How many of you consciously think about your order of exercises when devising and undertaking a gym workout? Are your decisions made on scientific knowledge and research or do you pick the first exercise on you’re to do list which is closest to you? The ordering of exercises within a workout is massively important but is often overlooked by many individuals.
If you consider the muscle groups during a training week which you aim to target they will probably feature the following in your list; chest, back, shoulders, abdominals and legs. These are all considered large muscular groups. You also have the smaller muscle groups, such as biceps, triceps and calves. Normal practice would advocate training your larger muscle groups primarily, whilst leaving your smaller muscle groups till afterwards. This article explores the reasoning behind this and considers an exception to the rule.
Previous research has hypothesised an enhanced risk of injury with training smaller muscle groups prior to their larger counterparts. The smaller muscles when isolated and exercised fatigue rapidly. This creates an issue when you move onto the larger muscle groups as the smaller muscles still often have a role to play. For example during the back lateral pulldown, the biceps muscles are also recruited to assist movement. If however, these smaller muscles are already fatigued this can lead to poor exercise form and ultimately injury.
An individual’s strength levels are always at an optimum at the commencement of a training session. This stands to reason and is no real rocket science. However, is you opt to use this initial critical period of a training session on the smaller muscle groups, then by the time you start to undertake your compound movements with your large muscle groups, you will be training much under par. Potentially, this will result in you lifting less resistance during the exercises which will benefit you the most, resulting in possible strength and size decrements.
At the start of a training session, not only are you at your optimal in terms of strength but you should also be at your most alert. This level of concentration and coordination will diminish as the training session proceeds, leading to a depleted state both physically and mentally by the end of a session. Well this should be the case if you’re working hard enough! Once again, if you train your smaller muscles first, then by the time you move on to the bigger, complex muscles which require skill and technique, you might struggle to perform.
So there you have it, the reasoning behind performing larger muscle group exercises before smaller group exercises is based around injury potential, strength levels and your ability to perform mentally. Here comes the twist and the so called exception to the rule that was mentioned earlier in this article. This exception is known as pre-exhaust sets.
Pre-exhaust sets are a technique which breaks every rule and has been utilised by individuals for many years to enhance muscular hypertrophy. An example of this technique would be dumbbell fly followed by the bench press to target the chest. This technique thoroughly drags your body out of its comfort zone and will create the shock effect your musculoskeletal system has been looking for. However, due to the reasoning given above this technique should be used infrequently and only by those considered advanced.