Body-Part Training Is Dead

train Oct 10, 2021
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You don't have to sport a permed mullet and baggy muscle pants to look like an outdated bodybuilder.

For most guys, all it requires is a trip to the gym.


Because the average lifter still organizes his workouts by body part, designating a separate day to train his chest, shoulders, arms, and so on.

Sound familiar?

It's a common approach that was popularized in the '80s by every muscle and fitness mag on the planet. (And still is.)

It's not wrong--plenty of muscleheads swear by it. But it is antiquated.

Think about it: Everything else has evolved and improved in the last 20 years--shouldn't your workout?

The fact is, there's a faster, more effective way to build muscle than traditional body-part training.

We took off our lab coats to create--especially for you--a 21st-century training plan.

This way, you'll be up to date in the gym, even if you drive a Datsun to get there.

Body-Part Training Is Dead

By Joseph Arangio, M.S., C.S.C.S.
Originally appeared in Men's Fitness

The foundation of body-part training is shaky because of one simple and often ignored scientific fact: You can't isolate muscles.

Whether you're doing a bench press for your chest or an arm curl for your biceps, there are always other muscles at work.

These muscles either assist the "target" muscle or contract to stabilize your joints as you perform the exercise.

So when you prepare to lift a weight, your brain sends a nerve impulse to all the muscles needed to initiate the movement, causing them to fire as a single unit.

The bottom line: Your brain recognizes movement patterns, not individual muscles, so that's the way you should organize your training sessions.

Yet few lifters or trainers think in those terms, and that's a problem, because most body-part routines don't allow for balanced workouts, ideal recovery, or efficient training.

For example, here's a common workout plan: chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, legs on Wednesday, shoulders on Thursday, and arms on Friday.

Now here's why it's flawed: The muscles of the lower body, the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, are worked on the same day, yet the chest, back, shoulders, and arms are trained separately.

There's nothing wrong with training your legs once a week, but devoting an additional four days to your upper body is poor logic.

Having a dedicated "arm" day is overkill. When you train your chest, back, and shoulders, the smaller assisting muscles--the triceps and biceps--fatigue faster than the larger target muscles.

So by doing compound moves, such as bench presses, shoulder presses, chinups, and rows, you're working your arm muscles maximally, even if you never do a biceps curl or a triceps extension.

The arm workout is performed the day after the shoulder workout, even though shoulder presses engage the triceps fully.

This results in inadequate recovery time for growth. Since you're only working one body part per workout, you have to perform straight sets, resting between each. That means there's limited opportunity to speed your workout with supersets or alternating sets.


You can solve all the above problems by choosing your exercises from the six major movement patterns below.

And by taking our recommendations that follow, you'll work all your muscles intensely while allowing plenty of recovery time for them to grow.


1. Horizontal Pushes: Upper-body exercises in which you move the weight away from your torso horizontally. (Imagine your torso is upright.)

Exercises: Any bench press or chest fly; dips

2. Horizontal Pulls: Upper-body exercises that require you to move the weight toward your torso horizontally

Exercises: Any bent-over or seated row; dumbbell or machine reverse flys

3. Vertical Pushes: Upper-body exercises in which you move the weight vertically in relation to your torso

Exercises: Any type of shoulder press; lateral or front raise; upright row

4. Vertical Pulls: Upper-body exercises that require you to move the weight in a downward direction in relation to your upright torso

Exercises: Any pullup, pulldown, or pullover

5. Quad-dominants: Exercises in which your quadriceps are the primary mover

Exercises: Any squat, lunge, or leg extension

6. Hip-dominants: Exercises in which your hamstrings and glutes are the primary movers

Exercises: Any type of deadlift or leg curl


Now that you understand how to group your exercises by movement patterns instead of body parts, the rest is easy. Simply use the guidelines below to structure your workout.

Practice organized lifting.

To create an effective training split, divide your workout into two upper-body sessions and two lower-body sessions per week.

For example, you might work your upper body on Monday and Thursday, and your lower body on Tuesday and Friday.

In your first upper-body session, perform only horizontal-push and horizontal-pull movements; in the second upper-body session, do only vertical-push and vertical-pull movements.

For your lower body, use quad-dominant exercises in your first workout and hip-dominant exercises in your second workout. This technique provides an ample amount of work for all your muscles while allowing more recovery time than body-part training.

Match sets.

Do an equal number of sets for each movement pattern. As a general guideline, shoot for 6-12 sets for each movement pattern, performing the low end of the recommendation if you're a beginner and the high end if you've been lifting more than a year.

Doing the same amount of work for each movement pattern helps eliminate weak links, the common cause of muscle-size and strength plateaus.

Note that you'll only be doing one movement pattern on lower-body days, so you'll do fewer total sets (6-12) than on your upper-body days (12-24).

That's acceptable because lower-body exercises such as squats are more physically demanding than upper-body movements.

Master energy efficiency.

For a time-saving workout that doesn't sacrifice muscle gains, use an alternating-set technique during your upper-body workouts. That is, alternate between sets of opposite-movement patterns, resting 30 seconds between each set.

For instance, alternate between sets of bench presses (horizontal push) and bent-over rows (horizontal pull), resting 30 seconds between each set until you've completed the planned number of sets for each.

While your horizontal-pushing muscles work, your horizontal-pulling muscles rest, and vice versa.

So your muscles are actually resting for 90-120 seconds before repeating a movement, since each set takes at least 30-60 seconds to perform.

This cuts your workout time in half while allowing you to train both movements--and all the muscles involved--intensely.


You've probably noticed there is no direct arm work in this system.

If you feel it's necessary, divide your arm exercises into elbow flexion, such as curls, where you bend your elbows to lift the weight, and elbow extension, such as lying triceps extensions, which require you to straighten your arms to lift the weight.

Perform elbow-flexion exercises on the same day you do horizontal-push movements, and do elbow-extension exercises on the same day you perform vertical-pull movements.

You can also perform calf exercises for your lower legs on either your quad-dominant or hip-dominant day. For all of these, do the detail exercises at the end of your workout.

You won't need to work any of these movements much, though: 2-4 sets are plenty.



Joseph Arangio helps 40+ men and women get leaner, stronger, and happier. He's delivered over 100,000 transformation programs to satisfied clients around the globe. If you want to lose weight from home, with the best online personal trainer, or you want to visit the best personal trainer in the Lehigh Valley, you can take a free 14-day trial.

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