So here's a couple of things that a workout can consist of:

  • Warm-up cardio
  • Cooling-down cardio
  • Mobility drills
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Static stretching
  • Fat-burning/endurance training cardio
  • Warm-up sets
  • Weightlifting
  • Did I forget anything?

So what is the correct order to do these things in?

Some stuff I already know:

  • If doing cardio, do it after lifting. This is because cardio will use stored energy in your muscles that you need for doing strength training.
  • Warm up muscles that are going to be used before heavy lifting (but at what point before? See questions below). One reason for this is so you can feel this muscle better, so you can have a better mind-muscle connection.
  • Divide the lifts from heavy compound exercises to isolation exercises, because you'll need multiple muscles working together in the compound movement, and if one of those muscles is already tired out, they can't do this as well.
  • If doing core work, do it after other lifts. If your core is already tired, your body has more difficulty keeping good form and exerting power.

Some specific questions I have:

  • Stretching in between sets? Or after a couple of exercises? Or after all your lifting?
  • Warm-up sets of everything before you start any lifting, or just a warm-up set before every exercise? Or both?
  • When to do dynamic and when to do static stretching?
  • 2
    There is no "correct" order. The order should depend on your individual goal(s) and what works for you. However, there are some recommendations on this site for stretching. A simple search should provide what you need.
    – rrirower
    Sep 11, 2017 at 16:31
  • 1
    Also, there are some differences in what you should do and when depending on what your goals are.issaonline.edu/blog/index.cfm/2016/… and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22002517 (Abstract referenced in the ISSA article, the full article is behind a paywall.)
    – JohnP
    Sep 11, 2017 at 18:32
  • 2
    The Starting Strength view: Don't stretch. Warm up via lighter sets of each exercise. See "The 3 Most Effective Ways to Waste Time in the Gym". Sep 13, 2017 at 13:04
  • 1
    "Best" is opinion based, but if you can reword the question to "what's the best way for me to structure this workout for strength training progress?" then it can be answered.
    – Eric
    Nov 13, 2017 at 3:55
  • I have to add that stretches usually are done at warm up & mostly cool down parts. Whatever "kind" of exercise you may do, these are the most important parts as you know :-).
    – jomustech
    Dec 12, 2017 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


This could be an entire day at a personal training conference, so forgive me if we generalize a fair amount.

         General warm-up

You want to go with dynamic over static stretching. Static is a more relaxing type of stretching. We don't want to do that to our body before getting into more intense exercise. We want to gradually up the intensity, which dynamic stretching can provide.

Having said that, I've had some clients who whether they be into yoga, in their 50s and used to habit, they're going to do static stretching before they start their weights. I've had clients get to the gym an hour before me to do this work.

Which brings us to weights being part of the warm-up. If someone does whatever type of stretching before we start squatting, it's not like we just jump to their max squat weight. We still warm-up that exercise, which in effect is adding more dynamic stretching.

That is, the static stretching isn't some huge no-no / the person is going to die. It's not desirable, but it can be worked with.

         Specific warm-up

If you're someone with a shoulder surgery history, you might have some exercises you want to do most won't care about. Like some rotator cuff work.

         Weights vs Cardio

There are no hard rules here. Prioritization is the theme

  • If you're someone who is interested in maximizing their running performance, then cardiovascular work should typically be done first.

  • If you're most concerned about lifting performance, then lifting should be done first.

You do what's most important to you first, because that's when you are freshest. Whatever is done first, gets the most attention, as attention is a finite resource.

You used the compound lift vs isolation lift example. That's mostly true. Mainly because compound lifts are more intense, thus riskier -a bench press is riskier to your shoulders than lateral raises- so they should be done when a person is least fatigued.

However, if you're a bodybuilder looking to build up your triceps and bench pressing isn't hitting them well, you might not care about compound movements being done first.

  • For most, they don't have a dominant goal. In those cases, you do whatever works best for your schedule. The biggest concern with everyday people is actually sticking to a routine.

