T Nation

Revisiting Full Body Workouts

Coach - do you prefer full body workouts over splits?

I think for me, and perhaps many other strength enthusiasts here, training our favorite lifts frequently brings both enjoyment & gains (when not overdone, freq/volume/intensity).

I was reading through your training books (black book/HtH) and comparing to your more recent programs.

One thing I like is the shift away from the bro-ish bodybulding split you’ve advocated before to more full body, higher freq style. Even best damn workout for natties, while “bodybuilding” has a template that is full body and high freq hitting each muscle.

Basically, full body is the way to go. Technically, even on a push/pull/legs or layers split, when you throw in warmups with bodyweight (lunges, chins, dips) you’re working your whole body. No one should spend one whole workout doing just pressing or just pulling without working antagonist muscles (body balance aside, antagonist pairing also increase performance/gains).

Your strength skill circuit is the epitome of full body and high frequency. I’m revisiting Reg Parks 5x5 style (and i know you’re a big 5x5 fan) and on the “off days” I’m experimenting with doing a simple bodyweight circuit (50 handstand pushups, 100 pushups, 50 chins, 200 squats, 50 lunges each leg).

Many can go wrong with excessive split training. Few fail to gain from a proper heavy compound, full body style as long as they have diet in check and add in bodyweight moves (my opinion).

I see some folks saying beyond beginner stages, 5x5 or full body stuff doesn’t work and i just think its not true. I used to that by that, but many of the proponents of splits, “intermediate” bodybuilding doing 8-15 reps look very average, unles they use steroids. On the contrary, the performance beasts who do full body 5x5 and improve strength over long term look fantastic, especailly when “dieted down”.

Just my thoughts now, happy to hear yours if possible…

No, why would you say that?

As I mentioned in the past: I’m a generalist, I don’t have one system. There is (for better or worse) no “Thibaudeau method” because I use many approaches depending on the person I’m working with.\

While I have used whole body workouts from time to time (my strength-skill circuits being an example of a somewhat full body approach) it is not the approach I use the most often.

Again it’s only because you assume that a) my articles and book cover EVERYTHING I’m doing at the moment with myself and clients and b) I stop utilizing my previous methods.

Both are false.

I hate it when people assume that they put me in a neat little box and know what I’m doing. I could literally write a book with the training of each of my clients. An article you will see on the site might represent ONE approach I use with them as part of their whole program… so it might be 4 weeks out of 12 months of training.

“The best damn…” does include upper and lower body work, but it is not “whole body” … whole body means hitting every major muscle in the body to some extent (enough to stimulate it) at every workout. Pulling muscles and posterior chain or pushing muscle + quads is NOT whole body, it’s half of the bodyh.

Just like I like dozens of other loading schemes. 5 x 5 works. But it doesn’t mean that it’s a “fetish” loading scheme of mine, If anything ramping to a 3RM, 3-2-1 waves, 5-4-3-2-1 and clusters are methods that I prefer over 5x5

Not true. For me, to qualify as “whole body” you have to train the muscle hard enough to get stimulated (i.e. lead to strength and size gains). Warming up with bodyweight lunges and squats is not enough to cause growth in the non beginner.

Heck where does it stop? I’\m doing my whole upper body but I’m walking between sets so it’s whole body???

Things can go wrong with being excessive with any type of training.

That’s your opinion. But from my experience many things can go wrong with full body training too. And some people simply need more volume per session for a body part for it to grow. And some people will not recover well from training the whole body that frequently even if eating well and resting properly.

I’ve had people on the strength-skill circuit make phenomenal gains, other feel overtrained after and get aches and pains in two weeks.

Your problems are that

a) you have your own preferences based on your own neurological profile (like everybody) and you are trying to justify what YOU like as the best way to train. Hey, maybe for you it is, but it will not be for everybody else, or even for most people. Individualization remains one of the most important element with training.

b) you tend to focus on one simple idea and get super excited about it and think you found the secret or something. It doesn’t work like that, sadly. A while ago Layers where the best way to train to get results and you were raving about it, getting passionate about it. Now it’s 5x5?

You can argue that I’m a lot like “B” myself. Yes and no. Yes I do come up with new systems as I experimented with concepts. But you fail to realise that I only write about 10-20% of what I do with myself and clients. Not because I’m withholding information, but because there is just so many different approaches that I use that it would just confuse people even more… people like to pigeon-hole writers/coaches to one style of training or a set of principles, it makes them secure to feel like they know all about someone.

