Bodypart Splits

Build Muscle: Top 5 MUSTS!

How is it some build muscle with, seemingly, little to no effort? Putting meat on the bones comes easy for some: they’ll do a couple curls and drink a glass of milk then BAM, they’re swole.  For the rest of us, it can feel like we have to grind and suffer day in and day out for an ounce or two of muscle.  The methods used and the advice given can sometimes become overwhelming.

Do this program... “Take these supplements... Eat 22.75 grams of protein every 76 minutes... Train each bodypart once every ten days.”

Sometimes you’ll hear fitness experts give advice that can be contradictory or confusing, or just plain unreasonable for you and your lifestyle.

Amongst the sea of information on the quest for building muscle out there, here are my top five tips for beefing up.

1. Make Strength a Priority

If your goal is purely to build muscle and you couldn’t care less about your deadlift max, that’s great!  Good for you, and to each their own.  However, understand that as you get stronger you can increase the muscle building stimulus by utilizing greater loads.  We know we need time under tension via resistance training to stimulate growth, but if you continue using the same loading schemes over a period of time your body will eventually adapt and the stimulus dies.

How do we avoid this?  Focus on getting stronger!  Have a handful of “indicator lifts” to use to track progress.  These lifts are ideally big compound lifts that you strive to become stronger in.  Personally I use the the biggie compound exercises: back squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press to track my progress in strength.  Other good options to use are any squat exercise variation (front, box, goblet), push-ups, pull-ups, single leg movements, row exercise variations, prowler work, or farmer’s walks.  Heck, if your goal is to grow enormous biceps focus on getting stronger at the curl.

The point is we want to look back at our own records after months and years pass and see that we are capable of throwing more weights around.  If you make awesome improvements in strength over a significant length of time I’d be willing to bet that you’ve made progress in your lean body mass as well.

2. Volume

This is where we see a big difference in the typical comparison of how a bodybuilder trains versus how a powerlifter By joining a RED franchise, you could earn in excess of ?1,300 more per year than at other national truck driving schools – and significantly more than if you choose to operate as an independent instructor. trains.  The bodybuilder, whose primary goal is to build muscle, will utilize a ton of volume into their training.  A bodybuilder"s workout for his (or her) chest may do something along the lines of the following:

Bench Press


DB Incline Press


DB Flyes


Pec Deck


The powerlifter, on the other hand, may work up to a heavy single on the bench, do a few sets of rows and go home.

Now this is a very simplified comparison of the two training disciplines but you get the message: if mass is your goal, you need more volume in your workouts.

More volume, however, does NOT necessarily mean that you have to be lifting in the 10-20 range for each exercise.  If you did that, you’d be sacrificing too much tension to get those reps in.  Try some different set x rep schemes that will allow for significant volume with moderately heavy weight.  7 sets of 4, 5 sets of 5, and 4 sets of 6 are all good options, especially for your “main movement” of the day.

3. Eat Better

This is a problem for a lot of younger athletes that stay very active year-round.  You need food to live, and you need food for energy, but you need even MORE food to build muscle.

Be honest with yourself!  You want to be bigger and stronger but all you had for breakfast was… nothing?!  Re-think that strategy.

The nutritional side of muscle gain is underestimated too often, and it needs to be a consistent effort everday.  If you eat like an infant all week, but binge at a Chinese buffet on Saturday it doesn’t count.  Eat a lot of good food every single day.

Sometimes it’s not an issue of eating enough food, but eating enough of the right foods.  A diet consistent with cookies and cokes probably won’t be the key to building a big strong body that you work so hard for.

Keep a food log and make sure you’re eating right.  If your still confused and overwhelmed, just have Kelsey analyze your diet and she’ll tell you everything you’re doing wrong.

4. Aim for a Horomonal Response

Your hormones are the key to growth.  Without them we’d be nothing.  No need to go into a complex physiology lesson right now, but here are some quick tips you should keep in mind.

Testosterone: Stimulated by lifting heavy weights.  Hit it hard and heavy, and get adequate rest between sets.

Human Growth Hormone: Stimulated by moderate weights, higher volume and lower rest periods.

Cortisol: Evil. Catabolic stress hormone that doesn’t want you to gain muscle.  Keep it low by getting enough sleep and doing whatever helps you de-stress your life.

5. Be Aggressive!

Building muscle takes hard work and focus.  You can’t just casually hit the gym once every couple of weeks and expect huge gains.  Lift and eat with a purpose, and be stubbornly consistent.  If you hit a plateau, change something up and keep grinding.

Make your goal important, and put in the necessary effort it takes to make it happen!

Is Direct Arm Work Necessary for Sculpted Arms?

