Toning and conditioning muscles — adding order to your workouts

Last week we reviewed a technique for ordering your workouts that provides a very user-friendly way for anyone to design and experience a full body muscle and cardio workout. The response has been great so today, we decided to review some other important guidelines so you can assure each of your muscle conditioning workouts is super effective.

Large Before Small

stabilityballbenchpressb(2)First off, the textbook correct way to train your muscles is to start with the larger muscle groups first and then finish with the smaller muscle groups. This means, for example, for your upper body you would perform all your back and chest exercises first, then finish with the shoulders, biceps and triceps. Basically, you would do all your full body, integrated movements first and then you can focus on isolating smaller muscle groups. If you don’t’ have a ton of time, focus on those compound movements like squats, lunges, rows, pulls, presses and pushes, because they use your large muscles as your primary movers and your smaller muscle groups still work to assist so you get the most bang for your buck!


backextensionIf your problem area is your upper body then perform your upper body exercises first when your energy is highest.

Mix It Up

There are many different ways that you could sequence your exercises in order to provide great results. The key though is that every 4-8 weeks you change the format you’re using.

Here are a few programming options:

One Set Alternating Lower Body and Upper Body

Using this design, you would switch back and forth from a lower body to an upper body exercise.  With one set training, you quickly move from exercise to exercise never doing the same exercise twice.

Super-Setting Lower Body and Upper Body

Using this design, you again alternate between a lower body and upper body exercise but this time, you complete 2 to 3 sets of each exercise before you move onto the next pair of exercises.

Super-Setting Push/Pull

Using this design, you pair exercises that work opposing muscle groups. For example, you would do an exercise for the chest and then an exercise for the back and repeat these for 2-3 sets before moving onto the next exercise.

Post-Exhaust Training

Using this technique, for each exercise you finish a set, then drop the weight by 10% and perform a few more reps to momentarily fatigue the muscles.

sprint drill bMuscle and Cardio Circuits

If your goal is to try and get a cardio workout in also and/or lose body fat, try this workout. Perform one set of 4 different exercises then perform a 2-3 minute high intensity cardio sprint like skipping or stairclimbing. Continue this pattern for 40-60 minutes.

Split Days

obliquecrunchaFor those of you wanting more intensity and volume, it may be necessary to split your body parts into separate training days. For example, you might perform lower body on Mondays and Wednesdays, Upper body on Tuesdays and Fridays and abdominals on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Remember none of the above programming options is any better than the others. They all work wonderfully. The key is that you use a different technique every 4-8 weeks.

Hope this helps put some method to the madness in the gym!

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Note:  As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio to help get you started.  Contact 360.574.7292 for more details. 

run to rememberJoin us for…..
RUN TO REMEMBER WASHINGTON – Memorial Day Mile, 5k and 10k races!
Saturday May 27th in Downtown Washougal, WA – just across the river from Portland Oregon.
Let us honor the brave men and women who have or are currently serving in our Armed Forces and remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our freedom. This Memorial Day Mile and 5k/10k running and walking event on Memorial Day weekend will benefit Battle Buddies, an organization that provides Service Dogs for our Veterans.


Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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