Workout: Full body, three day split

This week, I’ve been testing a new, full-body program; a simple affair run three days a week. And it tested pretty well.

Of course, it’ll be weeks or months before I can tell what it does, and there’s the real possibility I’ll still make a few small changes. But overall, it’s solid.

Both full body and three day splits are staples of workout programming, with just about every trainer and trainee having built and followed a similar program.

So why full body, and why the simple split?

For the last year or more, I’ve been following a high volume training philosophy, hitting the gym six days a week. Most of the programs have been body part splits with muscle groups worked once or twice a week.

On some level, it’s been working well for me. Being one of the pillars of hypertrophy, high-volume almost always brings progress for trainees of every capability level. Getting a daily dose six out seven days also played to my enthusiasm and, truth be told, ego.

Still, it took its toll on my aging body, with tendons and connective tissue groaning at the sheer volume of work. It also doesn’t help that after thirty years of training, I’m riddled with chronic shoulder and back injuries that compete for my attention.

Time for a change

For the next few months, I’m hoping to stick to a full-body program run three days a week. The goal with the programming is to try and find a sweet spot of volume and frequency, hitting all the major muscle groups three times a week.

There’s lots of ways to go with this, and what I have here is a first cut, optimized for me. Right now, that means no squatting, no flat pressing and limits on some shoulder movements. Point being, by all means follow this program yourself, but feel free to adapt the exercises to meet your specific needs or limitations.

I already wrote-up the first two workouts here, and here. But to make things easy for anyone wanting the full program, I’m going to include all three days in this post.

The full workout

Day 1

A:  Chest supported row   3 x 8-12

B:  Kroc rows   2 x 20-25

C:  Incline crush press   10, 6, 15

D1:  DB RDL   3 x 8-12
D2:  KB front squat   3 x 12-15

E:  Cable curl   3 x 8-12
F:  DB decline hammer   3 x 8-12

G:  Suitcase carry   10 x 30 secs (5 each arm)

Day 2

A1:  Face-pulls   3 x 8-12
A2:  Pallof press   3 x 12-15

B:  Single arm DB floor press   7, 7, 14

C:  DB box step-up   3 x 8-12 (per leg)

D:  Chest supported row   10, 6, 15

E:  Cable side lateral   2 x 20-25 (each side)

F1:  DB curl   3 x 8-12
F2:  Cable pushdown   3 x 8-12

Day 3

A1:  Leg curls   3 x 8-12
A2:  Leg extension   3 x 8-12

B:  Trap bar deadlift   7, 7, 7*

C:  Single-arm pull-down   3 x 8-12

D:  DB OHP   7, 7, 14

E1:  Barbell curl   3 x 8-12
E2:  JM press   3 x 8-12

* 90% of load

The programming and execution

Here’s the basics:

  • Warm-up for each exercise; the above does not include warm-up sets.
  • No rest between exercises within a superset (e.g. A1/A2, E1/E2).
  • Keep rest intervals between sets appropriate; i.e. not less than 45 seconds, not more than 2 minutes.
  • Work with intention throughout; move briskly between exercises.
  • For movements with rep ranges, when you hit the upper range, add weight and drop to the lower range.

Following the above, I can get through each of these workouts in about one hour.

In terms of the programming, I’ve italicized the opening exercises, and emboldened the second. What’s that about?

When I designed the program, I opted to run a different workout on each of the days. I also decided I’d anchor each of the workouts around particular lift early in the workout while I was still fresh.

The italicized exercise is an activation movement; an exercise or exercises intended to directly prepare mind and muscles for the emboldened anchor movement.

To be clear, I work hard on all the exercises. But the anchor movement is something I am particularly focusing on, something I want to tangibly improve over time. As a result, I’ll be making sure that part of the program goes down without change or incident.

Intensity? Periodization?

For intensity, think 90%. Remember, the primary goal here is frequency. That means that at the outer limit, I’ll push no harder than positive failure. But for most exercises on most days, I am hitting the target rep-range with one to two reps left in the tank. This leaves me some runway for recovery and progression over time.

The astute readers among you will not that I’ve not touched on periodization; i.e. phased or periodic changing of rep-ranges toward specific goals. And that’s largely intentional. The rep ranges are all sufficiently high that periodization is not really necessary with a program like this. Also, I don’t have a “deadline” or PR goal at the end of this; I’m just training.

I’ll track my progress, looking to make sure I am getting stronger over the rep ranges listed, and I’ll also watch for plateaus. But this is a simple program with basic mechanics that should keep me moving forward for some time.

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