What ruins more physiques than anything else? Laziness? Not lifting heavy enough? Too much cardio?
My answer may surprise you: the inability to create and adhere to a program that fits into lifters’ busy lives.
Training programs that are fat and bloated compound the problem. You know the type the workouts–they’re unclear and all over the place. They’re filled with innumerable corrective exercises and exercises so “functional” your local, barbell adverse Physical Therapist would have a wet dream.
And given the state worldwide health, it’s a fair to say what we’re doing isn’t working.
We should do more with less and focus on the ruthless execution of the basics.
This means lifting with major movement patterns, progressive overload and building strength first.
This means a workout plan that’s practical yet designed to maximize results.
For many, that points to one of the most under-utilized training splits: total body workouts.
Problem is, your typical total body training splits aren’t ideal for maximizing muscle growth. But you need a simple and effective workout to fit your busy lifestyle and ensure consistency.
Can the simple and effective co-exist?
Yes. And in this article, I’ll show you how to adapt a total body training split for maximum muscle growth.
The Problems (And Solutions) With Total Body Training
Total body training splits are maximally efficient. They allow you to train the body as an integrated unit, rather than segmenting each workout by body part. You’ll train muscles and movement patterns more that with other programs. This improving lifting technique and creates a greater potential for massive muscle growth.
Here’s how to overcome common problems with total body training splits and get you on your way to more efficient muscle building.
Problem One: Poor recovery, especially for stronger lifters
Once you’re strong it becomes increasingly difficult to recover from squatting, deadlifting, and lunging throughout the course of the week. After all, the stronger you get, the greater the central nervous system (CNS) demand and recovery needed with heavy lifting.
We’ll work around some heavy lifting problems by varying rep schemes and exercises within a given movement pattern.
For context, let’s look at the skeleton of a total body training split:
- Lower Body: Squat
- Upper Body Push: Bench
- Upper Body Pull: Bent Over Row
- Lower Body: Deadlift
- Upper Body Push: Press
- Upper Body Pull: Chin Up
- Lower Body: Squat
- Upper Body Push: Bench
- Upper Body Pull: Bent Over Row
If you’re not stepping on the Powerlifting platform to compete, picking the same movement (like back squats multiple times per week for months on end) is a great way to end up with muscular imbalances and generally beat-up.
Solution: Vary your movement patterns
With this plan, you’ll be able to hit major movement patterns and muscle groups throughout the week with enough variability to attack weak-points, prevent overuse injuries, and build a well-rounded physique.
- Lower Body Hip Dominant: Deadlift
- Lower Body Knee Dominant: Squat
- Lower Body Single Limb (knee): Lunge
- Lower Body Single Limb (hip): Single Leg RDL
Here’s a better example:
- Lower Body (Knee dominant): Squat
- Upper Body Push: Dumbbell Bench Press
- Upper Body Pull: Single Arm Dumbbell Row
- Lower Body (Hip Dominant): Trap Bar Deadlift
- Upper Body Push: Single Arm Press
- Upper Body Pull: Ring Chin-Up
- Lower Body (single limb): Bulgarian Split Squat
- Upper Body Push: Close Grip Barbell Press
- Upper Body Pull: Barbell Bent Over Row
Solution: Use an Intensive–Extensive training split
An intensive/extensive training split is a fancy way of saying go heavy and explosive one day, then light with higher volume training the next.
By pairing your heavy and explosive lifting on one day you’ll put the most neurologically demanding exercises together. Then, the following day focuses on higher rep hypertrophy work to stimulate metabolic stress and muscular gains without crushing your CNS with consecutive heavy lifting days.
Sample Training Week.
