A Modern Day Hercules
When we think of old-school style training, we often remember the likes of Steve Reeves and company performing full-body workouts three times a week. Today such a routine is often passed on in favor of more “advanced” training splits. Most bodybuilders prefer to train the body over 4 – 5 days. Supposedly this sort of split allows the body to recover over a longer period of time, and enables one to perform more sets for one or two body parts. I do not believe that one approach to training frequency is better than another. In my opinion, the full-body workout has its place in bodybuilding just like all the other programs. It has stood the test of time and can be used by beginner, intermediate and advanced bodybuilders alike. Reeves had an awesome physique for his time, one that is still considered great, so suffice to say he must have been on to something…
Why the Herculean Workout?
1) Overall Muscle Balance and Conditioning
A total body workout, performed three times a week (Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday) is efficient because it places an emphasis on working the entire body in one session. What are the benefits of doing this? Firstly, it allows all the body parts to develop at the same rate. This is essential for beginners seeking to build overall muscle mass and strength. Too often I see beginners performing endless sets of barbell curls and bench presses 4 times a week. In the end, they either burn out or develop an injury because of their muscle imbalances.
The full-body routine encourages (if not forces) the individual to devote an equal amount of effort to developing each body part, since it would be virtually impossible to do 12 sets of chest exercises, followed by squats, lunges, dips, deadlifts? you get what I mean. In addition to overall muscular development, it also forces you to learn different exercises. Even for advanced athletes, the lesser volume devoted to each exercise than other training splits ensure that you can concentrate on proper form and lifting technique.
2) For Cutting Up and Pre-Contest
When you are dieting hard, the reduced carbohydrate intake means your glycogen stores are low. Consequently, your muscles appear flat and you feel like crap when you workout. The last thing I want to do when I go on a cutting phase is to perform 15 – 20 sets for back in one day. The main goal during a fat loss phases is to of course, lose fat! Therefore any kind of workout should be geared toward muscle maintenance, not hypertrophy. Performing a full-body workout with reduced rest time in between sets (45 – 60 seconds) not only keeps you in the fat burning zone, but also adds to the cardiovascular effect. You may be able to cut down to 2 – 3 times of extra cardio a week instead of the usual 5 – 6. On a side note, if you are gearing up for a contest, you might throw in an extra cable or isolation exercise in order to bring out muscle definition and striations.
3) For Active Recovery
A few months ago I put myself on Arnie’s good ol’ six-day, 20 plus set routine for 4 weeks. At the end of it I had made significant gains, but I found that it took me longer to recover between workouts and I was starting to feel the effects of over training (unable to sleep well, increased fatigue, decreased appetite). I knew I had to taper off my workouts or else all the muscle I had gained would disappear in a matter of weeks. For many bodybuilders, decreasing the volume of their workouts is a tough pill to swallow. Sad to say, unless your gym buddies are Deca and D-Bol you will have to cycle your training in terms of higher/lower volume periods or risk suffering the effects of burnout.
After intensive training for 4 weeks or more, the average person requires anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks for the body to fully recover. The advantage of this lower volume routine is that it allows the body to regenerate while still receiving adequate muscle stimulation. It also gives time for mild injuries or tweaks in the system to heal. But most importantly, this “back-off” period is usually the time when you will enjoy the most muscle gains. Why do I make such a bold statement? Just look at Arthur Jones and his High Intensity Training (few sets to failure) style. Top pros who were performing 30 – 40 sets per workout would come to him, do maybe 10 – 12 sets 3 times a week and boom!? their gains would go through the roof. Even though I do not suggest going to failure, reducing your work volume for a short period of time may help send your gains through the roof!
The Herculean Method Explained:
Hopefully my explanation of the benefits of a full-body workout has motivated you to give it a shot. Are you ready? Then lets go! Given that the average Joe (or Jane, to my female readers) has time commitments to school, job, family, spouse etc. 12-15 sets per workout (NOT body part!) would be more than enough. This translates into 4-5 different exercises for the entire body. Because you only get one exercise for each body part, I recommend focusing on compound movements to get the most out of each exercise. Also, aim to complete the workout within 45 to 75 minutes, to prevent excess muscle catabolism. A traditional 3 day full-body split which is often recommended looks like this:
Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday
Bench Press – 3 x 10
Seated Military Press – 3 x 10
Bent Over Barbell Rows – 3 x 10
Squat – 3 x 10
Lying Hamstring Curls – 3 x 10
As you can see, if you were to perform this workout three times a week, for three to four weeks, not only would it be pretty boring, you wouldn’t be doing yourself a favor because of the exercises you are limiting yourself to. Not to mention the fact that your muscles are not being worked from different angles to ensure total muscular hypertrophy. Therefore, when you use a 3-day full-body split, the key is not to add too many exercises, but to vary the kinds used. Here is my sample Herculean workout, designed to work the entire body from different angles throughout the week.
Monday: Muscles Worked:
Dumbbell Bench Press 3 x 10 (Chest/Triceps/ Delts)
Seated Military Dumbbell Press 2 x 10 (Delts)
Wide Grip Chins 3 x 10 (Back/ Lats/ Biceps) alt. Lat Pulldowns
Leg Press 3 x 10 (Quads)
Glute Ham Raise 3 x 15 (Glutes/ Hams/ Lower Back)
Tuesday: Stay Home!
Wednesday: Muscles Worked:
Dumbbell Flyes 3 x 10 (Chest)
Bent Over Barbell Rows 3 x 10 (Back/ Lats)
Squats 3 x 10 (Quads/ Hams/ Glutes)
Leg Extensions 3 x 12 (Quads)
Cambered Bar Curls 2 x 15 (Biceps)
Dips 1 x 15-20 (Chest/Delts/Triceps) alt. Triceps Pulldowns
Note: It is important to perform the Bicep Curls, and Dips AFTER you squat. This is because you need your shoulders and arms as stabilizers, and it will compromise your strength on the squat rack if you pre-fatigue them. When squatting, remember to keep the back straight and go slightly below parallel. This will prevent injury to the knees by transferring the weight of the load from your knees to your quads, hams and glutes.
Friday: Muscles Worked:
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 x 10 (Chest/ Delts/ Triceps)
Seated Cable Rows 3 x 10 (Back/ Lats)
Stiff Legged Deadlifts *4 x 8 (Lower Back/ Hams/ Traps)
Dumbell Lunges 2 x 15 (Glutes/ Quads)
Standing Calf Raises 3 x 20-25 (Calves)
Note: * Be sure to do a warm up set or two to ease into the exercise. Perform the Deadlifts before the Lunges so your legs are fresh. For calves, aim for high reps. By the time you hit the 20th rep, your calves should be screaming for mercy.
Saturday & Sunday: Rest or do some light cardio (e.g. 30 minutes on a slightly incline treadmill).
Final Note: You will realize that I do not devote a lot of time to training the arms and forearms individually. This is because you will already develop significant arm strength and size by doing the basic compound movements like the bench, rows, chins and dips. Not to mention your grip strength will improve as well. As with any workout program, be sure to get enough rest in between training days and eat right. There are many other articles on this website related to nutrition and supplementation, so go feed your mind!