Coach - wondering if, as a fellow 2a, you or clients have ever managed to stick with or enjoy intense full body training?
I’ve been following some 3x/week programs (off day focus work on a body part or sports), much like your Thib Army’s (fastest way to get jacked program) and some the “golden era” bodybuilding routines.
For the life of me, find these very hard to stick to! I can rarely match strength performance across multiple compound lifts on most days. Some odd days the CNS “activation” from a heavy squat will cause me to bench heavier than I can but these are more exception than norm, especially when doing volume work like 5x5 or 10x3’s etc.
I’m fascinated by these silver/golden era routines (Reg Park, clarence bass etc.) - especailly Parks’ power building programs which are 3x a week full body:
basically 5x5 all with very heavy loading.
On paper it looks manageable, built for bad-ish / strength circuits but the workout experience is always so different (less movement activation, lower pumps, much higher RPE).
Yet the pros of full body 3x a week make it seem incredible (even higher Follistatin levels, think tim wrote an article on that). More frequency, more “systemic” stimulation, CNS breaks on off days etc…
Yet I can’t see how intermediate levels and beyond can sustain such heavy weights across major compound movements.
Do you think is a neurotype issue? Did the golden age bodybuilders train differently / is full body more sutiable/marketable for beginners (hence can do bunch of compound lifts?).
It just doesn’t seem very feasible (charles poliquin was very much against full body) for folks with experience / intensity on big lifts.
Your athletes do 3x a week (using different contractions) so perhaps it’s my conditioning that’s lacking? Or they are using relatively lower intensities? (for instance Gab Chiasson’s 407 lbs x 5 front squat…would he also do near rep maxes on bench/dead/ohp/snatch pulls on the same day)?
Just seems incredibly difficult for anyone who has tried it, the physique benefits (for naturals) don’t seem to amount to much more than a kind of lean/smooth physique and lots of effort for little gains (yet golden age guys all swore by this apparently).
This is actually ironic because Charles often used olympic lifters as examples to follow, and they all do whole-body training. He also used a lot of old school guys as references, many of whom used whole-body training.
All the athletes I train use a whole-body approach for most of their training year (we use upper/lower from time to time). But they train mostly for performance improvement, not aesthetic changes. Even though most of them report significant muscle growth (for example, I had a pro football player go from 208 to 226 in 5 months with no increase in body fat levels and a bobsleigh guy made similar gains. A powerlifter gained even more, 20kg/45lbs but some of it was fat).
Of course, I use a minimalist approach with them: we use 4 exercises per workout, one squat pattern, one hinge pattern (often an olympic lift variation) a press and a pull so they can tolerate the workload pretty well. But most of them will reach a state of neurological fatigue at one point, normally after 12 to 14 weeks. At which point we will do a “body part split” for 1-2 weeks.
For example, the football player I mentioned exhibited signs of neurological fatigue for 2 weeks: drop in performance, sudden bodyweight loss, drastic drop in well-being (I have the athletes I work with record their “perceived well-being” every day, on a scale of 10. He went from 8-9, with an occasional 7 to 5-6 over several days) and perceived workout performance (I also ask them to give their workout a grade on a scale of 10. He also went from an average of 8 to an average of 6).
After a week of bodypart training he was back to feeling like a 9 and his body weight was back up.
So there is no doubt that whole-body training, even if properly periodized, is a lot more stressful than a more traditional bodybuilding split. Although it’s worth mentioning that the loading also changed, not just the split. He went from heavy and/or explosive and only compound movements to pump work with 1 compound and 4 isolation exercises per session.
If someone is more at risk of neurological fatigue than others, I could see whole-body training not being ideal. Also, even though on paper it’s solid for hypertrophy, in reality, it might not be… mostly because you just cannot do as much concentrated volume for a muscle during one workout.
What I find with 2As, is that they need to be passionate about something to be motivated and have optimal results. A 2A athlete will be able to do the whole-body workouts and be motivated because is passion is improving for his sport. HOWEVER a 2A who trains mostly for aesthetic reasons is likely not going to get what he wants from a full body session: if they train chest, they want to feel like they are doing everything possible to make their chest grow. Only doing 1 exercise involving the chest is not going to make them feel good.
