How bored are you with your "leg-day, chest-day, arm day" gym routine?
If you are looking for something that will get you better results and be more satisfying, then I have good news for you.
Stop now, and you'll be better off.
Training splits, the "leg-day/chest-day/arm-day" guff are just figments of the bro-culture. If you're under 40 no harm done - you'll look good in a t-shirt following any strength-training regime.
If you are over 50, then it's time to stop and think seriously about your training objectives.
Living longer better fitness isn't about bodybuilding
If your goal remains to "get ripped" then carry on with your current program. However, if your exercise goal is to support your life-long health and fitness better, then it's time to ditch the training splits.
I'm assuming that if you are still reading then you are not that interested in optimising your performance in one activity and instead just want to be as healthy possible and achieve multifaceted fitness.
Life-long health and fitness mean setting up to minimise the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and mental decline. It also means being able to play with your grandkids, keep participating in your favourite activities, and to live longer independently.
Life-long fitness requires building overall body strength, flexibility and balance, muscular endurance, and stamina. Life-long fitness includes the attainment of pain-free working joints via the long-term development of balanced muscles and strong supporting tendons and ligaments. For example, did you know that the root cause of most chronic pain related to posture is not misaligned bones and joints - that need to be "cracked" - but by a lack of muscle strength and endurance?
These objectives above - for living better longer - are not the objectives of training splits.
To live longer better, and with less pain and better posture, you need something else, which is what have been doing for the last 20 years.
Why are you told to do training-splits, in whose interest?
You've no doubt been told by your personal trainer, or the gym staff, that training splits are the way to go because you'll build the most strength.
There are two main reasons they would say this:
Let's look behind these two reasons.
The first reason is both true and not correct! It appears to be true that if you want to develop the absolute last 3% of your potential muscle strength or size, then splits - and some machines - are the way to go.
However, it may not be true that split training is the reason. This research report says that "it is unknown if the training programs elite athletes and bodybuilders employ are superior for increasing lean body mass and strength compared to more frequent muscle group training."
In any case, developing the last 3% of your muscle strength or size is not relevant to your training goal of living longer better. Not only that but in my 20 years of observing at the gym, I have never seen anyone over 50 apply the intensity required to achieve the last 3%.
As far as the second reason goes, you could do your split training as free-standing exercises, but they know that you will give up on that. Better to get you dependent on the machines - that's in their interest and the interests of the gym owners.
In summary, the advice to adopt split training does not align with your training goal of living longer better.
The outcome it offers of the achieving last 3% of muscle strength is not relevant to you, and getting you hooked on the gym machines is not in your interest.
Yes, functional training is relevant for living better
What IS in your interest is to do functional training - full-body training each session.
The variation pattern to apply to your sessions is not "legs versus arms" but a periodic emphasis on 4 principal factors - overall strength, interval training, functional training and balance.
I've heard trainers dismissing functional training as misguided. Their point is that functional training exists only in relation to the requirements of a specific sport, e.g. tennis, golf, soccer, basketball.
That's one definition.
In our case we are doing it in support of our goal of living longer better, after 50.
We want to build a robust posture - to enable our lungs, heart, other organs, and lymph glands to perform optimally. This stable posture will also prevent or alleviate our "growing old" pains.
We also want to maintain our skeletal muscle and not have it atrophy, so we can get up off the lounge with ease, and play soccer and swim with the grandkids.
A heart that pumps an excellent solid stroke of blood each time is also part of our functional training strategy. That's the interval training component. Robust pulses of blood help maintain the quality of the vascular system and reduce arterial stiffness. This efficient, effective circulation also brings more nutrients to your brain, and washed away more of the metabolic waste, and therefore supports your cognitive fitness and neurogenesis.
Avoiding falls is another key goal for us. This requires attention to all of the above and to balance training. Those over 65 that fall and injure their hips or break other bones die, on average, five years earlier. My training pattern will strengthen your bones - increase your bone density.
My bone density - according to a recent dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) - is 20% more dense than my male age group (72 years old), and 5% more dense than the average 25-year old male.
A functional training plan, for every session
These are all reasons to quit split-training if your exercise goal is to live longer better.
Instead, mix and match the quantity and intensity of strength training, interval training, functional training, and balance - at every session.
For strength training, solid bodyweight exercises are fine - pushups, planks, swiss ball exercises, or do barbell or dumbbell training for your whole body. For interval training, try a Spin class, or a circuit training class, or set yourself up with rowing intervals. If you like running, go for runs.
Functional training means using weighted whole-body movements, such as kettlebells. But more general bodyweight exercises or TRX or a Bodypump class are also functional. You could also include Pilates or Yoga on this day as the focus.
Functional training overlaps with free-standing strength training. The difference is where you put your emphasis during your session. For example, a training plan can be three days:
On each day, you should aim to do a little of all the three main exercise types - and include balance every day.
This does not mean spending more time at the gym. It means putting your most significant effort into strength, or interval training, or functional training on each day.
Following this program and dropping the split-days also has other benefits, for example doing it just three times a week is plenty. Those doing training-splits often go to gym 4 or 5 times a week - dividing the body up finely, one part for each day. There's no need at all for that.
You then have time for different types of exercise that you might like, e.g. running, rowing, sprinting, swimming, sailing, or just more time for other things in your life. After all the other things in your life are why you are training to live longer better, right? Go play with your grandkids, they be amazed at your new energy!
You will also end up with the same strength as you would from split-training, but with better overall fitness, stamina and balance.
This program will also lower your body age more than split-training - a dramatic difference and a vital one for you at this time of your life.
Just one tip: If you choose to do more cardio with your free time don’t overdo it. I run 5km twice a week, on trails, and quite intensely. That's only 25 minutes each time. Don’t do long cardio as you'll undo some of the benefits of your improved bone strength from your new routine.
What do you say? How soon will you get started on your new training goal to live longer better?
If you would like more specifics about this type of training, and what I have been doing for 20 years, contact me, message me (below) or comment. I will send you details. Please also subscribe to my newsletter below.
Do you agree with me? Great. Tell me how you either have used or are going to use my advice above. Don’t agree with me and think I’m an idiot. That’s fine. I’m open to any constructive criticism, let me know by commenting.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building body-shaping training for people our age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter