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Optimal Order of Workout Routines

A lot of people choose to go to the gym only a few days a week, but when they go, they cram in several activities – cardio, strength training and abs – into their session.  There is nothing wrong with this…especially if you can get to the gym only a few times a week.

To ensure you are getting the most out of your workout, however, it is good practice to follow a certain order to ensure safety and maximized effectiveness.  Below is an optimal order:

  1. 5 minute warm up and stretching
  2. Abdominal Exercises
  3. Strength Training
  4. Cardiovascular / Aerobic Training
  5. 3 minute Cool Down and stretching

Here is why:

  1. Warm Up and Stretching: This warms up your body by increasing blood flow to the muscles that you will be working, warming up your joints and increasing your heart rate and body temperature…all helping to prevent injury, improve flexibility and prepare your body for the exercises to come.  First do your warm-up and then stretch the muscles you used, using static stretches (no bouncing!).
  2. Abdominals: You use your core muscles (abs and back) for almost every movement that you do, whether it be cardio or weights.  Exercising these muscles first helps to ensure that they aren’t tired out before you actually get to them.  Further, you will continue to work them as you move onto the rest of your workout.
  3. Strength Training: Nutritionally, it is best to weight train first.  When you exercise, you first use carbohydrates for energy.  Then, you use fat for energy.  When you strength train, the preferred source of energy for your body is carbohydrates.  When you do cardio, your preferred source of energy is fat (this is why they talk about burning fat when you do cardio).  Further, it can take up to 29 minutes of cardio activity to burn your carbohydrate stores, meaning that if you start with a 30 minute cardio session, you have only burned carbs, and then burned fat for only one minute.    Using up your carbohydrate stores with strength training allows you to burn more fat when you do your cardio workout, making your workout much more effective.Now, from a more practical standpoint, strength training before cardio is safer.  You haven’t depleted yourself of all of your energy, allowing you to be more focused and aware of your form while strength training.  This will help minimize risk of injury.  Also, it is good practice to stretch your muscles in between your sets.
  4. Cardiovascular Exercise: At this point, you are ready to burn fat.  Additionally, if you are a bit tired, you can do low-impact and/or light cardio and still burn fat.
  5. Cool-Down: For two to five minutes, it is good to slow down and let your body return to normal after your cardio workout.  This will help prevent blood pooling in your extremities, lightheadedness and/or fainting after a workout.  Again, add in some static stretches to keep your body limber and flexible.  It will also help decrease lactic acid build-up which can lead to sore muscles!

Do you go to the gym and do all of these activities?  What order have you used?

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