This is the first of a series of posts on workout design considerations. Since our body is very good at adapting and responding to stimulus, we need to vary our workouts in order to keep it challenged and to stimulate growth. There are many ways of introducing variety in our workout. Today we are going to focus on some basic concepts that are actually table stakes in any good workout schedule.
What I have mentioned in earlier posts is that while the beginner may have full body workouts given that they are only starting to recruit muscle groups, the intermediate level candidate may work with split routines where they may divide the body into two parts and address each part on alternate days with targeted exercise. Advanced practitioners have already achieved critical muscle recruitment levels and are unable to challenge their body with two split routines and may decide to divide the body into three parts and address each part every other day. Doing this allows to train each muscle much longer in the session and thus attain the goals of hypertrophy (growing mass) or strength.
One of the challenges with the above method at advanced stages is that muscle recovery before the next session becomes problematic. If you work out your Chest, shoulders and triceps on day 1 and go for leg, back and biceps on day 2; then as your training advances, you will find that the smaller muscles are unable to train well within each training session.
Take the case of the triceps. The amount of weights that you can bench press depends on the strength of your triceps depending on how close you grip the bars. Even with a wide grip, the triceps support your exercise and get engaged. Then if you went on to do a military press after that, again your triceps are engaged. So imagine that you have increased your weights and are now going to go for your triceps pull down. In this case, your triceps are already fatigued and will not be able to do the actual exercise where the prime focus is on the triceps.
This is the reason why as a rule, we exercise the big muscles first and small muscles last. However, as shown in above example it is important to realize that despite trying to do the small muscle last (triceps), we cannot avoid the problem altogether. Another technique used to reduce this problem is to perform push exercises one day and pull exercises the other. Pull exercises typically hit the muscles in the back and the biceps.