For my personal training clients, if they have to see me at 5pm due to work, I'm not going to tell them to take off work early so they can do cardio first. We'll train first, which will be mostly resistance training based, then they can hit the cardio afterwards. Or, we'll simply make the resistance training have a cardio element too e.g. circuit training.

If a more intense cardio like running wants to be done, then maybe we'll lighten up the leg work beforehand. And that doesn't necessarily have to be every day. If we train three days per week, but they only run two, then we still have one day we can hit the legs harder weight wise.

I've had many clients who will train in the morning, then walk at night, because doing both is too much at once time wise. That's perfectly fine. An alternative would be telling that person they need to wake up earlier. That's miserable for most, and misery isn't a longterm accomplice we want.

         Warming-up within weights

Let's break it up by upper and lower body.

If it's our first upper and lower body lifts of the day, we want to warm-up. For average strength, I work people up to their work sets with 2-3 warm-up sets. (More strength, often more warm-up sets.)

If we're in the latter parts of the workout, then the warm-up can be cut down, if not taken away. This is exercise dependent. If after doing some bench pressing, you then go to rope tricep extensions, you probably don't need much of a warm-up for that exercise.

If you're going from bench pressing to chin-ups later on, then you want to warm-up as you did for bench pressing. Chin-ups are a much more intense exercise (use more muscle mass), and the muscles involved are not related to bench pressing. Bench pressing gets the triceps warmed up; it doesn't get the biceps.

         Flexibility / Mobility

I go with filler sets. Example:

In the first two exercises we work the pecs and lats (amongst other muscles). In the third mobility exercise, we loosen up those muscles.

I typically either go this route of work an area, then loosen that area, or I break it up by body section. Where we work the upper body, then loosen up the lower body.

In another part of the workout or another day, we'd work the lower body but loosen up the upper body.

Most people's time between sets is either sitting down, looking at their phone, or walking around. Doing some mobility work is more productive, and not likely to take away from the lifts. We can also add some more work for that bum shoulder.

(Because we're in the middle of the workout here, this is still primarily dynamic type mobility / flexibility work.)

          Core work is towards the end

It's commonly thrown out that 80% of people will experience lower back pain at some stage.

The core can be part of this. But it's not usually core strength which is lacking. It is typically more a person's ability to use their core for long durations of time, or while fatigued.

For instance, have someone do a plank, and it's going to be easier for their core to hold their back in neutral at the beginning of the workout than at the end. In this case, we actually want to feed into that fatigue.

Translating that during the day, if a person has trouble with anterior pelvic tilt, they can typically hold themselves in neutral if they think about it. The tough part though is being able to do that for hours at a time.

(This is just one example. Low back pain is rarely this simple.)

          Cool down doesn't have to be cardio based

People's most favorite time of yoga is the end. They often lay down on their back, work on breathing, and listen to some Enya.

I like to do a version of this. I use these two exercises:

Hip Rocking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSSGeymXUgw

Belly Breathing w/Arms Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BP9GA5VvWs

The theme of the cool down is relaxation. Think of it like a movie. If a movie is good 90% through, but the ending sucks, that influences disproportionately how one feels about the entire movie. Endings matter.

By making the end of the workout as relaxed as we can, we can change how one feels about what preceded it. More details in Making your (memory of your) workout more enjoyable.

Getting on a treadmill in a gym, where it's typically loud, busy if not zoo like, isn't the best. Hey, if you workout at home and can do a cool down by yourself on your treadmill, or out in your backyard with trees, then alright. But I usually put people in a corner or the aerobics room where it's quietest and have them stretch the thing most commonly tight- the low back, and work on some deep breaths into the stomach.

          Summing up

The bolded above are a solid order:

  1. General warm-up with predominantly dynamic stretching.
  2. Specific warm-up based on how your body is currently doing.
  3. Weights or cardio, with a warm-up specific to that exercise e.g. if you're going to start running, you don't start running at your maximum pace.
  4. Lessening of warm-up later on in workout. If after doing chin-ups you're going to do bicep curls, you don't need the same warming-up, if any, that chin-ups necessitated.

