There is a great debate on what works best in the strength-training world. The simple answer is it depends on your goal and your experience level. There are many ways to construct a weekly strength-training program. Sometimes you can use a periodization model to include multiple workouts splits in a given year. Let’s take a look at some different factors, pros, and cons for each type of strength training model.
Full-Body Strength training
If I had to pick one method, I would choose full-body strength training. Implementing a well-designed full-body strength training routine 3-days a week. The majority of the population would benefit most from this method. The first reason is of the time factor. Most people just don’t have enough time to devote to exercise. Three days a week is a reasonable goal that people can fit into their lifestyle. It is also enough strength training volume to produce some significant benefits regardless of age and experience.
Working multiple muscle groups in a full-body strength training fashion is shown to increase growth hormone. The increase occurs at a larger rate compared to traditional bodybuilding types of workouts where only 1 or 2 muscle groups are worked at a time. The more muscle worked, the more neural and physiological demand, thus increasing the metabolic rate and burning more calories. The bottom line is: most people want to lose body fat and be more fit. Three full-body strength training routines a week is the perfect combination for the majority of the population.
At SOF we are using resistance training as the primary component of our fat loss programming.
Our goal is to work for every muscle group hard, frequently, and with an intensity that creates a massive “metabolic disturbance” — or “Afterburn” that leaves the metabolism elevated for several hours post-workout.
A study by Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM., et al. used a circuit training protocol of 12 sets in 31 minutes. EPOC was elevated significantly for 38 hours post-workout. 38 hours is a significant time frame for metabolism to be elevated. If you trained from 9 am until 10 am on Monday morning — you’re still burning more calories (without training) at midnight on Tuesday.
In my experience, full-body training in a superset, tri-set, or circuit format (with non-competing exercises) in a rep range that generates lactic acid (and pushing the lactic acid threshold or LAT) seems to create the biggest metabolic demand. Training legs (hinge, squat), back (pull), and chest/shoulders (push) will burn more calories and elevate metabolism more than an isolated approach training one of them. The rep range that seems to work best is the 5-12 hypertrophy range. Going higher will work just as well with a less trained population.
Body-part Split Routines
I began to weight train seriously during my sophomore year in high school. I geared all my workouts towards a bodybuilding-style split routine. As I sifted through various bodybuilding magazines, I noticed that all of the very muscular people in the photos were only working for 1-2 muscle groups a day 4-6 days a week. Since I wanted to get bigger, I just copied those routines and did them. In the beginning, I made some huge gains. Soon after that, I plateau for a very long time. I later learned that nutrition and recovery were my missing catalysts to really make some big gains.
My initial gains were made due to the fact that my body was not accustomed to this type of training. Since I did not let my body recover and did not eat enough protein and calories, I plateaued. I was also playing varsity basketball and football at the time. It was a time I was well overtrained and performing a lot of cardio in sports. Now I know that for in-season athletes, a full-body strength training routine 2-3 times a week would have been best.
How long you have been lifting weights also plays a significant factor in how often you should lift. As you train more and more, your body adapts to its imposed demands. I feel that anyone starting a serious strength-training program needs to develop a strong base of basic movements. Squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, and presses should make up the foundation of all people, especially beginners. After you have been training for at least 2-3 years, throw in some isolation movements such as bicep curls, triceps extension, and lateral raises. Until then stick to the basics.
There are many ways to split up your strength training routine.
You can do the classic push/pull/lower-body routine, upper-body and lower-body split, or 1-2 muscle groups a day spread throughout the week. All of these methods will work very well for some individuals. But you must consider some crucial factors.
Nutrition is very critical if you are looking to perform a split routine. The primary goal for most people who carry out a split routine is muscle hypertrophy, better known as muscle growth. Bodybuilders are the best eaters on the planet, and they can perform split routines because of this. Eating 4-7 times per day, with plenty of calories coming from protein, healthy fats, and functional carbohydrates, along with plenty of water and sleep are critical if you want to make gains. This kind of meal frequency and intensity is not something that most people can do. We all have lives outside of working out. Work, stress, family, and other obligations get in the way of getting all of our nutrients and rest.
Here are some ground rules to follow when outlining a split routine.
If you do decide to embark on a split routine and are willing to make the necessary commitments, here are some tips. Perform 6-9 sets of 8-15 repetitions for smaller muscle groups such as biceps, triceps, and calves, and up the sets to 9-12 per muscle group for bigger muscle groups such as the chest, legs, and back. Make sure not to train more than 3-4 days in a row without a rest day. East tons of quality food, drink plenty of water, optimize post-workout nutrition, and get some sleep.
As you can see, there are a lot of different options out there when looking to develop a well-rounded strength-training program. For the majority of the population seeking to burn fat, build a little muscle and get stronger, frequent full-body workouts are the best option. For those with a lot of training experience and who can commit to a rigorous recovery routine, a pure hypertrophy-based body-part split can produce wonderful benefits. Just like any other exercise program, you need to stick with what works best for you and your lifestyle.