The Basics of Training for Size, Part 3: Full Body Workouts

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Why Full Body Workouts Can Be the Best for Muscle Gain

Don’t miss the previous two installments of this series here: Part 1: High Rep Training and Part 2: Size and Strength

Over the course of the last two posts, we covered two very different but very effective means of training for mass gain: “high rep” and “low rep.”

The set up for those approaches is such that are volume for each body part is condensed into a single day, but the frequency is low: you get a lot of work on chest one that one day, but only do so once per week.

Today, I want to switch gears and focus on a form of training that allows for body parts to be hit more frequently than that: full body training.

Instead of performing two to three exercises of up to five for a single body part (which can total up to 120 reps, as we discussed last time), you will perform one or two sets for every body part, totaling maybe 20-40 reps per workout. The daily volume is lower, but the weekly volume is similar and sometimes greater.

These are great at busting plateaus for advanced lifters, but I also like full body workouts for beginners. For those without a lot of experience training, the frequent exposure to movement patters will facilitate increases in motor learning and neurological efficiency, which will have a tremendous impact on results. Here are two approaches.

Photo: Blake

High Intensity Training

HIT for short, is a hot button in the training community. Developed by Arthur Jones in the 1970s, HIT at its core is a system of training each muscle with one set to the point of momentary muscular failure. The workouts were brief, intense, and infrequent. In the 70s, when Arnold and Company were advocating training twice per day, six days per week for nearly two hours at a clip, this wasn’t just controversial—it was heretical.

You see, the fundamental principles of High Intensity Training (HIT) are that exercise should be brief, relatively infrequent, and intense. This was in direct opposition to what was considered standard bodybuilding training.

HIT workouts tend to be less than an hour long and performed only done twice to three times per week.

It’s important to note that HIT principles use the word intensity differently than the rest of the training world: in most weight training contexts, “intensity” refers to the amount of weight you’re using relative to your 1-rep max; whereas in the HIT model “intensity” refers to how “hard” an exercise is, as determined by approaching or achieving momentary muscular failure. In HIT, it is known that there is an inverse relationship between how intensely and how long one can exercise. As a result, high intensity workouts are kept brief.

While many typical HIT programs comprise a single-set per exercise, tri-weekly, full-body workout, many variations exist. Furthermore, in HIT, tempo is generally stricter than most other types of training.

This refers to the cadence of a lift (how quickly it’s lifted and lowered), which will be very slow compared to a non-HIT weight training routine. Advocates of HIT stress the importance of controlled lifting speeds and strict form, paying special attention to avoid any bouncing or jerking during a set.  Rather, as soon as it becomes impossible to perform a rep with good form, the set is terminated.

While there is a certain skeptical streak in me that instinctively shudders at the dogmatic, “This Is The Best Way To Train” approach on which some HIT’ers take a hard line, I simply take a pragmatic approach to things and use whatever tools seem applicable to the job at hand.

It is for this reason I like to use HIT (or modified HIT principles) with clients who can only train once per week. Because you are training to failure on multiple exercises, your recovery is supremely compromised. So, for someone training once per week, with the exercises performed intensely and in good form, there can be enough stimulation of muscle tissue to allow for growth.

I wouldn’t really recommend this for people who are able to train or want to train more than twice per week. It’s simply too draining.

For a change of pace or someone with time constraints, I think HIT is an excellent option. For more information on HIT, check out, the home of Dr. Ellington Darden, author of numerous HIT books.

1201978211_90ab850583_oPhoto: Blake

Hypertrophy-Specific Training

HST is another training program based around full body training programs. Like HIT, Hypertrophy Specific Training incorporates training to failure, but only once every two weeks.

With HST, you pre-test your maximum weight for 5, 10, and 15 repetitions. You then subtract from these, and work up to them over a two-week period. So, for two weeks you are training in a 15-rep program, then two weeks at 10 reps, and then 5 reps.

Although you are going to failure only once every two weeks, you’re working with near-maximal weight the entire duration of the program.

HST differs from HIT philosophically in that HIT maintains the act of going to momentary muscular failure to is necessary to illicit muscular growth; whereas HST asserts that the stimulation of muscle tissue through the use of near-maximal weight is enough.

I include HST mainly because I have used it with great success. Its structure makes it somewhat ungainly for use with clients, but for the average guy trying to pack on mass, I think it is a great program.

One of my favorite things about HST is the inclusion of an off week for what is called Strategic Deconditioning. The theory behind this is that by taking periods away from the training effect, the return to training will allow for a greater amount of super-compensation to occur—in this case, more muscle growth.

Even though I rarely find myself going back to Hypertrophy Specific Training, I still schedule myself a period of deconditioning every 9-12 weeks. I believe this single change has done more for my growth than nearly any training program I have tried.

If you’re the kind of person who likes a fairly rigid structure and having everything planned out perfectly weeks in advance, HST is a great choice. Check out for more information.

I’ll Be Back….

One of the main advantages of full body training is the increased flexibility that comes from performing a single workout multiple times per week—if you miss a session, it’s easy to make it up.

Further, as mentioned previously, these training methods allow for greater frequency, and you’re often working muscle groups three or even four times per week; for many people, this is surest path to growth.

There are others, of course, some of them very advanced. So far, we’ve covered manipulating volume and frequency, but there are many variables that can be adjusted to allow for greater growth. Don’t miss the final installment of this series to learn ’em.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

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