Sometimes, just getting to the gym is the biggest struggle of your workout routine (especially on a Monday…sigh). But, before you start applauding yourself, know this: what you do once you get there, or, more specifically, the order that you do it in, is even more important than simply showing up.
The American Council on Exercise and researchers at Western State Colorado University recently did some research, and they’ve discovered exactly how you need to structure your workout in order to get the most out of it. Here’s what they did: 24 men and women between 18 and 39 years old were asked to perform 24 exercise sessions of every possible workout order combining cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance exercise, neuromotor (agility, speed, and balance) exercise, and flexibility exercise.
So, what order worked best? Cardio first, followed by resistance training and then flexibility and neuromotor exercises in either order. When the participants performed cardiorespiratory exercise first, the average heart rate increased less than when it was performed last. That’s a good thing, says study author Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., because too-vigorous exercise can lead to injury and increased risk of cardiac issues. And, doing resistance training second maximizes its effectiveness without making it feel too hard (score!).
Although, the researchers did note that these results aren’t totally cut and dry. “The order determined by this research stems from purely physiological findings, and it’s essential to know, for example, how sequencing affects cardiorespiratory performance and can account for that effect in the workout design,” says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., ACE’s Chief Science Officer. And, Dr. Dalleck added, not every workout needs to include all four aspects; you should take your own personal preferences into account before shaking up your whole routine. Moral of the story: If you want to maximize your workout, cardio comes first. Otherwise, proceed at will!