Today we're going to step a bit away from the athletic performance side of things and touch a toe into the aesthetic department (or vanity, depending on who you ask).

A question that I'm continually asked, by females and males alike, is whether or not direct arm work is necessary to obtain a set of defined arms (for females) or bigger gunz (for males).

Before I continue, allow me to provide the Cliff Notes version of my answer: Direct arm work (or isolation exercises) will not be the difference maker in one's quest for tickets to the gun show. But it can have a time and place. 

Moving on....When it comes to direct arm training, people tend to fall into two camps:

#1. "You don't need any direct arm work to develop a head-turning set of arms. All you need to do is squat and deadlift, and your biceps will grow."

#2. "You need to do copious volumes of direct arm training. One full day dedicated to biceps, another entire day for triceps, baby."

The answer, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. While I'd love to say that #1 is true across the board (I personally find direct arm training quite boring), I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you all you need to do is squat to make your arms grow. This will hopefully be the case in heaven, but I'm afraid a bit more is needed for us earth-dwelling folk.

For the majority, a healthy dose of pulling and pressing heavy, vertically and horizontally,  coupled with a sound nutrition regimen, is going to be all that is required during the first couple years of training to watch your arms develop. After you're consistent (three days on, thirty days off doesn't count), then I'd venture to say that a few sets of curls and pressdowns here and there won't hurt things.


After all, you're biceps are going to be involved in any "pulling" exercise (rows, pullups, pulldowns), and your triceps are going to be involved in any "pressing" exercise (pushups, bench press, military press, etc.).

Using a quick example, and at the risk of sounding extremely pompous and foolhardy, I've decided to use myself as a personal testimony to the value of foregoing direct arm training in favor of sticking to compound movements (presses, pulls, squats, deadlifts, and loaded carries). For over three yearsnow, I have performed zero dedicated isolation arm work during my training sessions. Zip. Zilch. Nadda.

Below is a picture I snapped just yesterday.

But before we get to that, you didn't think I could remain serious during a picture of myself flexing, did you? No. I tried, to be honest, but I couldn't take myself seriously giving an arm pose for the camera; you can peruse the innumerable Facebook profile pictures and forums of the boy population to see some of those.

So I decided to spice it up a bit. Ladies and gentlemen, meet my Animagus form, Mr. Bananas. I only partially transformed to illustrate my point:

Mr. Bananas flex
Mr. Bananas flex

Now, before all the internet warriors jump in from the confines of their basement computers, let me be the first to admit that I don't consider my arms at all impressive. Are there countless individuals out there with bigger arms than me? Of course. Could my arms be "bigger" or "more defined" if I did include direct arm training into my programming? Probably.

My point that I haven't obsessed over direct arm training for well over a few years, but instead focused on simply training consistently: Pushing things around, pulling things around, carrying heavy objects to and fro on a daily basis, and eating accordingly in order to fuel these activities.  And what do you know, my arms have still grown somewhat.

Which brings me to my central points:

Mindset, Priorities and Consistency

1. Mindset

You can walk in to any gym and immediately notice those who have a winning mindset vs. a losing mentality. Those with winning mindsets are training with conviction and purpose, attacking everything from their warm-ups to their working sets like they mean it.

Take those who train with conviction and have lazer-like focus during their ENTIRE time in the gym (no matter if they're doing something as simple as a band pullapart vs. something as complex as a clean+jerk), and compare them with those who lollygag through some curls to pump up before hitting the bars on Friday night, and I don't think I need to explain myself any further.

It's common knowledge that mindset is key with regards to relationships, handling finances, and one's profession; how you go about achieving results in the gym is no different.

2. Priorities

If one only has thirty minutes a day to dedicate to keeping themselves healthy, then obviously he or she should prioritize something like squats, deadlifts, or pullups before bicep curling, correct? You'd think this would be obvious, yes, but you'd be surprised (or maybe not) how many adults I've witnessed rushing into a commercial gym, clearly pressed for time, only to curl away in the mirror for twenty minutes before walking back out the door!

Look, I do recognize that I am biased, as I primarily work the athletic population, and the amount of direct arm work I give them is usually somewhere between 0-5% of their total training volume. (Keep in mind I'm NOT saying that athletes don't need to be doing direct arm work at all because it isn't "specific to their sport"; go ahead and slit the biceps tendon of a NFL running back and tell him to hold on tightly to the ball as he rushes upfield....)

But even if you're just someone who wants to look better: In the end, your choice of including or omitting isolation work for the arms isn't going to make or break your results. Whether you are male or female, prioritize the compound movements, and then treat direct arm work, if you get to it, as bonus material.

