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The plan is set: Get to the gym six days a week, target a different body part each day, and build the physique you’ve always dreamed of.
And then life happens.
Despite our best intentions, commitment to strength work — in addition to cardio, mobility and other athletic pursuits — can be a tall order. But there is hope: Total-body workouts.
“For 90 percent of people, 90 percent of the time, total-body training is the way to go,” says Tony Gentilcore, strength coach and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance. Performed three to four days per week, workouts that rely on complex, multi-joint movements will engage more muscle groups at once, in addition to your core. So while endless bicep curls may seem like your only ticket to the gun show, chin-ups, for instance, can target the same muscle group, while also working the back and abs. Whether your goal is building strength, shedding pounds, or becoming a more well-rounded athlete, increasing the complexity of your movements can result in a greater neuromuscular and cardiovascular challenge — and potentially greater gains, as well.
If you’ve hit a plateau, struggle with athleticism, or need to simply shake up your usual routine, here are five reasons total-body training might be for you.
We seek time-efficiency in every other area of our lives — why not take that same approach to the gym? “You burn a heck of a lot more calories in a given session when you perform a full-body training session as opposed to just doing an arm day or shoulder day,” Gentilcore says. Major muscle groups working together in compound exercises, like squats and lunges, require more energy to coordinate movement, move heavy training loads, and provide oxygen to working muscles than single-joint exercises that only work one or two small muscles.
While isolation work is important for muscular hypertrophy, it’s not necessarily for everyone. “Overzealous isolation work one day per week isn’t frequent enough for most people to see gains in muscular size,” Gentilcore says. While we’re all for “leg day,” that doesn’t mean neglecting your lower half for the other six days in the week. With full-body training (assuming appropriate loads and rest), you’re targeting any given muscle group two to three times per week for increased muscle growth, Gentilcore says.
If getting stronger is your goal, it’s imperative to perform movements that allow you use the most weight, says Gentilocore. Compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift and bench press variations are full-body movements that require the most total-body effort to execute. By making these exercises the mainstay in your workout program, you’ll be challenging your body to continuously — and effectively — build strength.
Only have 30 minutes to spare? By focusing on the major multi-joint exercises that work your entire body you’re stimulating the same muscles using one exercise (think: back squats) in lieu of multiple exercise machines (in this case: leg curls, hip extensions and leg extensions). Plus, by supporting a bar during squats your core is required to stabilize the body under load, unlike single-joint exercises.
Total-body training teaches you to focus on the rule of 80/20, says Jason Maxwell, owner of Jmax Fitness and JmaxFitness.com. So instead of adding in an extra set of forearm extensions, or another set of bicep curls, you place your focus on the 20 percent of movements that give you the most bang for you buck, Maxwell says. When you’re short on time, these more efficient exercises become the logical choice in training.
Imagine being able to work out anytime, anywhere, without throwing off your whole routine. That’s exactly what total-body training allows. By training the whole body as one integrated unit you’re able to stimulate the same muscles in one workout that might take two or three isolation-based workouts. As a result, you can integrate total-body training around a busy travel schedule and not miss a beat, or focus on other exercise activites, like swimming, biking or yoga, without neglecting your strength training.
Maximize your strength-building potential — and your time at the gym — with this head-to-toe workout from Maxwell. It requires just four exercises start to finish, completed in supersets for optimal efficiency and calorie burn.
Want more strength workouts you can do anytime, anywhere? Head to DailyBurn.com to try your free 30-day trial.