A good workout depends on more than just the right exercises. It also means doing them in the right order. After all, no exercise is performed in a vacuum. Every move you make affects the ones that come after it and, ultimately, your results, says fitness expert Ashley Borden, who has trained the likes of Ryan Gosling and MLB player Nick Swisher.
Borden's advice: Do your strength training before you even look at a piece of cardio equipment. Why? If you tucker yourself out on the treadmill, you're going to have trouble eking out reps in the weight room. When you're tired, your form suffers, and the last place you want to be struggling with your hip positioning is under a heavy barbell, she says. Plus, strength training is what really builds muscle and burns the most calories over the long term.
That's not to say strength training doesn't sap your energy—it does—but it primarily uses your anaerobic system, which burns carbs for energy, while your aerobic system can burn either carbs or fat to fuel lower-intensity, longer-duration exercise. So if you're out of carbs by the time you get to your cardio, you'll burn through fat before your form has a chance to waver. (Learn how to burn the most calories from both carbs and fat.)
Similar logic follows when it comes to the order of your strength moves. "You always want to hit your major muscle groups first. For example, push-ups followed by skull crushers or lat pull-downs followed by standing biceps curls," Borden says. "You don't want to fatigue your smaller muscles first and deplete your big-muscle-group strength."
Also, to keep from wearing out any one muscle, Borden recommends completing two "pulling" exercises for every one "pushing" exercise. For example, follow up a dumbbell incline press (pushing) with a couple of pulling exercises, like a seated row or bent-over reverse fly with dumbbells.
It sounds a lot more complicated that it really is. Once you get into a routine (yes, you really should have one), you won't even have to think about ordering your exercises the right way. Plus, you'll never again be seen wandering around the gym, wasting time and wondering what to do next. If you're not sure where to start, we have exercise plans to target any muscle group you want to work out.