You may not believe it, but I don’t really initiate conversations about exercise. Talking about exercise in public is akin to talking about politics; everyone is an expert, with their stories of cursed or blessed metabolisms, hot yoga and P90X, and rigorous or ridiculous exercise programs. Sure, I love talking about training, but it’s not like I walk around with a big sign over my head that says, “Let’s chat about chin-ups!” * Admittedly, I do have this shirt from Lift Big Eat Big, but I only wear it when lifting or eating steak:
From time to time, I’ll run into somebody that really wants to tell me about how hard they train. Maybe they’re excited about a new program that they follow, or want feedback on something that they’ve put together themselves, or want a nice ego boost. I’ve become used to this game of one-upmanship that comes out, which typically includes:
Them: “Yo, I lift everyday!”
Me: “Awesome. Good for you.”
Based on the conversation and who I’m talking to, this is either a genuine response or an implied “Are you friggin kidding me?!” For some, the immediate mental boost is more important than them hearing that they’re internet programming mash-up needs some improvement. I find that the average fitness fanatic tends to go overboard with their programming, with daily training that tends to follow an old-school body-part split, with frequency that is too low but training volume that is too high.
The every-day trainee is victim of the “the more the better” approach. Training three times a week is good? I’ll do six. 4 exercises for my upper body is good? I’ll do 8. Now I don’t have time, so I’ll just do arms today. Awesome. Let’s get huge.
Before I go on, let me say that I am a fan of a well-written high(er) frequency training program, but that’s not what most people are doing at the gym everyday. I’m writing this with the following style of training in mind:
- Monday – Chest and Abs
- Tuesday – Shoulders
- Wednesday – Quads and Hamstrings
- Thursday – Arms and Abs
- Friday – Back
- Saturday – Calves and Abs
- Sunday – Tanning, Laundry… and Abs.
Sure, this approach is well intentioned, but unless you’re a genetically gifted professional body builder with pharmaceutical help, it’s not going to be the best thing for you. I’ve written before that I ‘m a fan of sweating everyday, as well as that lifting everyday isn’t the best idea. Let me explain why.
The body part split, such as the 6-days-per-week one that I made up above, probably neglects using body-weight and external load and developing strength through out the entire body. A good deal of exercises are likely to be single joint exercises, such as pec flies, bicep curls, and calve raises. These will be done in higher volumes, which will beat up joints and connective tissue. The effects of that stress are considered secondary to the wicked sweet pump that training produces. Every 6’2″, 150lb “hard gainer” is going to think they’re growing when they do bicep curls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that well.
Equating frequent training with hard training is a common mistake, and I find it leads to sub-par results for most trainees. Instead of trying to lift every day, lift smarter. Depending on your schedule and training age, I find that 2-4 weekly strength training sessions are the most appropriate, following either full-body workouts or an upper-lower split. These workouts should focus on movement competency with body weight patterns and compound movements using external load. This includes squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, push-ups, inverted rows, lunges, planks, etc. You know, the good stuff. Instead of a body part split, what about something like this:
- Monday – Full Body, Pulling Emphasis
- Tuesday – Go walk your dog
- Wednesday – Full Body, Pushing Emphasis
- Thursday – Conditioning, such as hill sprints
- Friday – Make your significant other dinner!
- Saturday – Full Body, Pulling Emphasis
- Sunday – Yoga or a walk in the park
Perhaps you’re more advanced, and would prefer to follow an upper/lower split. It might look like this:
- Monday – Recovery work
- Tuesday -Lower, (Linear speed, front squat/conventional deadlift, etc.)
- Wednesday – Upper, Vertical emphasis
- Thursday – Conditioning, such as hill sprints
- Friday – Friday night date night
- Saturday – Lower, (Lateral speed, sumo squat/deadlift, etc.)
- Sunday – Upper, Horizontal emphasis
Whether you decide on full body workouts or a movement based split, you’ll likely be training smarter than those who are using an old-school body part split approach. You’ll focus on ‘big’ compound movements, and use more muscle in each workout. This will have beneficial effects on your strength levels and metabolism. With proper nutrition, this can lead to increased muscle mass, reduced body fat, or the mythical improvements in both. Regardless of what you’re training for, remember: “Move well. Get strong. Crush the competition.”
*That would probably make a great T-shirt.