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I've been following a weightlifting workout where the chest workout is in this order:

  1. barbell incline chest press
  2. dumbbell incline chest press
  3. barbell flat chest press

I've seen incline before flat in other workouts before so it looks like it is a thing.

  • But, why is this a thing?

  • Why is flat press not first?

    Isn't there more total muscle activation during flat press, so shouldn't you fatigue with that exercise first?

  • Why is dumbbell incline between both barbell presses?

  • Why do I typically not see dumbbell flat bench press in workouts (or is it just me)?

  • Is there a better arrangement than the above and why?

I am training for strength and fat loss. I lift as heavy as I can with continuous progressive overload. I know I asked a bunch of questions so thoughtful partial answers are cool. Thanks in advance!

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The program you are following is a bodybuilding-style program, in that it splits workouts into different body parts (so you have an arms day, a leg day, a back day, etc) and uses a large number of different exercises for each body part, with sets in the 8-10 rep range. This is in contrast to powerlifting or general strength training programs, which are likely to involve a fewer number of different exercises, but with each exercise chosen to involve a greater number of muscles, and performed in the 3-5 rep range.

There likely isn't any strong reason for doing incline press before bench press, except that the incline is the harder of the two, and the idea is probably that if you have to do one of them while fatigued, it should be the one where you'd use heavier weights, in order to reduce the difference in weight between the two exercises. I.e. It's perhaps better to do a 30kg incline press and then a 40kg bench press, rather than a 45kg bench press and then a 25kg incline press.

There's also a good reason for always doing your exercises in the same order: It simplifies programming. If the muscles used by two different exercises overlap and you were to swap the exercise order from workout to workout, then the weights you would be lifting for each would increase or decrease depending on the order that you perform them in, which makes tracking your progress much more difficult. I.e. If last week you did a 30kg incline press and then a 40kg bench press, and this week you decide to bench first, how do you know what weight to use? You can't just use an increment from last week's weights, because last week you were incline pressing while fresh, and benching while fatigued, and now its the opposite.

As for whether there's a better arrangement than the above, then yes, a strength training program (example) would likely benefit you much more than a bodybuilding-style program if your goal is to gain strength and lose fat, rather than maximise muscle size. Actually, even if your goal was to maximise muscle size for bodybuilding purposes, you'd be far better off doing a general strength training program for at least the first 6 months of your training in order to get a decent strength base, and only after that move to a more specialised, bodybuilding specific program. The reason for this is that bodybuilding programs are designed to add muscle to people who are already strong and for whom adding additional muscle is difficult. Whereas when you're a novice lifter, adding muscle is easy and the complications of a bodybuilding program (super long workouts with huge numbers of different exercises, body part splits) are likely to only make it more difficult for you.

  • I can now see that by keeping the routine in the same order is best for tracking progress, which I am definitely doing. I looked into Starting Strength but cuz it's mostly geared toward men I was afraid it would make me more muscular than I already am, which is why I went with a women's program (former cardio addict and eating disorder). I already modified the workout to 3x5 to 5x5 at 85-90% 1RM to avoid hypertrophy as much as possible. But you make a good point, think I will try Starting Strength, but may have to switch to a different gym that won't frown on power cleans. Thank you so much! – Christine Urban Apr 29 '18 at 6:42
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    I wouldn't say it's geared towards men, except in the sense that the initial weight increments recommended are intended for young males, and women and older men will need to use smaller increments. If you're female, it definitely won't make you highly muscular unless you're deliberately taking other actions with that as a goal, and then likely only if those other actions included steroids. Power cleans also aren't really necessary unless you specifically want to develop jumping ability, and you could easily substitute chin-ups. Here's some female progress pics: reddit.com/t1skv – David Scarlett May 1 '18 at 14:34
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    Also, it's common to count calories on this and other strength problems, though typically in order to hit a minimum daily calorie intake rather than to limit one's intake to a maximum. So if you've previously had an eating disorder, you should probably consider whether for you counting calories would carry any risk of regressing, and avoid it if that's the case. – David Scarlett May 1 '18 at 14:39
  • 6 mo ago I did an RMR and DEXA so I could really know where I am at. To my complete surprise my RMR was 1450, and I was in tears I was so happy that I could eat more than that. They told me not to go below that so I have been using that as my minimum. When I really listen to my body, I still feel hungry at 1450, so I have been experimenting with adding more calories. I have 6 mo comparison photos and so far my belly has gotten less fat and I'm eating more on the regular which is a miracle in my book. I'll prob redo the tests soon as well. Thanks for the advice, really appreciate it! – Christine Urban May 1 '18 at 17:23
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I would question any program that sets any of this in stone. In the big picture, the order here is a tiny detail. Which exercise you do first will have no effect on your goal of burning fat and gaining strength.

