Here's an e-mail I received last week:

I get practically the same letter every week. A devout trainee gets himself into a situation where he has a very limited amount of gym time. Not being able to train four or five days per week, he begins to panic and swears he can see his muscles beginning to catabolize before his very eyes. Well, his muscles aren't wasting away, of course, and believe it or not, I think this is a great situation to be in!

Reduced frequency will likely reduce the risk of overtraining. In reality, many people should only be going to the gym with this frequency anyway, either because they train with such volume that they would need this reduced training frequency to really recover, or because they have reduced recovery ability (from getting older, getting less sleep, being more stressed out, etc.)

You can do full body workouts, but don't believe you have to! This is a decision in itself. Sometimes you should, sometimes you shouldn't. This is because there are some downsides to total-body workouts. Mainly, as these relate to this situation, the muscle groups trained last are always compromised because of residual fatigue. Additionally, if you want to avoid excessive volume, you have to reduce the number of sets per muscle group and some muscles may need more volume within a given workout.

The whole aim of split routines is to give more muscles the opportunity to be prioritized in training. They're prioritized by being performed earlier in the sequence and by taking up a larger part of the total workout. Remember this: it's not a given that any or all of your muscles really need multiple weekly exposures. I'm not saying they don't, mind you, just reminding you to qualify whether they do!

Now, without knowing which of these two options (full body or split) would be best for the individual, I'm going to show you a neat way to get the best of both methods in the same way I go about alternating between all pull/all push workouts and mixed push/pull workouts.

Another consideration I give when reviewing exercise selection in a total-body workout is the number of exercises per muscle group. Less exercises per muscle group allow higher intensity (due to the inverse relationship between volume and intensity), but more exercises per muscle group allow more joint/muscle angles to be overloaded.

Again, in my illustration below I can show you how to get the best of a mix of methods over time. In essence, you're going to get about two workouts per calendar week which would look something like this:

Day 1: Workout A

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4: Workout B

Day 5:

Day 6:

Day 7:

I'm going to use a six-stage approach in this example, but you could use more or less based on your needs. How long should each stage be? Basically, shorter phases should be adopted by the more advanced lifter (two weeks per stage) and longer phases for the less experienced lifter (four weeks per stage). Just keep in mind that I'd expect you to build in recovery weeks in the six stages below.

Here's how we'll schedule this program:

Stage 1:

Stage 2: Split Routine

Stage 3:

Stage 4: Split Routine

Stage 5:

Stage 6: Split Routine

Within the total-body workouts, I'm going to use the two main approaches I mentioned above – more variation in angle overload and less volume per exercise; and less variation in overload and more volume per exercise. Within the split-routine workouts, I'm going to use the two main approaches I mentioned above: separating push/pull and then integrating push/pull.

So here we go, a six-stage workout for those who get to the gym less often!

Loading Parameters

First let's cover the loading parameters. Generally speaking, I'd expect the loading parameters to run something like the following:

Stage 1

Number of exercises: 12

Number of work sets per exercise: 1

Average number of reps per work set: 12-15

Average speed of movement (tempo): 321

Average rest period between sets: Less than one minute

Stage 2

Number of exercises: 8

Number of work sets per exercise: 1-2

Average number of reps per work set: 10-12

Average speed of movement (tempo): 321

Average rest period between sets: 1-2 minutes

Stage 3

Number of exercises: 10

Number of work sets per exercise: 1

Average number of reps per work set: 8-10

Average speed of movement (tempo): 311

Average rest period between sets: 2-3 minutes

Stage 4

Number of exercises: 6

Number of work sets per exercise: 2

Average number of reps per work set: 6-8

Average speed of movement (tempo): 311

Average rest period between sets: 3-4 minutes

Stage 5

Number of exercises: 4

Number of work sets per exercise: 2-4

Average number of reps per work set: 4-6

Average speed of movement (tempo): 211

Average rest period between sets: 4-5 minutes

Stage 6

Number of exercises: 3

Number of work sets per exercise: 3-6

Average number of reps per work set: 2-4

Average speed of movement (tempo): 211

Average rest period between sets: 5-6 minutes

Exercises

Below is a list of exercises to use in each stage and in each of the twice weekly workouts (A and B). Using stage one below as an example, on "A" day you'll perform thin tummy variations for the lower abs. A few days later on workout "B", you'll perform slow speed curl ups for the upper abs.


STAGE 1

Workout A


Workout B


STAGE 2

Workout A


Workout B


STAGE 3

Workout A

Workout B


STAGE 4

Workout A

Workout B


STAGE 5

Workout A


Workout B


STAGE 6

Workout A


Workout B

Conclusion

Let me make a prediction. You're going to get the same benefits from this program as the average person who goes to the gym more often. You might even get greater benefits! In fact, because it's such a fine program, you may surprise yourself with your growth! Don't believe you can make more progress by spending less time in the gym? Give it a try and find out for yourself.