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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Q&A - Program Design


I was reading a recent article of your "10 Reasons You're Still Jacked Up" and was wonder why you thought the Push-Pull-Leg split was so idiotic. How different is it from a functional split such as:

 Horizontal Push
 Horizontal Pull
 Vertical Push
 Vertical Pull
 Quad Dominate
 Hip Dominate

I agree with most of your ideas on training. For example I focus on compound lifts, I incorporate unilateral movements, and keep my workouts short and intense. I respect your opinion and have read a lot of your articles and books, but I have found that when I lift hard I need 4-7 days recovery and the push-pull-leg system allows that recovery because you avoid muscle overlap. Some times I use a two on one off, other times I use a one on one off. I guess I just don't agree with the assertion that only an idiot living in the 80s and sporting a mullet would use the split. If there are some studies that support your assertion, could you please refer them to me.

Thank you for your time and thank you for all the great articles you write to dispel the myths about strength training.

You bring up some valid points, and here are my thoughts on the topic.

First off, the trainer I was eluding too was stating that this split was optimal for everyone. We all know that NO PROGRAM is ideal for everyone. Along those same lines, no split is ideal FOREVER. I believe the saying goes something like this:

“Everything works – but nothing works forever.”

So that was my first issue.

The second issue is focused on recovery, and this part may get long-winded. In my experience, the only reason people can’t train a muscle group more than one time per week is because their GPP/recovery capacity is atrocious. If you have a legitimate recovery issue (increased age, testosterone levels equivalent to an 80 year old female, etc.), then those need to be addressed and/or understood.

Before going forward, please understand the difference between wanting and needing to train a specific body part multiple times per week. A 50 year old who does this for fun doesn’t need to train lower body multiple times per week. But, if that’s your goal, or you want to optimize your progress, then you need to examine why you can’t currently do that.

Here’s an example: You perform the same total sets, reps, etc. of your typical leg workout, but you split it up over two days instead of one. You should theoretically be able to recover from this, right?

Now what if you added one set, or even one repetition, per week. Would this cause you to overtrain, or exceed your body’s recovery capacity? It shouldn’t, right? So why couldn’t you use this approach (or one similar to it), to slowly but surely build work capacity? The key isn’t to thrash your body at each and every workout; even the really smart bodybuilders out there will tell you it’s about stimulating growth, not annihilating every possible motor unit in your body. If you can’t recover without 7-10 days of rest between workouts for a specific body part, I’d seriously examine what you’re doing in those workouts first and foremost. You must remember there’s a difference between what you can do and what’s optimal.

When we look at amazing work capacities, look no further than elite level powerlifters or Olympic lifters. These guys can incur a massive amount of fatigue at each and every workout. Yet, amazingly enough, powerlifters often train lower body at least twice a week. Even still, Olympic lifters train their legs 2, 3 and even up to 4 or 5 days per week! I have no clue about your current level of training, but I’d imagine you probably aren’t at a level as elite as these athletes. That’s not a knock on you, it’s just the truth. (I’m not at that level, either, for what it’s worth – I’m just making a point).

You have to keep in mind two things when discussing athletes at a high level:

1) Are they “supplementing”? If so, this will improve their recovery (Duh!)
2) It has taken them years to develop the work capacity necessary to train like this.

So quite simply, if you are incurring so much fatigue from one workout that you can’t recover for an extended period of time, I would examine what you’re doing within that workout and address it first and foremost. I’d much rather split that volume up over two workouts and improve the quality of said workouts than continue destroying every muscle fiber one time per week.

This may just be my opinion on the topic, but hopefully its food for thought. Good luck with your training.

Stay strong

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