Q: Do you still recommend doing total body workouts three times a week? If so, then how many sets?
My Answer: I recommend variety. I recommend changing the program parameters every so often and that means from time to time switching from total body workouts to split routines.
Doing total body workouts three times a week allows you to train a lot of muscle frequently. You gain muscle at a faster when you train frequently.
The problem is that if you’re training every single body part in each workout, then you can’t pack in too many sets for muscle group. If you trained all 8 major muscle groups that bodybuilders typically hit, then you would only be able to do 3 sets per body part. If you tried to add any more sets, then you’d overtraining.
A lot of strength trainers try to get around this by putting you on abbreviated programs, where you don’t do any direct arm work. Instead you just focus a few core lifts, so that way you can add in more sets.
But the guys who recommend this come from a strength/athletic background and don’t have a bodybuilding background. Their belief is that your arms get enough stimulation from heavy compound movements and that they should grow on just that. In my experience, however, a combination of direct and indirect stress on a body part will grow it much faster and bigger than only indirect stress.
Split routines, on the other hand, allow you to focus directly on a body part or two for a workout. You can stress a muscle group with more sets, and this in turn incurs greater growth. The problem is you trade frequency for volume. So although you may grow more from more volume, you’re not growing as fast.
There is a way to incorporate both total body workouts and split routines into a single program, and I go over how to do this in Strength and Physique, Volume One. This way you can get the benefits of both total body workouts and split routines. You gain more strength and more muscle at a faster rate.