Listen I only have ONE principle: everybody is different and you need to find what works best for that person

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What are performance beasts? Guys lifting huge weights like 400-500 bench, 600-700 squats and 700-800 deads? Most of these guys are either genetically gifted for strength and size or using drugs.

You will see some people with below average strength & size genetics and who are natural getting to these numbers simply from years and years of hard work. But there aren’t many of those around and these guys normally went way beyond 5x5 to get where they are at. And few of them used whole body training. I know two guys who fit that profile. Well one and one who is getting there. And they got to that level of strength by sacrificing looks and eating tons of food. And no, they wouldn’t look like bodybuilders if they got lean. They would look good but not amazing. One of them actually tried to diet down and he did lose plenty of strength and size an stopped.

Those that did the original 5x5 (Reg Park) didn’t do this system exclusively. Park did a lot of traditional bodybuilding, high volume work. Do you know a bodybuilder or powerlifter that did one program exclusively for years? I’m sure there are (Dorian Yates did the same thing for a long time) but most bodybuilders or powerlifters experimented with many different programs.\

Just because they didn’t write an article about all of their programs doesn’t mean that they didn’t do a lot of different things.

But to get back to the 5x5 because you seem to focus on that system now (it is the “one element” you are very enthusiastic about at the moment) those who built a lot of muscle with that approach trained 3 times per week (even Reg Park)… Look at the most popular 5x5 systems; Bill Starr’s “The Strongest Shall Survive”, Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength”, Reg Park training ,etc. They trained 3 days a week.

So if you are getting super enthusiast about a training system, you can’t throw away half of it’s principles! They did 5x5, training the whole body at every workout, using 3 big lifts, training 3 days a week. If you quote them as examples of getting great results you must look at everything they did, not only the parts that you like.

So are you going to train only 3x a week.

And these guys didn’t do gymnastic work either… will you (finally) stop talking about it then…?

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To be honest it is one of the worst post you ever made. Not that it doesn’t have some truths to it. But you make generalizations that do not exists. You make assumptions that aren’t the complete truth and you throw away the elements that the models you quote did because they are not what you like.

Listen, if you want to do full body 6 days a week with gymnastic exercises do it! You might get results from it because it fits your neurological profile. But please don’t try to take what you like and adjust the facts to make it sound like its the only logical way to train.

I know that you just want validation for what you want to do. I know that in general people who are more confident about what they are doing get better results so you might be looking for my approval to get that confidences in your theory. But you won’t get it.

That kind of approach, that I used in the past (Built for Bad, Strength-skill, etc.) works… but it works best for certain people and not over the long run (the strength-skill method can be done for longer). And you must understand the principle of accommodation: the more accommodated (habituated, adapted) your body is to a TYPE of training, the lower is your trainability… this means that your potential to grow from that TYPE of training decreases.

So no “system” can be universally best for everybody and no system can be the best system forever

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Many of the proponents of 5/3/1 look average

Many of the 5x5 proponents look average

Many of the Westside followers look average

Many of my followers look average

Many of the HIT followers look average

Many of Poliquin’s followers look average

That doesn’t say anything about the superiority or inferiority of a method. The fact is that VERY FEW people have the genetics to be both lean and big. Vey few have the genes and work ethic combined to look jaw dropping naturally.

So regardless of the system the majority of the people following it will…

  • look average… not especially lean, not especially big… enough to look much better than the normal person but not super impressive either

  • look “fit”/athletic: have some muscle, not enough to look “big” but lean and defined

  • look thick: are big but carry excessive fat

  • Don’t look like they are lifting

That is what the majority of the people will look like, regardless of how they train.

Don’t get me wrong, everybody can look better. But no system is magic. Everybody has a certain natural potential.

I believe that as long as you train hard an don’t do anything stupid you will build a similar amount of muscle on any decent program based on getting larger. How good you look will be a matter of genetics (shape of muscle bellies, clavicle width vs. hip width, torso vs limb length) and how lean you can get while keeping your muscle.

