Structuring Your Workouts: Exercise Order & Type

The common wisdom is that you need at least thirty minutes of physical activity a day at least five days a week. But, there are many different types of exercises that can be incorporated into a workout. Understanding which to choose and what sequence is most beneficial can help you get the most out of every workout session.


Types of Exercises You Should Be Doing

Any solid workout regimen will include several different types of exercises. No matter what your goals, you need to spend some time on different modes to improve your general health.

Strength training helps build definition as well as both maximum and relative strength. Flexibility cuts the risk of injury. Cardio is good for heart health and endurance. Agility, speed, and coordination all help improve athletic performance. As we age, exercises that help us develop better balance can protect us against dangerous falls.

While there are many workout programs that include all of the above, how do you know which ones you should be doing in what order to get the best results?


What Science Says About Exercise Order

In a recent study performed at Western State Colorado University, participants varied the sequence of exercises within individual workouts to see which order provided the most benefit. The study group included 24 healthy, active people between 18 and 39. They performed 24 exercise sessions. During the sessions, they varied the order the performed four different exercise modes:

  • 30 minutes of cardio
  • strength training consisting of two sets of 12 reps on eight weight machines.
  • flexibility routines that involved holding eight static stretches for 20 seconds each.
  • neuromotor exercises that worked skills like agility, balance, and speed.

The participants were asked to rate their perceived level of exertion. Their heart rates were monitored and their flexibility and agility were tested at the end of the study. Researchers found that they got the best results with one specific order.  Here it is…


Start with Cardio

Few people would be surprised to learn that a cardio warmup is beneficial. However, some experts were surprised to learn that 30 minutes of cardio did not negatively affect performance in later exercises.

Follow with Strength

In the study, having this after cardio had participants warmed up enough to perform better than they would have if they did strength exercises first.

Move to Flexibility

It’s a common myth that stretching makes you more flexible during your current workout. What stretching really does is train your body to be more flexible long-term. Static stretches, held for 20 seconds or more, send signals to your brain to show that it is safe to extend muscles this far. Over time, you adapt your brain to longer and deeper stretches.

Finish with Neuromotor

Once you’ve completed the other exercises, it’s time to put it all together with tasks that challenge your balance, speed, and agility. These exercises can include single-leg squats, shuttle runs, and others that put several skills to the test all at once.

Some experts are surprised that putting neuromotor skills last did not negatively affect performance. The key seems to be using moderate-intensity early in your workout. This leaves you with enough steam to keep going through the end.


Creating the Right Workout Order for You

Everyone’s goals are different, so your workout should be customized to fit your specific needs. If you are focused hard on building strength and muscle definition, you may want to give more time and effort to the strength part of your workout. Someone who is training for a triathlon will want to concentrate on the exercises that help them better develop the skills that they’ll call on during the event.

Most people will also want to incorporate days where they focus solely on one sector, such as a day or two of extended cardio a week. Others may wish to do some high-intensity interval training, which was not included in the study examined above. By tailoring your workout to your current condition and what you want to achieve, you can get the results you want and continually work to improve.

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