Have you ever tried on a "one size fits all" piece of clothing only to find that it does not fit? Take this same thought process to a workout routine and you will also find that one workout order does not fit everyone. Is workout order important? Yes -- but the importance is based on your personal goals. Once you determine why you're exercising, you'll be able to figure out how to exercise.
Largest to Smallest
The most common strength-training order follows the pattern of exercising largest muscles first and then smaller muscles: for example, exercising your chest and back followed by your shoulders and arms. The reason for this is that your muscles are strongest at the beginning of your workout and will be able to lift the most amount of weight. Since the smaller muscles are assisting this lifting, you want to get the biggest "bang for your buck" at the beginning of your session. This order is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and is very safe and effective if you are new to a strength-training routine.
Smallest to Largest
If you flip the workout order to work the smaller muscle groups, such as your arms and shoulders, first and then go to your chest and back, you may find that your smaller muscles respond faster than before. These smaller groups are fresh and strongest at the beginning and you will be able to use heavier weights. This order will help reduce any muscle imbalances from always using your larger muscles first and provides workout variety. Variety is key to muscle stimulation and growth.
Another way to structure your workout is based on your goals. If your focus is on sexy, sculpted arms, you'll want to exercise your arms first. If your goal is to have tight, toned inner thighs, perform your leg exercises before you train your upper body. This changes your workout concentration from an overall strength-training program to a targeted workout so you will see results faster.
Pay attention to how many joints are involved in your exercises and organize your workout based on that. Perform multiple-joint movements before single-joint movements. This technique is especially helpful if you have a joint injury. For example, if you have knee discomfort, perform squats that bend both your hips and knees before you perform a leg extension which uses only your knee joint. That way, the knee is warm and the amount of weight on this single-joint movement to cause muscle fatigue is less than if you began with the leg extension and your quadriceps were at their strongest.
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images