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Programming Brief: Exercise Order

One of the fundamental principles of exercise prescription, specifically resistance training, is the principle of exercise order. Which exercises do I do first? Which do I do last? Does exercise order really matter? From personal observations in the weight room, it would seem to many it doesn't matter. However, if you want an effective exercise program you must consider the order of the exercises.

Multi-joint Exercises

As a general rule you should perform complex multi-joint exercises first in your exercise routine while you are fresh. Typically, multi-joint movements require more skill and energy to perform. Such exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups. Nothing annoys me more than seeing someone perform bicep curls until their head explodes, then go right into lat pulldowns (notice, lat pulldowns, not pull-ups?anyone who does pull-ups knows better than to work their biceps beforehand).

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Such is the case when using the pre-exhaustion technique. For example, perform a set of dumbbell flys to exhaust the pectorals then going directly to a set of bench press. In this case, however, you are pre-exhausting the larger muscle group, not the smaller muscle group.

Single-joint Exercises

Since single-joint movements typically require less skill to perform and are not as taxing on the body, perform them after multi-joint exercises. Performing single-joint movements at the end of a workout session will ensure a more efficient and effective routine. Of course, there will be exceptions, which should be addressed on an individual basis.

Note: Agility drills & Olympic lifts have been excluded from the discussion of exercise order. However, typically agility drills & Olympic lifts, respectively, should be performed before multi-joint exercises.

Chad Anderson, CSCS operates a personal training, fitness programming, and consulting business while also holding a full-time position as a senior personal trainer at a commercial health club. He holds a BS degree in exercise science with a minor in nutrition and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. You can visit his website at


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