The New Science Behind Full-Body and High-Frequency Training

HIT and Split Routine Peeps: You’re Not The Least Wrong Anymore. You’re More Wrong

Introduction

There’s an idea, or perhaps it’s an attitude, or maybe it’s a discipline that I consistently employ and emphasize. It’s a perspective I harp on because, let’s face it, everyone always believes they’re right. Of course, everyone thinks they’re correct, but in the face of disagreement, it’s clear that not everyone can be right. This often leads to the classic dispute of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” However, I like to adopt a different approach, especially in areas where there is still much to learn, discover, and experience. Why not consider the attitude that everybody is wrong? Some are more wrong than others, or to frame it positively, some are less wrong than others.

To reiterate, I’m referring to domains where our understanding is still evolving. Obviously, there are incontrovertible truths, such as the consequences of jumping off a high building or ingesting poison. But let’s shift the focus to the gym, an area where humanity has been exploring and evolving for eons, dating back to the ancient Greeks and beyond. The premise here is simple: stress the human body with athletics, and it adapts, improves. People make progress by setting goals, achieving milestones, and continually advancing. It’s a beautiful thing.

However, imagine if we had omniscience and could determine the perfect routine, the ideal set of exercises, resistance, sets, and repetitions, all executed in the perfect style. Going back to my earlier point, we could then say that, throughout thousands of years, everyone has been wrong to some degree, with each generation getting progressively “less wrong.”

Now, consider the gym environment, with its trainers, teachers, gym rats, and trainees, each gravitating towards certain exercise routines and styles. Occasionally, a significant discovery shifts the consensus, leading many to believe they’ve found the “holy grail” of fitness. This discovery becomes the foundation of businesses, practices, personal training regimes, supplements, and gear. Initially, when a methodology appears to be the “least wrong,” it’s celebrated. However, as time passes, new discoveries or re-evaluations of old methods may emerge, challenging the status quo. These challenges are often met with resistance, framed in various ways, from appeals to authority, experience, or cherry-picked scientific references. One must question whether the resistance is a pursuit of truth or a defense of established territory.

This brings me to a personal anecdote. After spending eight solid months researching and experimenting, I’ve compiled a manual, complete with charts to demonstrate my findings. This project would never have commenced if not for my interaction with a personal trainer from Australia, Mr. Anthony Colpo, who relocated to Thailand. I helped him settle in, and in return, he spent five weeks training with me, during which we hit the gym almost daily. Our routine included a 2.5km walk to the gym and back, incorporating a hill climb and refreshments. During this period, we discussed new research concerning full-body workouts versus split routines, exploring the merits of high frequency over high intensity.

Inspired by these discussions, I devised a manual of 20 distinct full-body routines, each incorporating exercises for legs, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and abs. These routines can be performed with high frequency, according to personal preference. My approach favors back-to-back training days, with rest periods adjusted based on the intensity of the preceding sessions.

In delving into Anthony Colpo’s research, it’s clear that his thoroughness leaves no stone unturned, favoring no particular outcome but seeking the truth. This journey into fitness and training methodology underscores the importance of remaining open to new information, challenging established norms, and continuously striving to be “less wrong” in our pursuits.

Anthony’s Domain

1. Bro Science vs Reality: Are Split Routines Really Better than Total-Body Routines?

Split routines have by far enjoyed the most muscle media coverage over the years, and are the go-to choice for gym rats all around the world. But is there any actual evidence that split routines lead to greater strength and muscle gains than full-body routines?

The answer to that question will no doubt come as a surprise to many people.

2. High-Frequency Training: Should You Do Shorter Workouts, But More Often? Part 1

While common in years gone by, few people nowadays train muscle groups three times weekly. As for training the same muscle group four or more times per week, most brofessors will vigorously scoff at the idea. Tell them that’s what you plan to do, and they’ll almost certainly launch into a diatribe about injury and overtraining. “Your muscles won’t have enough time to recover, man! You’ll end up injured and overtrained!”

