When starting the days training program, quite often you will find that your first major movement is a multi joint or compound exercise. But does it matter if you put that movement second or third for strength training?
Well what about for hypertrophy?
Lets dig into to this new study.
The current article covers a systematic review and meta-analysis that examined the existing literature to determine if performing multi-joint exercises first does indeed maximize hypertrophy and strength adaptations.
The authors found that exercise order did not affect hypertrophy. However, for strength, the authors reported that more strength was gained in whatever movement was performed first in a training session, which included multi-joint exercises, single-joint exercises, free weights, or machine-based exercises.
Essentially, if you have a strength goal for a specific exercise, you should perform that exercise first in your training session.
Eleven total studies were included. Eight studies were rated as excellent quality, and three were rated as good quality. Eight studies analysed strength outcomes and seven analysed hypertrophic outcomes.
Hypertrophy (Muscular Size)
The magnitude of muscle growth was not influenced by exercise order. Further, there was also no effect of exercise order on muscle growth when direct or indirect measures of hypertrophy were analysed separately.
In short – NO EFFECT.
In general, strength tended to be greater on a tested exercise when that specific exercise, type of exercise (multi-joint or single-joint), or modality of exercise (free weights or machine-based) was performed first in a training session.
If you want to improve your strength on something, then do it first. Although most lifters are concerned about strength on the powerlifts (i.e. squat, bench press, and deadlift), this principle also extends to assistance-type and single-joint movements if that is where someone’s priorities lie. In other words, if your leg press, military press, or even barbell curl strength is your main focus; then, you should do it first.
This all makes logical sense, because if you want to maximise squat strength for example, and you perform another lower body exercise before you squat, then the load you squat will likely be lower than if you would have done it first. Of course, if you have a light day on squat, bench press, or deadlift, then you could potentially do something else first as long as you can still complete your prescribed training.
The point is that you don’t do anything before your primary exercise that will decrease the load you can lift for your primary exercise.
The findings of the reviewed meta-analysis showed that exercise order doesn’t matter for hypertrophy, but it does matter for strength.
Although there were no significant findings for exercise order and hypertrophy, there could be specific situations where either multi- or single-joint exercises should be performed first. Specifically, if you enjoy performing one type of exercise first and that helps you adhere better to training or perform more total training volume, then you should probably do that. But, I wouldn’t stress over exercise order in your program design when muscle growth is your main goal.
For strength, the data are quite clear that if you want to get better at something, then you should do it first in your session.