  5. More flexibility / mobility within the workout to increase productivity of rest sets.

  6. Core work

  7. Cool down, relaxation focused.
  • Looks like we both started typing an answer at the same time. I apologize wasn't trying to step on your toes, had no idea you were posting until mine also went up.
    – Mike-DHSc
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:13
  • If somebody wants to do running and leg strength training in the same session I’d always recommend to do the running first. Running form is much better with fresh legs, thus lowering the risk of injury.
    – Michael
    Sep 13, 2017 at 17:28
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    @Michael - Again, it depends on your goals. You will get less out of the leg weightlifting if you run first. And, I would not be surprised to find that the injury risk of doing effective leg routines on tired legs has just as much injury risk as running on tired legs.
    – JohnP
    Sep 13, 2017 at 20:27
  • @Mike-DHSc Nothing to be sorry about!
    – b-reddy
    Sep 20, 2017 at 17:31

A very open question. I will start with some additional information.

Warm up:

  • Brings additional fluids to the joints, helping them move more smoothly
  • Warms up tendons and ligaments, making them more flexible
  • Increases blood flow, generally warming up the body
  • Activates the muscles used, gets them ready for higher intensity

That's the basics (at least for a strength training perspective).

Warm-up sets of everything before you start any lifting, or just a warm-up set before every exercise? Or both?

Technically you could do either/or. Once you start lifting your whole body will start to warm up as a by product of increased blood circulation and heart rate.

However it won't necessarily increase joint flexibility (which is considered an important aspect of avoiding injury) in the areas you haven't touched on specifically.

Stretching in between sets? Or after a couple of exercises? Or after all your lifting?

I've read researches that claim it's better not to stretch at all before exercise. Just warm up, do some mobility drills. Keep the Static stretching for your cool down (or when your done lifting with that muscle group).

Another reason to keep "cardio" at the end of a strength training workout, is that Aerobic exercise helps speed up recovery and reduce soreness. (though some studies have shown that a pre-workout warm up is more effective in reducing muscle soreness)

On the other hand I don't think you need to worry about a short 5 - 10 minute warm up cardio routine tiring the muscles you want to lift with. The stored energy in your muscles (ATP,CP) is replenished quickly (and not really used in light cardio) plus the small amount of sugar burned can also be replenished if you feel it's necessary.

There's plenty more to say. This should help clear up some confusion and steer you on the right path.

  • 1
    I think you may be confusing a couple things. Dynamic stretching (Mimicking the motions of the exercise about to be done) is usually recommended. The static stretch (sit and reach and hold type) is what is contraindicated as part of a warmup, and has also been shown to negatively impact strength/power sessions directly following static stretching. Static stretching (If you do it at all) should be done after workouts, before the muscles cool down. Also, lactic acid is a fuel, and is not responsible for soreness and is unrelated to recovery.
    – JohnP
    Sep 11, 2017 at 18:19
  • I can see why you thought I meant that reducing lactic acid was connected to lowering soreness. I had not intended them to be linked, that's why I added it in another sentence. It was there as an additional plus for cardio after a workout.
    – Chuck
    Sep 11, 2017 at 19:33
  • In regards to the dynamic versus static stretching, I stand corrected. You are right I did switch the two.
    – Chuck
    Sep 11, 2017 at 19:34

Movement Prep vs a Traditional Warm-up

I've found Mark Verstegen's version to be most efficient way to dynamically workup before exercising. See the highlights at the Guidelines link below.

The Program Consists of the Following Movements

1 Set and 6 Reps of Each of the Following:

  • Glute Bridge - Marching
  • External Hip Rotation - Sidelying
  • Leg Overs
  • Knee Hugs - Moving
  • Reverse Lunge - with Twist*
  • Knee Hug to Forward Lunge - Elbow to Instep
  • Drop Lunge Lateral Squat - Low
  • Inverted Hamstring - Moving Forward
  • Heel to Butt - Moving Forward with Arm Reach

Cool Down / Regeneration

Spend a few minutes at the end of each working doing regeneration work. This is simply a restorative and pain reducing routine.

Source: http://coreperformance.com/

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