Whatever this belief is based on, it’s not science (“trust me bro” is not a valid scientific source).

In full disclosure, I’ve asked ChatGPT-4 Turbo to summarize both articles in about 500 words each, using the following prompt: Summarize this document in about 500 words, citing the main areas of research, stating, and justifying/arguing its conclusion.

The perennial debate in the weightlifting community between full-body routines and split routines has been a topic of much contention, with proponents on each side touting the superiority of their preferred method. Full-body routines involve working all major muscle groups in a single session, while split routines divide muscle groups across different days. Despite the popularity and anecdotal evidence supporting both methods, scientific research into their comparative efficacy has been scant until the last decade.

Historically, resistance training research was sparse, with only one published study on the topic before the year 2000. This lack of scientific inquiry left gym-goers and trainers relying on anecdotal evidence and the often dubious advice found in muscle magazines. However, since 2010, a series of controlled trials have begun to shed light on the matter, comparing full-body and split routines under similar weekly volume conditions to minimize confounding variables.

The studies reviewed encompass a broad spectrum of training frequencies and intensities, from once a week to five times a week, and from training muscle groups once weekly to five times weekly. Notably, none of these studies conclusively showed a significant advantage of one routine over the other in terms of strength gains, hypertrophy, or body composition when volume was equated. For instance, Schoenfeld et al. (2015) found a slight hypertrophic benefit to higher frequencies of training (i.e., full-body routines) when volume was equal, suggesting the potential benefits of varying training stimulus.

A few studies, such as those conducted by Gomes et al. (2018) and Zaroni et al. (2018) in Brazil, explored the effects of very high-frequency training, where muscle groups were trained four to six times per week. Contrary to common gym lore that such frequency would lead to overtraining and injury, these studies found no significant disadvantages to high-frequency, full-body routines compared to split routines. In some cases, the high-frequency routines even showed marginally better results in muscle thickness and strength gains.

The evidence suggests that both full-body and split routines can produce similar outcomes if the total weekly training volume is the same. This finding underscores the importance of personal preference, schedule, and the principle of variation in training routines for continued progress. Alternating between full-body and split routines may provide the varied stimulus necessary for ongoing improvement, as changing routines can prevent staleness and overtraining.

Full-body routines have the added advantage of simplicity and efficiency, allowing for the inclusion of compound movements that work larger muscle groups, potentially leading to greater strength gains, hypertrophy, and fat loss. These routines also enable the integration of moderate to vigorous cardio sessions without concern for interfering with muscle recovery, as all major muscle groups are worked in each session.

In conclusion, the choice between full-body and split routines should be based on individual preferences, goals, and lifestyle considerations rather than the belief in the inherent superiority of one method over the other. The scientific evidence indicates that both approaches can be effective, provided the training volume is equated. This conclusion advocates for a more nuanced understanding of resistance training methodologies, encouraging individuals to experiment with different routines to find what works best for them while emphasizing the importance of variation for continued progress.

Now, for the 2nd article.

The exploration of high-frequency training, particularly its impact on muscle growth and strength development, has been a subject of debate among fitness enthusiasts and researchers alike. The conventional wisdom, often propagated by gym “brofessors,” suggests that training a muscle group once or twice a week is optimal, citing concerns over injury and overtraining with more frequent sessions. However, a closer examination of scientific studies challenges this notion, revealing that high-frequency training may not only be safe but potentially more effective in certain contexts.

One of the earliest provocations for reevaluating training frequency came from the Norwegian Frequency Project, which observed the effects of high-frequency training among Norway’s national powerlifting squad. Under the guidance of coach Dietmar Wolf, the team transitioned to a regimen that involved training major lifts multiple times a week, departing from the traditional thrice-weekly schedule. The results were promising, indicating superior strength gains with the higher frequency approach, though formal publication of the study’s methodology and results was limited to maintain a competitive edge.

