There are many different ways in which you can structure a workout, but there must be careful planning involved to make sure that correct technique and most importantly safety is adhered. I detailed in a previous blog the difference between "Power", "Core" and "Assistance" exercises, so if you have not read the definitions of those, you can go back and familiarize yourself with those terms as they will be used below. I have listed 4 of the most common ways to structure an effective workout.
Power, Other Core, Then Assistance Exercises
This order allows the individual to practice safe exercise technique to ensure proper form. Power moves such as the snatch, hang clean, power clean, and push jerk should always be completed first in a workout as these exercises require the highest level of skill and concentration not to mention can not be completed properly if certain muscles are already fatigued.
Next after power moves would be other core exercises. These moves would also be considered multi-joint and work major muscle groups, but require less explosive power so they ask less from the human body.
Finally, assistance exercises should be performed towards the end of a workout as the major muscle groups have then been worked and you can hone in on the smaller muscles easier and safer. Not only that, but you will also notice that the workout would then be structured to perform large muscle group, multi-joint exercises first, then smaller muscle group, single-joint exercises last.
A very quick example of a workout order for an individual would be; snatch (power), bench press (other core), and then bicep curls (assistance).
Upper and Lower Body Exercises
One form of circuit training is to alternate upper body exercises with lower body exercises. This is especially useful for those individuals that are new to resistance training as they may find doing many different upper or lower body exercises in a row to be too strenuous. This also allows less rest time between exercises cutting down on the total workout time because as the upper body rests from a particular exercise, you can work the lower body, and vice versa.
Not only that, but by cutting down on rest periods between exercises, you automatically add in cardiovascular elements to the workout by having an elevated heart rate almost the entire time!
Supersets and Compound Sets
Supersets also cut down on rest time as you generally do one exercise immediately following another. These are usually (not always) used working opposing muscle groups, or agonists to antagonists. For example, an individual would do a biceps curl exercise and as soon as the set is completed, they immediately complete a triceps exercise.
Compound sets are slightly different in the fact that the intention is to use 2 back-to-back exercises that primarily work the same muscle group to create compounded resistance. For example, an individual could be doing barbell bicep curls, and as soon as the set is complete, pick up a couple of dumbbells and do hammer curls. Slightly different exercises with a bit of a different combination of muscles being worked, but still attacks the biceps.
Alternating Push and Pull Exercises
Yet another form of circuit training, this training technique allows the shortening of total workout time by allowing certain muscle groups to rest while their opposing muscles work.
A very common push/pull workout is working the chest and back muscles in the same workout. For example, an individual would complete a set of pushups or bench press and then immediately complete a set of pullups or lat pulldowns. By alternating between pushing and pulling exercises, you ensure that certain muscle groups are not being overworked by working every single set.