Exercise Order: How To Arrange The Exercises In Your Workout

Once you select the weight training exercises you will perform during each of your workouts, the next decision you need to make is what order to perform them in.

As is the case with most aspects of creating an effective weight training routine, exercise order can vary significantly based on factors specific to you and your goal.

Having said that, there are some general rules that tend to apply in the majority of cases. Here now are those rules…

The General Rules Of Exercise Order

For most of the people, most of the time, proper exercise order can be summed up in one simple sentence:

More demanding exercises should be performed before less demanding exercises.

Here are the most common examples of what that means…

  1. Exercises for bigger muscles should come before exercises for smaller muscles.
    Examples: Chest or back before shoulders, biceps or triceps. Shoulders before biceps or triceps. Quads or hamstrings before calves or abs.
  2. Compound exercises should come before isolation exercises.
    Examples: Bench press before dumbbell flyes. Overhead press before lateral raises. Squats before leg extensions. Romanian deadlifts before leg curls.
  3. Free weight/body weight exercises should come before machines.
    Squats or deadlifts before leg presses. Barbell bench press before incline machine press. Pull-ups before chest supported machine rows.

As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of times when it might make sense to deviate slightly from these rules based on various individual factors, but in general… these rules should apply in most workout routines.

When More Than 1 Muscle Group Is Trained In The Same Workout

Now, you may be wondering what should happen when you are training more than one muscle group in a workout… as most people will be. In fact, the many people using a full body split or upper/lower split will be training quite a few muscle groups per workout.

As you already learned in rule #1 above, exercises for bigger muscle groups should come before exercises for smaller muscle groups.

This is easy when it comes down to obvious stuff like training chest before triceps or quads before calves, but what about when there’s more than one big muscle group being trained in the same workout?

Simple… all of the above rules still apply, even if it means you end up having to train each muscle group out of order.

Meaning, instead of doing all of the exercises for the same muscle group back-to-back and then doing all of the exercises for the next muscle group back-to-back, you might do an exercise for Muscle A, then Muscle B, then Muscle A again.

This is perfectly fine and perfectly normal and SHOULD happen to ensure you are performing your exercises in their optimal order.

Once again, here’s a reminder that there are certain instances where it might make sense to stray from these guidelines. However, since I can’t predict every possible scenario for every person’s specific situation, the best I can do is tell you what guidelines should be followed in most cases.

And, in most cases, these are the rules of exercise order that should be followed the majority of the time.

What’s Next?

Now that you know what order you will perform your exercises in during each workout, it’s time to figure out how long you should rest between each set of each exercise. Let’s do that…

How Long To Rest Between Sets & Exercises – Workout Rest Times

(This article is part of a completely free guide to creating the best workout routine possible for your exact goal. It starts here: The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine)

NEW: Need A Home Workout?

Are you working out at home with nothing but some resistance bands, or a few dumbbells, or just your own body weight?

If so, I've written the ultimate guide to getting the results you want without a gym.

It contains beginner, intermediate, and advanced home workouts. 2-day, 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day home workouts. Body weight options, dumbbell options, and resistance band options. 170+ home exercises to choose from, with video examples for each. And so... much... more.

Check it out: The Home Workout Guide

About Jay
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.