One Simple Tip to Tone Your Trouble Zones

By , SparkPeople Blogger
One of the most common questions I hear from new and seasoned exercisers alike isn't about which exercises are most effective or whether you should work out on an empty stomach. It's a question of timing. Should you do cardio or strength training first?

Most fitness experts agree that there is no right or wrong answer here—that you should do whatever matters MOST to you first. So if your goal is weight loss, you'd probably be better off doing cardio (which burns a lot of calories and fat) before you strength train; and if your goal was building muscle size and strength, you'd do strength training first.

But what about the exercises you do during a single strength-training workout? Does it matter which moves you do first when you pick up the weights? Conventional exercise wisdom has always said the same thing: You should work your larger muscles before you train the smaller ones, meaning you'd train your glutes before you train your calves or your back before your biceps. But an interesting study conducted at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University in Brazil may change that advice if your goal is to tone up a particular area of the body.

The study, published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, divided 31 men into two groups. One group exercised their chests and upper backs (larger muscles) before doing their triceps and biceps (smaller muscles). The second group did the opposite routine: biceps and triceps before chest and back. Who do you think saw the best results?

Twelve weeks later, both groups saw increases in strength and muscle size. Whether they exercised the large or the smaller muscles first, participants saw the best results in the muscles they worked first.

What does this mean for you?

Just like the "cardio or strength training first" scenario above, this is another question of priority. What are your problem areas? Your weakest muscles? Which ones matter most to you in terms of getting results? Those are the muscles you should train first. The reason is pretty simple: As your workout continues, you get tired. If you save your triceps for last but they're a major trouble zone for you, you simply won't have the energy to work them as hard at the end as you would in the beginning. So when it comes to your trouble zones, work them first. That way, you'll have the energy to put forth a stronger effort so you can get better results. That's one small, simple tweak that can make a big difference in your workouts. Just don't forget about the other areas of your body. Just as your trouble spots need attention, your other muscles do, too. So be sure to work them—even if you work them last!

How do you choose which order to do your strength training exercises? Will you try this workout tweak?

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Thanks for sharing Report
I actually tried that years ago, when I plateaued. Helped me break my plateau. Report
Interesting! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Good to know. I'll stick with doing abs first - because I totallyt hate doing them and it's too easy to blow off ab work if I put it off until the end of my workout. So now when strength training, I can hop from machine to machine depending on what's available and not stress out if the order is wrong! Report
On weight training days I still do 15-25 mins of HIIT Cardio and I guess I'm weird but I do weights first then cardio because I definitely want to maintain strength and muscle size, but with the HIIT, I guarantee that I will burn fat and besides more muscle=more fat burning! Report
I try and do cardio first so then I am pumped up to go to my strength routine. I am glad that I seem to be doing something right. Report
You referenced a very interesting study. As someone who get a little bored with my gym routine, I'm encouraged to know that it's ok to do my own thing. Report
My adult children do the P90x workout with Tony Horton and it mixes everything up day after day. Seems that changing confuses the system. So, maybe one day do the large first and then the small the next. Report
I'm gonna gave to go with cmjav13 on this one, sone what. I think it's an ok article. Everyone is entitled to there own opinion. I have been lifting weights off and on since 11 th grade. With that being said, I have some knowledge of proper weight training. I do cardio before I weight train ( most women do). Flex magazine placed an article stating that men should do cardio after weights because (similar to this article) you can pretty much hold onto your muscle (leaning up better). Again, an opinion. People should do what works best for them but peform the excersices correctly all the same. My husband has been weightlifting sine about 9, needless to say he has some knowledge also and gas also trained quite a few people. With that being said, neither of us have ever worked calves before squats...ever. Your smaller muscles are also being worked in most excercises involving your larger muscles. My quads are always worked before my hamstrings, calves are the last thing I work on my leg days besides abs. Remember, do what work best for you and all info is not good info. My opinion. Report
My strengh training occurs 1-2 hrs after my cardio. When I strength train I start with my resistance bands first and do all the sets while I'm standing and do floor work second. This allows a better flow by the time I stretch I finish standing. Report
It's unfortunate that we can't "spot train" trouble spots to reduce fat in those areas- or I would be a crunchomatic machine to lose my belly. But the article is spot on about focusing your energy where you want improvement for sure. Can't count how many times I've shrugged off even going to the gym once I've gotten my bike ride in :\ Report
Thanks for the advice. I will do my cardio & then move on to the weight training...abs 1st. Report
I will definitely tweak my sessions at the YMCA now. I always do my ab work last, and it is true, I am more tired then, plus I aim on improving my stomach area the most. Report
Interesting! I'd guess periodically changing the order of the muscles worked should also help 'confuse' them. Report
I do the machines that I really don't like doing first and save my favorites for last. That's generally the arm machines first. I'm still working on getting up to 20 lbs for many of the arm machines in my gym. Report
Makes sense.
I've done it that way for a couple of years now, but less because my body gets tired than because my concentration wains; if I don't exercise the trouble spots first, my danger of injuring them increases, as I learned from sad experience. Report
Makes sense to me too! Report
Interesting, it makes sense to use trouble areas or weak muscle areas 1st when you are fresh. Report