Training: Muscles vs Movements

If you were to ask around about different resistance training programs at your local gym, the typical member would likely be following a training template that looks something like the following:

Monday: Chest/Shoulders

Tuesday: Legs

Thursday: Back/Abs

Friday: Arms

Splitting training into muscle groups is the preferred program of choice for advanced bodybuilders, but is it ideal for the average gym-goer? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The vast majority of people lifting weights at the gym will benefit more from programs that train movements, not muscles.

Movements are characterized by utilizing the total body at once while being functional. Functional simply means that these movements are performed naturally during daily activities. These common "movement exercises" are usually categorized in one of the following groups: squats, presses, and pulls. A sample movement program template would look something like this:

Monday: Squat, Bench Press, Row

Wednesday: Front Squat, Press, Pull-Ups

Friday: Squat, Dumbbell Bench Press, Deadlift

Why is training movements superior to training muscle groups for the average lifter? Because most people lack a base level of strength. A movement like the squat trains the entire body at once and builds strength quickly. A base level of strength can be identified through performance in some of the exercises listed above. For example, a guy who can squat and deadlift 2 times his bodyweight and bench 1.5 times his bodyweight has built a solid base level of strength. Following a muscle group routine at that point would now be an appropriate option if his goal is to build muscle.
When beginning any new activity it is best to identify, develop, and master the fundamentals. Resistance training is no different. Think of total-body movements as the fundamental skill of lifting weights, and strength as the fundamental goal. Someone who masters these basics will maximize their results in both strength gains and body composition. At this point the now-experienced lifter has earned the right to move into the realm of more advanced programming. Take care to be mindful of your journey and not just the destination. With time and energy spent to cement basic tenets of good form and adaptation, the advanced lifter can safely push through what was once a glass ceiling to become fitter and stronger than ever before.