3. Consistency

Regarding consistency, you'll rarely notice any progress if you're spotty with your training sessions. The bodybuilders and gym rats who possess the largest and most defined arms did not arrive where they did because they've got the "perfect" or "secret" arm routine (or even steroids for that matter), but because they've been consistent day in and day out.

But what about.....

What about guys with longer arms that never seem to grow no matter what they do? A few sets of curls or tricep extensions at the end of your session could quite possibly help, but also note that there's a MUCH larger picture at hand (Hint: You need to eat more).

What about females that approach me, seeking to tone the backs of their arms? Sure, I may give them a few tricep pressdowns at the end of their session for the "feel" effect, but the results they end up obtaining primarily stem from their efforts in kitchen, and us helping them to focus on (and master) their rows, chinups, and pushups.

As an aside, I do recognize that genetics can play a big role here. For the males out there with long arms, or those of you that may be "skinny-fat ectomorphs," I usually give this recommendation: If you're going to do direct arm work, keep it to ten minutes or less at the end of your session. If and only if you have giving everything you have to the compound movements.

Heck, toss in a 60-second chinup, follow it up with 2 sets of 10-15 reps of EZ curls, and call it a day.

Anything over that won't necessary be doing you any good.

Closing Thoughts

1. When it comes to whether or not you should include direct arm training for better arm development, my answer is typically, "Ehhh, sure. But it's not going to be the deciding factor in your results (or lack thereof)."

2. Mindset, priorities, and consistency are the deciding factors for #1.

3. Remember: Everything you do has the potential to take away from the bang-for-your-buck exercises performed during the beginning of the training session. Your body only has a limited capacity to recover. Let the compound lifts - along with winning on the nutrition side of things - be the primary driving forces behind your tickets to the gun show.

4. Some of my reservations regarding direct arm training lie in the fact that I work with a very broad range of athletes and clientele. A lot of direct tricep work can utterly destroy "old man elbows," and too much direct bicep work for overhead athletes can wreck havoc on the shoulder. Also, I only have a limited time to work with those who train at SAPT (usually less time than that of your average gym rat) so I have to funnel out the things that don't provide the greatest return for investment. Direct arm training usually falls under that umbrella.

5. Yes, I'm an unregistered Animagus. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

6. I apologize to those of you non-nerds who didn't understand #5.

Basic Speed Development Program

The overwhelming request we get almost daily: Do you guys do speed training?

My answer: Hellz YES!

In an effort to compliment my running related warnings over at from earlier today, I wanted to take this post to another level and get all geeked-out over some real-deal sprint training.You gotta present both sides of the coin, ya know?

While I've termed this post as "basic speed development," please DO NOT confuse that for BEGINNER speed development. There's a big difference. This sample program is for someone who has at least a year of regimented general training under their belt that is heavy on both sprint and weight training fundamentals.

Without further delay...

Basic Speed Development Program

  • Day 1 - Starts, Speed, & Total Body Lift with Lower Body Emphasis
  • Day 2 - Tempo Run
  • Day 3 - Special endurance & Total Body Lift with Upper Body Emphasis
  • Day 4 - Tempo Run
  • Day 5 - Starts, Speed Endurance, Long jump/triple jump Technique (at high intensity and include as overall daily volume), & Total Body Lift (even split)
  • Day 6 - Tempo Run
  • Day 7 - Rest


  1. Keep your intensity above 90% or below 65%! The in-between work is trash for developing true speed and will only increase the likelihood for injury, while decreasing the chance for improvements.
  2. Avoid the pitfalls of starting with high volume and low intensity. Rather begin with HIGH INTENSITY and LOW VOLUME. Then gradually increase volume while keeping the intensity high.

Sample Program Details:Monday - Speed Work: 2 x 3 x 20-30m accelerations (rest at least 4-minutes between reps); Med Ball Throws @ 6-10lbs: Squat to Overhead Push Throw x 6-8 + Keg Toss x 6-8 (at least 1-minute rest between each throw, we're after MAX EFFORT with every single toss/throw); Weights: Total body lift with lower body emphasis; Core: 100 reps (choose whatever floats your boat) Tuesday - Tempo Run: 8-12 x 100m (easy, basically a fast jog) + complete 10-20 V-Ups (or whatever core work you prefer) between each run - use the runs as the recovery between the V-ups Wednesday - Special Endurance: 2 x 150-300m with 20-25 min recovery; during the recovery (every 7-8 mins) do some light tempo runs, body weight calestenics, core, etc. the goal here is to simply stay warm during the break; Weights: Total body with upper body emphasis; Core: 200 reps (choose whatever floats your boat) Thursday - Tempo Run: Similar to Tuesday Friday - Speed Work: 2 x 3 x 20-30m accelerations (rest at least 4-minutes between reps); Med Ball Throws @ 6-10lbs: Squat to Slam x 6-8 + Falling Forward Chest Throw to Sprint x 6-8 (at least 1-minute rest between each throw, we're after MAX EFFORT with every single toss/throw); Weights: Total body lift (even split); Core: 100 reps (choose whatever floats your boat) ***After several weeks, longer sprints (50-60m) can be added to the speed workouts on Mondays and Fridays.

