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The idea of training only three days a week seems rather foreign to people who h ave just started

lifting weights, but it still is the best regimen for most peop le. Unless people have been engaged in some form of resistance training for some time, they're probably unaware that until fairly recently, everyone trained lik e that. Olympic lifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders and trainees looking to enha nce their strength for some athletic endeavour all worked out three days a week. In a great many cases they did it out of sheer necessity. Until the late 1970s a nd early '80s most gyms designated days as either men's or women's days. That wa y they could attract both sexes. Perhaps there were a few coed gyms around, but I never saw one. It just wasn't done. As a result you had to fit your training routine around the schedule of the gym, which was available only three days a week. It actually worked out nicely and b rought trainees good results, for three days a week in the gym is better for mos t people than four or more days for a lot of reasons. High on the list of positive things about training three days a week is the fact that it doesn't take up a great deal of time. Anyone who's interested in improv ing his or her physical condition by lifting weights can usually manage to find three plus hours a week for working out. Kick that schedule up to training four or five days and problems invariably arise. There are just too many important th ings that have to be taken care of during the week. Most people have family obli gations, work duties and other responsibilities that must take priority. So when ambitious trainees decide to expand their programs to four or five days, they q uickly discover that they cannot meet their lofty expectations, and they start t o skip planned workouts. Any well thought-out routine worth its salt is based to a large extent on a sele ction of exercises that complement one another. There should be a rhythm in the weekly routine, in which each day fits snugly into the overall plan, much like a piece in a puzzle. That means if you miss one session, you lose continuity, whi ch causes a hitch in the flow-a very vital factor of strength training that many overlook. There isn't much to mapping out a killer plan to follow for six to ei ght weeks if you aren't actually going to adhere to the schedule-for whatever re ason. There's no question that one of the keys to making progress on any routine is consistency of training. That's one reason most people make more progress when training three days a week than by trying to squeeze in more workouts. It's much easier to do over the lon g haul. Another main benefit is that a three-days-a-week program requires you to work all your major muscle groups at every session, a particularly important po int for beginners and intermediates, for it forces you to build strength proport ionately. You become stronger in the three major bodypart areas: the shoulder gi rdle, hips and legs and back-at the same rate, which is another basic principle of strength training people often lose sight of. Perhaps so many have gotten awa y from the concept because of the multitude of articles heralding the merits of split routines. Now, there is a place for such programs in resistance training, but they're only beneficial for advanced lifters. Beginning and intermediate weight trainers-as well as other athletes-shouldn't even consider them. I've never seen an athletic event in which the participants only used the muscles of their upper body or th eir backs and legs. Athletes must train their bodies to grow stronger systematic ally and proportionately. If one area of the body becomes considerably stronger, it invariably leads to problems. Even when advanced strength athletes decide th at they need another day of training, that fourth session should include exercis es for all the major muscle groups.

It's also been my observation that people who advocate using any type of split r outine really don't do as much total work in any week as those who train three d ays but hit all their major groups at every workout. For one thing, almost every split routine I've seen focused on the muscles of the upper body. More than hal f the workload is carried by the chest, shoulders and arms-which is usually a lo t more than what the much larger muscles of the hips, legs and back do. The reas on is easy to figure out. Arm, shoulder and chest exercises are much easier to d o than movements that really work the legs and back. Who wouldn't rather bench p ress and curl than grind through a heavy set of squats or deadlifts? The result, unfortunately, is an imbalance in strength, which is never a good thing. I contend that when you work the major groups three times a week, you can do mor e total work and certainly use more intensity than when you exercise the major g roups in a split formula twice a week. That's because people who use split routi nes end up doing one heavy day and one light day. If they really apply themselve s on, say, squats and hit a heavy set of three or five, then how much energy is left for their other leg exercises? Not much. Dr. John Zeigler, the man who brou ght more enlightenment to the field of strength training than any other person, pointed out quite clearly that once the sources of pure strength are adequately stimulated on a given day, any other work is not only useless, but it's counterp roductive as well. That means if you really exert yourself with a heavy set of squats, you're wasti ng your time doing a series of other leg exercises. Even so, I'm constantly seei ng young weight trainers do squats, lunges and leg presses followed by an hour o n various leg machines. They leave the gym totally fatigued, which they figure i s a good thing, but they have not enhanced their leg strength. More likely, all that work had a negative effect. The outcome is usually that they deecide to cut back on heavy squats in order to save some energy for the other leg exercises. Consequentt1y' their strength fal ls back yet another notch because they're no longer working hard on that final s et of squats. In truth, however, they don't mind, for what they're really intere sted in is saving enough energy for the next upper-body day. That brings me to my final observation concerning split routines. People do them not because they're more productive but because they're easier. Anyone who goes into a gym three days a week and diligently works all his or her major muscle g roups will make more rapid progress than people who go four times a week and use a split routine. The three week concept has been around physical culture for a very long time. Bo b Hoffman claimed he invented it, but I believe he learned it from the writings of Mark Berry, who brought many new ideas to resistance training. (Keep in mind that Hoffman also tried to take credit for inventing the wheel.) The underlying rationale behind three-days-a-week training was to allow a day's rest after a st renuous training session. Without it lifters were often too fatigued to do anoth er diligent session the next time they went to the gym.' In the early days of resistance training, working out with dumbbells, barbells a nd other apparatuses was just a part of the total training scheme. Most people w ho were into physical culture also did some form of gymnastics or participated i n a sport. That's precisely why the three-day concept fits nicely into the overa ll plans of other types of athletes. They get time to rest their tired muscles a nd attachments as well as ample time to develop some other important athletic at tributes, such as speed work, endurance training and agility drills all of which are much more difficult to do when the body is overly fatigued. While it's a fact that some people thrive on lots of weight work, it's equally t rue that the vast majority only become overtrained.

