Monday, January 17, 2011

Q & A: Body Part Splits

Q.  So I was reading your post on body part splits and it made me begin to think. I would like to try to employ a different split because currently I do the body part split mentioned in your post and I just feel like something is missing. Do you have any guidance on a solid program for muscular development and strength? a SAPT bodybuilding workout if you will. I'd really appreciate hearing your thoughts on the matter.  Thanks.

A.  There are a number of ways you could set it up depending on the person/individual scenario.  Here are just a few options:

Option 1
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Off**
Day 3: Upper Body
Day 4: Lower Body
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Upper Body
Day 7: Off

(Ex. Lifting on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday.  You could also just do a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday spread but I prefer the former.)

Option 2
Day 1: Full Body
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Lower Body
Day 4: Upper Body
Day 5: Off
Day 6: Full Body
Day 7: Off

--> Eric Cressey has mentioned this in the past.  This one can be useful to throw in from time to time as it increases the frequency that the upper and lower body is stimulated (frequency is key with regards to muscle growth, as long as intensity is monitored). 

Option 3***
Day 1: Full Body (lower body emphasis)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Full Body (upper body emphasis)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Full Body (lower body emphasis)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
**I don't personally think it's ideal to take a true "off" day.  I find the body recovers even more rapidly if you do some sort of movement training on days between lifting.  Now, this isn't an excuse to go run 5 miles or do a bazillion ab exercises, but it's a good time to do some low-intensity sled work, go for a walk, or run through a mobility circuit. 

***I'd like to note that these "full body" days aren't incredibly long training sessions where you train every possible muscle.  This is asking for failure as you'd end up performing most of the exercises in a state of fatigue.

Now, how should you structure each of these training days?  While I can't write out an exact breakdown for you (I don't think we're ready to "give away the keys" to our facility/training methods yet), I can certainly provide a few pointers which should get you well on your way.

1) As Jim Wendler says (I'm paraphrasing): Every training plan should have a strength component, a hypertrophy (size) component, and a conditioning component.  You're goals will dictate which components you prioritize/de-emphasize.  However, it's an enormous mistake to completely omit any of these three elements.

For you (and perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions) it seems your main goal is to increase size while at the same time improving strength.  In this scenario, I would prioritize as follows:
1) Hypertrophy
2) Strength
3) Conditioning

Your "conditioning" should be limited to walking, and some low intensity sled work (if you have access to one).  See the bottom of this post for some videos. 

2) Exercise Order.  Perform the "strength" portion of the session first, keeping the reps in the 1-5 rep range.  Developing, and maintaining, maximum strength will benefit you whether you're a bodybuilder, distance runner, a figure competitor, professional athlete, or anything in between.  Ex. Squats, Deadlifts, Military/Bench Presses, and even weighted Chins/Pullups will go first.  The exception to this would be if you're performing a "Power" exercise in the session (ex. Dynamic Effort Squats, Power Cleans, 1-Arm DB Snatches, etc.) in which case you would perform that first. 

3) Prioritize.  Because of your particular goals, I would keep the load around 85-90% of your 1RM for the strength portion of the session, and focus on lifting the weight with perfect form and as quickly as possible (as opposed to grinding out true 3 or 4-rep maxes) as this will still provide plenty of a stimulus to maintain/increase strength, while at the same time it won't burn you out so much that you can't put 100% effort into the assistance exercises (dumbbell presses, rows, single-leg work, etc.) that are going to provide the bulk of the hypertrophy stimulus.

3) How to break down the training week/days.  Basically, (as noted in the "Rant on Bodypart Splits" post), design your routine based off what your body does, not based on what "part" it is.  This would be pulling, pressing, picking heavy things off the ground, squatting, and single-leg work (as most of life - and sport - takes place on one leg).  Throughout the course of your week, ensure that you include both horizontal and vertical pulling (think row variations and pullup/pulldown variations), horizontal and vertical pressing (think bench and overhead pressing), quad dominant movements (squats, lunges and their variations), hip/hamstring dominant exercises (deadlifts and their variations) and core work.  Balance these as much as possible throughout a training week, and even (preferably) pull more than you press.

