When planning your bodybuilding routine, you likely consider what days of the week to work out on, how many sets to do and the weights to use. But many people fail to recognize the importance of muscle group and body part order. How you order your exercises and the muscles you work in each session can make a big difference to your performance, but the correct order also depends on a number of factors.
A full-body workout quite simply involves training each major muscle group every time you hit the gym. Perform your multi-joint compound movements before single-joint isolation moves, trainer Nate Green advises in "Built for Show." You use more muscles performing exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts and rows than you do for leg extensions, flyes or biceps curls, so compounds should come first. As for the order you train your muscle groups in, Bodybuilding.com advises switching between training your chest, back and legs first if you train three times per week.
On a split, you train different muscle groups on different days. You might work your chest, shoulders, back, arms, quads and hamstrings all on separate days for instance, or switch between upper-body and lower-body or pushing and pulling workouts. The same rules still apply, as far as completing your compounds first when you have the most energy, though you might choose to switch between body parts. If you're training your chest, shoulders and triceps together, for example, you may do a bench press first to work your chest, then a dumbbell shoulder press, before adding wide-grip dips to work your chest again, then move on to isolation moves.
Performing isolation moves before compounds can be beneficial under certain circumstances. This method is known as pre-fatiguing or pre-exhausting, and is often used in intermediate and advanced bodybuilding routines. A sample pre-exhaust set would be leg extensions followed by squats, or biceps curls followed by chin-ups, though you could also perform pre-exhaust sets for separate body parts, such as lateral raises followed by deadlifts. The benefit of performing both exercises for one muscle group is that it can stimulate new muscle growth and help you break through plateaus, says strength coach Charles Poliquin.
Working smaller muscles first is also advantageous if you're looking to specifically bring up those muscle groups. If your biceps are lagging behind your chest and shoulders for example, you may choose to start every upper-body workout with curls, even though this goes against the conventional rule of compounds before isolations and big muscles before small. Emphasizing a muscle group is an effective method for boosting growth in stubborn muscles and changing your training stimulus, notes trainer Nick Tumminello.
- Photo Credit David Rogers/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images