Best Order of Exercises To Build Muscle and Gain Strength

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There are a lot of clever, observant people who read my articles and, more specifically, who train using static contraction. Every week or so for the last 10+ years we get a note along the lines of: “I noticed in your 1993 book you said to do the lat exercise before the abs exercise, but in 2006 you said it the opposite way around. Which is better?”

As you can imagine, there are many variations on this question using other groups of exercises. Which brings me to my point.

Mathematically, for each workout there are 5 exercises that are chosen out of the 10 total exercises I recommend. Believe it or not, that allows 30,240 different permutations, or possibilities, of how to construct your workout.

30,240!

So Workout ‘A’ could be: Abs, triceps, biceps, calves, quads – or – quads, calves, biceps, triceps, abs. (Same exercises, backwards order.) So that’s two possibilities out of the 30,240.

But Which Is Better?
Unlike most of the trainers you might read, I don’t make claims or recommendations I can’t back up with facts. The way to determine which of the 30,240 possibilities is the best is to have that many groups of, say, 10 trainees each perform each of the possible workouts for several weeks then analyze their progress to find which group had statistically better results. Note that this would take 302,400 volunteer test subjects!

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever done such a test. Nor is it likely they will. Hey, I’d be the first to say that if somebody had 300,000+ medical volunteers they should use them for cancer or Alzheimer research, not for esoteric strength training research.

Over the years I have tweaked the order of exercises from time to time but it’s always been a matter of improving the time efficiency of the workouts. For example the toe press and leg press have always been together because once you adjust and load the leg machine for one of them you might as well do the other too. But I can’t claim – and never have – that there is a scientifically verified physiological reason for doing them one after the other. It’s just for time savings.

When you realize the rigor that must go into making claims for the superiority of the order of exercises in a workout, you realize how reckless most trainers are when they say “you’ve got to do your chest exercise right after your lat exercise” or whatever. Really? Where was that proven? It wasn’t. It’s just BS.

The world of strength training would be very well served if the average trainee became a lot more critical of the ‘information’ he is inundated with. Simply asking, “Has that ever been proven?” would be a big help. When you read articles in magazines or online pause for a moment and ask yourself these two questions, “Would that exercise provide the highest overload to that muscle?” and “How would I ensure progressive overload from workout to workout if I did that exercise? To my nose, 90% of the crap offered to trainees doesn’t pass the above ‘sniff test’.

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About Author

Pete Sisco

Pete Sisco has been innovating efficient, productive training methods since 1992. He is the inventor of the Power Factor, Power Index and Relative Static Intensity measurements and co-author of Power Factor Training, Static Contraction Training and many other strength training books. See my profile page for more information!

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