The Role of Exercise Order: 5 Reasons to Train Large Muscle Groups First

The order of your training session will strongly impact your results. Read that again. It’s true. Your hormones, muscle size, energy levels and performance will alllllll change depending on which exercises you perform first. And depending on your goals, you may want to highly consider training your large muscle groups (glutes, quads, hams, chest, back) before your smaller groups (biceps, shoulders, triceps) for a greater training stimulus to all the muscles involved — which may mean greater neural, metabolic and endocrine responses. Now there are many reasons for this, but here are my top 5.

 

1). Large muscle groups stimulate a larger increase in anabolic hormone circulation.

To show this concept, a unique study compared a group of subjects who trained for 11 weeks. Twice a week, the group performed a leg press, followed by a biceps curl of one arm. The other two days a week, they performed a biceps curl with the other arm. The results showed serum testosterone and growth hormone were significantly higher as a result of performing the leg press first (Ronnestad, BR, 2011).

 

2). In the same study, there was a larger increase in Cross Sectional Area (CSA).

Interestingly enough, there was also a significant increase in the CSA area of the biceps in only the arm that had the leg press first. So larger muscle group worked first, could mean bigger gains.

 

3). Larger muscle groups require more energy.

Consider fatigue and technical breakdown. Expending energy on smaller muscle groups first will make it harder to perform larger muscle group exercises that generally require more skill, balance and technique. Especially if your training for a specific lift (i.e. squat, bench, deadlift) it may not make sense to perform other exercises first. Assuming heavier resistances are being used, it would be better to perform them early on in the workout to avoid excessive fatigue (especially if maximal power is needed).

 

4). Smaller muscle groups are often required when training larger groups.

Piggy backing on reason #3, you may not think much about how smaller groups are involved in many large muscle group exercises. Consider the role they play when designing your program. You also limit your ability to overload your large muscles.

 

5). Consider Training Time.

Larger muscles generally take longer to train due to using more energy and increased rest periods. I like to encourage my clients to train large muscles with the appropriate rest periods first, then if short on time, smaller muscles can generally be trained in a sped up fashion (shorter rest periods).

 

BONUS: Another thing to consider is placing multi-joint exercises before single-joint exercises. Squats, power cleans, deadlifts are all examples of multi-joint exercises. The reason for this, is that it will require the greatest amount of muscle mass and energy for performance. Lifters can develop more neural stimulation with heavier resistances because they aren’t as tired.

Just a few points to keep in mind when planning your next training session(s).

 

Happy lifting friends!

 

Xo,

 

 

Nat

 

Ronnestad, BR, Nygaard H & Raastad T. (2011). Physiological elevation of endogenous hormones result in superior training adaption. European Journal of Applied Physiology 111:2249-2259.

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