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Improve Your Health Today Part II


The journey of a thousand miles ... begins with the first step, and this past month we gave you a couple good methods to start exercising if you were a beginner starting your thousand-mile journey. But say you’re on about “mile 300,” and you’re ready for a more challenging exercise program. The previous exercise program combined cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal strength and endurance training, and flexibility training to provide a good comprehensive approach for anyone desiring improvements in all-around physical fitness. The programs outlined here will be a little more challenging than previously and are more appropriate if you’ve been exercising regularly for at least six months.

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests each muscle group be trained in two to four sets. The beginning program we described this past month included one exercise for each major muscle group. We suggested one set for each exercise for a total of about seven sets. This approach to strength training is called “single-set training,” and, given the right intensity, all ranges of people from beginners to elite athletes can make fantastic improvements with this type of training. In order to make steady improvements, the single set must be continued until complete muscular failure, which requires intense effort. For those unable to make that kind of effort, single-set training is less effective. The solution, then, is multiple set training, which exposes all the major muscle groups of the body to two to four sets of the overload stimulus.
For example, let’s make some simple adjustments to Program A from this past month:

Program B
• Leg press
• Leg extension
• Leg curl
• Hammer deadlift
• Lateral pull down
• Seated cable row
• Dumbbell incline or bench press
• Push-ups
• Bent knee sit-ups
• Abdominal curl
• Hyperextensions (aka “hypers”)
• Swiss ball reverse hypers

I added five new exercises:
• One lower body exercise (deadlift);
• Two upper body exercises (seated cable row and push-ups);
• Abdominal curls; and
• Reverse hypers.

This session will be a little harder than Program A, simply because there’s a higher volume–more work to do. Note, however, that we’re adding exercises in a balanced fashion: Each time we also added an exercise for a muscle group, we added another for the antagonistic muscle group. The only exception was the deadlift, which is a comprehensive lower body exercise that targets most of the lower body as one unit.

A common question at this stage centers on the use of split routine training and is usually worded something like, “John, I’ve seen some people training different muscle groups on different days of the week.” A couple of common split-routine set-ups look like this:

Program C (four-day split routine)

Mondays and Thursdays
• Chest
• Upper back
• Biceps
Tuesdays and Fridays
• Shoulders
• Triceps
• Legs

Program D (five-day split routine)

Monday: Chest and abs
Tuesday: Lower back and lats
Wednesday: Biceps and triceps
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Hamstrings, quads and calves
Saturday: Shoulders and traps
Sunday: Rest

These kinds of split routine programs are supposed to allow an individual to concentrate more work in volume on fewer muscle groups. People using these kinds of programs are usually performing at least three sets for each exercise and anywhere from three to seven or more exercises per muscle group. The problem is that they’re less efficient, meaning you’re usually in the gym longer. Also, there’s no evidence that the split routine training is any more effective in improving musculoskeletal fitness. In addition, chronic overuse injuries tend to be more common in higher-volume strength training programs because of the lack of recovery allowed between sessions. For example, the four-day split routine (program C) appears to train different muscle groups on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the muscle groups targeted for these exercises overlap.

Even so, I do support the use of upper body-lower body split routine training. For example, doing all lower body exercises one day and doing all upper body exercises on another. Day one two would always be separated by a day or two of rest. This type of split-routine training actually allows for more recovery time between muscle groups, so overtraining injuries are more easily prevented. The program would look something like this:

Day 1 (lower body)
• Leg press
• Leg extension
• Lunges
• Leg curl
• Hammer deadlift
• Abdominal Curl
• Hypers

Day 2 (upper body)
• Lateral Pull down
• Seated cable row
• Dumbbell incline or bench press
• Push-ups
• Bent knee sit-ups
• Abdominal curl
• Hypers
• Swiss ball reverse hypers

The split routine would alternate the lower and upper body workouts with a day of rest between each workout, so your strength workouts for week one would consist of Mondays (day 1), Wednesdays (day 2), and Friday (day 1 again). The next week would continue alternating these workouts with Monday (Day 2), Wednesday (Day 1) and Friday (Day 2 again). As stated above, if you’re able to work to failure on each set, then only one is necessary for each exercise. However, if that’s not the case, you could add more volume by increasing the number of sets of each exercise as a way to create overload and improve musculoskeletal fitness.

This upper body-lower body split routine makes increasing volume more time-efficient because the strength portion of the workout takes up less overall time, and the balanced nature of the overall fitness regimen can be maintained while cardiovascular and flexibility fitness are still given the attention they deserve.

Next time, we’ll address the secrets to optimum health and fitness…


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