Good luck, may the Force be with you...

Get it? Force...

...I already said I was getting geeked-out over this one, so I think that was a pretty solid joke.

Q & A: Training for Mass vs. Power

Q: My first question is a classic one: how do the training programs of a body-builder and a "strongest man" competitor differ? In short--mass vs power. And why does the body-builder appear stronger than, for instance, the **German who clean and jerked 565lbs for his deceased wife? Ive heard so many different theories on this stuff...

A. First of all, for those of you reading who haven't seen the video referenced in the question, please see below. Doing so will automatically raise your testosterone levels by 150% (don't worry ladies, you can still benefit as there's a romantic side to the story).

It's important to note that:

A) Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters ("O-lifters") each care about one thing: the maximal amount of weight they can move for the FEW key lifts in their respective competitions (squat/bench/dead for powerlifters, and clean+jerk/snatch for O-lifters). Their end goal is to find the most efficient way to move the weight through the desired range. For example, powerlifters often create a huge arch in their back during a bench press so they don't have to move the bar as far up and down, and O-lifters learn to keep the bar as close to their body as possible so it doesn't "arc" out in front of them.

B) Bodybuilders, on the other hand, also only care about one thing, but it's entirely different: Aesthetics. Put another way, hypertrophy (hy-PUR-truh-fee), which simply means increasing the size of the muscle fibers.

(Note: Pardon me as the above points may seem very obvious, but it's important to note nonetheless.)

Training Differences

One could argue that the primary difference in training for these two respective goals (power vs. mass) comes down to the development of the nervous system. The German who clean+jerked 565lbs for his deceased wife trained his nervous system to "drive" the muscles to be able to contract+produce power as quickly and efficiently as possible. In an Olympic lifting context, this is typically done by moving sub-maximal weights at maximal speeds using low reps. An example of this would be executing power cleans for 5 sets of 2 reps at a weight than can be moved quickly and smoothly by the lifter. You can use this same principle with deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, too. In fact (as you may be well aware), many powerlifters use a high set/low rep at a low % to work on pure speed/power development. They are teaching their nervous systems to produce maximal force in as little time as possible. The faster one can do this, the more weight they can typically lift, or throw overhead.

Basically: you can become extremely "neurally efficient" without necessarily becoming big.

Heck, look at Tom Martin (180lbs) who set the world record for the deadlift in his weight class. He pulled 771lbs, yet appears wayyy less muscular than your average bodybuilder!

Let's briefly discuss training programs. If you take the program of a powerlifter and compare it to that of a bodybuilder, you'll immediately notice how much "simpler" the powerlifting program is compared to that of the bodybuilding program. Let's take a look at a sample "Leg Day:"



1)   Deadlift 5x2

2)   Glute-Ham Raise 3x8

*3)   Split Squat 3x10/side

4) Weighted Plank 3x :20


1)   Squat 4x10

2) Deadlift 5x5

3)   Leg Press 4x15

4a) Walking Lunges 4x10/side

4b) Seated Leg Extensions 3-4x10

5a) Lying Leg Curls 3-4x10

5b) Seated Calf Raise 3xInfinity

Elite-level powerlifters and Olympic lifters know how to "trim the fat" in order to do enough so that their main lift improves, but NOT so much to the point where their body has to recover from a bazillion supplementary exercises. This will depend on the lifter of course (some powerlifters find that their body responds to slightly more assistance work than others), but the common theme is that they do the minimum required to see their competition lifts improve.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, are known for their extremely voluminous training sessions, often spending 90-120 minutes in a single workout. They'll also do whatever it takes in their training to maximize how large their muscles grow, examples including (but not limited to):

-manipulating their form to maximize tension on a particular muscle

-using a slow tempo (during both the lowering AND lifting portion)

-using machines to isolate a muscle (taking that muscle's "helpers" out of the equation....ex. in a squat the hamstrings+glutes are still going to help the primary mover - the quads - do the lift....but in a leg extension machine you can isolate the quads to a much greater degree).

