Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Each Body Part Once or Thrice per Week / as Split or Total Body What's Best for Gains? Plus: Kettlebells for Aerobics?

Strength, size and conditioning, you want them all, this article has it all.
Alright, the latest issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is out and I am going to give you the elevator pitch on what I found to be the most interesting articles in the July 2015 issue.

The first one is Brad Schoenfelds 3x1-day full body vs. 3-day split training comparison in well-trained athletes with interesting, but not mind-blowing results. The second one is a study in which scientists from the San José State University prove that Kettlebell training can be an effective aerobic training even in trained rather endurance-oriented athletes like female collegiate division I soccer players.
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  • Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men (Schoenfeld. 2015) - In essence, Schoenfeld's study was designed to answer the often-asked question, whether SPLIT training is superior to TOTAL body training.

    One of the many strengths of the study is that Schoenfeld et al. recruited well-trained subjects, who had been resistance training a minimum of 3 days-per-week for at least 1 year, with a mean lifting experience of 4.5 ± 3.1 years. In addition, the subjects were not just randomly assigned to the two study groups, but initially pair matched according to baseline strength and then randomly assigned to 1 of the 2 experimental groups:
    Table 1: Overview of the training protocols (Schoenfeld. 2015)
    "a SPLIT, where multiple exercises were performed for a specific muscle group in a session with 2–3 muscle groups trained per session (n = 10) or a TOTAL, where 1 exercise was performed per muscle group in a session with all muscle groups trained in each session (n = 10)" (Schoenfeld. 2015).
    All in all, the subjects performed 21 exercises targeting the major muscle groups, thus training "all" muscles once a week in the SPLIT and thrice a week in the TOTAL group. I would like to point out, though, that Schoenfeld et al. were clever enough to modify the TOTAL workout for day 1-3. While all TOTAL workouts were full body workouts, the exercises the subjects did were different (see Table 1).
    Figure 1: A brief glimpse should suffice to tell that the biceps, triceps and vastus lateralis (from left to right) gains didn't differ between the SPLIT and the TOTAL group (Schoenfeld. 2015).
    Speaking of details, as previously stated both groups trained thrice a week on nonconsecutive days for 8 weeks. Both groups performed 2 to 3 sets per exercise for a total of 18 sets per session. The sets in both groups involved 8–12 repetitions with 90 seconds of rest afforded between sets (cadence was controlled concentric, 2s eccentric). In both groups, sets were carried out to the point of momentary concentric muscular failure (defined as the inability to perform another concentric repetition while maintaining proper form). In both groups the load was adjusted for each exercise as needed on successive sets to ensure that subjects achieve failure in the target repetition range. So, what do you conclude from all the "both"s? Yes, that's right. Schoenfeld et al. really did a good job isolating the variable they wanted to instigate.
    Figure 2: Changes in 1-RM bench (left) and squat (right) performance (Schoenfeld. 2015) - Again, the workout routines worked their magic, but there's no statistically significant difference for these values.
    Against that background you will probably agree that the answer to the longstanding question which is better: SPLIT or TOTAL is "NONE" - assuming all other variables are kept "constant",... well, unless you want to make your forearm flexors grow, i.e. the biceps, because that's (not shown in Figure 1-2), where Schoenfeld et al. found a significant difference after adjusting for baseline - in this case for the TOTAL body workout. Against that background the overall conclusion that
    "[t]he findings suggest a potentially superior hypertrophic benefit to higher weekly resistance training frequencies" (Schoenfeld. 2015)
    is correct and using a split workout to train each muscle once a week is minimally inferior to full body training twice a week. The difference, however, is less significant than many of you may have suspected. One thing to keep in mind here is that the results may have been skewed by the novelty factor of changing programs. As Schoenfeld et al. highlight in the paper, 16 of the 19 subjects reported training with a split routine on a regular basis, in the pre-interview. As they rightly point out, the topic is not well studied, but
    "[...] there is some evidence to indicate that muscular adaptations are enhanced when program variables are altered outside of traditional norms. Thus, it is conceivable that those in TOTAL benefited from the unaccustomed stimulus of training more frequently" (Schoenfeld. 2015).
    If that's the case, this is just another argument in favor or training periodization, i.e. mixing split and full-body routines, high volume, lower intensity with high intensity, lower volume training up in regular cycles, to keep a certain degree of novelty over a long(er) time frame. 
  • Effects of Kettlebell Training on Aerobic Capacity (Falatic. 2015) - In the past decade, kettlebell (KB) training has gained popularity in the United States and become a viable option for strength training and conditioning. Kettlebells are an ideal tool for ballistic full-body exercises using high muscle forces, making them potentially useful for improving muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness. Even I have written about it before, although, I personally don't like doing it ;-)

    In a recent study, researchers from the San José State University tested the effect of kettlebell training on seventeen female National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I soccer players (age: 19.7 ± 1.0 years, height: 166.1 ± 6.4 cm, weight: 64.2 ± 8.2 kg).
    • Both groups trained 3 days a week for 4 weeks in addition to their off-season strength and conditioning program. All workouts lasted 20 minutes.
    • The KB group performed the 15:15 MVO2 protocol (20 minutes of kettlebell snatching with 15 seconds of work and rest intervals; they were instructed to perform their snatches as fast as possible.
    • The CWT group performed multiple free-weight and dynamic body-weight exercises as part of a continuous circuit program for 20 minutes.
    The results show that only the 15:15 MVO2 kettle-bell protocol significantly increased VO2max the already above average VO2max of the subject by an average 2.3 ml/kg/min, or approximately a 6%.
    Figure 3: Changes in body weight (n.s.) and VO2max (significant only for KB | Falatic. 2015).
    This does also mean that there were no significant change in VO2max in the CWT free qeight + body weight exercise control group. So, if you want to "pimp" your conditioning with weights, kettle-bells are the better choice.
SuppVersity Suggested Read: "Training for Size & Strength - Does the Rest Matter? Study Finds 7-9% Greater Increase in Muscle Size With Decreasing Rest Periods" | read more
So, which study do you like best? The Schoenfeld study, right? Me, too. Also because in my humble opinion it just confirms that the one thing that really counts is that you bust your a** in the gym. So, unless you're making some of the fundamental mistakes, like not trying to lift more weight ASAP, messing around with your form, overtraining and/or undereating, not sleeping and not getting enough protein, you're going to gain and training three times per week with either a versatile full body workout (remember we are not talking about doing the exact same workout thrice per week) or a "classic" split training program will eventually have you end up at the "same" strength and very similar size gains with the biceps being the muscle that's most likely to benefit from higher training frequencies (although the demise of the novelty factor may ruin this benefit over time)  | Comment
  • Falatic et al. "Effects of Kettlebell Training on Aerobic Capacity." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29(7): 1943–1947.
  • Schoenfeld et al. "Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29(7): 1821–1829.