Is There A Best Way To Exercise?

Is there a certain way that a person should exercise?  The short answer is yes.  The long answer to this question is relatively long, so let’s take a look at this issue.

Is there a certain exercise order that’s best?


Squat exercise

Yes, there is.  You should start with the biggest muscles first, then work your way down to the smallest.  Working large muscles takes a lot of energy.  As an experiment, do 10 squats right now.  How do you feel?  Is your heart beating faster?  Are you breathing a little (or a lot!) harder?  Now do 10 bicep curls.  Did that exercise make you as winded as doing the squats?  Working larger muscles will warm up your body, get your blood flowing and your heart rate up, and allow you to continue burning calories when you get to the smaller muscles.  If you did the exercises in the reverse order, you’d really only be burning a lot of calories when you performed the squats.  Does this make sense?

With this in mind, in big, broad strokes this means that if you were doing a total body workout, you should go in this order…

  • Legs
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Abdominals/lower back

Plank exercise for core strength

So, why are your core muscles (abs and lower back) last?  Glad you asked!  I always work my core muscles last even though they are bigger than your arm or shoulder muscles.  I do this because working your abdominal muscles takes a lot out of you.  When you perform any exercise, doesn’t matter for what body part, the one key you should always remember is to keep your core strong.  This means that you should somewhat tighten your abdominals and lower back muscles when you perform an exercise.  Another way of saying this is to keep your core engaged.  This means to sit or stand straight with your abs and lower back girded for exercise in order to maintain your posture.  You use your core muscles for posture plus a whole lot more.  As another experiment, do some ab crunches.  Just enough to get a little sore.  If you do get sore in a day or two, really pay attention to just how much you use your abdominal muscles during the course of a day.  You use your abs for a lot more things than you imagine.  So, I want my core to be as strong as possible when I’m lifting weights for other body parts.  So, I work my core last.

Are there a certain number of days a week that I should work out?

Excellent question!  The answer is… that depends.

Beginner Level – If you are just starting out with an exercise program, I recommend doing one exercise per body part.  As an example, do one exercise for each body part in this order… upper legs/glutes, back, chest, calves, deltoids, triceps, biceps, forearms.  That would be one set.  Rest for a minute or two, then do 2 more sets, resting in between sets, for a total of 3 sets.  Then I’d do all 3 sets of the core workout at the end.  If you’re working out in a gym, you may want to do 3 sets of legs, then move on to 3 sets of back, then 3 sets of chest, and so forth.  This way you’re not hogging equipment or having to stand in line waiting to use a piece of equipment.  You don’t want your heart rate to drop while you stand around and wait.

If you start out doing this total body beginner workout, then do these exercises on Monday-Wednesday-Friday.  Or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.  It doesn’t so much matter which days you exercise as long as you give yourself at least one day in between workouts to allow your muscles to recover.

Intermediate Level – Once you’ve gotten into better shape (say after 1-2 months), then you can move into doing a lower body workout on Day 1, and then do an upper body workout on Day 2.  Take a day off, then repeat.  The difference between the beginner workout listed above and this intermediate workout is that instead of doing one exercise per body part, you should do two.  So, for Day 2, you’d end up doing 6 sets of back, 6 sets of chest, 6 set of arms, etc… I like to do both exercises back to back for the same body part before moving on to the next.  This is about conditioning and building muscle.  As a note, I do core exercises on both Day 1 and Day 2, however, I only do one exercise.  Core muscles are endurance muscles.  Whether you feel it or not, you use your core muscles all day long.  They’re used to a little work.  So, I work them every time I’m in the gym.

Advanced Level – Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the intermediate workout, then you’re a rock star!  You’ve made it to the bodybuilding level of workout.  Then you can pick a couple of body parts and do 4 exercises for each one.  Depending on how you split up your body, you can workout 6 days a week.  Always give yourself at least one day a week for rest.  There are a lot of different combinations of which body parts to pick and work each day of the week, but that’s a longer discussion than I want to get into now.  At least for me, this is the fun level.  Lifting weights becomes a personal challenge.  Can I squeeze out one more rep than I did the last time?  Can I lift a little more weight?   I don’t compare myself to anyone else in the gym.  My competition is me!  As long as I keep improving, little by little, that’s all that matters.

What about cardiovascular exercise?

CardioLifting weights is great for building muscle and building muscle endurance.  However, your heart is a muscle, too.   It also needs a little love in the gym.  For the most part, lifting weight is an anaerobic activity.  You lift intensely for a minute, then rest.  Lift, then rest.  Depending on the exercise, you could spend more time resting than lifting weights.  Cardiovascular activity is aerobic because you generally do the exercise continually, whether it is walking, running, biking, rowing or whatever.  A lot of sports can have an aerobic effect, like tennis or basketball or volleyball, because you work so intensely between short rest periods that your body doesn’t have a chance to slow down.  There are some sports where you can burn 1,000 calories in an hour!  THAT’S a workout!

So, do you do cardio work before you lift weights or the other way around?

I believe that you should lift weights first, and then do your cardio work.  Lifting weights doesn’t really burn a lot of calories (depending on how you do it and the weight that you lift), but it does get your body moving, your blood flowing and your heart rate up.  The cardio work just continues the calorie burning process that you already started while you were lifting weights.

From a weight loss perspective, your body won’t start burning fat for 20-30 minutes after you start cardio work, assuming you haven’t lifted weights beforehand.  So, if you do cardio work first for 30 minutes, you may not have burned any fat at all!  However, if you lift weights first, you already have your heart rate up, and you can potentially burn fat by doing your cardio work for the entire time you’re doing it!

This makes more sense when you consider the so-called “fat-burning zone.”  The formula for this is…

Fat burning zone = {220 – (Your Age)} x 0.75

The number you come up with is the beats per minute that your heart should reach before you start burning fat.   This is an approximate number, so give it plus or minus 10 points.  For example, for me, given that I’m 50 years old, that number would be 127.5.  The normal pulse rate is 72 beats for minute, so you can see that I have a ways to go before I start burning fat.  Regardless of your age, if you do your cardio work first, it will take a while to get your pulse up to whatever your pulse (heart) rate number is.  Then you start burning fat.  You may start burning fat right away if you lift weights first.

Hopefully, all this information helps clear up a few questions that you might have had.  On Thursday, I’ll be describing a back exercise to add to your routine!

Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!


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