-"supersetting" exercises for the same muscle group (ex. walking lunges paired with seated leg extensions) to "exhaust" a particular muscle

-choosing lifts that take the muscle through a greater range of motion (ex. doing a dumbbell bench press instead of a barbell bench press)

-etc. etc. etc.

It's also shown that the higher rep/volume style of bodybuilding leads to development of what's called sarcoplastic hypertrophy, or, in laymen's terms, increasing the size of the non-contractile portions of the muscle cell (muscle cells have both contractile and non-contractile tissue within them). This is another method through which they can look very very big but not necessarily possess the strength of powerlifters.

An Important Caveat

The immediate conclusion most people draw from this is that if their goals strictly lie in the sphere of aesthetics, then they should train like bodybuilders with a very high volume, high repetition approach. Which leads me to this:

The two training methodologies aren't necessarily mutually exclusive of each other, ESPECIALLY when it comes to training for aesthetics. 

For example, my wife, Kelsey, earned her Pro Card in bodybuilding by primarily using a powerlifting-style approach in her training!

WBOW KelseyDoucette
WBOW KelseyDoucette

In fact, this is sometimes the biggest setback I see in people training solely for the goal of lookin' good: they aren't strong enough. I strongly feel that most people - even those with bodybuilding aspirations - should begin with (and continue to cycle in) "powerlifting'esque" training tools as many will be surprised at how much they grow simply by getting stronger on the compound lifts (squats, overhead presses, deadlifts, bench presses, chinups, etc.).

The "Illusion" of Bodybuilding

Alright, this is Q & A is already significantly more prolix than I was anticipating, so just one more point: Diet and creating an "illusion" are HUGE factors in making bodybuilders look bigger. Bodybuilders will diet down to insanely low bodyfat levels, and strategically manipulate their nutrition, to make themselves appear more "full" right before a competition. Not to mention, the spend hours practicing their poses in order to make their muscles appear larger than they actually are.

Going back to the example of my wife, many girls may look at the picture of her above and think "No way would I ever want to look manly and bulky like that!".

Guess what? Do you think that's how she looks walking around the street? Nope. Despite the fact that she has set American records in powerlifting (hint: she is very strong), she actually, *gasp,* looks very feminine, and sexy to boot, walking around day to day. The picture from her bodybuilding show is the result of very meticulous nutrient partitioning and hours of hard work practicing her poses and routines.

Here's a picture I found, via a quick desktop search, of us at a Lord of the Rings showing with a live orchestra. Which goes to say: bodybuilders don't look like they do on stage year-round.


And yes, the show was as cool as it sounds.

I bet if Matthias Steiner (the German O-lifter from the beginning) were to diet down to a very low bodyfat and manipulate his carbohydrate/water intake, he would look very, VERY muscular, too.

Another example: see the before/after photos of Dave Tate, a powerlifter who went on a "bodybuilding kick" and got his nutrition in order. I hope this helps prove my point.

Whew, anyway, I hoped this help elucidate some of the differences between training for mass vs. power. It was far from comprehensive (the topic can literally be discussed for days), but hopefully at least gets you started on the right track.

**On a side note: Matthias steiner should technically be considered one of the most powerful men in the world, as opposed to strongest - because he moves weight at a higher velocity - when compared to powerlifters who are some of the strongest people in the world. Kinda ironic how powerlifting actually involves moving heavy weights at a slow velocity, whereas Olympic lifting is all about moving it fast......

Trimming the Fat: Some of My Fastest Gains Ever

Every now and then I like to peruse my old training logs, peeking back in time to take a glimpse at what I was doing in the weight room; be it three months ago or three years ago. The other day I decided to flip through my logbook from college, and was suddenly reminded of the sudden, and dramatic, shift my training took at one point. You could call this my "Enlightenment," or, when I discovered that it was possible to accomplish more in less time. You see, for the first few years of college, I was following a classic bodybuilding split, utilizing tips I had picked up from the muscle mags and various personal trainers that crossed my path. I would work 1-2 body parts a day, training six days per week on the average. Each of these training sessions lasted about 90-120+ minutes, and I would utilize about 4-5 exercises per muscle group, performing 4-5 sets for each exercise. I'd incorporate just about every exercise I could think of, "attacking my muscles from all different angles" just like the magazines told me I needed to do. I was doing pretty well for myself, too: adding some muscle here, getting stronger there, maybe getting a new vein in my arm. *high five!*

After all, the more I could squeeze in, the better, right?

However, toward the end of junior year, I decided it was time to seriously investigate my training. This meant looking beyond the magazines in the grocery aisles, and seeing past what the majority of gym-goers were doing. To make a long story short, this is when I discovered some extremely valuable information and began reading from authors/strength coaches who actually knew their stuff. The strength coach for Virginia Tech was also extremely accommodating and patient with me, answering the endless slew of questions I incessantly threw at him as I first began to shadow his work with the athletic teams.

