De ja vu anyone! :)
Split Routines: Are They the Death of Productive Training?
Kurt J. Wilkens, RKC
I have come to the following conclusion, after considerable research and study of much of the available material regarding the training methods and results of the so-called ?old timers?, as well as current training methods and results: the ?split? routine has been the death of productive strength training and muscle building. Allow me to explain the reasoning behind this possibly shocking revelation?
First, I shall clarify what I mean by ?split? routine. As most of us are probably aware, the conventional use of the phrase split routine comes from bodybuilding; it refers to structuring ones training routine around the individual body parts/muscle groups. One example: Working chest, shoulders, and triceps one day, back and biceps the next, and legs the third day. Another, even worse (and you?ll understand why by the end of the article), example: Legs one day, back one day, chest one day, shoulders one day, and arms one day. As I said, these are conventional examples of split routines, the type of things you would invariably find in what have been referred to as the ?muscle comics? -- because what you find inside these ?comics? is so far-fetched and ridiculous, it has absolutely no resemblance to reality!
Another, more practical, type of split routine, would be to split the lifts -- take a handful of the big, compound, multi-joint exercises and work two or three each time you train. As you will soon see, this type of split can be very effective. For example: squats, pull-ups, and overhead presses one day, deadlifts and bench press another day, and maybe snatches and cleans-and-jerks on another day. It should be obvious, I hope, that the type of split routine that I have a problem with is the former, body part type.
It might not be the end of the world if the use of body part split routines were limited just to bodybuilding, but their insidious influence is found everywhere. Many amateur and professional athletes (in football, baseball, basketball, etc.), World?s Strongest Man competitors, powerlifters, and combative and tactical athletes of all types can be seen using the cursed split routine in their training. These are people who, in my opinion, should know better -- and whose athletic needs require a totally different approach to strength training and conditioning.
When the ?average? guy took up weight training in the early days of the 20th Century, he was almost assured of making good gains from his training. He could count on adding considerable size and strength to his body, while also vastly improving his health. Today?s average trainee is not afforded that same luxury/opportunity -- and much of the blame should fall at the feet of the muscle magazines, for it is the muscle mags that promulgate the absurd split routines to the unknowing masses of eager, yet gullible, young men. In defense of these magazines, though, it may not be entirely their fault. You see, it all started back in the early 1920s ?
A Little History for Yourself
When Milo Steinborn came here from Germany, he brought with him the heavy, flat-footed squat. Prior to this, most lifters in this country were doing their squats with fairly light weights, up on their toes. This produced a certain degree of muscularity in the thighs (though not necessarily a lot), but didn?t contribute much in the way of startling total-body size and strength. With Steinborn?s version of the squat, that all changed -- and a revolution was founded! The heavy, flat-footed, high-rep squat would eventually become the cornerstone of most lifter?s routines, thanks in large part to the efforts of Joseph Curtis Hise and Peary Rader. Along with the squat, you would find many other heavy, multi-joint lifts being suggested by the top physical culturists of the time. This trend -- whole-body routines with an emphasis on heavy leg and back work -- would continue into the 1960s, but only barely.
Perhaps some examples through the years are in order.
Alan Calvert, from his ?First Course in Body-Building and Muscle-Developing Exercises?, 1924, included the following drills in his program: Standing Curls, Bent-Over Rows, Standing Press Behind Neck, Stiff-Arm Pullovers, Weighted Situps, Overhead Press while seated on the floor, Straddle Lifts, Shrugs, Squats up on the toes, One-Arm Press/Side Press, One-Arm Swings, and a strange type of Supported, Bent-Over One-Arm Reverse Curl.
Mark Hamilton Berry, from his ?First Course in Physical Improvement and Muscle Developing Exercises?, circa ~1936: Standing Curl, Floor Press, Bent Rows, Standing Press Behind Neck, Two-Arm Pullovers, Squats, Shrugs, Straddle Lifts, Weighted Situp, One-Arm Press/Side Press, One-Arm KB Swing, Wrist Roller, Wrestler?s Bridge, Reverse Curl, Military Press.
Harry Barton Paschall, ?The Bosco System of Progressive Physical Training?, 1954: (Program 1: Bodybuilding) Upright Rows, Standing Press, Standing Curls, Bent Rows, Squats, Pullovers, Calf Raise, Stiff-Legged Deadlift/Shrug combination drill, Side Bends, DB Circles, Weighted Situps, and Leg Swings; (Program 2: Weight Gaining) Clean and Press, Standing Curls, Bent Rows, Bench Press, Squat, and Chest Lifts.
John McCallum, from his Keys to Progress series, circa the mid-1960s: (An article titled ?For Size and Strength?) Prone Hyper-Extensions, Squats and Pullovers, Front Squats, Bench Press, Power Cleans, Rowing, Press Behind Neck, Incline Curls.
You will notice that none of these programs are split routines; more often than not, it was expected that the routine would be performed on three non-consecutive days per week. Please note, there is nary a fly nor lateral raise nor leg extension in the bunch. (Apparently, however, curls have always been included as a concession to man?s preoccupation with big biceps.) Another thing you may notice is that, over the years, the routines tended to get a little shorter -- programs of 10-15 or more drills were becoming routines of 6-8 exercises, as they minimized any redundancy and eliminated some of the drills that were not maximally productive. Thus, they found it possible to develop whole-body size and strength without having to train each individual muscle with its own exercise. All of these programs -- both the longer ones and, especially, the shorter ones -- resulted in considerable increases in size and strength for anyone who tried them.
The same cannot be said for the drivel and BS that passes for training advice in this day and age. Show me an ?average?, drug-free, genetically-typical trainee today who has made any real progress in his training; a modern lifter who continues to make progress steadily, even if somewhat slowly; a trainee who is not lifting the same amount of weight for the same number of reps week after week, year after year. I?ve seen it myself time and time again, first when I trained in a gym, then when I worked in one.
In fact, I experienced it for myself. Allow me a brief digression to illustrate my point with some personal history. Years back, when I used to train in the gym with a training partner, we always used split routines -- typically chest/shoulders/triceps on Monday and Thursday, back/biceps Tuesday and Friday, and legs on Wednesday. My partner was a thick little mesomorph who made some progress on whatever program we were using; I, on the other hand, did not. It may also be worth noting that my partner made his progress while missing a good eight out of ten leg workouts, while I made virtually no progress while never missing a leg session. In each chest workout we would do the bench press, working up to a max each time (the idea that you need to max in each workout -- that?s a rant for another time), and I would always take a shot at the big ?two wheels?, 225. Only on one or two occasions was I actually able to bench that 225 by myself, for a shaky, ugly rep -- and this was over the span of more than two years time. (While I constantly struggled with that 225, my partner went on to push 315, damned mesomorph ?) Shortly after I quit the gym, I went on a ?Hard Gainer? type routine, training the whole body in each workout, and using only three or four lifts per session to do so. And after no more than about six months I was benching the sacred two wheels for reps -- three or four or five -- at home, by myself, with confidence, thank you very much.
By now, you are probably wondering when I?m going to get to the point. Well, here it comes. The whole-body type programs that were used in the old days offered many benefits not afforded by the elaborate split routines of today, and these benefits may help explain why it is that old-time lifters could excel while we flounder in a sea of mediocrity. (It may also explain why our Olympic lifters have lost to the cursed Commies year after year -- since the 60s; it?s an opinion apparently shared by none other than the great Olympic lifter Tommy Kono, at least according to his excellent book, ?Weightlifting, Olympic Style?.)
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