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Split Routines For Ultimate Growth.

By Lorne Goldenberg BPE, CSCS, ART

Over the years, there have been a plethora of ideas and views, with regard to the optimal mix of muscle groups in bodybuilding programs. Each author generally stating that their way is THE way to mix muscle groups for bodybuilding programs. In many cases some of these programs will work for just about anyone, FOR A WHILE. Then mysteriously the gains disappear, as fast as one of Batman's arch enemies robbing the Gotham City National Bank of Muscle.

Choosing the right muscle combination to work together, is just like a good relationship. It feels great at first, and if you really click you know you have the right person. If you have chosen the wrong mate, then the good feelings that you initially experienced are gone. With regards to muscle, there are very good reasons for this to happen. Initially when you implement something new, your body will generally adapt in a positive way, that being increased strength (nervous system adaptation), then growth. But in time when your gains disappear it may be the result of overtraining, that is overtraining by having too much muscle crossover from one workout to the other. A basic example would be doing a heavy back day with lots of pulls, followed by a day of arm flexor work. If you follow something like this you will soon run out of gas, and could lead to an overuse injury. Does tendonitis ring a bell with anyone?

The frequency of training is greatly affected by the type of muscle mass you are working. It has been observed that forearm extensors returned to initial strength and isometric endurance levels faster than leg and hip extensors after heavy loading (1) It has also been suggested that the order of recovery from average loading (5x10 @ 70% of 1 rm) is first, upperbody, second, leg extensors, and third, lower back. This order of recovery means that training days that markedly stress the lower back should be followed by rest or light training days. Furthermore, upper body training may be performed more often without overtraining(1). To most experienced bodybuilders this finding should come as to no surprise, and this will have an impact as to how you design you body part work for each day. This will be discussed later in this article. There is an underlying reason for this occurrence, and this has to do with the fiber makeup of these muscle groups. The one problem I hear from lifters, and bodybuilders is that their back is always sore, or tight. The reason for this is that these muscles are made up of primarily slow twitch muscle. They are used to working for long periods of time as postural muscles. So when you overload them with heavy resistance, in addition to being indirectly worked, as a result of an unbalanced program too often, the result can be injury and or overtraining.

The above point is even of more importance to the eager novice lifter. Most of you have seen them, first time in the gym, new shoes, new shirts with the cut off arms, and brand new gloves to protect their hands. Well, these people need even more time for recovery. They have not made the training adaptations that result from the stress of lifting, and they do not recover like experienced lifters. If you are inexperienced and you go into the gym with a new 3 day split routine, you are headed for a very sore body and probably into an overtraining state (1). The basis of this idea is right before your eyes. If you have been lifting for a number of years, you will have noticed that over time you have been able to increase your volume and load. This was done by increasing the number of days you have trained, the sets, and for the advanced lifter multiple workouts in each day.

There has been research to indicate that for novice lifters, a whole body workout may be as appropriate as a split routine(2). This study used college aged women with no weight training experience. Group 1 did a whole body workout twice a week, Group 2 performed a split routine (upperbody one day, lower body the other) 4 days per week. The length of the study was 20 weeks, with a 2 week break after week 10. The results indicated that for untrained, college aged women, body fat percentage, strength, and lean body mass improvements were similar with no statistical difference. The moral of this story again is that for the rookie lifters, go easy at first with the volume. You can achieve good results by progressing slowly. The potential for overtraining is much greater with a split routine early in training.

Now that we have taken a look at the science between splits, and recovery ability of certain muscles, lets examine some classic splits, and muscle combinations, that are common, as well as their inherent potential problems.

COMBINATION 1 THREE WORKOUTS PER BODY PART (3)

MON/THUR
TUE/FRI
WED/SAT
Abdominals
Abdominals
Abdominals
Chest
Upper Back
Thighs
Shoulders
Bicep
Lower Back
Triceps
Forearms
Forearms
Calves
Neck
Calves

This program is obviously for an advanced lifter, calling for workouts 6 days a week. There are a number of problems with this program. The first one being the volume. Unless your urine is very expensive, I do not think that even the experienced bodybuilder could handle this volume. If the intent was to only perform 1 exercise per body part, then this type of program may be acceptable. I do not think that was the intention when this split was designed by the authors.