I suddenly realized that I didn't actually need to train 12 hours per week to become bigger or stronger. It was far from essential to do 25-30 exercises per week. It wasn't necessary to spend an entire day on one body part. And it wasn't required to perform countless drop sets and supersets of isolated delt, bicep, and tricep work to make my shoulders and arms grow. In fact, it turned out that a mere 20% of my efforts was responsible for 80% of my results. I became educated on the minimum effective dose, or, the minimal stimulus required to produce a desired outcome.

It was time to "trim the fat," so to speak, with my training. I wanted to test this for myself, to see if it was REALLY true. I mean, it's one thing to read about it, hear others talk about it, but it's a completely different bear to induce change upon YOURSELF, especially when there's a young ego at stake.

As such, I made up my mind to undergo a plan that would have me training no more than four days per week, and my sessions would be required to take no longer than an hour (excluding warm-up). Inspired by Alwyn Cosgrove, I decided to choose only two different workouts, and I would alternate between the two every time I set foot in the gym. I had a "Workout A" which was essentially lower body emphasis, and a "Workout B" which was upper body dominant. Here it is below:

Workout A (Lower Body)

Workout B (Upper Body)

A) Squat B) Deadlift C1) Bulgarian SplitSquat C2) Barbell Step-Up

A1) Incline DB Press A2) Seated Cable Row B1) DB Military Press B2) Pullup C1) Close-Grip Bench C2) Ab something

That was it. For six weeks, that is all I did.I would typically perform Workout A on Mondays and Thursdays, and Workout B on Tuesdays and Fridays. A method of undulating periodization was applied for the sets and reps each day.

And what do you know? My arms, shoulders, chest, and legs all continued to grow, despite the fact that I was I was training only four hours per week. This was one-third of the time I was spending in the gym all throughout high school and the first half of college. I had more free time, the workouts were surprisingly brutal (especially on the high rep squat days), I didn't constantly feel sore, and I was receiving an increasing number of the "So, what have YOUbeen doing?" or "What supplements have you been taking?" (<== lol) questions.

Now, there's no doubt that some of my gains can be attributed to the fact that I dialed in my nutrition further, and was actually deadlifting for the first time (in fact, I'd go so far as to say that deadlifting alone attributed to the majority of my gains). Also, one will almost always experience progress in one form or another when switching up the routine. However, there was no doubt that something was working.

In fact, things were working so well that I decided to enter a new eight-week cycle:

Workout A (Horizontal Push/Pull)

Workout B (Lower Body)

Workout C (Vertical Push/Pull)

A1) Bench Press A2) Bent-Over BB Row B1) Incline DB Press, Neutral Grip B2) Seated Cable Row

A) Snatch-Grip Deadlift B1) BB Forward Lunge B2) BB Step-Up C) Ab something

A1) BB Overhead Press A2) Pullup/Chinup B1) DB Arnold Press B2) Lat Pulldown

And the gains continued to come. I was stronger and leaner, I felt better, and, yet again, was accomplishing this in far less time that I had for the years prior.

An Important Note Were these "perfect" programs? Not at all. (Is there a such thing anyway??). In fact, looking back, there are quite a few obvious tweaks I would make. HOWEVER, at the time, I was trying my best to apply the principles I had learned in my research. And that's the important part.

Summing all this up, here are the take home points:

  • Less is more. You can nearly always accomplish the same, if not more, by trimming the fat in a training program. Water boiled at 100ºC is boiled. Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.
  • While the high volume bodypart split routines can work for the genetically elite, they often aren't the best choice for the majority of trainees (and, as a side note, certainly not athletes).
  • You don't need 6+ hours a week to get stronger, lose fat, or put some lean body mass on your frame.
  • When in doubt, choose exercises that are multi-joint over single-joint.
  • Deadlifts are awesome.

Bodypart Split Q & A

I received this question via email from a friend I had been helping out with some programming. I realized it would be best turned into a blog post, as his question can be quite a hot topic of debate. I do apologize in advance, as this blog post is a bit more geeky and *circumlocutious than other posts. So, for those of you interested in the video-based and picture-based entries, you may need to skip through a bunch of science to get to such things. My apologies.

*Yes, I used that word. It means "wordy." I learned it in a C.S. Lewis book club in college. Did I mention I'm cool? Anyway, moving on....

