As seen in the image above, exercise style/emphasis ordering is our first and most important determining factor.
Fatigue is half of the ordering equation, but it has the most influence over daily structure. Because effective resistance training programs require some form of cardio, we need to make sure that our sessions support concurrent (targeting more than one exercise style – resistance and cardio in most cases) training while avoiding unnecessary amounts of fatigue. To keep both CNS and PNS fatigue from interfering with our workout productivity, we start with strength, transition into hypertrophy, and then end with cardiovascular conditioning. This setup places the most high volume and fatigue inducing exercises at the end and allows us to maximize our strength/hypertrophy training potential before we get too tired. Untrained lifters will be able to get away with any random order they want for 2-3 months, but that will fade along with the beginner gains – do things the right way from the start.
While not pictured, power training would occur before strength for competitive athletes (football, CrossFit, weightlifting, etc). Fitstra programs put power in the warm up and in the cardio because most people aren’t competing in a sport and don’t need to prioritize the development of explosive exercises to a great degree. But if movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk are important to you, do them first. They require a lot of neuromuscular coordination and explosive energy but also produce very little fatigue if volume is kept in check.
The second line in ordering structure addresses the arrangement of multi-joint vs single-joint exercises and is also primarily influenced by fatigue. While multi-joint movements can feel more tiring than their single-joint counterparts, isolating individual muscles with single-joint exercises actually leads to greater levels of localized peripheral fatigue. If performed first, single-joint movements can compromise the overall integrity of multi-joint movements. If one muscle in a kinetic chain is weakened, the loading potential for that exercise will be decreased. While this multi to single-joint transition is best in most scenarios, there are instances where that order could be reversed (pre-exhaustion).
The last exercise ordering guideline relies on personal preferences and individual program goals. If your daily concurrent structure progresses from resistance training to cardiovascular conditioning and places multi-joint before single-joint movements, any remaining sequence uncertainties should be determined by what’s most important to you and your programming/periodization focus. This is especially true for untrained lifters.
For example, let’s say you’re doing a lower body routine that is focused on beginner/intermediate strength and involves barbell squat, barbell deadlift, hamstring curls, and an easy one mile jog. The hamstring curls and cardio would be performed last, but the order of squats and deadlifts would be your decision to make. If squats are a weak point, it would be best to do them first. If you hate deadlifts and want to get them out of the way as soon as possible, go for it. As long as the first two points in the exercise order checklist are marked off (concurrent style and joint order), the final tweaks can be adjusted to suit your needs. With that said, in this hypothetical scenario we would ideally want to alternate between squats and deadlifts in our periodization variety to ensure an equal emphasis of strength and hypertophy work is placed on both exercises.
To maximize your progress with any training style, perform them in isolation in the order listed above. Don’t blend things together. Circuit training is a great exercise method, but not for directly targeting maximum gains in strength/hypertrophy. Save your circuits for HIIT/anaerobic conditioning.
These exercise order guidelines don’t cover every possible scenario, but they should give you a helpful foundation to start structuring your daily sessions. With the general order established, we can move on to exercise selection.