Alternating vs Sequential Exercises

Hi all,

Simple question, when having a chest and back day (or chest and leg for that matter), do you:

a) exercise chest to exhaustion and then move on to back/legs
b) alternate sets between the two (i.e. running back and forward between the bench press and the pull-up bar)

I assume both have pros and cons and the best solution is to switch it up every couple of weeks but I was curious to hear the popular opinion here.

Thanks!
Alessandro

Personally, from what I’ve done… I train one until I’m done, then move onto the next.

However, with pullups I’ve recently just been throwing them in between my sets. I guess I don’t really think of “doing pullups” as “training my back”. Obviously it is, but I use other movements for training my back that I focus on. The pullups are more for stretching and loosening the joints, working on scapular depression (pulling the shoulder blades down), and some active rest. I don’t even really count them in my training.

If I were using weighted pullups as part of my back workout, I’d wait until I was done with whatever, then do those. I’d rather focus on pushing one exercise at a time; anything I do between sets is just a way to pass some time, and not something I put much focus on.

Well, it depends. Generally alternating saves you a good amount of time (instead of resting 2 minutes between sets of bench press to be “fresh”, you only rest 30sec-1 minute before hitting rows or chins, then 30sec-1 minute before bench again. Your benching muscles have gotten 2-3 minutes of rest now but you got an extra exercise done). It’s great for times when you have to bust out the workout with intensity but are limited on overall time…like a lunch break.

Also has a lot of great overall work capacity benefits and tends to lead to higher training stimulus in beginners and some intermediates because of less overall rest throughout the workout. Besides, it keeps you FOCUSED on working hard. That’s possibly the biggest part of the battle–staying focused and in the zone to train hard.

Sequential has its own set of benefits, but to me it is most adapted to getting all the strength you can get out of ONE priority exercise or bodypart. For most, say even 80-90% of people, alternating exercises with 45 seconds to a minute between each won’t hinder your strength gains. But if your goal is to push performance on one single lift as much as possible–or to punish a weak point as much as possible to get more visual growth out of it–then sequential can really help by saving all available resources to push into one exercise/group.

In general, I say the choice is dependent on time constraints, how much you can focus and drive on a slow workout vs. fast, and goals. If time is an issue, alternating is great. If you have one single over-riding priority you want to focus on, then sequential is best for a while. If you’re in the middle, you can go either way but alternating tends to be a time saver and also makes your density of work higher, which is an indicator of training stimulus (although it can be taken to extreme like anything else…cough cross fit cough).

x2 on everything Aragorn said.

[quote]drinkinhabit wrote:
I assume both have pros and cons and the best solution is to switch it up every couple of weeks[/quote]
There are pros and cons to each, as was said, but I wouldn’t switch them every few weeks. As a general rule of thumb, I’d use supersets/“alternating exercises” when appropriate (for time constraints or conditioning) and straight sets/"sequential exercises when you want put 100% of undivided attention on a movement.

And to add another wrinkle in the nutsack, there’s also the idea of using fillers - instead of alternating two strength training exercises back to back, you alternate a lift with a mobility drill. For example, between sets of squats you might do glute bridges or mule kicks, between sets of flat bench you might alternate wall slides. There have been a bunch of articles about the concept. A great way to “sneak in” mobility work without distracting from the rest of the training.

In my own perspective, I only consider my back work to be assistance work, and make a point to train it in between my primary exercises. I’ve actually achieve better progress in back development with this approach versus when I used to treat back movements with the same priority as other movements. Thus, I’ll do chins or rows between my other movements on my training days, ensuring that I reach total rep volume goals.

I’m finding, at least on a personal level, that the back is more of a volume sponge, and just needs to be given tons of reps to grow, rather than individualized attention.

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:
In my own perspective, I only consider my back work to be assistance work, and make a point to train it in between my primary exercises. I’ve actually achieve better progress in back development with this approach versus when I used to treat back movements with the same priority as other movements. Thus, I’ll do chins or rows between my other movements on my training days, ensuring that I reach total rep volume goals.

I’m finding, at least on a personal level, that the back is more of a volume sponge, and just needs to be given tons of reps to grow, rather than individualized attention.[/quote]

I’m finding something similar, only more with frequency than tons of reps in a workout. I’ve written about how I have done between 4-7 sets of back workout 6 days a week as part of my activation circuit in the warm-up (facepulls, or pulldowns, or rows, and power snatches or high pulls). Pretty much every time I’m in the gym. Not doing that right now because time constraints mean my warm-ups are extremely short/targeted and the pace of the whole workout needs to change. But I’ll be back to it soon enough.

Personally, I avoid using supersets on highly technical exercises, and for people without much experience of lifting, I suppose everything is highly technical.
That said, I do a load of heinous stuff that everybody hates, like high-rep olympic lifting.

[quote]Aragorn wrote:

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:
In my own perspective, I only consider my back work to be assistance work, and make a point to train it in between my primary exercises. I’ve actually achieve better progress in back development with this approach versus when I used to treat back movements with the same priority as other movements. Thus, I’ll do chins or rows between my other movements on my training days, ensuring that I reach total rep volume goals.

I’m finding, at least on a personal level, that the back is more of a volume sponge, and just needs to be given tons of reps to grow, rather than individualized attention.[/quote]

I’m finding something similar, only more with frequency than tons of reps in a workout. I’ve written about how I have done between 4-7 sets of back workout 6 days a week as part of my activation circuit in the warm-up (facepulls, or pulldowns, or rows, and power snatches or high pulls). Pretty much every time I’m in the gym. Not doing that right now because time constraints mean my warm-ups are extremely short/targeted and the pace of the whole workout needs to change. But I’ll be back to it soon enough.[/quote]

Yeah, frequency seems to be part of it as well. I try to train my back 3-4 times a week.

It’s just amazing how much it likes to be worked, haha.