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How the order of exercise impacts it's effectiveness

If you are following a resistance training programme, it's not only the choice of exercise but the order in which you perform them which will impact the effectiveness of your workout! In general, there are 4 key rules to an effective programme and we'll discuss each one in turn below:

1) Focus on muscular balance

2) Large muscles first

3) Harder, more complex exercises first

4) Fixators and Synergists last (we'll explain this fitness jargon later!)

On to the detail then...

1) Exercise selection - focus on muscular balance - in essence this means working all the major muscle groups equally to achieve balance. The end result is what we all want and avoids injury - the body working and improving as a unit rather than a collection of isolated muscles which could put strain in certain areas over others.

If you follow this basic rule when selecting exercises for each workout, you will be on your way towards a balanced programme. Firstly, make sure that exercises focus on improving posture - we need to make sure that the body is aligned properly to ensure correct form and it also helps to improve the way your body holds itself with shoulders back etc. The second element is coordination. Choose some exercises which seek to better your skills e.g. lunge split jumps where you have to coordinate your legs and alternate between jumps or throwing a medicine ball up and catching it again. This will sharpen your brain (motor skills) which in turn will hone your ability to switch on more muscle fibres. Third is proprioception which builds on the motor skills. It is the creation of instability which makes us work harder. An example is balancing with one foot on a bosu ball and performing knee raises with the other leg. Finally core strength - we usually end our workouts with a core strength exercise or two (more on order of exercises in the next point). Planking is a good start to help develop a solid core and foundation from which to build. Overall it's a good idea select 4-10 exercises across these 4 areas per workout. 

2) Exercise order - training your larger muscles first - A study by Fleck & Kraemer, 1997 showed that due to larger muscles requiring more energy to perform, by completing these first or early in the workout while you are still full of energy, you can obtain the greatest training result from them. So, if you are training multiple muscle groups within the same workout, focus on the largest ones first. The study further showed that by selecting these larger groups of muscles i.e. the legs, hips, upper back and chest, first, that the progress of the exerciser as a whole was accelerated which resulted in greater fat burning and muscular fitness. It has also been shown in other studies that compound movements which engage these larger muscle groups of the body e.g. squats and deadlifts, trigger a testosterone release. This hormone release helps ignite the body for the rest of the workout. It is thought that it mirrors nature' fight or flight scenario in that if we faced danger, we would have to send lots of energy and oxidise the larger muscles in order to protect ourselves. Working these muscles first makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We love nature.

3) Exercise order - train harder, more complex or skilled exercises first - As mentioned above, compound exercises are better performed early on when your body is free from mental or metabolic fatigue. Compound exercises (as opposed to isolation exercises) are multi-jointed which means that greater neuromuscular coordination is needed in order to perform them safely and effectively. 

4) Exercise order - synergists and fixators first - what are these?! It's easiest to explain using biceps as an example muscle. Certain muscles like the biceps work as a pair with triceps. They are called antagonist and agonist muscles - as one contracts, the other relaxes. In the case of a bicep curl, the bicep is the agonist which contacts and the tricep is the antagonist which relaxes. But there is more to it than that which is where the synergists and fixators come into play. The synergist muscles help the agonists muscles in their function. They are often referred to as neutralizers because they help neutralize or cancel out the motion generated when the agonists contract in order to ensure maximum force is generated in the plane of motion the agonist wants. If synergists are trained before the agonist, then fatigue sets in before they are able to perform their synergistic role later on when training the agonist. It is therefore essential to train the larger agonist and antagonist muscles prior to working out the synergists. 

Working example: Do not train the biceps brachii before training the upper body in exercises which work out the agonists. So perform chin ups or lateral pulldowns which require the aid of synergists before performing barbell/dumbbell curls. The same goes for the triceps - bench press would be preferable ahead of cable pushdowns. 

Fixators contract in an isometric way to fix or stabilise part of the body in order to give the agonist a solid platform. Your core muscles take on this fixator role in the majority of standing exercises like squats or deadlifts. In the same way as described above with the synergists, it would not make sense to perform core exercises before the rest of the body in a resistance weight session as they would tire and therefore the ability of fixators to stablise your core during lifts would be compromised which could result in injury. It is the fixators role to try and keep your body in safe alignment - you may have read our advice on instagram about maintaining a neutral spine position. Conclusion - do your core stability exercises such as planks at the end of the workout.

We hope you've found this article insightful and hopefully now you have better insight on the selection and order of exercises you might choose as part of your exercise programme. Please remember to always consult a medical professional or certified personal trainer prior to starting an exercise programme. It is important that your current fitness level, strength and suitability for certain workouts is assessed in order to avoid injury. Stay safe fitfam and happy training! 

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