4) Volume.  Keep the total working sets roughly between 12-22 sets for a single session, and this includes your core or direct arm work.  This is probably much less volume than you're used to seeing in the routines you'll find in the bodybuilding magazines (but there's a reason most of those routines don't work for non-pharmaceutical abusing individuals).  I would aim a bit on the higher side for the upper body (as you have more joints to worry about, ex. the muscles that cross the shoulder joint, and the muscles that cross the elbow joint) and a bit on the low side for the lower body (takes longer to recover, and lower body lifts are, in general, more taxing to the central nervous system).  I wouldn't remain on the high side of the spectrum for more than a week or so, though, as it's a good idea to slightly fluctuate the volume throughout the course of a month.  

5) Isolation lifts.  Put your isolation lifts (curls, extensions, etc.) at the end of the training session.  Or, you could have a "Vanity Day" at the end of the week where you bring out your inner bodybuilder and perform some shoulder raises, curls, etc. 

Honestly, I think it's unnecessary to perform a lot of direct arm work.  I find that I - and most people - can still develop plenty of arm size through heavy chins/pullups, and the pressing variations. 

Let's take the standard Bicep Curl vs. the Chinup.  Both exercises require the exact same bicep function to execute the lift: elbow flexion.  Now, when we consider that mechanical loading plays an enormous factor in muscle growth, which exercise do you think will load the biceps more?  The small amount of weight on the barbell for your curl, or your entire body weight during the chinup?  I don't know about you, but my vote goes to the chinup. 

 Chinups before curls.  Always. 
It's not that isolation lifts for the arms are completely useless.  I'll toss them in from time to time, although they probably comprise about 3% of my training (no sarcasm here).  I just don't think they should be a staple of good program, and I think dedicating an entire training day to "arms" is asinine at best.

I even find that usually I do more harm than good if I do too much direct arm work.  (Warning: Geek Alert) For example, both of the biceps tendons (the "long head" and "short head") connect to the shoulder.  More specifically, to the coracoid process (where the pec minor also attaches), and to another region of the scapula called the supraglenoid tubercle.  Both of these points of attachment are surrounded by the deltoids, as well as mixed in with the rotator cuff muscles.  My point is that if you don't plan your sessions appropriately and this region becomes overused, this can lead to chronic shoulder problems over the long-haul (again, this topic deserves an article on its own).  The shoulder joint encompasses a jam-packed network of tendons, nerves, and muscles.  In short, you're playing with fire if you don't monitor use of this area.


6.  You can use a Prowler (or any homemade sled, for that matter) to increase your training frequency (an important factor for growth), without significantly impeding your body's recovery process.  This is because you can perform a lot of exercises with the sled that have no eccentric component to them.  The eccentric phase of a lift (think the lowering portion of a squat) is where the most muscle damage occurs.  So, you could add in Sled Work to your "Off Days" in order to provide another growth stimulus, and rarely negatively impact the next training session.  This is why many powerlifters utilize sled pushes for some conditioning/GPP sessions on their off days - it doesn't leave them too sore/tired the following day.  

See the videos below demonstrating some sled work.  The first is a "Prowler Tug-of-War", using a thick rope.  This is great for developing your upper back, and you'll get some work done for the biceps, too.  It also provides a bit of a grip challenge.  Not to mention, it's fun!

The second video shows a small sampling of other possible exercises.  If you really must bring out the inner bodybuilder and do a lot of volume, this is how I would accumulate most of the "excess volume."  You can easily hit your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, back, chest, arms - you name it - with the sled.  I've just demonstrated a couple of the exercises here:

Again, as I've mentioned in the past, the actual way you divide your training isn't the greatest contributer to results.  It is the effort and dedication to required to "show up" even when it's the last thing your mind is telling you to do.  However, I do hope this shed some light on a better way to set up your training plan.


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