Weekly column by fitness expert Cashel Hayden for the Waterford News & Star, in association with Kingfisher Fitness Club
SO you’ve begun your gym programme – a list of exercises and a time frame to complete them in. Do we complete each exercise in the same sequence each time? Do we switch it up every session? Does it even matter? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves when looking to honestly evaluate and improve our training efficiency. The truth here is – exercise order is in fact there for a reason. If you see the sequence “1, 2 ,3 , 4…” or “A, B, C, D…” labelled on your programme – this is for your benefit. The approach here is relatively simple, the approach differs slightly depending on your given goal. I will explain two different scenarios below.
Let’s start with building muscle (hypertrophy). In this instance we want our training to be as inefficient as possible. Why inefficient you might be asking. To be most optimum when building muscle we must aim to get the maximum amount of internal work out of the least amount of external work. When looking to get the most out of our training we want to challenge our muscles to a given level of fatigue, this can be done by effectively training muscles in both of their contractile ranges. These include a shortened and lengthened range. In general our shortened range will fatigue first.
‘If you see the sequence “1, 2 ,3 , 4…” or “A, B, C, D…” labelled on your programme – this is for your benefit’
I will use a leg extension (we can safely fully contract our quad muscles here) and a leg press (we cannot safely fully contract quad muscles here as straightening legs fully will risk injury) as an example here. If we were to train leg extensions (shortened range) before the leg press (lengthened) we would be in a much more optimal position to train each range effectively.
If we were to do the opposite our leg press performance might be somewhat better – but our leg extensions would be quite wasteful as our quad muscles would fatigue as they approached the end of each rep due to fatigue built up from leg press. We will likely struggle to complete the movement at 100% of its range here, thus missing out on the valuable stimulus that the movement provides if performed correctly.
In terms of strength training, contractile ranges aren’t seen as a top priority. When training for strength and power, it is quite the opposite. This requires the most amount of external work with the least amount of internal work. In this case; momentum/inertia and multiple muscles working cohesively together is used to generate force to move a certain amount of weight from A to B. In this case we will prioritise bigger lifts such as the squat, deadlift and bench press at the start of each session.
The priority for this style of training should be to develop strong moving patterns where multiple muscles are working synergistically together to complete a lift. This style of training is generally a reflection of what is required for a compound exercise, this is an exercise where multiple muscles are being used and should be put before isolations (exercises requiring one muscle/muscle group) if strength and power are the main agenda.
Hopefully after reading this you have gathered a bit more insight into the rationale behind your training. Exercise order is an often overlooked and underestimated variable in one’s progress. Steps you can take here are to try to apply what I have mentioned above to your training and try to stick to the same order each time you train. This consistency will be pivotal in determining your rate of progress.
I understand, however, that gyms can get very busy; at busy periods it can be hard to follow your plan in order when machines and weights you are looking to use are being occupied. My solution to this conundrum; aim to have a Plan B for each exercise that trains the same muscle. Not optimal, but practical nonetheless! If you are struggling with this topic, don’t hesitate to reach out to myself or your nearest health professional to help get you pointing in the right direction.
Lastly, I would also like to clarify that I am not a registered dietician. All advice disclosed here is simply advisory based on my qualifications as a fitness professional and personal experience and knowledge gained working with individuals and helping them reach their goals. The advice given is not designed to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.
I hope someone found some of this information useful here, just some food for thought.
For any questions in relation to this topic or training, nutrition, etc. or for coaching inquiries simply message me on my business page on Instagram @coachedbycashel_ or by email – [email protected]