2As tend to be stimulus addicts: they always want to do more. A whole-body approach might be hard for them to do because they are either going to do too much work to do a lot for everything, and burn out, or feel demotivated because they feel like they are not doing enough for each muscle group.
When my passion is getting more muscular I personally do better if I train one big muscle and one small auxiliary muscle per session, even if on paper it might not optimal. BUT when my goal is to perform better I like a whole body workout and get good results from them.
The 'lots of effort" is mostly if you do too much work. During each session. Doing 4 major lifts is not really that much more work than a typical body part split or upper/lower split where you do 3 multi-joint movements and 3 isolation exercises.
I trains tons of clients with a whole-body approach 3x a week plus an isolation session and I’ve seen some massive gains. BUT I do not use that approach with everyone.
With those who are purely interested in aesthetic gains I will often use a body part split:
Day 1: Chest/Biceps
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Back/Triceps
Day 4: Touch up on hamstrings and glutes, forearms and abs
Day 5: Delts/Traps/Rear delts
I still train all three types of contraction per each muscle. But all in the same session. We use 6 exercises per workout, 3 for each muscle trained, 1 for each contraction type.
With 2As I often alternate 3 weeks whole-body focusing on improving performance on big lifts and 3 weeks of the body part split mentioned.
By the way, suddenly looking softer and smoother when you are normally hard and lean is due to excess cortisol and adrenaline (they go together) production.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels will:
a) Increase water retention by increasing aldosterone and vasopressin levels
b) make muscles appear smaller by reducing glycogen storage
Right off the bat this makes you look smaller, feel flatter and look less defined.
On top of that, if you overproduce adrenaline too often you will quickly desensitize the beta-adrenergic receptors. At the muscle level, the sensitivity of the beta-adrenergic receptors have a HUGE impact on muscle tone.
Muscle tone is nothing more than a partial state of muscle activation.
Activating the beta-adrenergic receptors at the muscle level will increase muscle activation, even at rest, increasing muscle tone.
So the more sensitive those receptors are, the more easily they are turned on by adrenaline, the higher is your muscle tone.
But if they become resistant, the opposite occur: your muscles have a very hard time being activated by adrenaline, which leads to a much lower muscle tone.
In fact, with athletes I use muscle tone changes to evaluate if the athlete is overtraining, can do more should do less, etc.
Adrenaline is produced in response to cortisol elevation. Chronically elevated cortisol will lead to chronically elevated adrenaline (that’s why you have a hard time sleeping when you are stressed). And that will lead to beta-adrenergic desensitization.
Now you have 1) water retention 2) flat muscles 3) low muscle tone… rapid changes in physique, for the worse.
Any type of training that leads to excessive cortisol/adrenaline levels over time can lead to those changes. Not just whole-body training. If load and volume is well planned, you should not be at a higher risk from whole-body training. BUT since whole-body normally relies on more multi-joint exercises and heavier weights, it means that other variables need to come down, volume and how hard you push your sets for example… or training density. If you keep a similar overall volume and intensiveness as in a bodybuilding workout, yeah, the whole-body approach will likely lead to more cortisol/adrenaline.
Very interesting to see some guys (football client) need to cycle off whole body after a few weeks (especially when you look at the typical 3x week full body training that has you build up strength over months/years…)
I’ve also recorded my sessions and when you look at the volume - let’s say in the setup you had for aesthetics (or a push/pull /legs split etc. upper lower).
There’s just no way the training max we use for the big lift that day (say in the 3-5 rm, ramped up or flat pyramid, 5x5) could be done again for 3-5 other compound lifts on the same day and performance still match?
If so, then doing this 3x a week we would get way more concentrated volume of the big movements than the body part split types.
So I wonder how those golden era guys did it… i mean chuck sipes or reg park record doing 450-500lbs bench presses, (say training weight for 5x5 in the 315-400 range). They would do 5x5 with 350 bench…then 5x5 with 400 squat…then 5x5 with 500 deadlift…then 5x5 with 250 SGHP etc.
