I’ve been in the fitness industry for about three and a half years now. Over that time I have tried several approaches with new clients. When I was a brand new trainer I trained all my clients exactly like I trained myself with a split routine. I’ve had clients follow the OPT model developed by NASM focusing on balance work, then progressing to strength, followed by hypertrophy, and ending with maximum strength and power. Now, all of these methods “worked” per se. Also let me preface this blog post by saying that you can achieve results training a myriad of ways. But, in my experience, total body training reigns supreme for new lifters.
There are several reasons why I feel the way I do about total body training being useful in the infancy of fitness journeys. The main reason is, when you’re a new lifter you don’t need a lot of volume to grow. Going from being sedentary, or even active in a cardio sense, to strength training provides a completely new stimulus for the body. When the body receives a new stimulus it reacts to overcome it. It does this by recruiting more motor units from the brain (strength) and enlarging existing muscle fibers (growth). When you’re new you really don’t need to put your body through the wringer to get insane results. Even doing 1-3 sets of an exercise 2-3 times a week will yield both strength and size gains. Will this work forever? No, but it's definitely enough to get you through your first 3-12 months in the gym. Not needing a lot of volume leads me into my next point as to why total body training is the best for new lifters.
Your body simply can’t handle copious amounts of volume when you aren’t a seasoned lifter. The longer that you train, the more your body adapts to training. After a little while the volume or weight that got you results in the beginning will need to be increased to keep seeing results. But, that is because your body adapted to the volume. If I were to throw a high volume workout at my new clients that I use to build size they would leave the gym feeling awful, possibly get sick, and maybe never come back to training. When I have a new client and I make them perform a movement for their legs they usually complain to me about how sore they are for a week, sometimes more. Now imagine if I had thrown three workouts at them for that body part. You can probably guess that it would do more harm than good. Just enough volume to get better is all you should be aiming for, especially as a new lifter.
Excess volume will create unnecessary problems in everyday life as well. Too much volume can further trigger delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Have you ever gone to the gym for the first time in a long time, or even the first time ever and been sore for over a week? Yes, me too. It’s definitely not a good feeling. It basically makes the rest of your life harder for the next week. Now, total body training can alleviate this problem in a couple ways. One, it keeps the volume per body part per session lower which creates less muscle damage. As I said earlier in this post, the longer you train the more volume your body can handle, and also the quicker it can recover from it. When you are a seasoned lifter, you can handle 3-5 exercises per muscle per session and wake up the next day with little to no soreness. But, when your'e new your body has not adapted to recovering that quickly, so you will feel pretty sore for a few days even doing one exercise per body part. The second reason total body training helps with recovery is, when you return to the gym for your second or third session of the week your workout will bring blood to the whole body. Blood and movement help alleviate soreness and fix the initial muscle damage. This makes life a lot easier for the average person because they can get back to pain free normal activities quicker. Creating less damage and also aiding in recovery are two great benefits, but that’s not all that total body training can do.
Total body training will also help with adherence and success with a new workout plan. I’ve found this to be true for a few reasons. First off, when you’re new, working out is usually not the easiest thing. And I have found that if you can’t show people some kind of measurable success within the first few months, they will fall off the wagon. So, let’s say you’re following a split routine and you miss a workout one week. By the time you get around to training those body parts again it will have been two weeks. This creates a couple problems. One, you’re most likely going to get pretty sore again. Two, you will have a higher tendency to miss more workouts because in your mind you have already fallen off the plan. I know that sounds a little weird, but it's true. I cant tell you the amount of times I have heard someone say, “Well I already ate bad today so I’ll just get back on track tomorrow” as they continue to consume excess calories and push themselves farther away from their goals. It’s the same with working out, “Well I missed a workout for the week, it’’s an off week, I’ll get back on track next week. Total body shifts the focus of I missed a workout, to I got two workouts in and hit each body part twice! This leads into why total body training helps with success. When you miss a workout no part of your body misses out on work for that week. And, let’s face it we miss workouts sometimes because we’re human. In my experience, total body training can really make or break someones workout routine, especially in the beginning.
Total body workouts can also save you a ton of time. A lot of people seek out personal trainers because their life got busy, they gained some weight, and now they need to learn how to lose it. But, theres one thing that doesn’t change in that equation, how busy someone is. I’ve seen first hand people who can barely make it to the gym for our sessions because they are so busy. Total body workouts can get you in and out of the gym in 30 minutes. One of the main reasons these type of workouts allow for this is everything can be turned in to a circuit or multiple circuits. Let’s say you’re doing 1 exercise per major body part. You would have to complete 8 exercises in a workout. For a normal style workout with rest in between each set this could take 40 minutes or more depending on how much you rest. However, when you complete everything in a circuit it cuts that time in half. This is effective with total body training because while you’re working one muscle the other muscles are resting and stretching out. So, if you complete a circuit of 4 exercises by the time you get back to exercise 1 that body part has almost fully if not fully recovered. Also, total body training condenses the number of sessions you need to train per week. You can train your whole body in one session. While I would not recommend training once per week consistently if you are really trying to change your body, once is still better than nothing. And on a side note even working out once per week does yield health and longevity benefits. On a split routine you would have to get to the gym 4 to 5 times per week, but when you training everything together you can get similar results in 3 days. Time is something we could all “use more of” and total body workouts can make that happen.
As a fitness professional it is my job to create effective workouts for my clients. Being effective can be judged on several factors like results, enjoyment, adherence, etc. In my experience total body training will always come out on top for newer lifters. As a side note, I also feel this is the best method of training when returning to lifting after a long break. Total body training can get you great results, help you save time, help with adherence, and overall just make things more simple. Imagine working out and only having to learn 6 moves in the gym instead of 30. If you’re a new lifter and just getting started I highly recommend you start with total body training. Even if you’re someone who is just into general fitness total body workouts can work wonders for you as well. Try it out, if you do it right I promise you wont be disappointed with your results.
My name is Patriel Dunford and as the owner of Infinite Fitness my main goal in life is to spread good advice in the health industry and help people live healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives.