August 24, 2017 by ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute  
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14356474 - man and woman working out and running on treadmill in fitness clubWhat’s the Proper Order for an Exercise Routine? by ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute

Tid Bits of Info.

  • It takes approximately 6 weeks for a biochemistry change to occur in the muscle to indicate that a “true” strength gain is occurring.
  • The cardiovascular system can be well trained for most people in 4-6 weeks.
  • Exercise larger muscle masses before smaller muscle groups.
  • Individual goals determine the proper order and exercises of an individual’s exercise routine.
  • Seek the advice and treatment of a Physical Therapist if you need help developing a comprehensive exercise program.

As you plan your workouts, you will normally include a variety of exercises in a given session. The routines vary on different days of the week. Some people have asked if the specific order of exercises will impact the overall outcome of the routine. Consistently following your exercise routine is more important than order, but there are a few things to keep in mind when planning the order.

When planning a routine, remember all three phases of the program: cardiovascular, flexibility and strength development exercises.  The proper sequential order is dependent upon the desired outcomes of the program by the person performing the routine.  The goals of a high school or college athlete are going to be different than those who are in their 50s, 60s or 70s.

Think about how much time you can consistently dedicate to your workout. Most people cannot spend the entire day at the gym and/or performing an exercise routine.  Routines should be planned around time available. Depending on your schedule, you might have one workout time or two shorter periods in the day. Try to plan your routine so that you touch all three phases several times during the course of the week. Many people find it helpful to start with cardiovascular to get the blood flowing, then to move to strength training, and to end with flexibility once the tissues are already warmed up. By touching all three phases, you develop a comprehensive, full body workout routine.


The goal of a cardiovascular exercise program is to enhance the cardiovascular system and make it stronger and more efficient.  This includes increasing the body’s ability to utilize oxygen and increase blood flow throughout the entire system.  When the body is put through an exercise routine, the blood that is usually “stored” in the gut is transported to the areas that area performing the exercises.  That body part will “warm up” due to the increase in blood flow and will be better prepared for the exercise routine.


Strength programs need to be incorporated with every age group. The amount of resistance that is used to strength train is different with a younger individual in most instances, but the principles of strength training remain similar for any age group.  To develop strength, a person must “over-load” the muscle group that is being exercised.  One of the goals of the program is to develop strength gains throughout the entire range of motion and should include strengthening the entire body.

The muscles and joints function more efficiently when there is adequate blood flow to the area. Richly oxygenated blood is pumped to working muscles to help nourish them and to remove the bi-products of muscle contractions.

Most people can perform a circuit of strength developing exercises in no particular order and experience very positive results. If strength gains and power development are the primary reason for someone’s workout, the order of their routine is more important.  These people will perform their exercises with greater resistance, use less repetitions and exercise the larger muscle masses before smaller groups.


Flexibility involves pliability of all soft tissues both elastic and non-elastic in nature.  The human skeleton is held together with various tissue types that are static or dynamic stabilizers.  These tissue types are like leather or rubber bands.  They both can be stretched to develop more flexibility but the non-elastic tissue types must be the primary target site of the stretching routine.

stretching skyline

To “gain” flexibility, the non-elastic tissue (leather-like) must be stretched gradually over a period of time.  Like a piece of metal, when it is hot it will be pliable therefore stretching these tissues after the exercise routine will enhance the chances of increasing the flexibility.

Physical Therapists are licensed healthcare professionals who are well educated in developing a well-rounded exercise program.  In most cases, they will organize the exercise routine that starts with a cardiovascular exercise and then progress to the strengthening program.  Flexibility exercises will be the last phase of the routine on any given day in hopes of stretching when all of the soft tissues are warm and tissue temperatures are elevated.

The sequential order of an exercise program does have some effect on the results that someone will experience after they perform their routine.  In most cases, the results will not be effected greatly enough to put too much emphasis on the order, but it is most important to be consistent and dedicated to the program.

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