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|Why You Probably Can Do Full Body Workouts Better Then You Think
Popular opinion says that full body workouts are not the best for size and strength gain in the long run. Many people will argue that full body workouts can be used with extremely low rep ranges in order to develop strength, but few people agree that they can be used for size or strength. The two most common cited reasons are that it would be to tough to perform more than a couple large compound movements in any session, and that full body workouts are hard to program correctly.
The first problem most people cite with full body workouts is the difficulty of using multiple large compound movements in each session. Most people look at movements such as the squat and deadlift and determine that they would be impossible to do in the same session. Another example would be doing the bench press, the seated shoulder press, and the barbell row. Of course doing exercises of this magnitude 4-6 days a week would probably be overkill. However, most people do not stick to only the big basic exercises. Many people alternate between basic exercises such as the squat and bench press, and accessory exercises such as the lunge and triceps overhead extension.
When designing a program utilizing full body workouts there is no reason not to include the same exercises you would in a normal split routine. For example instead of doing a major back exercise everyday you could use major and minor exercises. For example on a normal back day on a split routine a trainee might perform deadlifts, dumbbell rows, pull-downs, shrugs and reverse flys. Instead of cramming all of these back exercises into one day you can split them up over your 4-6 days in the gym in order to spread out the volume for the back over the week. This is a far cry from the type of programming used in most full body routines that rely on only the biggest exercise. By allowing for the inclusion of some smaller supporting exercises you can work all the body in many different ways while repeatedly providing stress to all the bodies muscles throughout the week. This approach prevents against burnout while allowing for a relatively higher intensity of work throughout the week.
A normal full body workout stresses the muscles of the body in the same way over and over throughout the week. This makes sense for athletes like Olympic weightlifters who are trying to train very specific movements. However, for a bodybuilder that is trying to elicit the largest training effect, this approach does not make sense. Anyone looking for physique enhancement should try to balance muscle stimulation and recovery. In this way it makes sense to use a few different movements to target each muscle. This allows you to get a greater level of overall stimulation without developing overuse injuries or other issues from too many repeated movements. In addition it allows you to give all of the muscles that support the bigger lifts more direct stimulation. The only part of a traditional bodybuilding split you should try to avoid is getting all your volume for one muscle group in one day.
Spreading out the work for each muscle group throughout the week is the easiest way to avoid programming problems so common to full body workouts. People look at a full body workout and assume they would have to be in the gym for 3 hours to give their body a sufficient workout. If they were attempting to annihilate each muscle group like so many trainees do this would be the case. However, in this case you will be hitting the same muscle group via a related exercise 4-5 times in one week. This makes the stimulus for strength and hypertrophy more even throughout the week, and prevents the need to destroy a muscle in each workout. Not only do you not want to destroy the muscles, but it would actually be counterproductive. Overtaxing an individual muscle or your body’s central nervous system will cause diminishing gains and eventually regression.
In order to continue making progress you need to make sure that you are coming into your workouts relatively fresh. This is one of the main reasons you cannot use the highest magnitude lifts during every day of the week. If you work squats and deadlifts every day you will most likely get worse at the lifts over time. In this case I am considering the lifts being used as part of 4-6 rep or 5-7 rep sets where the trainee is hitting positive failure in that rep range. Additionally I am talking about 2-4 sets for each exercise. This rep range would without a doubt cause burnout if used on the highest magnitude lifts every day. Even Olympic weightlifters who train the same movements multiple times in a day will generally only do so for the dynamic movements that are very technically complex such as the clean and the snatch. This has more to do with practicing a specific load then it does with eliciting a training effect from the body. Our aim with splitting up a normal bodybuilding split is to elicit a training effect from the body, and therefore requires careful exercise selection throughout the week.
In order to program for full body workouts you simply need to keep volume and intensity constant. You do this by starting out with the same exercises, sets, reps, and days in the gym. The only change you make is that you mix up the exercises for the body parts. Unlike mainstream bodybuilding workouts, this approach focuses on the weight used during each set. In this approach the exercises for each body part are split up and each set is like its own workout. For example, instead of performing a normal chest day with flat bench, incline bench, dumbbell bench, and dips, you could do flat bench on your first workout day of the week, incline bench on your second workout day of the week ect… There is no need to change your rest days, or the amount of time you spend in the gym. By splitting up exercises you advance by continually progressing in weight on your exercises throughout the week. You will not be performing multiple exercises for the same muscle group in an individual workout, so your muscles will be relatively fresh.
Using the above examples you can design an unlimited amount of high frequency full body workouts. Holding volume and exercise selection constant allows you to avoid the problems associated with most high volume and high frequency workouts.
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