By Jeff Spencer, MA, DC
One of the most overlooked and powerful ways to get faster and better workout results is to do the workout exercises in a specific order that boosts their individual benefits and workout results as a whole.
You're probably saying to yourself that sounds kind of crazy, and, almost too good, and since exercises are just exercises the order they're done in during a workout doesn't really influence the workouts overall benefit since a workout's just a collection of exercises anyway.
Fair enough question, but, that's not really the way it works, as the body prefers to progressively ramp up its intensity during a workout so it can do the workout from beginning to end safely and effectively, and feel better at the end than the beginning, while getting the maximum benefit and enjoyment from the workout.
The Variable Intensity Workout Principle
The premise of this article is that exercise selection and exercise placement in a workout determine a significant portion of the workout's success. A workout is more than a collection of exercises; it's a synergy between the exercises and their placement in relationship to each other that creates a holism more favorably impacting the body than the individual impact of the exercises by themselves.
The Downside of Exercise Random Workout Placement
When workout exercises are done in random order without regard to where the exercises are placed in the workout in relation to each other, downside risks can occur that at the very least can limit the effectiveness of the workout, and at the extreme create injury.
Here are some of the most common risks of random exercise placement in a workout:
1. Too hard a workout. The overall strain, often referred to as the Total Training Load, on your body's joints, muscles and tissues from a workout is dependent mostly on two factors: 1.) the specific exercises themselves and 2.) where those exercises are placed in a workout. An exercise's perceived intensity on paper by itself doesn't tell the whole story. For example, a bench press done at the end of a workout when your body is fatigued and joints, muscles, and tissues already strained places much more strain on the joints and muscles than it would if the bench press was done near the beginning of the workout when your body was more fresh.
2. Too easy of a workout. Another downside to random placement of exercises in a workout is failure to provide the resistance and challenge your body needs to build itself to a higher level. Unless the "strain" of the workout is sufficient to stimulate a training effect, your body will not build itself back to a higher level to successfully lift a heavier weight or run a faster mile during the recovery period after the workout.
3. Over-training. It only takes a few extra minutes of training at too high intensity or too long of a workout to burn someone out and throw them into an over-training condition that can take weeks or months to recover from. One of the quickest and most deceptive ways to increase the strain on the muscles, joints and tissues to cross the line into overtraining is to haphazardly place exercise in a workout without consideration to the overall strain on your body.
4. Starting the workout with too much intensity, too early. Perhaps the most classic way random exercise placement compromises a workout's effectiveness is by starting the workout too fast with too much intensity, too early in the workout that overwhelms your body consuming too much energy too quickly, risking not leaving enough energy to complete the workout effectively and injury free.
5. Increased risk of injury. Randomly constructed workouts often don't allow for adequate time to warm up your muscles, joints and tissues and place too much stress on them too early, leading to unnecessary injury.
The Upside of Purposeful Exercise Placement
Constructing workouts with purposeful synergistic placement of exercises creates the best workout results by enabling your body to safely, effectively and progressively engage greater training intensities throughout the workout to achieve maximum workout benefits.
The following are important benefits of well-organized workouts:
1. Easier on your body as it's not too hard, too fast. Beginning a workout progressively and gradually increasing its intensity is the easiest and most prudent means of reducing the risk of workout injury and conserving energy to complete the entire workout as prescribed.
2. Less risk of injury. Workout injury from random exercise placement most often happens for two reasons. The first is too much effort too soon in a workout from putting an exercise too close to the start of the workout. The second reason is just plain too much effort throughout the entire workout leading to premature fatigue putting the body at risk for needless workout injury. Properly placed workout exercises dramatically reduce that risk.
3. Less risk of overtraining. Over-training's best friend is the hidden load of haphazardly placed exercises that on paper looks simpler and easier than the load it places on your body when the workout is performed. Well-constructed workouts side-step this common cause of over-training as they take the guess work out of what the impact of the workout will be on your body.
4. Feeling better at end of workout than beginning. Workouts synergistically constructed leave you more vibrant and vital at the end of your workout than the beginning. The classic outcomes of a guess-work constructed workout leave you feeling trashed at workout's end from workout overload or being left feeling that no training benefit occurred if the workout was too easy.
5. More enthusiasm to workout from positive success. Motivation to workout is intimately tied to the feelings and results your workouts provide. Great workouts and seeing positive results from your efforts inspire you to want to workout more!