3x a week? When I look at it logically doesn’t seem like anyone at intermediate or beyond level strengths on the main compound could do their “work weight” on 4-6+ big movements per workout?? (they’d have to go down in intensity, maybe do lighter weight explosively or different contraction type to compensate)
CT’s closest to this was the 5/4/3/2/1 (back in the i bodybuilder days) or built for battle…but those were relatively very low volume. Your strength circuits/elimination circuits ramp up in 3-5 reps on 4-6 compound exercises but the actual training weight is pretty low (maybe up to 80% RM) etc.
Alternatively why not split the full body over more days (5-6 days)? So rather than doing 4-6 compound lifts in one workout, split that in half (2-3) and do over two days. This would require no “off days” in between (so CNS recovery vs. more systemic/stimulation) and more concentration per workout (better performance, less fatigue).
Btw, I don’t know if you like these splits (really satisfies the 2A need fr upper body pump every workout) but something like:
Legs/Shoulders (SGHP on these days)
1-2 big movements per body part. Still get to focus on muscle groups and get some antagonistic action in there as well…Alternatively doing some arm work and laterals on leg day can make lower body days much more bearable/satisfying psychologically as well!
– Muscle Damage, 3/4-th tempo, i.e. slow & controlled initial descent with rebound in bottom)
– mTOR, through the accentuated eccentric
– Lactate & Growth Factors, because the increased time under tension and if constant tension is maintained
– mTOR, through the hold in stretch position
– Lactate & Growth Factors, maybe. During an iso-dynamic contrast?
Didn’t he suggest napping twice daily? Might be mandatory if your 5x5-ing at that level.
The typical 5 x 5 approach used on these days was really 1 hard set and 4 gradually heavier sets leading up to that one. Furthermore, not all 3 sessions were all-out. For example, the typical 3x a week whole-body workout (Strongest Shall Survive style) was 1 hard workout, one light and one moderate.
The light workout used around 80% of the weights of the hard session (for. the same number of reps, not increasing them) and the medium either used 90ish percent of the hard workout or used a similar weight (or even 5-10lbs more) but doin fewer reps.
Old-timers also didn’t tend to make small jumps between sets, leading to an 7-10 sets ramp on an exercise. For example, 400lbs bench presser would routinely do something like:
Bar x 10
225 x 5
315 x 5
365 x 5
The mistake that people make is simply looking at the “program numbers” and assume that all of these sets were hard. In that case, yeah, it would be too much for most. The reality is that, besides some exceptions, the number of sets pushed to the limit or close to it, was very low.
SOME ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS:
*The average testosterone level of men has dropped significantly over the years. In the 40s and 50s (heydays of whole-body training), testosterone levels was much higher than today. This would obviously facilitate recovery and progress.
*Overall stress was lower back in those days. Sure, they didn’t have some of the modern tools we have to make our life easier, but they also had much fewer financial stress, social stress and relationship issues. Things were simpler, overall. And the pace of life was much slower and more relaxed.
*I also believe that the presence of all the electromagnetic fields from all of our electronic devices can affect recovery and stress tolerance for the worse. It certainly can negatively impact insulin sensitivity.
*The quality of foods was much better back then and people ate more wholesome meals.
*They were not as worried as we are today about being ripped. So they ate a boatload. While I don’t agree 100% with the quote from the Barbarian Brothers that there is no such thing as overtraining, only under-eating and under-recovering; it is absolutely true that eating more food can help you handle more workload.
*A lot of what we perceive as “overtranining” is actually due to feeling like crap. And a lot of that is neurological in nature. For one thing; dopamine resistance can lead to drop in motivation, energy and pleasure. It can even lead to depression. Overuse of devices that emit blue light (smart phones, laptop, TV) can lead to dopamine resistance. They didn’t have that in the old days.
*In general, people in the modern world are much softer than they used to be. People don’t work as hard (of course, some society are not like that, but I general it is noticeable). For example, here in Quebec there is a lot of “job hopping”: when a job gets too hard or if your boss doesn’t want to give you the vacation date you want, you quit and look for a new job. There are plenty of 24-25 years old with 5-6 different jobs on their resumé! Also, people don’t want to do the hard manual labor jobs. Business owners in Qiuebec have to bring Mexican workers in because nobody wants to do the physical work, but they do. This might be a western world issue, but it certainly is prevalent in North America and parts of Europe. This leads to people not being as hard at work as in the 40s and 50s.
