All of us want to get stronger. Whether we're CrossFitters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, weightlifters or just someone trying to live long and prosper, adding muscle mass to our frames is important. In fact, lean body mass is one of the most important variables in predicting longevity as we age.
And, if our goal is to add muscle mass, we need to get stronger over time. The most efficient and potent way to increase strength is through compound lifts that recruit many muscle fibers simultaneously.
However, if you're like the average gym goer, you tend to think about strength and muscle mass as it pertains to individual muscle groups. Many people when putting together training plans for themselves use some variation of a split body part routine. The below example highlights a typical five day split routine.
- Monday: Chest and Back
- Tuesday: Biceps and Triceps
- Wednesday: Legs (Sike! Never do legs, just more bench press)
- Thursday: Back and Shoulders
- Friday: Chest and Core
There is a time and a place to isolate specific body parts — mostly when triaging a specific weakness or rehabbing an injury —but too many people take this approach for their general training. The result is less than optimal development of strength and muscle mass, which often leads to sustained plateaus.
Why does focusing on specific body parts lead to inferior results?
Because your body doesn't function via isolated muscle contractions, rather it functions through general movement patterns. We squat down to sit, bend over to pick something up, press things over our heads and pull our bodies up and over obstacles. These movement patterns require many muscle groups to work together to complete a task. As a result, it makes much more sense to design our training around movement patters versus body parts.
What are the big movement patterns of the body? In total their are six.
- Swings / Carrries
To maximize strength, mobility and longevity, it's important to create appropriate structural balance between all these movement patterns. So, a better way to design your training might look like:
- Monday: Squat / Push / Core
- Tuesday: Hinge / Pull / Swing
- Wednesday: Squat / Push / Core
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Hinge / Push / Core
- Saturday: Squat / Pull / Carry
In terms of structural balance, we get the following breakdown:
- Push: 3x
- Pull: 2x
- Squat: 3x
- Hinge: 2x
- Core: 3x
- Swings / Carrries: 2x
For new trainees, the routine can be simplified further to just a three times per week routine where you do all the movement patterns each session.
- Monday: Full Body (all movement patterns)
- Tuesday: Off
- Wednesday: Full Body (all movement patterns)
- Thursday: Off
- Friday: Full Body (all movement patterns)
As coaches, we know most of our clients aren't too interested in the details of program design. Many are just interested in the results — looking and feeling better overall. But, hopefully this article gives you a small peak into how we go about designing our training programs to create responsible and effective training protocols that get you sustained results.