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Weight lifting: Does order matter?

When lifting weights, t's best to lift larger muscle groups first, then move on to the smaller groups. Here's why.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have a question about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Question: Is there an advantage or disadvantage to the order of weight lifting exercises?

Answer: The conventional theory is to lift larger muscle groups and then smaller groups. For example, bench press then triceps press-downs. The rationale is that you use triceps for both bench and press-downs, but you also use chest and shoulders for bench. If you fatigue the triceps first with press-downs, then try bench, your shoulders and chest muscles will still be fresh but unable to work hard because your triceps are already exhausted from the press-downs. You can try it and see what you think. The same could be for biceps curls and cable rows.

You can alternate chest and then back. This is called supersets and is a tough workout, or you can work all biceps first, then triceps. Again, try it both ways and see what you think. Both techniques will be effective as long as you work hard.

You might also want to read the American College of Sports Medicine position statement on weight lifting. In the statement, they review the latest literature on weight lifting as well as propose training guidelines.

Here's a brief summary of the key elements from the resistance training statement.

For development of strength:
1. Beginners: 1-3 sets, 8-12 reps
2. Intermediate: multiple sets, 6-12 reps
3. Advanced: multiple sets, 1-12 reps

For development of mass:
1. Beginners: 1-3 sets, 8-12 reps
2. Intermediate: multiple sets, 6-12 reps
3. Advanced: multiple sets, 1-12 reps with emphasis on 6-12 reps

For development of endurance (and somewhat more emphasis on tone, although you will get tone with strength and mass development, too):
1. Beginners: 1-3 sets, 10-15 reps
2. Intermediate: multiple sets, 10-15 reps or more
3. Advanced: 10-25 reps or more

Hope that helps.

Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, is an exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator. He has published dozens of articles on exercise and health and has appeared on many television programs. He also speaks about health at many national conferences.

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