This Is the Best Workout Order to Get the Body You Want

Updated: Aug. 08, 2017

Doing the same moves in a different order can get you better results.


What difference does order make?

Any exercise is good exercise, but planning it right—like by taking advantage of the benefits of a morning workout—can help you get the most out of your workout. A sweat session is exhausting; no matter how revved up you are for a great workout, your muscles will be tired by the end. “Think of it like a gasoline tank,” says certified personal trainer Tony Stephan, RD. The longer you go, the more energy you use. That means your muscles will have an easier time with the exercises you start with and have a harder time pushing at the end. By ordering your moves strategically, you can take advantage of your full tank. But before any routine, learn the rules for starting a beginner workout.


Start with a warm-up

Prime your body before jumping into the tough stuff. Dynamic stretching—like bouncing into lunges and squats instead of staying still while you touch your toes—can prevent injury and mentally prepare you for the rest of your routine, says Stephan. (Learn more about whether you really need to stretch before working out.) A bit of light cardio can also help you warm up, but this is one time when harder isn’t better, says Dani Singer, certified personal trainer and fitness director of Fit2Go Personal Training. A five- or ten-minute jog can get your blood flowing, but starting with sprints will wear you out before you’ve really even started. “You want your warm-up to enhance your workout, not hinder it,” says Singer.

Move on to strength training

After your warm-up jog or brisk walk, you might want to jump right into cardio. Don’t. Singer recommends starting with strength training because when you have more energy, it will be easier to crush more reps. But more importantly, you’ll be able to maintain good form while you’re holding a plank or hoisting a barbell. Meanwhile, your cardio probably won’t suffer if you’re a little tired going in. “You can just go and the form is simple and it’s really repetitive,” says Singer. “It’s not doing eight reps and fatiguing.” If you tend to brush off strength training, learn the incredible benefits of lifting weights.


Do big movements first

During strength training, always start with the big moves that use multiple muscles. If you start with isolated exercises that use only one, your body will be unevenly fatigued for the multi-muscles moves. For instance, if you wear out your triceps with triceps extensions, then do a bench press, your shoulders and chest will be fresh but your arms will be tired, says Singer. “You’re going to compensate and throw off your form,” he says. “You don’t want to imbalance it by doing just one muscle group.” Use this weight-lifting trick to get stronger even faster.


Pick your priority

Once those multi-muscle moves are out of the way, it’s up to you which isolated moves you’ll want to start with. The key is to do the ones most important to you first, says Singer. So if you care more about flat abs than toned arms, do crunches before bicep curls. (Or try these flat-abs exercises that don’t require crunches.) But on leg day, stick to just lower-body moves. “I would definitely give legs their own day just because they’re so demanding,” says Stephan. Learn more about what happens when you start strength training.

Move on to cardio

Now that you’ve wrapped up strength training, you can move on to cardio. Stephan says he tends to see the best results when people do a mix of steady cardio and high intensity interval training (going all out, then cooling down before another all-out burst). Start with doing steady cardio for one or two days, then working in HIIT for another, and work your way up to more interval training—after all you could get major benefits from HIIT. But listen to your body. If you love losing yourself in a long run, don’t bother with intervals; if half an hour of steady cardio bores you to tears, don’t force it. “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you’re not going to stick to it,” says Stephan. Find out what your favorite workout says about you.


Let yourself cool down

Instead of hopping straight from the treadmill to the locker room, give yourself a chance to cool down. A short walk won’t just help you feel less gross when you peel off your gym clothes, but it will give you a mental boost. “It helps them unwind a bit and reflect on the workout,” says Stephan. Plus, stretching or using a foam roller helps your body sense where there’s tension, then breathe it out so it’s relaxed when you leave, says Singer. Learn more about what happens when you skip a cool down.