The traditional Bodybuilding Workout Split has unfortunately become the default routine in most gyms. While a 3 or 4 day split is great for building mass, it is an inferior way to look slim and defined. This site is dedicated to the lean and slim Hollywood look, so of course I am going to recommend an alternative to the typical routine. An athlete in peak condition can teach you much more than a sluggish bodybuilder.
[Boxers in the lower-to-mid weight classes are a great example of being functionally fit and lean. This look is built upon a foundation of gaining strength without putting on extra mass.]
Bodybuilding = Break Down the Muscle + Rest and Nutrition
If you think about bodybuilding in simple terms, the goal is to lift with enough volume and intensity to break down the muscle fiber in a muscle group. Following the workout, the muscle then needs to rest to repair itself. Adequate protein and nutrients need to be present to insure a full repair of these fibers. Done properly the muscle fibers grow in size. Over time this leads to visible muscle growth.
Training the Entire Body Each Workout?
This would be bad for bodybuilding. The problem would be that the workout would have to be extremely long to insure enough volume of lifts to break down the muscle properly. Another problem would be that the muscles worked last in the routine would get neglected due to fatigue.
Bodybuilding is About Blitzing the Muscle Then Resting
The approach to bodybuilding is working a muscle as hard as possible for many sets until that muscle is obliterated…and then avoiding any direct work to that muscle for days. The way to do this is to setup a workout that works the entire body over a period of days. This is called a split workout (yeas I know you already know this). A 3 day split would take 3 different workouts to hit each body part. A 4 day split would take 4 days to work the entire body.
An Outline of a Typical 3 Day Split…
Day 1) Chest, Shoulders, Triceps (“pushing muscles”)
Day 2) Back, Biceps (“pulling muscles”)
Day 3) Legs, Calves, and Abs
Day 4) Rest
Functional Training is the Opposite of Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding is more about blitzing a muscle with high volume and training that muscle infrequently. Functional training is the opposite…frequently training the muscle without blitzing and damaging the muscle with an excessive amount of volume.
Train the Muscle Frequently to Get Stronger
Certainly bodybuilders get stronger, but they do so while adding mass. The problem with adding mass when you get stronger is that it doesn’t make as big of an impact on athleticism. To get stronger without adding mass, the volume of sets and reps need to be kept low, but the tension needs to be high. As long as the muscles aren’t damaged, they can be trained many times each week.
[I like to think of functional training and athletic performance like a sportscar. A Maserati and an over-sized SUV may have the same horsepower, but the Maserati displays that horsepower in a much more impressive manner...and looks better in the process. Increasing your output while slimming down is the way to go!]
Athletes in Peak Condition Work Their Muscle Groups Often
Most athletes don’t have any choice but to work their entire body daily. Take that picture of the the boxers up above. When they are 1-2 months away from the fight, they are sparring daily. All of the muscles in their bodies are getting worked on a frequent basis. Same thing with soccer players, basketball players, gymnasts, etc. They are all working their entire body many times per week.
Frequent Strong Muscle Contractions Increase Muscle Tone
Again…take the example of the boxers above. If they only fought once per week they wouldn’t display that amazing muscle definition in their arms shoulders and chest. Muscle tone isn’t just a result of low body fat (although that is needed to display the muscle tone) …muscle tone is increased by increasing your ability to contract a muscle. Increasing strength without adding size is the route to achieving this type of “true” muscle tone. Here is an article I wrote about the subject of true muscle tone.
A Non-Traditional Body Part Split I Have Used
You can train the whole body in one workout. Especially if you just want to maintain muscle and burn fat in a circuit type manner. If you want to do a split that allows you to train each muscle group many times per week, I have developed a solid one that works well for a number of reasons.
The 2 Day Split…
Day 1) Chest, Back, Abs
Day 2) Shoulders, Biceps, and Triceps
End each workout with 1-2 sets of “planks” for the abs. After the planks, do dome form of Interval Cardio or Circuit Cardio for 20-30 minutes. The total workout including cardio should take 1 hour or just slightly longer. I don’t do direct leg work, because I believe that tough intervals build better looking legs and butt for both men and women.
My Thinking Behind This 2 Day Split
I like to work opposing muscle groups in the same workout because it helps maintain posture. A common muscle imbalance problem is shoulders pulling forward after a chest workout. Working the back right after, prevents this from happening (especially cable rows). I also like it that the small muscle groups like biceps and triceps get worked each workout. They are worked indirectly with the back and bicep workout and directly on shoulders and arm day. Bigger muscle groups recuperate at a slower rate (even with brief workouts like this)…but small muscle groups can get worked a bit more often. Your arms will look better than ever with this split!
No Need To Blitz A Muscle Group
Many people need to change their idea of a good workout. The idea should be to work up a sweat while getting stronger and burning off body fat. This can be done with just a few quality sets and 1-2 different lifts per body part…blitzing a muscle group will just force you to rest more days in between workouts and will lead to slower strength gains. Also blitzing a muscle group will make you sore and you will be less likely to want to hit circuits or HIIT.
Enjoy Various Physical Activities Without Fear
Back in my clueless days when I was trying to build as much muscle as possible, I would skip out on fun activities if a muscle group was sore. I remember not wanting to go water skiing because my legs were too sore from doing squats. Another time, I couldn’t play tennis because my pecs were too sore. Bodybuilding style workouts really screw you up, if you want to do activities outside of the gym. I’m glad I came to my senses!
Note: For those of you who do want to add a bit of mass, follow the bodybuilding technique of blitzing a muscle followed by rest…just make sure you don’t go overboard…you don’t want to get so big that you give off that cheesy vibe. Put on a bit of muscle, but aim for that GQ look if you are a guy or Victoria Secret (Shape Magazine Look) if you are a woman. If you want to get the huge bodybuilder look that went out of style in the late 80′s…then you are on the wrong site.Note:I blog less these days & save my most up-to-date info for my free exclusive newsletter.
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