Question: I wanted to ask you if you could point me in the direction of any studies showing that training as you have shown [to me] is more effective in training strength, size, endurance...anything...when compared to bodypart split routines. I have some friends who insist that the only way to achieve mass/strength gains in your chest (for example) is to do 3x10 incline, 3x10 decline, 3x10 flat, 3x10 flies, etc. all one day a week (or the whole inverted pyramid with five sets where you start with 10 reps and end with 2-3).

I want to disprove them and convert them to this marvelous new's like a burning fire within me, but me saying things like "it makes more sense based on how you move on a daily basis or during sports", or "if you train your whole body three days a week it's ostensibly the same as doing 3-4 exercises per muscle group per day" doesn't cut it for them.

…coming from neuroscience/psychology I have very little understanding of general terminology for pubmed searches in exercise physiology and other such related fields which could be useful in disproving my friends. Just kind of looking for some 'pointing in the right direction', is all.

Answer: First things first, I don't necessarily think that bodypart splits are good for nothing. Most training methodologies can produce results given they are within the proper context and executed appropriately. My particular training philosophy is heavily influenced by the nature of my job, on top of the consistent results I've seen in my work. I don't necessarily think there is a 100% superior way of training, but I will share what I've found to work for the majority of people, the majority of the time.

Moving on, yes, I can point you to a few studies. However, I wouldn’t allow research to solely dictate your stance on this topic (or any other, for that matter), but more on that later. Here are two studies:

1. McLester et al., “Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal-Volume Resistance Training in Experienced Subjects” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 2000, 14(3), 273-281

This study compared the SAME volume of training per muscle per week (ex. 3 sets performed once per week, as you see in a typical split routine…Vs. 1 set performed three times per week.

Results: the one day per week group achieved only 62% of the strength improvements of the 3 day group and a lesser increase in muscle.

Take home point: This study showed that training a muscle three times per week resulted in significantly more lean body mass and strength gains compared to doing the same volume once per week (in other words, three sets, three times per week is a superior stimulus to nine sets performed once per week). Also, note that the subjects in this study were experienced lifters, which is an important point (with beginners, almost anything will elicit strength gains).

2. Wernbom et al., "The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans." Sports Medicine 2007; 37(3): 225-64. Review.

As you can see, this one is a review. What they did was looked at several studies on strength training and hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) across a bunch of populations.

Take home point: Their conclusion was that, for increasing muscle size, it’s better to train each muscle group three times per week, as opposed to once per week.

As for the rest of my answer, I’ll go ahead and make a list, as it will be a bit easier to follow:

A. Note that what these studies are basically saying is that FREQUENCY IS KING. When looking at a number of exercises to perform in a given week to reach your goal (mass gains, fat loss, sport performance, etc.) it is better to space out a given number of exercises throughout the week, as opposed to clumping the same number of exercises in one session.

When you look at other areas of life, the same rule usually applies. When the doctor hands you prescription medicine, is it better to take the entire bottle at once, or take a couple pills each day, spread throughout the course of the week? Clearly, you’ll reap the benefits better if you space out the doses, instead of taking them all at once.

Look at the leg development of sprinters. Most of these men/women have legs that the majority of the population would kill to have, and these sprinters train every single day.

Heck, take bodybuilders, too. Most bodybuilders that wish to “bring up” a lagging bodypart will increase the frequency they train that bodypart. So, why not increase the frequency to begin with?

B. Even though I gave you some studies that supported my particular training philosophy, I must make an important point. While studies can definitely be useful, they are far from foolproof, and are nearly always performed in a “closed-loop” setting, aka a predictable scenario in which nearly all the variables are controlled in some fashion.


So, instead of using the labs of researchers, in which nearly everything is controlled, I prefer to use the data based off the results of our own “lab,” or the results of people that have trained under our watch at SAPT. This is an “open-loop” setting, in which hundreds of real people walk through our doors on a weekly basis; all of whom have their own eating habits (good and bad), sleep habits, activities and stressors outside SAPT, all of which we have no control over. In my personal opinion, this is a much more appropriate scenario in which one can determine if a particular method “works” or not.

C. Bodypart splits are simply not a practical choice for the majority of trainees, athletes and non-athletes alike. Most bodypart split routines require four, and even up to six, days a week of training about 90-120 minutes each session. Why spend this much time training, when you can usually accomplish the same results by training just three times a week, at 75-minutes a session?

Besides, most trainees simply don't have the time to train six days per week and stay in the gym for 90 minutes. Sure, if you're in college, and/or single, this may be possible. But what about if you have a wife, kids, and a full-time job? Not to mention, many adults' jobs create a very unpredictable schedule in which it would be illogical to train with bodypart splits.