*We automatically assume that “the best” are there because of their training. Especially the best from the 40s, 50s and 60s who we tend to romanticize (we can’t say it’s all drugs, so we assume it’s only the training). The fact is that most of the people who achieve the highest level, have genetic gifts that allows them to do that? Why wouldn’t Park and Sipes (among others) achieved what they did mostly because of genetics? I’ve trained a guy who bench pressed 525 natural. And his partner of many years only pressed 365. The stronger guy bench pressed 315 when he was 15 and was repping out 365 at 16. By 18 he was military pressing 315 for reps. I’ve also spotted a guy who bench pressed 415 x 13 and he was the laziest dude in the gym ever. Genetics play a huge role in top end strength and muscularity. We do love to believe that the top of the 40s and 50s got there only because of their training because it makes us believe that we can reach the same level too, if we trained the right way.
Chuck Sipes and Reg Park were outliers, just like John Grimek was. Every generation has exceptions like that who can just tolerate a lot more than most and have a much higher ceiling.
“But shouldn’t we look at what the best did?”
Yes, to get clues and ideas. But not whole plans because those who become the best are often not only those who worked the hardest, but those whose body is designed to withstand a lot more physical stress and grow from it.
I’ve worked with a lot of Crossfit competitors and two of them that went to the Crossfit games had among the highest work tolerance I’ve ever seen: they could train 4 hours a day (fairly fast pace),sometimes more, 5 days a week. Of course, they also didn’t work, which helped. A few of the guys at the gym tried to copy them and they would all get worse.
Was also trying to get at the psychological aspect of it… I don’t know why for instance something like look like a bodybuilder / perform like an athlete end up doing 3-4 compounds…but the mental cue of explosive reps, dogn only 3 rep sets etc makes the loading sustainable and incredibly “activating”.
The same weight put in a 5x5 framework for whole body, I suddenly feel much higher RPE…reduced almost to the grasshopper doing starting strength for the first time.
Maybe it’s the different size ramps as well -for instance a 225 lbs done CT flat pyramid style would be like 135 -> 185 / 205 / 215 / 225 then work sets.
Whereas 1-2 warm up sets then 3 work sets (reg park style) would be 135 -> 185 -> 225…maybe that causes much higher RPE
There’s a real art / CNS priming in making those compounds feel “light”/explosive. WHen not activated sometimes my limbs shake on weight that I can usually handle smoothly. This happens a lot when doing more than 1 or 2 big movements a day.
Ironcially after some sprints / gymanstics work (not nearly as much as your Crossfit guys, but say like 30 minutes) -> hop on weights and performance much better. So maybe its an activation thing too
Yes, my new 2A program will use that approach. Accumulation is the bodypart split I mentioned in an A1/A2 format… There are 6 total exercises (so A1/A2, B1/B2, C1/C2) and each exercise pair uses a different type of of muscle contraction.
The intensification phases use my whole-body approach 3x a week (one workout emphasizing the eccentric, one use stato-dynamic methods and the third is normal lifting or pure concentric) and there is a 4th workout that I call the “gap workout” which uses minor exercises to train muscle that might be neglected by the big basics.
This is what I got as a 2A while doing intermittent fasting. Add in some extra CrossFit and too much coffee, you’ll end up being a blowfish. Probably never felt any worse in my life. This whole post from CT should be the first page of anyones training program. Once these things happen, it all goes down the drain very rapidly.
What I didn’t even mention is that this even happens while there isn’t even any training involved. Last year I went on holiday with my wife and my kid of six months old. We left early in the morning, no breakfast, lots of stress from my kid screaming in the back, my wife wasn’t very happy too, had boatloads of coffee underway, trip took much longer than expected due to traffic jams and detours, etc. After this trip I LOOKED LIKE SHIT! I gained five kilograms in my face alone. The funny thing was, that this all cleared away when I started eating breakfast at the hotel which involved lots of carbs. This was a game changer for me alongside the thing I’ve learned through Thibarmy and T-Nation.
So you can image that for non-training people this information has so much benefit as well.