In Favor of Total Body Workouts

So a friend asked, in the context of optimal strength training:

"I love being at the gym. Is there anything wrong with body part split training programs, like working each muscle group one day per week?" 

There's nothing wrong with being off the couch and computer chair, finding a way to work hard, be consistent, and make progress with almost any training routine for a while. But here are a few reasons why I don't prefer the Bro-Split approach.
Zombies HATE body part split routines!

1. Ain't Nobody Got Time Fo That:

You're going to set the alarm 90 minutes early, fill a gym bag with food, work clothes and toiletries, drive from home to the gym and from the gym to work, and fall asleep at your desk in the early afternoon...all this for a "shoulders and triceps" workout?

This is just one of the absurd places where you arrive when you split training into body parts. The idea is that you can really BLAST each muscle at every angle if you have an entire workout for each muscle group. The typical Bro-Split looks something like this:

Chest and biceps on day 1
Shoulders and triceps on day 2
Back and calves on day 3
Legs and abs on day 4

If you're going to take the time and effort to get to the gym, for heaven's sake, make it worth it. Do you have time to do some conditioning? Fifteen minutes of heavy overhead presses or tuck jumps or  Farmer Walks do far more for the the abz than a whole hour of tricep pressdowns and crunch machine.  Getting stronger in the big movements including squat variations and the lifting of the deads WILL make your arm muscles grow. A rising tide lifts all boats.

2. Recovery:

But even if you're somehow able to muster the time and effort to move weights around with some muscle groups but not others four or five days per week, it's not ideal for the system. [Unless you're into anabolic steroids]. As I mentioned here [The Best Training Split], body part split training leaves me perpetually sore and stale of progress. Such training takes any given muscle far beyond what is necessary to stimulate growth but without enough frequency to get anywhere.

Split training routines do lend themselves to over training. Every exercise that doesn't have you stabilized in a machine more or less trains the core (lats, glutes, spinal erectors, obliques etc). The endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems are by no means split from muscle to muscle. The body undergoes various types of stress and recovery as a unit.
 3. Function:

The body functions as a unit when you want to run, jump, lift, carry, push, pull, climb, and throw things. There are countless reasons to split your training around the concept of movement patterns (horizontal pull, vertical push, hip hinge, squat, etc) rather than by muscle group.

Unilateral overhead lunge walks work everything
Go ahead and try throwing effectively without use of the legs or jumping without torso and arm swing. Our lower backs are (likely) much less achy when we learn to brace a neutral spine while we hinge the knees and hips. Until the day when we can kick our suitcases through the airport and leg press our groceries upstairs to the kitchen, we should make sure to find a way to intentionally integrate muscles of the upper and lower body and provide ample time for recovery.

So are you an athlete or a body builder?

4. Preference:

The Bro-Split certainly can be done well and can help you improve in fitness and performance. But in my opinion it's not ideal. Maybe that's because I simply can't stand the thought of only training legs once per week. A major leg movement is the meatball on your spaghetti dinner.

This does not mean that you should always avoid isolation moves and throw your seated dumbbell pressed out of the window. What it does mean is that the majority of your training time should probably be spent in multi-joint functional lifts. Once you can squat twice your body weight for reps, see if you really have the desire or need to hit the VMO (medial quadricep) with feet-turned-out leg extensions.

1 comment:

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