The next problem with this prescribed split is the amount of work for the abdominals, calves and forearms. Abdominals are like any other kind of muscle, they need to be fatigued and given an opportunity to work. 6 days a week for abs will overtrain this muscle. The abdominals are important because they do not only look good when they are developed, one of their functions is too help stabilize the pelvis. You will develop a dysfunctional stabilizer if they are worked 6 days a week. Calves and forearms are predominately slow twitch muscles, and as reported earlier, although the arms recover quite quickly, there is too much crossover with the pulling exercises for the back. This will lead to tendonitis in the forearm flexors.

Another point to consider with a 6 day split is the length of workout. It would be very difficult to get out of the gym in under 2 hours with the above prescribed program. This has hormonal consequences, that being your cortisol - testosterone balance. Testosterone peaks at about 45 minutes into an intense workout, with a corresponding progressive increase in cortisol, which will suppress your testosterone level. It has been suggested that increased cortisol levels are due to physical stress, this includes weight training(4). Now if you are training too long, or too often in a week, because of a poor split routine you can be undermining your goals. You should work towards finishing your training in an intense 45-60 minutes.

COMBINATION 2 THREE WORKOUTS ONE DAY OFF (5)

DAY ONE
DAY TWO
DAY THREE
Legs
Chest
Shoulders
Glutes
Biceps
Back
Triceps
Forearm
Traps
 
Forearms
Abdominals

This split is much improved to the previous one. There is a rest day after every third workout. The volume for each day is also lower. The problem with this program is the arrangement of the muscle groups. On day 1 you would work your triceps, then on day 2 you would try to do a chest workout. Do you think it is possible to effectively work your chest after blasting you triceps the day before? The answer is no! There are too many pressing exercises that require fresh triceps. The same can be said as you move from day 2 to day 3 with regard to your bicep and back. Your arms will be too tired to effectively work your back.

All I have been doing to this point is criticizing programs from bodybuilding books, but I do have a suggestion for you with regard to what I consider optimal methods of muscle combinations. I have used the following example with many professional athletes and bodybuilders with great success. The key to optimal muscle growth is recovery time between workouts. It is generally during the off days that a muscle group will regenerate and become stronger and bigger. The following example is one that I have found to be optimal with regard to loading and recovery, so you can get huge! Without becoming chronically fatigued.

5 DAY CYCLE PROGRAM (6)

DAY ONE
DAY TWO
DAY THREE
DAY FOUR
DAY FIVE
Pecs
Legs
OFF
Deltoids
OFF
Lats
Lower Back
Shoulder Rotators
Traps
Abdominals
Rhomboids
Biceps
Triceps

The idea of this program was presented at a Charles Poliquin Seminar(6), and it addressed all of the concerns previously outlined in this article. This split will provide you with 2 days off every 5 days. There is literally no muscle crossover from one workout to the next. As you can see each day provides a scheme whereby the agonist and antagonist is worked on the same day. This allows for supersetting of opposite muscle groups, which will provide you with a very intense complete workout. Additionally the volume of work will also allow the advanced user to train twice a day, on the same muscle groups if so desired. Two workout per day training should only be performed for short periods of time, i.e. 6-10 workouts at varying times throughout the training year.

If you are devising your own program or you are training a client, you must consider a number of factors in your plan. They include: Are the components of your workout schedule suitable? Will the muscle group combinations overlap from one day to the other? Are you getting enough rest so you can GROW? Remember that science can make you bigger than you ever imagined, if you use it right.

Lorne Goldenberg BPE, CSCS, CFA, ART is the owner of Strength Tek Fitness Consulting in Ottawa, Ont. He has been an NHL strength coach for over 10 years, and can be contacted for consultations or seminars though his web site at www.strengthtek.com

References

  1. Stone M., O'bryant H. Weight Training: A Scientific Approach, 1987, Minneapolis Min. Bellewether Press P 141.
  2. Sale D. et al. 1994 Comparison of whole and split weight training routines in young women. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology Vol 19#2 P185-199
  3. Grymkowski P. 1984 The Golds Gym Training Encyclopedia Chicago, Illinois. Contemporary Books Inc. P8.
  4. Bell G. et al. 1997 Effect of strength training and concurrent strength and endurance training on strength, testosterone, and cortisol. NSCA-JSCR Vol. 11#1 P57-64
  5. Gold J. Kennedy R. The World Gym Muscle Building System 1987 Chicago, Illinois. Contemporary Books Inc. P30
  6. Poliquin C. 1996 Strength Training with Charles Poliquin -Handout from clinic, personal conversation.

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