Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Little Rant on Bodypart Split Training Routines

It seems that not a week goes by in which I don't see or hear someone touting the superiority of bodypart split routines when the training goal is increased size and strength.  (Interjection: Now, for those of you whose only training experience has been with us at SAPT (may God bless you!), you may not even be familiar with this notion.  However, walk in to any commercial gym, and you will see this phenomenon taking place.  Basically people will have their own "day" for chest, a day for back, a day for shoulders, arms, etc. and then maybe will throw in a leg day).

Now, admittedly, I am a bit biased because I'm a strength and conditioning coach, and a bodypart split is hands down one of the least effective ways to prepare an athlete for competitive sport play.  Yet I still challenge the notion that bodypart splits are the most effective training method EVEN FOR THOSE WHOSE GOALS LIE IN THE REALM OF AESTHETICS.  While I feel that I could present a very strong argument myself, I'll direct you to Alwyn Cosgrove, who is much more experienced than I in the art of training and getting people the results they're after (be it World Champions or your Average Joe and Jane).  

Alwyn is one of my favorite strength coaches because he looks at life and training from such an objective viewpoint, and is especially adept in his ability to logically break down concepts with regards to both training, and life in general.  He was also a national Tae-kwon-do champion, and has battled - successfully - Stage IV cancer.  Twice.  I also had the privelege of meeting him personally at a seminar he hosted in the beginning of 2010.

The following excerpts are from various writings of Cosgrove:

" (interjection: this excerpt is taken from an article titled "20 Things that make me shake my head")


I think my mission in life is to rid the world of this ridiculous workout notion. Somehow this highly developed organism that we call the human body is not a remarkable piece of machinery that functions flawlessly as a unit, it’s just random “parts” put together — each of which can be worked separately.

My arse.

You didn’t even turn your computer on using only one muscle so why in God’s name are you trying to develop a body using some sort of body part split?

And while I’m on the subject, how come fingers and toes don’t get their own “day”?

Biceps get their own special recognition, what about fingers and toes and sternocleidomastoids? Or left arm on one day, right arm on another day (different body parts)? Because it’s stupid, right? Well, so is splitting up your chest and shoulder “days”.

There are NO athletes other than a small bunch of genetically gifted, pharmaceutical abusing individuals who use a “body part” split with any success. NONE.

Now, if you ARE one of the genetic elite pharmaceutical abusers, then feel free.

Split routines arrived on the scene shortly after Dianabol was popular. Do you see the connection?

Now before you ask me, “Can I split up my routine in some way?” Of course you can. But split it up based on what your body DOES, not based on what “part” it is. Splitting up by parts makes as much sense as splitting up by the number of freckles in that area."

I design training programs on physiological basis. Part of the word 'physiological' is the word 'logical' and I argue that there is very little logic to bodypart splits. Bodypart splits are geography, not physiology! 

You say every successful bodybuilder uses a bodypart split? I challenge that every successful bodybuilder is the exception, not the rule.
"...Life and sport take place primarily on our feet. It’s how we were designed to work. Our training programs need to reflect that. It seems to me that I’ve said this a thousand times, but it doesn’t make it any less true: a muscle group allocation is pointless. Why would the muscles of the chest need their own “day” for training? If you split up the body into parts, how do you decide what parts to include?

Typically we see splits of chest, shoulders and triceps, back and biceps, and legs. Why don’t we see splits like rhomboids and hip flexors, quadriceps and rotator cuff, sternocleidomastoid and pec minor? Because that wouldn’t make bodybuilding “sense.” But in my opinion, any split routine based on a random allocation of muscle groups to certain days of the week defies all logic.

Consider the following example: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and raise your arm out to the side until it’s parallel with the floor (a position known as a lateral raise in the fitness world!) Which muscles are working? The classic answer is the medial deltoid and the trapezius.

True. But maintain this position and just touch your obliques on the left side with your free hand. They’re contracting maximally in order to stabilize your torso and spine, thus preventing you from tipping over. So the oblique has to contract so hard in order to stabilize your entire upper body (plus your arm and the dumbbell) that it becomes clear that this exercise forces more work from the oblique muscles, the tensor fascia lata, and the quadratus lumborum than it can from the medial deltoid!

So is it still a shoulder exercise? Or is it a total core and shoulder exercise? What body part day is this movement supposed to be trained on? Hopefully this helps you realize that the body will always work as a unit.

And I don’t mean to “bag” on bodybuilding. One can’t help but be impressed by top athletes in any sport. But the fact that it is a sport is also an important thing to remember. Bodybuilding is a unique sport unto itself. For the general fitness enthusiast (i.e. not a competitive bodybuilder) to develop and implement a fitness program using bodybuilding theory and bodybuilding type exercises makes as much sense as using soccer training or racquetball to design that same program. And while most people recognize that this is idiotic at best, we still continue to talk about splitting up “body parts” and following a bodybuilding-based program."

Ok, phew.  I hope that cleared a few things up!  Even from personal experience, I can say that my goals were achieved much more efficiently and effectively when I strayed away from bodypart split routines.  In high school, I was your classic skinny kid that had a very difficult time putting on noticeable lean body mass.  In fact, almost every lacrosse coach I had (about 5 different people in high school) told me that if I really wanted to succeed in my position (I was a face off specialist), I needed to put on size as I was "too small" for my position.  I tried using bodypart splits for 4 years to become stronger and increase lean body mass.  Did I get results?  Sure, I can't deny that I achieved some good things.  However, I noticed a significant difference - for the better - in my progress when I was finally bold enough to stray away from the routine I had always been told (either directly or indirectly) was superior.  

Below is a picture of me running the "Warrior Dash" a couple months ago, with my girlfriend Kelsey.  Now, I am far, far from the biggest or strongest guy you'll meet, but I post this to show that an athletic, functioning body can achieved by training the body as a UNIT, not divided up into arbitrary "segments."
Furthermore, Kelsey achieved Professional status in Competitive Bodybuilding by using a training routine similar to way we structure it at SAPT.  Below is a recent picture of her and I in DC.  I also post this to show the females in the crowd that women can lift weights and still be sexy and feminine!  Kelsey lifts weights 5 days a week, and she's far from the "masculine" or "bulky" figure that many women fear they'll turn into if they lift weights!!
I conclude by affirming that, in reality, it doesn't matter what training methodology you adhere to if the effort and perseverence isn't there.  There is no "magic" training formula.  Being able to push through setbacks and dissappointments will triumph a "perfect plan" every time.  As they say: you'll achieve better results being dedicated to a mediocre program than remaining unmotivated through a perfect program.


Tim said...

Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to address this. I think I have now lost all confidence in body part splits.

Anonymous said...

Because one person with a mediocre physique criticizes splits in an article you lose all confidence in them? Yep, makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Bodypart splits are stupid, train your body as a unit. "mediocre physique" has nothing to do with the low effectiveness of splits. p.s Big is not better... and with splits is easy to see imbalances and very non-symmetric and disproportionate physiques.

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