Maximize your workouts by focusing on larger muscles first
Ever wonder how experts in the fitness industry work out? I’ll give you a tip. A common mistake I’m still seeing at the gym is clients working smaller muscle groups before the larger ones. This tells me they have an uneducated perspective of how to get the best results and maximize effort for a full body workout.
The general rule is that individuals should work bigger muscle groups first, and then move on to smaller muscle groups. Why you ask? Great question! The common mistake I am seeing is someone who is doing a full body workout that looks completely random. For example, I often see people working out the shoulder muscles and then moving on to chest and back exercises. Here’s the thing, a lot of people are forgetting that when you do an exercise there is an agonist muscle group, antagonist muscles and there are synergists.
Agonist muscles are the main muscle group in the exercise and are often the biggest; it’s like the protagonist of a story. They are known as the “prime movers.” Then we have synergist muscles and these are the “helper muscles.” And of course you couldn’t have a story with out the antagonist muscles. Their job is to move opposite to the agonist. Moreover, a muscle can operate as the agonist in one movement and the antagonist in the opposite movement. For example, when bending the knee and raising the heel toward the derrière, the hamstring muscle contracts and is the agonist; the quadriceps stretch and are the antagonist. When the movement is reversed and the knee is extended, the quadriceps contract, which is now the agonist, and the hamstring muscle lengthens, and is now the antagonist.
The problem with working a smaller muscle group at the beginning of a full body workout is that usually the point of working out is to create muscular fatigue to specific muscle groups. It takes less work to fatigue smaller muscle groups than it does larger ones. If someone is working out biceps which are a smaller muscle compared to the pectoralis major (the chest), and then move on to working it out the biceps are already fatigued and won’t be able to assist (because they are a synergist) in fatiguing the chest.
So if your arms are tired before you try to workout your back or any other muscle that requires your arms, maybe try saving your arm workouts or smaller muscle groups till the end, and work out the bigger muscle groups at the beginning. This will benefit you enormously and let you complete your workouts; having actually fatigued all your muscles you won’t feel like you just overworked the smaller muscles or didn’t efficiently complete a good workout.
Of course this doesn’t always apply to someone who is building strength in a specific muscle group. Say for example, a person had a knee injury and needs to develop strength in the muscles around the knee joint. They would target those specific muscles with correct exercises. Therefore in this case I understand that an individual may begin their workout targeting the smaller muscle groups. But for the most part, work out the larger muscle groups first.
Dan Swedberg is a registered personal trainer. Send your fitness questions to email@example.com.