What does your typical workout program look like? Great question! If you don’t work with a professional or have had one designed for you it might look like this.

This is possibly what your workout split looks like if you’re a male:

Monday: chest
Tuesday: back
Wednesday: shoulders
Thursday: legs
Friday: arms

If you are a female:
Monday: abs, arms, aerobics class
Tuesday: back, cardio
Wednesday: legs, aerobics class
Thursday: abs, arms, cardio
Friday: glute exercises and another aerobics class

Repeat until frustration with results or injury occurs. Frustration and/or injury usually take place between 4 to 8 weeks. It starts off with – I don’t understand. I am doing everything right … I am eating well and working out. I don’t get it. Followed by – It’s my genetics, I am big boned, I’m just too old, etc.

Sound familiar?

This body part split or some variation of it is adopted by many people when starting a new fitness program. Most people who start a fitness program want to lose weight, gain some muscle, and look like an athlete, not a bodybuilder. The first problem is they want to lose weight. STOP RIGHT THERE! No one should want to lose muscle or have a lower metabolism (read our previous blog on losing fat not weight).

The goals for a typical person should be lose fat and build small amount of muscle = athletic, lean and strong! The problem with body part workout splits is that your training program looks like you are training for the Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition. Is that what you really want?

Most women in the gym have the same goal – get more tone – and also have the same fear – I don’t want to get getting bulky (which is impossible unless you are a female on steroids, in which case I am sure the German swim team will be calling you soon). Because of this UNFOUNDED fear, they will work on their arms or legs with VERY HIGH REPS and VERY LITTLE WEIGHT (so little weight that they can read a magazine while doing their leg workout) followed by an aerobics class. I am sure that their thoughts are – If I feel it burn while I’m exercising, then it must be burning fat! So I could see how they would think – I want to tighten/tone my arms, so I will have an “arm day” and then go burn lots of calories in an aerobics class.

Here’s the bad news – just because you “feel” the muscle working and it “burns” doesn’t mean a thing. For example, contract your bicep as hard as you can and hold for 1 minute. Not only should your arm be on fire, it will probably be sore if you really squeezed. Did you feel it? Yep. Did it burn? Yep. Will you get any results doing that 2 or 3 times a week? NOPE!

On a side note, training one body part at a time is a method used to get bulky.☺ I have an “arms day” and after my workout, they measure about 20 inches, what woman would want that? Then why do you train like me?

Men who want to lose 50 pounds are doing “arms” in one day. Not a lot of calories burning there, but it makes you FEEL like your arms (and self-confidence) are huge! Men and women are baffled when they do this for an extended period of time and don’t see the fat loss they want. It’s because they’re not getting the most “bang for their buck” in the gym, not to mention their nutrition is often really bad.

Not to get side-tracked here, but eating healthy is not the same as eating for fat loss. You can eat healthy and still get fat, you can eat for health and fat loss, or you can just eat for fat loss. Do not confuse “this is supposed to be healthy” with “I thought this would be good for fat loss.” They are 2 different things! For example, a “healthy breakfast” could be a glass of OJ, 1 cup of oatmeal mixed with some berries and honey for flavor, and 1 whole egg. While some “experts” would call this healthy, this meal would absolutely STOP fat loss in the morning.

In body part split workouts, one muscle is isolated and trained from various angles. So if you are a person who wants to burn as many calories as possible and you make one muscle do all the work for the day, are you using your time wisely? Think of it this way: If you were moving into a new house and you had groups of friends who were able to help, would you choose one friend and have him/her do all the work while everyone else waited for their day? Wouldn’t your move go more efficiently if you chose more than one friend per day to help? You would be in your new house the fastest if you enlisted the help of all of your friends, all working together. So how do we get our muscles to work together? TOTAL BODY WORKOUTS – workouts that involve your upper and lower body.

Imagine activating a couple of muscles through leg extensions. (By the way, did you really think you were going to lose a bunch of fat and get in the best shape of your life by sitting down on every machine? You sit enough! GET UP!) Now compare that with a squat-and-press where you activate a couple hundred muscles … Hmmm … a couple muscles vs. a couple hundred. Which is going to burn more fat and help you look stronger and leaner?

How do we incorporate the bigger and smaller muscles? COMPOUND MOVEMENTS – exercises that require more than one joint to move. Here are two examples:
• hips + knees = lower body pushing and pulling like squats and deadlifts
• shoulders + elbows = upper body pushing and pulling like push-ups, dips, rows, and chin-ups.

Compound movements should be the foundation of all your training. Almost all great strength coaches agree that 80% of your results come from 20% of your exercises. You’re going to get much better results from deadlifts and dips than calf raises and crunches. (Don’t even get me started on crunches. Read: Why do you hate your spine?)

So a total body workout using compound movements can be summed up like this: Do a squat OR deadlift variation AND an upper body push and pull in every workout.

Have you noticed that athletes typically don’t use machines and rarely sit down during their workous? Ah-ha! If we all trained like athletes, we would all look like athletes.

So who would you rather look like – the long-distance runner who does very little weight training but does lots and lots of long-duration cardio OR the athletic sprinter who does very little cardio, but does compound lifts like the squat-and-press? You decide.