Gym sessions are easily misstructured and made up on the fly. It’s easily done and when someone is taking an age to move on from what you need to get on it can be quite hard to stick to one. However, it is more or less to rotate exercises around as long as you have an underlying structure that keeps some order to your session.
It is best that once warmed up, the first thing you should look to do is a compound move first that correlates to the day you are doing. Below is the compound moves you could put first of each day.
- Leg day – Squat
- Chest day – Bench
- Back day – Deadlifts*
- Arm day – dips (for triceps focus) or close grip chin ups (for biceps focus)
- Shoulder day – shoulder press
(For abs it would be best to start on the basic sit ups or decline sit ups, although not technically compound it is just a good place to start on this particular day. We often find that this exercise suffers much more in form when done later in the session.)
*Some people will dispute that they prefer deadlifts to be done on a leg day as it is more or less a leg press movement. However, if you intend on incorporating squats into your gym week then using deadlifts at the start of back day is recommended as it also works some back muscles within the movement.
Another thing to note is that most compound movements will isometrically work your abs as they will work to stabilise your body whilst completing the exercise. So if you don’t always manage to do a dedicated ab day in your training structure then don’t sweat it massively as they will get worked. Although be sure not to completely avoid at least a few dedicated isolation exercises to the core as this is a crucial element to train. But back to the main point. By putting these compound exercises first you can maximise how hard you can push and up the weight in order to progressively overload. As well as this, if your goal is to increase strength and performance in the ‘Big 3’ lifts then this is of even more paramount importance. It is always better to start fresh on these types of exercises as they typically take a lot more energy and burn more calories as you are having to recruit multiple muscle groups at one time.
Once you move onto the isolation exercises, also known as the ‘accessory lifts’ you should mostly look to increase volume (more reps and sets) as this will help get blood through the muscle and get that ‘pump’ everyone is so often chasing. If you tried to do your accessory lifts first and your compound last it is more likely you will find a decrease in performance as you have expended a big amount of energy and then attempting a bigger lift. As form is usually most crucial in these lifts in relation to serious injury it is more important to be able to put a full amount of energy and concentration into the compound exercises.
So in summary, do your compounds/big lifts first to maximise performance of these and to keep your form as strict as possible to be able to help with injury prevention. Then move onto your accessory lifts in order to add volume to your workout and help work towards hypertrophy or whatever your goal is (be it muscular endurance or strength).