Day One: Intensive
1a. Clap Push-Up 3×5 rest 45
1b. Box Jump 3×5 rest 45
2a. Squat 4×3; rest 2-3 minutes
3a. Bench 5×5; rest 2-3 minutes
4a. Bent Over Row 4×6; rest 2 minutes
Day Two: Extensive
1a. Dumbbell Overhead Press 4×8, rest 90
1b. Chin-Up 4×8, rest 90
2a. Dumbbell incline Bench Press 4×10, rest 30
2b. Chest Supported Dumbbell Row 4 x 10, rest 60
3a. Dumbbell Split Squat 3×12/each, rest 45
3b. Seated Cable Row 3×12, rest 45
4a. Rope Triceps Pushdown 3×12, rest 0
4b. Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3×12/each, rest 0
4c. Rope Triceps Split Extension 3×12, rest 0
4d. Push-Up 3x Failure, rest 2-3 minutes
Rest 48-72 hours
Day Three: Intensive
1a. Medicine Ball Slam 3×3, rest 45
1b. Broad Jump 3×3, rest 45
2a. Deadlift 4×3; rest 2-3 minutes
3a. Overhead Press; rest 2-3 minutes
4a. Pull-Up 4×5; rest 2 minutes
Day Four: Extensive
1a. Dumbbell Alternating Bench Press 4×8, rest 90
1b. Single arm Dumbbell Row 4×8, rest 90
2a. Seated Military Press 4×10, rest 30
2b. Lat Pull-down 4 x 10, rest 60
3a. Dumbbell Single Leg RDL 3×6/each, rest 45
3b. Inverted Row 3×12, rest 45
4a. Seated Biceps Curl 3×12, rest 0
4b. Close Grip Push-Up 3×12/each, rest 0
4c. Alternating Biceps Curl 3×8-12, rest 0
4d. Inverted Row, 3x Failure, rest 2-3 minutes
Problem Two: Not enough focus on assistance exercises
Most who dislike total body training programs do so because isolation exercises that hit physique-capping muscles like biceps, calves, and medial delts are neglected. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
In fact, total body workouts provide an ideal environment for specialization workouts: four to six week training phases predicated on blitzing stubborn muscle groups into oblivion and triggering new growth.
Solution: Use specialization workouts
To fit specialization workouts into a total body training split, it’s important to remember you can do anything, but not everything, in the gym. With total body training, your training frequency per muscle group and movement is higher than other training splits, so you’ll need to decrease workout volume for non-specialized muscles. In other words, you’ll go into a slight maintenance mode for non-specialized muscles.
Sounds scary, right?
Don’t worry, the trade-off is worth it.
First, you’ll continue to focus on a few heavy lifts with low volume. This allows you to build strength without interfering with the specialization. Then, you’ll focus on one body part for 4-8 weeks, shocking it into growth. Then you’ll cut back completely during the next phase, allowing a massive super compensation response to drive growth. I’ll hook you up with a specialization workout below.
Problem Three: Low training volume limits size gains
Many lifters avoid total body workouts due to lower volume limiting muscular gains. I agree this can be a problem. Further, lower volume training may neglect two primary drivers of muscle growth: metabolic stress and muscular damage.
Metabolic stress, known to bros the world over as the pump, is the buildup of hydrogen ions, creatinine, and other metabolites that build up when blood can’t escape muscles during your sets.
Muscle damage, which further triggers anabolic signaling for growth, is limited due to a total body focus. Since muscle damage can impact your ability to train major muscle groups frequently, too much damage and soreness jeopardizes your ability to train regularly.
By now you’re thinking, “total body splits sounds terrible for muscle growth.” Consistency and proper planning will overcome all the potential problems. You can achieve massive size and strength gains, without living in in the gym. Here’s how.
Solution: Vary your rep ranges
While 6-12 reps per set is the optimal range for building muscle, it’s not the only rep range you should use. For lifters trying to build muscle, a multifaceted approach is best. Incorporate the following rep ranges into your training.
Heavy strength or explosive rep ranges
In weaker lifters or gym newbs, training for strength stimulates muscle growth. These folks need a foundation of strength before hopping into any hypertrophy-focused program.
For experienced lifters, strength drives hypertrophy by increasing muscle fiber recruitment and work capacity. That’s why it makes sense to activate as many fibers as possible so they’re ready to roll with higher rep ranges.
In time, greater strength maximizes muscle fiber recruitment while allowing you to train with more volume and heavier weights to stimulate mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscular damage.
Rep Ranges: 5×5, 4×5, 5×3, 4×3, 5×5-4-3-2-1 all work well for time-limited lifters aiming to increase strength and size.
Classic hypertrophy rep ranges
Most literature and anecdotal evidence points to using a moderately heavy weight (60-80% 1-rm) and moderate rep ranges (6-12 reps) as ideal for maximizing gains. This is because moderate heavy weights aid in maximizing tension, while longer duration sets and a higher volume triggers more metabolic stress and muscular damage to trigger hypertrophy.