Subsequent research has sought to systematically compare high-frequency training (defined as training each muscle group four or more times per week) with lower-frequency routines of equivalent volume. A notable early study by Hunter in 1985 found that untrained subjects engaging in a four-day-per-week total-body program experienced greater strength and endurance improvements in the bench press, as well as increased chest circumference, compared to those training three days a week. This study hinted at the potential benefits of higher training frequencies, especially among female participants.

More recent studies have expanded on these findings, exploring the effects of high-frequency training across a range of populations, from novices to experienced lifters. For instance, Colquhoun et al. (2018) observed marginally greater, though not statistically significant, gains in lean mass and strength among participants training six days a week compared to a three-day group. Similarly, Zaroni et al. (2018) reported significantly greater increases in muscle thickness for certain areas in a five-day-a-week total-body training group versus a traditional “Bro Split” group.

Despite these encouraging results, it’s crucial to acknowledge the limitations of the existing research, including small sample sizes and high dropout rates, which could obscure the true effects of high-frequency training. Moreover, the majority of studies have focused on young, healthy individuals, raising questions about the applicability of these findings to older populations or those with pre-existing conditions.

In conclusion, the body of research examined suggests that high-frequency training is not inherently detrimental and may offer advantages over lower-frequency routines in terms of strength and hypertrophy outcomes. While the evidence is not yet definitive, and limitations within the studies need to be addressed in future research, these findings challenge the entrenched dogma of training frequency. Fitness enthusiasts and trainers might consider experimenting with higher frequency routines, tailoring their approach based on individual responses and goals. However, as with any training regimen, it’s essential to listen to one’s body and adjust accordingly to prevent overtraining and injury.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all of this? Well, the first point is that if you’re a fan of high-intensity training, or you prefer split routines, whether they focus on specific muscle groups, push and pull exercises, or leg days that occur more frequently, you’re doing just fine. Obviously, you’re achieving results, so by all means, continue.

However, are you following this regimen because you believe it’s the absolute best way to exercise? Not just the best way to exercise in general, but the ultimate method for you personally? To put it another way, are you forsaking a method you might prefer and find more effective? For me, effectiveness is gauged by whether or not it gets you into the gym consistently, on schedule, and with fewer missed days. Because, ultimately, the best routine and style for you is the one that keeps you returning to the gym.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who reminisces about the full-body routines you did as a beginner, enjoying the comprehensive pumped feeling, or if you prefer working out on consecutive days for three to five days before taking a well-deserved rest, then that’s perfectly fine too. Whether you prefer intense gym sessions followed by a day off, or a more relaxed schedule, it’s all acceptable. There’s no wrong way to do it. Claims that you’ll overtrain and get injured are, according to research, largely unfounded, as long as you adhere to basic safety guidelines, which primarily involve managing your rep range.

If you’re constantly attempting one-rep maxes every time you lift, injuries will happen. However, if you never lift heavier than what you can manage for twelve reps, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. Lifting a weight that you can handle for at least six to eight reps falls within a pretty good safety range, and you’re encouraged to pursue that.

So, what does all this mean? It means I’m not as crazy as it may seem. I’ve got a knack for picking up on things, but that’s not all. I think the best approach I have is my ability to ignore the minutiae. I’ve noticed that many people, whether in the gym, dieting, or nutrition, tend to needlessly complicate things. This, of course, is one way for people to remain relevant; they create a complexity that only they can navigate, ensuring their continued necessity. I prefer to keep things straightforward: get to the gym and have a good workout.

You can grab my awesome full-body, high-frequency manual right here and try it out for yourself. I think everyone can get value out of the uniqueness of having 20 distinct full-body routines that draw from a library of 80 exercises. It’ll take you a long time of going through all 20 of them for you to get even close to learning them so well they become mundane and boring. Give it a shot. Why wait?


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