Progressing exercises is a common component to effective exercise program design. Exercise sequencing should also be a common component to effective program design but that’s not always the case.
There is a definite difference between exercise sequencing and exercise progressions. Exercise progressions are typically defined by an increase in the intensity, duration, frequency or amount of exercise. In other words a progression is quantitative. Therefore progressions are a broader component to exercise program design.
Exercise sequencing, on the other hand has more to do with the relationship between exercises in a given series of exercises within a program. Sequencing looks at the effects of each exercise in the program to the other exercises within the same program and is more qualitative. Therefore sequencing is a deeper level to program design.
Consider the analogy of a phone number. You have 7 digits that are all an important part of the phone number. Each number represents a critical part of what it takes to successfully complete a call to the desired recipient. But if you change the sequence of just one of those numbers, the call does not go through.
The impact of improper sequencing may not be as immediately apparent with exercise as it is with a call not going through. For the healthy population or the asymptomatic population the effects are immediate but aren’t easily observed by the less experienced professional. Yet those immediate effects do become cumulative. Over time improper sequencing will lead to deterioration in the quality of movement and potentially injury.
Corrective exercise program design is particularly sensitive to optimal sequencing. One exercise should prepare the body for the next and never cancel the benefits of a previous exercise. Many of those who have studied with me state that this is one of the most challenging aspects of designing effective corrective exercise programs.
A successful corrective exercise routine is based on meeting an immediate objective. In other words, when I write a corrective exercise program I expect for there to be an immediate change in the structure and function of my client at the end of the session-not three or four weeks down the road. I will know if I met my objective because I will “audit” my program by seeing if my client can do now what they couldn’t do before the program.
If the objective pertains to the quality of movement of the client, optimal sequencing must have intermediate objectives under the main objective. This helps you lay out a clearer path to your final objective. They are stepping stones to the primary objective all within a given exercise program.
Using an oversimplified example, you have a client who is a baseball pitcher with chronic rotator cuff problems. Through you assessment procedures you identify that the shoulder girdle is being stressed due to his lack of thoracic rotation. The lack of thoracic rotation is due to his kyphotic thoracic posture. And his kyphotic thoracic posture is combined with a posterior pelvic tilt.
Where does your sequence begin? Shoulder girdle? Thoracic spine? Or hips/pelvis? If you say pelvis (I would) an intermediate objective would be to improve lumbar extension. This should immediately positively influence thoracic extension. And than your next objective would certainly be to further improve thoracic extension/rotation. Following successfully improving the preceding objectives you would want to integrate the shoulder girdle with the thoracic spine and hips.
I encourage you to review your current exercise sequences for your clients. Ask yourself if they are following a logical order that produces positive change immediately. And are you successfully linking together smaller objectives that allow you to meet your primary objective.