Every system has outliers using it and these are the people you hear about. Those who stay average you don’t really see or know about. It’s the same thing with coaches. All the top coaches you know about train a lot of average Joes, looking just that: “average”… but only those getting great results (or pro athletes) are used in articles or for marketing purposes. Even Charles Poliquin at the peak of his training career had 70% or so “average Joe” clients

But thrust me in my 20 years of coaching I’ve seen plenty of people doing 5x5 or another whole body system based on the big compound lifts look average or worse… every system is like that.

I’ve trained a lot of people on similar systems getting completely different results. I’ve had training partners doing the same program, and who were lifting the same amount of weight, look completely different.

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I personally change my training TYPE/STYLE completely every 3-4 months. I find that even with proper planning after that long on a type of training you get accommodated and progress stops.

Here is a little something from an article I’m working on:

Accommodation: The process where your body becomes more and more adapted to the training you are performing. The more accommodated you are, the lower your trainability is.

Trainability: This represents the potential for improvement of a muscle, movement pattern or physical capacities. In simple words the more trainability you have, the more you can progress. Having a higher trainability normally also means that you can progress at a faster rate. It can be affected by genetic elements (some people have more potential for muscle growth than others for example, so their muscle trainability is higher), testosterone and IGF-1 levels (the higher they are, naturally or not, the higher is your trainability), experience (the more you have trained an progressed in your life, the harder it is to progress because your trainability is lower), etc.

Accommodation is what happens when your body is pretty much fully adapted to a certain type of training; you are adapted to the “means” (exercises, special tools like bands/chains, barbells vs. dumbbells vs. pulley, etc.) to the “methods” (how you are performing the exercises) and the “strategies” (intensity level, order of exercises, workout density, etc.).

It is a normal thing and something we should work toward. Understand that when you are training, your goal is to stimulate changes in your body (adaptations). When your body is “accommodated” it means that you did an amazing job at stimulating adaptations. If you never work toward accommodation, you aren’t going to stimulate any gains.

The problem is that the closer you get to being accommodated, the less trainability you have. Trainability is how much adaptations, or progress you can stimulate. The more trainability you have (or a muscle/group of muscles have) the less room for progress there is and the slower that progress will be. Once you are accommodated it is almost impossible to stimulate further gains. In fact if you have been in an accommodated state for a fairly long time you will start to lose some capacities, increase the risk of injuries and will lose motivation.*****

If you change “program” but you stay with the same type of training you can circumvent accommodation for a while. But at one point, changing the exercises and even loading parameters (as long as you stay with the same style) will not prevent accommodation anymore and you need to change the style/type of stimulus completely.

And the more experienced you are, the more often you need to change. I personally prefer to keep the exercises similar but change the methods, means and style of training.

That’s why sometimes my own training my seem all over the place: because if I stick to the same TYPE of training for too long I stop progressing an actually start to regress (signs of being fully accommodated).

The article will cover the whole topic of variation in much more depth

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Great replies CT. Definitely a good read for everyone.

Good stuff CT, i hear you loud & clear. Thanks.

Basically im asking, will you just train me dammit! lol (:

Don;t take this the wrong way, but there is no way I’m ever doing that. You would be too high maintenance and would question everything.

ouch CT, torn to the core. well just have to moonlight here, read your articles & get feedback lol

It’s not anything bad… I wouldn’t coach myself either LOL

interesting post CT, could you please explain more in what kind of changes you make after 3-4 months ? What I mean by this is do you use phases that build on each other but use different methods, volume, frequency and so on?

I believe in the principle of accommodation. After a while on the same TYPE of training your body adapts to that TYPE/STYLE and even if you change exercises or methods, progress will be a lot slower and that’s when injuries can start to occur.

Since I’m not competing in anything and want pretty much the same thing as everybody here: get more muscular, stronger and leaner, I can afford to completely change training style without having to make it fit a certain logic. I don’t believe that the blocks have to build on the previous one… the way I see it, as my level, any improvement will have a positive impact on everything else. So as long as I’m improving in some regard with each training phase the general trend will be upward, so it’s all good.

A few months ago my sole focus was on performance. Specifically getting stronger and more explosive. I actually focused more on the lower body than upper body, squatting and doing an Olympic lift 3x per week. I did very little bodybuilding work, and it was only to fix weak links. By reps rarely if ever went above 5.

Now I’m more in a bodybuilding phase. My legs are only trained once a week, I do 2 pressing workouts and 3 pulling workouts per week.

