What Should You Train First?

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When it’s time to hit the gym, it’s good to have a plan of action.  While there is no perfect order for everyone or all situations, there are some guidelines that are best to follow in order to get maximum effectiveness.

After a proper warm-up, you generally want to do your power movements first.  These are movements that require explosiveness with good form and the fresher you are, the better you will perform.  Exercises like power cleans, clean and jerk, push press, plyometric movements, etc. are best attacked during the beginning of your workout.

The next focus should be on whole body strength movements like deadlifts, squats, fireman carries, etc.  These are movements that will require quite a degree of energy and doing them later in your training can definitely effect your ability to perform and improve at them if that’s something you’re concerned about.

Beyond this, it really becomes a matter of prioritization.  What do you want and need to focus on?  If there is a movement or muscle group that you want to make maximum progress on, attacking it sooner in your training rather than later gives you a better opportunity to address it when you are both mentally and physically fresh.  All other things being equal, it’s generally best to work from the larger muscle groups down to the smaller.  But since some areas require similar movements which can cause undue fatigue, it’s best to sequence your training to take this into consideration.

A normal progression through a whole body workout would look something like; Legs (quads then hamstrings), back, chest, biceps, shoulders, triceps, calves, abs.  Obviously, depending on your level this could be broken up further.  Within each muscle group, it’s also better to do the multi-joint, compound movements first (like bench press) then follow with any additional, isolation type movements (like cable crossovers).

There are of course exceptions to this depending on specific goals (like pre-exhaution sets for example- a story for another time).  But if you follow a general pattern of power to strength to big to small, you will establish a nice base for success.

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