Three-days-a-week training also fits extremely well into the schedules of people who are primarily interested in improving their overall health and longevity. T hey're people who enjoy lifting and like to see size and strength gains, but the ir main priority is to feel better and to secure their cardiorespiratory system while they're gaining muscle and strength. The three days in the weight room lea ve them plenty of time to pursue whatever form of aerobics activity they prefer. Invariably, when such people attempt to expand their weight training to more th an three days, their cardio exercise suffers, and in the long run so does their strength training. As people grow older, their fitness emphasis should be more on total conditionin g, which includes some form of activity or activities to enhance their heart and lungs and less on pure strength. To be able to squat 500 pounds but unable to w alk up a flight of stairs without getting winded is not only foolish, but it als o generally ends in disaster. The trend toward going to the gym more frequently than three days a week has com e about for a number of reasons. One is the fact that most fitness facilities ar e now open' at least six days a week, and they're almost all coed. That's create d a social center for the fitness minded-a place to meet and interact with the o pposite sex. A place where, even if a guy doesn't have the courage to actually t alk to the fox in the leotard, he can most certainly ogle her while she uses the leg adductor machine. That change has encouraged many to visit their fitness fa cility more frequently. Also, there's a prevalent notion that more is better when it comes to weight tra ining. The popularity of that idea is due very directly to the mass media. So, i f people want larger arms or stronger legs or they plan to enter a physique or w eightlifting contest, they naturally assume that the more often they can get to the gym, the faster they'll reach their goals. Not necessarily. While it's a fact that some people thrive on lots and lots of w eight work, it's equally true that the vast majority only become overtrained. Mo st of the champion Olympic weightlifters who trained at the historic York Barbell Club in its heyda y only worked out three days a week. The same went for the top bodybuilders. Joh n Grimek, who was the absolute best in my book, only came to the gym three days a week. Once again, I come back to the split routine. All the fitness magazine writers-t he people who are supposed to be the experts encourage it, so what are young, am bitious bodybuilders and strength athletes supposed to think? Well, the fact is, some of the people who publish those articles are experts and some never really did much training-although they write well. It's still my contention that you can accomplish more quality work-and I emphasi ze the word quality-by using the three week program than by using a split routin e. The three-days routine is married to the heavy, light and medium system, anot her concept developed by Berry. The heavy, light and medium system allows you to do a great deal of work for all the major muscle groups while also developing y our smaller groups. Each workout enhances the next without your becoming overtra ined. That's not the case with split routines, at least for most people. Some advanced athletes know how to formulate a split routine that does bring results. I have no problem with that, for they've paid their dues and understand how their bodie s respond to various forms of exercise. I do, however, object to beginners and i ntermediates using split routines, as I know for a fact that they could make fas

ter progress with the three-days concept. Here's one important reason why. Because you pile on so many exercises for every bodypart in a split routine, the workouts are very fatiguing, so much so that out of necessity you must follow a heavy session with a light one. That makes it difficult to work the major bodyy parts proportionately. In a split routine it's bound to cause you to eliminate t he medium day, a major loss in the total scheme of things. In the May '99 instalment of this series I talked about the importance of mainta ining a light day in your weekly program, but the medium day is equally critical . It's a setup for the upcoming heavy day. Without it you'll use less weight on your heavy day because the heavy session follows a light one. It just doesn't wo rk as well. Here's an example involving the squat. The heavy day in my program consists of f ive sets of five, performed to maximum, with one backoff set of eight. On the li ght day lifters again do five sets of five but with approximately 50 pounds less than they handle on the heavy day and with no backoff set. In this case . the l ifter can do 355x5 on his heavy day, which means he handles 305x5 on his light d ay. Now comes the medium day. He does three sets of five as warmups, then two heavy triples with a backoff set of eight. The final triple will be five or 10 pounds more than he used for his final set of five on his heavy day-365x3. You may thin k that's contradictory because he handles more weight on his medium day than on his heavy day. While it is a higher intensity, it's not a greater workload. The first three sets are identical on both days, but the two heavy sets of threes lo wer the total amount of work by more than a thousand pounds. And by handling that slightly heavier weight, he changes his mind-set. The next step is for the lifter to perform five reps on his heavy day with the same weigh t he handled for three reps on his medium day. It may sound outlandish, but it i sn't, for I have more than a hundred athletes doing it every year. Keep in mind that the medium day falls on Friday, which lets the lifter have two full days of rest. They also have plenty of time to establish a very positive attitude about making the numbers on their heavy days, since they've handled tha1 weight befor e. In addition, they . know exactly what they're scheduled to do, so they have p lenty of opportunity to think about the lift. That sort of flow just doesn't exis1 with the split-routine formula. The entire system is much too helterskelter. The only time I recommend using any form of sp lit routine is when I feel lifters need to limit their training and do a great d eal less total work. It makes a nice break from strenuous training, but where re al gains are the goal, it just doesn'1 feed the bulldog. Perhaps one of the more appealing aspects of the three week concept is that it a ffords much latitude in scheduling. Ideally, you should lift one day and rest fr om the weight work the next, but the beautiful thing about having a light day in the scheme is that you can shift it around without its having an adverse effect . Remember that it's the total amount of wor1k done in a given week that counts. So, if you find you can't get to the gym on Wednesday, your regular light day, you can do it on Tuesday or Thursday. You can do the light day exercises without difficulty on the day after your heavy workouts, and if you do them the day bef ore your medium day, Thursday, they won't negatively influence the medium-day nu mbers. Three-days-a-week is so much more productive for most people than split routines , and it also fit the majority of schedules. It's easier to juggle than a regime n on which you train more than three times, so consequently, you can maintain co nsistency for a long time-and that's what brings the best results.