One of the most common questions I hear from new and seasoned exercisers alike isn't about which exercises are most effective or whether you should work out on an empty stomach. It's a question of timing. Should you do cardio or strength training first?
Most fitness experts agree that there is no right or wrong answer here—that you should do whatever matters MOST to you first. So if your goal is weight loss, you'd probably be better off doing cardio (which burns a lot of calories and fat) before you strength train; and if your goal was building muscle size and strength, you'd do strength training first.
But what about the exercises you do during a single strength-training workout? Does it matter which moves you do first when you pick up the weights? Conventional exercise wisdom has always said the same thing: You should work your larger muscles before you train the smaller ones, meaning you'd train your glutes before you train your calves or your back before your biceps. But an interesting study conducted at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University in Brazil may change that advice if your goal is to tone up a particular area of the body.
The study, published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, divided 31 men into two groups. One group exercised their chests and upper backs (larger muscles) before doing their triceps and biceps (smaller muscles). The second group did the opposite routine: biceps and triceps before chest and back. Who do you think saw the best results?
Twelve weeks later, both groups saw increases in strength and muscle size. Whether they exercised the large or the smaller muscles first, participants saw the best results in the muscles they worked first.
What does this mean for you?
Just like the "cardio or strength training first" scenario above, this is another question of priority. What are your problem areas? Your weakest muscles? Which ones matter most to you in terms of getting results? Those are the muscles you should train first. The reason is pretty simple: As your workout continues, you get tired. If you save your triceps for last but they're a major trouble zone for you, you simply won't have the energy to work them as hard at the end as you would in the beginning. So when it comes to your trouble zones, work them first. That way, you'll have the energy to put forth a stronger effort so you can get better results. That's one small, simple tweak that can make a big difference in your workouts. Just don't forget about the other areas of your body. Just as your trouble spots need attention, your other muscles do, too. So be sure to work them—even if you work them last!
How do you choose which order to do your strength training exercises? Will you try this workout tweak?