Ask The Trainer #166 – Upper Or Lower Body First?

Ask The Trainer #166 - Upper Or Lower Body First?


Hi Chad. I had a question for you regarding my workout routine. I lift HIT style and do 2 full body workouts each week. I’m very busy, so that’s all I have time for. I was wondering if it is better to train lower body first, or upper body first? Does the sequence even make a difference? Any insight would be appreciated. Thanks.



Hi James. There’s nothing wrong with two full body workouts per week. It’s certainly better than doing nothing, like most of the population. In fact, depending on your recovery ability, two intense lifting sessions might be even more productive than doing four or five per week.

To answer your question, I believe it would be more beneficial for you to do your upper body exercise first, then attack your lower body exercises.

The reason?  There is likely to be at least a few upper body exercises you’ll perform standing up. Exercises like barbell curls, drag curls, standing dumbbell curls, standing lateral raises, standing shoulder presses, barbell rows, and T-bar rows all come to mind.

When you implement high-intensity training properly, you literally crush your muscles into submission. You push to the point where there is no conceivable way you can grind out 1 more rep or even a partial rep.

Effect Of Compound Exercises

Compound leg exercises require tremendous energy and impact your central nervous system to a great degree. Therefore, leg exercises like squats, hack squats, or even heavy leg presses will sabotage your ability to perform any standing upper body exercises if you do them after smoking your legs.

I’m sure you can relate to the scenario I’m about to describe. There have been countless times where I’ve knocked out a brutally intense set of squats or leg presses.

At the end of the set, I find myself staggering around like a college frat boy who just finished chugging down his very first pitcher of Wapatuli. I’m probably just as nauseous too. The initial effects usually last between 2-3 minutes, at which point the shaking begins.

This particular phase occurs after nausea has begun to subside and I attempt to walk around to clear some of the lactic acid from my leg muscles. But, as I start to bear the weight of my entire body, my leg muscles begin to shake. I kind of looks like Elvis dancing to the song Shake, Rattle and Roll. Problem is, I don’t know how to dance!

The trembling tends to be intermittent. It comes and goes throughout the remained of the workout. As I maneuver from exercise to exercise, my legs gradually begin to feel more rubbery and unstable.

Training Upper Body First Is Important

Imagine your legs feeling like this before attempting a new PR on a set of barbell curls or overhead shoulder presses.  You are not going to be able to completely focus on the muscles you intend to target with the barbell curls or standing press.

Too much of your focus will be on maintaining your balance and trying to keep your torso steady. This will make it virtually impossible to do a set of any standing upper body exercise to complete failure. In this case, your ability to maintain balance and proper form is sure to falter before your biceps or deltoids do.

In the end, if you include any standing upper body exercises in your routine, I suggest you tackle your upper body exercises first.

I wish you all the best of success with your health and training endeavors!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,

Chad Shaw

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