If you’re strong and want to maximize muscle growth, it’s best to spend a majority of your time here.
Rep Ranges: 6×6, 4×8, 5×10, 4×12 are excellent rep ranges for building pure size.
High rep and finisher rep ranges
Finishers and long duration sets (12-25+ reps) kick-start muscle growth because they create massive amounts of metabolic stress. Equally important, they’re a test of your grit and show you how hard you’re actually working. Many lifters work under the false premise that they’re working hard…when in all reality they’re going through the motions.
It’s said success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If you’re not progressing as you should, your program might not be the problem.
It might be your level of effort. Make up your mind to change that and pour every ounce into your reps. No program will work unless you do.
Which is a fancy way of saying man up.
Finishers add the “mental grit” and challenge affect needed to lock into your training and maximize your efforts.
Rep Ranges: 3×20, 2×25, drop sets, timed sets of 45+ seconds, or try these squat challenges.
Sample Total Body Workout With Arms Specialization.
- Monday: Day One
- Tuesday: Optional Conditioning
- Wednesday: Day Two
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Day Three
- Saturday: (Optional) Day Four + Conditioning
- Sunday: Off
Day One: Pull
1a. Deadlift (any type); 2×5 warm-up; 4×4; rest two minutes
2a. Close Grip Chin Up 4×6, 6,8,10; rest 90-120 seconds
3a. Supinated Grip bent Over Row 3×8, rest 60-90 seconds
4a. Wide Grip Cable Row 3×12; 4-0-1 tempo, rest 30 seconds
4b. ½ kneeling pallof Press 3×6/side; 4-0-1 tempo, rest 40 seconds
5a. Cross body Hammer Curl x12
5b. Triceps Rope Push-Down x12
5c. Triceps Overhead Split Extension x12
Repeat circuit for 8 minutes, performing as many rounds as possible.
Day Two: Lower
1a. Box Jump 2×5 each; rest 30 seconds
1b. Elbow Tap 2×5 each; rest 30 seconds
2a. Squat (any type) 4×5; rest 120 seconds
3a. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge 2×8/each; rest 45 seconds
4a. Dumbbell Single Leg RDL 3×5/each; rest 0
4b. Single Leg Squat to Bench 3×5/each; rest 30 seconds
4c. Single Leg Hip Thrust 3×5/each; rest 30 seconds
5a. Barbell Biceps Curl 3×8; rest 45 seconds
5b. Dips 3×8; rest 45 seconds
Day Three: Push
1a. Barbell Close Grip Bench Press Wave Loading 6-4-2; 6-4-2
Rest 60 seconds/between sets. 2-3 minutes after each wave.
2a. Dumbbell Seated Overhead Press 4×10, 8,6,20; 2-0-1 tempo, rest 60 seconds
3a. Dumbbell 1-1-2 Bench Press 3×8, 2-0-1 tempos, rest 90 seconds
4a. Side-to-side Inverted Row 3×5/side; rest 30 seconds
4b. Feet Elevated, Close Grip Push-Up x10; rest 30-60 seconds
5a. Incline Dumbbell (or EZ Bar) Curl 4×10,8,6,20; 3-0-1 tempo; rest 0 seconds
5b. EZ Bar Incline Skull Crushers 4 x 10,8,6,20; 3-0-1 tempo; rest 45 seconds
Day Four: Optional bonus day
The Rookie Complex: Pick a weight you can barbell curl for 6 reps. This is your weight for ALL exercises. Move fast between lifts, minimizing rest and pushing the tempo. Rest ONLY after all exercises have been complete.
- Hang Clean 3×6
- Deadlift 3×12
- Military Press 3×12
- Front Squat 3×12
Rest 60-90 sec.
Most lifters follow training splits they can’t do consistently. And anyone in the gym who knows anything will tell you long-term consistency and progressive overload are the two of the most important factors for building a strong and jacked body.
You have enough stress before fitness. It’s time to do less, but better.
It’s time for a workout that meets your goals and your busy schedule–with these tweaks, total body workouts are your answer.
McCallum, John, and Randall J. Strossen. The Complete Keys to Progress. Nevada City, CA: IronMind Enterprises, 1993. Print. page 73
Schoenfeld, Brad. “The Mechanisms of Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24.10 (2010): 2857. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.