There's no better example than my general disdain for the traditional body part/bodybuilding programming split. I refer to these types of workouts as the "Frankenstein" program, because it treats the body as a collection of parts: Monday is chest day; Tuesday is leg day; Thursday is chest day again (because why not); Friday is back and biceps.
Is there anything wrong with this program if someone is a competitive bodybuilder? No. But is it an optimal use of time for 99% of the population? Not at all. And here's why:
The reason people fail to hit their goals is not from doing too few bicep curls or not enough bench pressing. It's because people are missing patterns, planes, and stances.
For example, you could focus your time and energy on a 28 day arm program. Will you see dem gainz? Possibly. But is this going to help you pick up something heavy from the floor without whimpering? And isn't that what we should be working on?
That's why the yardstick for success in the gym shouldn't be aesthetics, but performance. How are the exercises you're performing going to increase your quality of life and help you achieve objective goals? Because if you train for performance, you'll achieve the aesthetics you seek and much more.
Total Body Workouts, FTW!
In one of my most popular articles, "What is Good Training," I explained how to formulate your workouts and how your heart rate should determine your workload. But I recently realized that I've never explained why having a dedicated arms/chest/legs/(insert body part) day is (most likely) running counter to your goals.
The other impetus behind this post is that total body workouts are something I've implemented from my first day in the industry. But after leaving the bubble of a private training studio and going to the commercial side, I've realized how total body workouts are still not the norm. Here are three reasons you need to implement total body workouts right now:
1. It's a More Efficient Use of Time
Several years ago, a friend of mine asked me how long my workouts usually take. His workouts would last nearly 2 hours in the gym, focusing mostly on one or two body parts. From his overall tone, I know he was looking for some type of validation - "Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were deez gainz!"
(For the record, he didn't say that.)
But when I told him that some of my workouts take less than 30 minutes - and that I'm getting plenty of strength AND conditioning - he was shocked. And if you're interested, the workout mentioned above consists of 10 Get-ups and 100 Swings - a variation of Pavel's Simple and Sinister program.
This conversation highlights the persistent myth that we need to absolutely wreck our arms/legs/core/you-name-it to see appreciable results. Or that in order to get strong, we need to think in terms of isolated muscles. Both are false.
Rather than spending an entire hour training only your arms and having to rest between each exercise, there's a much more efficient use of time. Here's a sample program that uses every fundamental human movement, will make you use more energy in an hour, and will keep your metabolism running higher when you leave the gym:
1a. Squat Variation - 3x5
1b. Chin-up Variation - 3x3-10
2a. Deadlift Variation - 4x5
2b. Push-up Variation - 4x8-10
2c. Dead bugs - 3x3 each leg
3. Kettlebell Swings - 10 on min. x 10 mins.
This type of program should take less than an hour, even with a warm-up and with positional breathing recovery thrown in at the end. And it looks a lot different than the program most likely used by your local Brohammerstein: bicep curls on a machine, bicep curls with free weights, and reverse curls with a pre-loaded barbell. And yes, that's what I did at one time too.
2. Strength is a Master Quality
In almost 5 months at a commercial facility, I've seen almost 25 versions of bicep curls. And no, I'm not joking.
But how many properly executed pull-ups or chin-ups have I seen? I can count them on one hand.
And it's ironic. Because many people will do almost anything they can to get stronger or bigger/better arms, but many don't perfect their pull-ups - the very exercise that will give them exactly what they're after in the least amount of time.
So why don't people do pull-ups? Because they're hard. But I have yet to see any guy that can do 20 strict, dead hang pull-ups worry about having a six pack or "small arms." Conversely, I've yet to meet a woman who can do 5 dead hang pull-ups worry about not being strong or "in shape." And even though I'm using bodyweight pull-ups as the example, you could really say the same about improving your deadlifts, squats, swings, and get-ups.
When you train full body movements with the goal of strength, it gives you much more than aesthetics - it gives you confidence, satisfaction, and empowerment. Or as the motto of StrongFirst puts it, "strength has a greater purpose."
3. It's How our Body Moves in Real Life
Whether it's helping a friend move, playing a pick-up basketball game, or chasing your grandkids, our bodies don't move in isolation. And unless you're a competitive bodybuilder like I mentioned before, the role of training should be to prepare us for the stress and needs of everyday life - because our brain remembers movements, not muscles.
Instead of a leg press machine, a leg curl machine, and tricep pushdowns, we should be using movements that offer specific carryover to real life - a squat, a push-up, and deadlifts. By shifting your focus you'll see more benefits from the precious time you're putting in at the gym, and you'll also achieve the aesthetics you seek.
In other words, you'll have the "go" to back up the "show."