I love my job as a coach and personal trainer, and I’ve seen many things in the gym since I’ve started out. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people, especially younger guys, are doing way too much in the gym. Workouts lasting 2 hours or more are not that uncommon. The problem: Your body has only finite resources, and yes, overtraining is real.
What if I told you that you could have better results by doing less in the gym?
Some of the greatest in bodybuilding (and many others, including myself) use one approach to build a muscular and lean body. Mike Mentzer did it, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it, and even Tim Ferriss did it: They all used whole body routines for huge size gains before starting with different body part splits (focusing on one or two body parts per workout).
Now, before some of you get upset, I’m not recommending training the whole body to everybody, or all year round. This is for beginners and intermediate lifters (1 Rep Max: Squats; 1.6 x bodyweight, Bench Press; 1.2 x bodyweight, Deadlifts; 2 x bodyweight). If you fall into this category and you’re interested in making some serious gains, both strength and size-wise, then keep reading. (By serious I mean something along 10-20 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks).
Here are 3 reasons why you should give whole body routines a try.
Do you want to know why Mentzer, Schwarzenegger, and Ferriss use whole body workouts? Because they work. If you’re familiar with the Pareto Principle, then you know what I mean with The 20%. Nothing beats whole body routines when it comes to strength and size gains, hands down. They focus on the most important thing: Compound movements. In most of them, you squat and bench twice, and deadlift once per week. You do the most effective exercises to build muscles, and you do them often. Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?
They’re great for working on weaknesses, too. I’m having some difficulties at the moment activating my hamstrings during squats. That’s why I’m doing a few sets of swiss ball leg-curls after squatting. Do you have a lagging body part? No problem: Pick up an exercise to hit that particular area, and do it at the beginning of your workouts. A smart routine includes 2-4 compound movements and 1-3 isolation exercises per training session. Do 2-5 sets of each exercise et voilà – you’ve got your perfect full body routine!
Because of the high frequency of the main lifts, whole body routines are great to improve your form. If you really want to get better at squatting or overhead pressing, squat and do overhead presses often! Ever wondered why martial artists are great at what they’re doing? It’s because they practice the same movement and over until they know it by heart. Sure it’s boring, but it works.
Why go to the gym 6 times a week if you can have the same, or even better results, with 3 weekly workouts? Full body workouts simply give you the most bang for your buck. You don’t need to do 100 rep curls or the 8 brand new Men’s Health exercises for toned abs. A 15-30 minute warm-up and 45-60 minute training makes a total of 90 minutes; 3 workouts x 90 minutes = 270 minutes = 4.5 hours per week. You hit the gym 3 times a week, and then you rest, eat, and grow. I love training, but I also enjoy many things outside the gym.
An example of a solid training program
Monday and Friday
- Squats 2 x 5-8
- Incline Bench Press (10-20°) 2 x 5-8
- Chin-Ups (supinated grip) 2 x 5-8
- Triceps Pushdowns 2 x 8-10
- Calve-Raises 2 x 8-10
- Ab-Roll-Outs 2 x 8-10
- Deadlifts 3 x 5-8
- Dips 2 x 5-8
- Overhead Press 2 x 5-8
- Cable-Rows 2 x 5-8
- Curls 2 x 8-10
2 x 5-8 means 2 controlled sets of 5-8 reps (working sets) after warm-up and warm-up sets. In other words, pick a weight you can do at least 5 reps with. If you can do more than 8 reps, increase weight by 2.5-5 pounds. Same weight for all working sets. Rest between 2 (for isolation movements) and 5 minutes (for compound movements).
Split training has its time and place. However, most people will benefit more from whole body routines. Many of my clients tried this routine (or very similar ones) and the results were more than satisfying. Sometimes less is more.
Full body workouts might not be on vogue anymore, but people like Reg Park and Vince Geronda knew their value. They’re effective, great for improving form, and even save you time. What are you waiting for?