My pulling workouts are based more on mind-muscle connection than heavy lifting. I include a lot of:

  • pre-fatigue
  • iso-dynamic contrasts
  • Isometric holds
  • slower tempo

And the volume is fairly high

My pressing workout are half performance and half bodybuilding. I will do 2 sometimes 3 heavy-ish pressing movements utilizing various means (camber bar, chains, weight releasers) and methods (accentuated eccentrics, dynamic effort, rest/pause, giant clusters) mostly with low reps (3-5). And I will do isolation work using bodybuilding methods.

Lower body is similar to pressing but with less volume. Honestly after training my legs 3-4 times per week for 5-6 months I don’t want to push my legs hard during this phase, it allows me to focus on my upper body a bit more.

While the training content is highly variable (personally I never repeat the exact same workout twice, there will always be something different) I stick to a certain “style” for some time (2-4 months).

The best way to describe my phases are as follow:

  • Powerlifting-based: focus on the 3 powerlifts, or 2 of the 3. Doing a lot of heavy lifting and some hypertrophy work for key muscles

  • Performance-based: focus on the Olympic lifts, squats and overhead work. I also do loaded carries and prowler work. In some phases I will include jumps to and maybe sprints. Very little hypertrophy work is done and only for weak points.

  • Bodybuilding-based: focus is on mind-muscle connection, better contraction and most of the work is done for slightly higher reps and using methods conductive to stimulating hypertrophy. I keep heavy work in for pressing.

I got the idea from one of my first coach. I saw him recently and in his mid 50s he doesn’t look a day older than 33 and is lean and muscular. He always divided his training in “seasons”:

Autumn: he trains like a bodybuilder
Winter: he trains like a powerlifter
Spring: he trains like an Olympic lifter
Summer: he trains like a track athlete


Thank you for your response CT, very interesting.
What is your opinion on the fact ( I don’t know whether it is a fact) that you lose some of your positive adaptions, skills and muscle mass or mind muscle connection and so on after you stop training specifically for it ?

What I mean is that after your powerlifting-based phase your powerlifting skills are very high and your are very effective at doing them however in your performance phase you will likely lose some of your ‘gains’ (and make other new gains in performance).

Do you think this is necessary a la ‘‘two steps forwards, one step backward’’ ?

Well that might be true if you completely stop doing the movements. When I (or my friend in the example) switch to more powerlifting to bodybuilding the bench, squat and deadlift are still trained, jut not with the same emphasis or focus on maximal weights. And when I train for “performance” I do the Olympic lift, pulls, front squats, back squats so my squat and deadlift do not suffer.

And in my friend’s case when he “trains like a track athlete” he still does squats, power clean and bench press.

So no strength is loss during the phases. You might lose some capacity to showcase strength during a max effort during a bodybuilding phase, because you are not practicing lifting max weights. But since you are gaining muscle you aren’t losing strength. It will only take a few weeks of practicing lifting heavy weights for that skill to come back.

As for mind-muscle connection, you still keep using all your muscles so I don’t think you lose it.

The 2 things I’ve noticed are:

  1. I tend to lose muscle mass when I drop or drastically reduce isolation work and focus only on high performance lifting… well it’s not exactly correct; I tend to lose mass in secondary areas. And this only starts after about 6 weeks. But if some work is kept for these muscle you can largely prevent that. But it is something that is problematic with typical linear periodization where you stop doing hypertrophy work during the strength phases.

  2. Olympic lifting skill and coordination is lost when you stop doing them. I regain it quickly (within 2 sessions) because of my experience on them, but someone without that experience might have a harder time.

But I really do not believe that you are taking two steps forward and one step back as if you are training hard and planning each block properly you shouldn’t lose any physical capacity. Only efficiency at a very specific task, which takes about 2 weeks to come back.

If you completely stop squatting and deadlifting it might be a different story, but I don’t suggest that you do… but then again a good friend of mine who squatted in the high 800s in competition NEVER squatted until he started to prepare for a competition 12 weeks out. He did lots of leg work and still fairly heavy (6-8 reps) but mostly on machines and unilateral work. I’m not saying that it is the way to go, but that being afraid of losing everything is irrational if you keep building muscle.

If I personally wanted to compete I would likely not train like I am now. But it is not my goal.

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Reading these forums and your articles for years now, everything you recommended worked for me at least for a while, and since the stuff you wrote in this topic is so general and insanely complete and good that I just want to write a sincere THANK YOU.