. Therefore, the shoulders are probably the exception to the rule. Muscles of the chest and back can probably take precedence over the shoulders.
Using the muscle size list in conjunction with strategy #1 is probably your best bet for upper body workouts.
Be a hipster
Hipsters by definition are: a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.
Basically hipsters like to go against the grain.
If you like to go against the grain, this strategy is for you.
Strategy #3 is simply prioritizing your weaknesses.
If you’re a person who really wants to emphasize growing your biceps, despite the fact that working your biceps uses isolation movements and are one of the smallest muscles in the body, you can absolutely make the biceps the belle of the ball and put them front and center at the beginning of your workouts.
And the same goes for any particular thing you would like to work on that doesn’t necessarily fit into strategies #1 and 2.
The most important thing in ANY training program, is that it suits you, your needs, desires, and preferences.
At the end of the day, if you are truly happy by just picking machines and exercises at random, and are happy with the results you get from that, by all means that’s what you should do.
But if you’re putting your weaknesses first, be aware that you may be depleting energy you could be using for a compound or big muscle lift.
And if you’re okay with that trade off, then you have my full support.
This is one of the Q&A questions I got at the end of episode 7 of the podcast, but essentially, if you are the kind of person who cherishes the weightlifting part of your workout sessions, it might be a good idea to put off cardio until the end.
This way, you can avoid potentially fatiguing yourself before ever touching a weight.
But if you’re a person who does cardio at the end, but you find yourself skipping it more often than not, then you might want to make a sacrifice and put it up front.
Totally up to you.
A finisher is a completely optional portion of your workout. It could typically be a burnout set, or a quick circuit, sprints etc. etc.
Some people like the “burn” or fatigue they feel when a workout is complete. Otherwise, they feel like they may not have accomplished what was necessary to make the workout worthwhile.
This is a completely psychological hurdle, and finishers are not NEEDED to be your best fit self.
But if you want to do one because it makes you feel like you accomplished something, do what makes you happy.
When everything is all said and down, and your workout is complete, a cooldown is just as vital as your warmup.
The same way you don’t want to jump into the heart of your workout, you also don’t want to walk out of the gym right after a really hard set, and a really high heart rate.
If you stop working out abruptly, you run the risk of blood pooling and passing out.
If there’s one thing that’s not cool, is passing out in public. Leave all your passing out to happen in the privacy of your home.
If your workout was relatively easy and low intensity, you can maybe bypass the cooldown, but don’t skip it for your harder, more intense days.
At the end of the day, these are guidelines you can use to try and get the most of your workouts. And most of it is just energy management. But if you have a particular setup that you enjoy for whatever given reason, roll with that. But if you are unhappy with your progress, it’s time to make a change and implement one of these strategies to take your fitness to the next level.