Now, here's the kicker: If you want to reap all the benefits, go for variation. Don't stick to always doing exercise A before exercise B. You should vary this.

You could

  • do every other work out A->B and B->A

  • do 3 month cycles where you rotate which you do first

  • do any number of variations in between

The real goal should be to get the variation, so your progress doesn't plateau because of lack of new challenges.

To answer your questions

Why is dumbbell incline between both barbell presses?

You're getting caught up in details. I doubt even the creator of the program can tell you why the dumbbell press is between two barbell presses. Sure, you should do all of them, but you should also do a large number of other pressing exercises and variations and orders. So the order s/he presents is good.

Why do I typically not see dumbbell flat bench press in workouts (or is it just me)?

You'll find them. But in the grand scheme of things, every exercise is a detail. It's the ensemble of a hundred different exercises that give you the progress you need. Sure, any one program might not utilize a hundred exercises, which is why programs should be cycled in and out.

Is there a better arrangement than the above and why?

The arrangement is fine. Using it forever is not fine.

I am training for strength

Which order you do these exercises in has little bearing on this. Just switch it around whenever you feel like you've plateau'd.

and fat loss

Press exercise orders has nothing to do with fat loss. In fact, weight training does very little in terms of burning fat in the first place. Fat loss is primarily done in the kitchen. But weight training will affect how your body adapts to the changes, so there's that.

I lift as heavy as I can with continuous progressive overload.

This is the important part. This is the correct approach. Just remember that progressive overloading isn't just about increasing the weight, but increasing the amount of reps, and increasing the surprise-factor. I.e. exposing your body to exercise it hasn't experienced before, or that it hasn't experienced in a long time.

Bottom line

I feel this needs to be said. There is no exercise or program that is so good that you should do it, and only it, forever. I'll harp on it one more time; variation is key, lest your body just adapts to the routine and finds no need to get stronger.

  • Thank you Alec, I like your suggestion of variation a lot, I will definitely work that in! – Christine Urban Apr 28 '18 at 11:19
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    Great pointer. Variation is key, don't do it very frequently though. Preferably, stick to a workout routine for at least 4-6 weeks before implementing any variation. – Zaitorious Apr 28 '18 at 14:45
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It seems like a straight-forward progression to and past failure to me. You start with Incline Barbell Press (medium difficulty), then you do Incline Dumbbell Press (harder difficulty), then you do Regular Barbell/Bench Press (easier difficulty).

So basically, the incline press is the focus of the exercise with the flat press added on as a means to keep going. If you are working your muscles to (or close to) failure, then you shouldn't have much left in the tank when you get to the flat press. The flat press then is a way to go "beyond failure".

Why the dumbbell press in the middle? Well, it challenges the arms individually and is harder because of that. Maybe the exercise asks for a neutral grip? Dumbbell bench press does have the benefit of being able to change grips. Technically speaking, it should be the same exercise (if using the same grip), but it may just be a way of doing the same thing in a different way. It may also be a coordination thing. I have no idea really, but I can imagine several potential reasons.

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