6. Will inspire others to start working out. Beneficial workout results are contagious! Many times after a great workout people are inspired to encourage others to start working out to improve their health.
Organizing Your Workout for Better Results with Less Effort
The most successful workouts always contain specific elements in specific orders that have proven to produce superior and consistent workout results. The following is an approach to workout structure that has proven to consistently provide fitness gains while limiting the risk of over-training and injury.
The workout's six elements are presented in order.
a. Warm Up Element. The purpose of the warm up is to increase the pliability and temperature of muscles to be able to get the most out of the workout with least risk of injury. A proper warm up is done by doing any cardio activity, such as elliptical, rower, stationary bicycle, treadmill, running or swimming for 10-minutes, with the first 5-minutes at an easy pace and the last 5-minutes at a moderate pace. Your heart rate should gradually increase until a faint sweat is felt at the end of the warm up.
b. Adaptation Element. The adaptation exercises are those exercises that increase the function of the three major muscle zones of your body to effectively prime them to do the most intense part of the workout safely in the next workout element. Adaptation exercise examples include dumbbell woodchoppers, standing free squats, and sit-ups. These exercises are only examples and any similar exercises will do. The exercises are done one after another in succession for three sets of 10 repetitions.
c. High Intensity Element – This workout element is the most intense of the workout. It's placed 3rd in line after the warm up followed by the Adaptation Element as your body is now fully warmed up and ready to get the most benefit from the high intensity exercise that occurs in this element with least risk of injury from the high intensity. Suggested exercises for this element include the bench press, leg press, squats, dead lift or shoulder press done doing three sets of 10-repetitions.
d. Relief Element – The Relief Element is where the muscles that were used in the High Intensity Element are given an active rest to recover from their high intensity effort in the previous element. The active part of the Relief Element that speeds muscle recovery back to baseline are exercises that take the strain off joints such as the Dumbbell Incline Fly and Hanging Knee to Chest, done in three sets of 10-repetitions.
e. Stretch Element – The Stretch Element is the easiest element and designed to stretch out your body's muscles and tissues that have shortened in the previous four workout elements. Suggested exercises for this element include doing the lat pull down, low row, and tricep down, doing three sets of 10-repetitions.
f. Cool down Element – The final phase of the workout is the cool-down, which sets the body up to begin it's recovery after the workouts finished. This element is achieved by doing 10-minutes of cardio at easy effort that when finished completes the workout.
The world of fitness training is constantly evolving and looking for more innovative ways to get fit faster with less effort and time. A proven way to meet those objectives and achieve best workout results is to organize workouts so the exercises work together to build the body and support recovery by balancing the exercise intensities throughout the workout so the body never becomes excessively over-loaded and gets maximum benefit.
The results from this approach to working out often inspires those who have experienced its benefits and results to encourage others to join the ranks of the physically fit to have a better life through better health. Is there anything better than that? I think not.
About the Author
Dr. Jeff Spencer, Olympian, ICA "Sports Chiropractor of the Year", and author is one of America's top builder of champions.
"Dr. Magic", as Dr. Spencer's often referred to, has been directly involved in 40+ World, Olympic, National and Tour de France championships. He has worked with NASCAR champion Bobby LaBonte, World Series MVP Troy Glaus, rock legend U2, and most known for helping Lance Armstrong win all 7 of his Tour de France victories on site. Spencer has also worked his "magic" with PGA, WTA, and Supercross champions, ultra-successful entrepreneurs and business standouts, NFL, MLB athletes, as well as Motocross and Formula 1 drivers.
Spencer received his master's in physical education and his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California and his doctor of chiropractic degree summa cum laude from Cleveland Chiropractic College in Los Angeles. He has taught post-graduate sports rehabilitation courses and frequently lectures on health, fitness, and wellness.
Dr. Spencer is author of the acclaimed book, Turn It Up! How To Perform At Your Highest Level For A Lifetime and audio program "The Top 10 Tactics From The Champions Playbook".
"Jeff is part doctor, part guru, part medicine man… we believed Jeff could fix all of our problems… while he fixed us physically, he also fixed us mentally… If you judged the most important man on the team by the foot traffic in and out of his door, then it was Jeff. Without him, we know we'd never make it to Paris."
-Lance Armstrong, Every Second Counts