Case in point: Ron (from The Ron Reed Project) was frequently called by his work, spur-of-the-moment, to travel across the United States on a business trip. Many times, these trips would come up at barely 24-hours notice. If I was writing him a bodypart split, and trained only his chest on Monday, then what would he do when he was called out of town and had to miss his "back" day, or his "arm" day? It was obviously much more practical to work his entire body using compound lifts. Then, if he was spontaneously called away, we wouldn't have to worry as much about "missing" a particular body part.

So, yes, a bodypart split - on paper - may be a decent way of doing things for a while, but it would be foolish for me to program this type of training for people who may only have three to four total hours in a week to get in the gym.

D. Speaking of compound lifts, I really don't get why people waste valuable time on bicep curling when they can't do a single chinup. And, if you can do chinups, then I still dare you to drop bicep curling for a month and focus on a healthy dose of weighted chinups and 1-minute chinups, THEN tell me if you absolutely need to bicep curl to experience arm growth!

E. Bodypart splits often ignore the "movement" side of things. I don't know about you, but I prefer to at least have a little bit of "Go" with the "Show." I remember, after a semester of using bodypart splits in college, I returned home to play some backyard football with a group of guys. I was astounded at how clumsy I felt. It was if I could barely change directions without falling over.

I recommend the majority of people include at least some movement training in their routine, as it has benefits for athletes and non-athletes alike.

F. Remember that bodybuilding is a SPORT. Their lifting style is specific to their sport at hand. If you were a tennis player, would you utilize a lifting program written for a wrestler? Absolutely would be asinine, right?

Now, I can't help but admire top bodybuilders. What they accomplish really is a phenomenon (drugs or no drugs), and you can't help but at least respect the dedication and meticulous attention to detail it requires to successfully step out on that stage. Just remember that it often makes little sense to take their program and try to make it your own. More times than not it will be like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

G. It is beyond the scope of this post to delve into, but something worth noting is that that bodypart splits became popular along with the rise in use of pharmaceutical drugs in bodybuilding. Up until the spike in drug use, the majority of bodybuilders used full-body routines. Most people wouldn't be able to actually tolerate, and experience success from, the voluminous bodypart split training days without drug assistance. The volume increases came after the drugs, not the other way around.

H. Compound lifts excite a hormonal release in the body that doesn't occur with most single-joint lifts. It's still up for debate if these hormonal changes have a lasting affect, but no one will deny that the changes happen, even if it's just a response to the exercise. For example, a military press or weighted pushup will cause a greater spike of testosterone, growth hormone, etc. in the blood stream than a tricep pressdown will.

I.  Something I'd generally suggest is to avoid taking training advice from people unless they’ve had to train people for a living. With a quick glance at my “SAPT Program” folder on my computer, I tallied up over 700 programs I’ve written over the past year alone at SAPT. And this is just one year’s worth of programs. If Chris and Sarah (who founded SAPT) counted up their programs, they’d be well into the thousands. If you ask me, this is a lot of data. We have quite a few “test subjects,” and have very easily been able to see the methods that work, and the methods that fail. Not to mention, if we fail to deliver results to our clients (increased sport performance, looking and/or moving better, etc.), then we go out of business.

I would ask your friends: Where did they receive the advice to follow a “one bodypart per day” split routine? Was it from someone who trains people day in and day out, and has to deliver results in order to put food on the table? OR, was it from a random bodybuilding magazine (most of those routines are quite humorous and belong in a fairytale land, I might add), or from a random guy at their local gym who told them that in order to achieve massive pecs they’d have to blast them into oblivion one day per week?

J. I think it's a bit amusing that your friends suggest "3x10 incline, 3x10 decline, 3x10 flat, 3x10 flies, etc." as it reminds me of my gym routine in high school. I think almost every male has been there, but let me ask you something: Is doing twelve sets of a chest-dominant exercise in a single session really four times superior to doing three sets? (Hint: Start with researching the law of diminishing returns :) ).

K. Don't worry, there is no K, and I'm not going to go all the way to Z!

To conclude: I am NOT saying that a bodypart split is impractical for everyone. And I am admittedly biased because of my work and the population I work with. However, it's just a shame that most teenage guys look at successful bodybuilders and decide that the routine of a professional at a very specific stage in training must be the routine they should do, too.

Yes, the majority of successful bodybuilders use a split routine. However, the majority of unsuccessful bodybuilders also use a split routine! We must look at the entire spectrum to arrive at an objective conclusion. I personally feel that, for the majority of trainees, a movement-based (ex. upper/lower) or full-body routine is best.

Based off the data we've collected through training people, I've seen that it works time and time again. Coming from my personal experience, I think it would be tomfoolery to neglect providing a tried and true system to the people I work with.