How To Properly Navigate Your Gym Workout

Many will argue this point, but I am a true believer that there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about a workout in the gym. 

For instance, it is not logical to do a dozen sets of dumbbell bicep curls before a back workout.  Why? Because your back exercises would not be as efficient because your bicep muscles would be torched and virtually ineffective.

Secondly, it’s not logical to walk in from freezing temperatures outside and start squatting 300lbs without a warm-up.  Why? Because you are greatly enhancing your risk of injury.

Lastly, it is not logical to start lifting heavy weights after a day sitting at the office for 8 hours. Why? Because it’s highly likely the body is stiff and lacking flexibility, which means another enhanced risk of injury.

There are a million examples as to why you should go about your workouts in the proper order and in reality it is up to you as to what you choose to do. However, if you are someone that likes to do things the right way like I do, then read on and I’ll give you my recommendations as to how you should be structuring your workouts.

Your Gym Workout Will Look Something Like This

Dynamic Warm-Up, Skills, Strength, Core, Cardio, Static Stretch

1.)  Dynamic Warm-Up – I prefer a dynamic warmup of the muscles, joints, and tendons versus a static stretch because static stretching stretches the joint capsules and tendons, which research shows actually decreases strength and performance. On the flip side, a dynamic warmup primes the body for exercise by prepping the muscles’ short term flexibility and conditioning the muscles for activity. Examples of dynamic warmup exercises include: Jumping Jacks, Bodyweight Squats, Alternating Lunges, Side Lunges

2.)  Skills – This is a broad term to use, but you’ll fully understand why I use it in a moment.  I suggest performing your skills directly after your warm-up for a variety of reasons, but none more notable than the fact that you have the most energy in the beginning of your workout. Also, you will reduce the risk of injury.  You never want to sacrifice form for the sake of function, so it is vitally important that you take the time to learn a particular exercise before performing it to reduce the risk of injury; therefore, your “skills” go before strength.  Examples of skills are: Practicing technique, critiquing your running form, throwing a baseball, working on your golf swing, etc.

3.)  Strength – This is the heart of your workout.  It’s at this time that you work the hardest and put the bulk of your exercises in this part of your gym visit.  However, there are a few noteworthy items I must address.  First, perform your multi-joint movements before all others because these require the most energy. Examples of these are: Back Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts. Although this is not a hard and fast rule, it is worth sharing with you that your leg muscles are much larger than your upper body; therefore, I do recommend working those out before the other exercises because they require by far the most energy to complete. Third, perform your single-joint movements once you’ve completed your multi-joint movements.  Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but it is the most highly recommend in order to maximize the benefits of each exercise.

4.)  Core – I would instruct someone to perform their core exercises after their weightlifting for the very reason that your core is associated with so many other exercises. With that said, it is illogical to burn it out before performing other exercises. Your core is a huge area of importance and should be done as a standalone to minimize the risk of injury and burnout.

5.)  Cardio – This area of your workout gets tricky. This all depends on your goals and your objectives in the gym.  For instance, if your goal is to burn body fat, than I insist you do some form of high interval intensity training to reach your fat loss goals.  Research shows that H.I.I.T is proven to burn body-fat at a higher rate than any other form, so I do recommend it. However, if your goal is to put on muscle, than steady state cardio is your enemy, so do avoid it and instead do the high interval intensity training. If you are not one for cardio, than I would recommend just using it as a cool down to help your heart rate come down and collect yourself before progressing to static stretching.

6.)  Static Stretching – As I said before, I prefer to do static stretching at the end of my workouts.  I do this at the end because I want to promote recovery, flexibility, and the re-building process.  At the end of my workout, I am no longer concerned with decreasing my performance because I just did what I needed to do minutes before this.  Don’t ignore this part. You want to do some stretching. Why? You just put your body through a tough workout; therefore, it deserves a chance to receive a fresh supply of oxygenated blood to the muscles and start the recovery phase.

7.)  Recovery – Do consume a food item/beverage high in protein within 30-45 minutes after you finish stretching.  What you have just done is essentially tear apart muscle fibers in an effort to build them up aka strength them; therefore, it is absolutely worth aiding/supplementing the healing process with a high amount of protein. Here is an excellent source of protein. The goal here is to benefit from your workout, so it is logical to take the appropriate steps to make sure your hard work in the gym doesn't go for nothing…

8.)  [BONUS] Foam Rolling – I am a huge fan of foam rolling because I do believe it is an excellent option for alleviating stiffness, tension, and stress in the muscles.  I recommend it for my clients because it gives them an immediate supply of fresh blood through the muscles, pushes toxicans out of the myofascial muscle tissue , and gives them a chance to de-stress the leg, hip, and lower back muscles.  I recommend foam rolling before the dynamic warm-up. Roll out each body part about 10-12 rolls before moving on to the next one.  This is certainly not something you “have to” do, but it is a terrific, cost-effective alternative to a full hour long massage. 

There you have it for How To Properly Navigate Your Gym Workout. I hope this helps clear up any misunderstandings you may have and provides you with some sense of direction.  We would be very happy to provide you with more of these resources. However, we don’t just want to throw any ole thing out there, so that is why we want to know what it is you want to learn about.  So, ask us your fitness questions and we’ll whip up a fresh batch of blog posts for you. 

What's one fitness question you'd like to have answered in an upcoming blog post?

~Patrick Mullin

Certified Personal Trainer

Body In Balance; Linwood, NJ