Do Bodybuilding Splits REALLY Work For Athletes?
Athletes and bodybuilding splits explained.
To increase the amount of stress and stimulate growth on a muscle, bodybuilders isolate specific muscle groups each training day to increase total volumes and stress the neuromuscular system. These bodybuilding splits allow for the body to recover before being worked again, enabling periodised overload between muscle groups. One example, may be a lower body day and an upper body day or this can even be broken down into specific muscle groups such as chest and triceps or back and biceps. While this may improve the strength, power and size of these specific muscle groups, the direct application to sports performance is often not transferred.
Do bodybuilding splits really work for athletes?
Do bodybuilding splits really work for athletes? We need to consider frequency, intensity and how the work we do in the gym affects on field technical, tactical and conditioning work.
If you are a relative beginner in the gym, whole body sessions are advised as you will be able to train individual muscles more often during your training week. The frequency of training will have a greater impact on the central nervous system (CNS) and facilitate motor learning through repetition. Stronger, advanced lifters may be able to tolerate higher neural stress associated with high volume training meaning, they are able to recover faster and hit that same body part again sooner. The neural system of advanced lifters can withstand high volumes and maintain intensity to stimulate metabolic stress that is another mechanism of hypertrophy.
THE VIDEO: Do Bodybuilding Splits REALLY Work For Athletes? EXPLAINED.
One type of bodybuilding split, is to hit each body part with high volume once per week. While this gives the central nervous system time to recover before hitting it again, it may be disadvantageous to be pre-fatigued for an on-field session. For example, overworking the lower body before a high-speed running session or a session targeting high metabolic load. Similarly, within a gym setting, athletes with a lower training age may not be able to perform repetitions with enough intensity at the end of sessions to develop adaptation due to this fatigue while simultaneously burning out meaning, they won’t be able to train the same area again any time soon. It would be advantageous to spread the same volume over the course of a training week into 2 or 3 sessions, hitting multiple joints and movements within the same session to facilitate quality movement and maintain a high intensity and limiting unnecessary fatigue which, could hamper the rest of your training week.
Train movements not muscles
As athletes, we want to train our bodies to be better at the movements demanded by the sport. For team sports, this includes a lot of change of direction. For cricket and other throwing activities, the kinetic chain plays a huge role in performance and almost every sport includes the use of a triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles and requires coordination of multiple muscle groups simultaneously. As a result, these are the movements we want to try to recreate and improve to enhance sports performance. We want to train movements, not muscles. Of course, accessory movements are important. These movements can be utilised to improve competency of the primary lifts as well as smaller muscle groups to enhance transfer to sports performance. Whole body movements are performed in most sports. While isolating specific muscle groups can improve size and strength of muscles, this may not transfer to sporting performances due to whole body motor control and sequencing of neural activity.
Transfer from the gym to the field
Transfer from the gym to the field is essential. A good example of improving transfer, is choosing exercises with greater specificity to the movements on field. For example, we can think of exercises that work in the same vector as that in which force is applied during on field performance. Using hip thrusts has been shown to elicit greater gains in acceleration compared with back squats alone. Integrating these exercises is a good example of how we can train movements rather than muscles. Both exercises work the glutes, amongst other muscles throughout the body but as the hip thrusts apply force in a horizontal vector, the same as the one seen in acceleration mechanics, it has a greater transfer. Another example of improving transfer, is the use of weighted sleds. While maintaining acceleration running mechanics, one can overload muscles in the same pattern as they perform. Using these kinds of whole body exercises in the gym, help create improved dominant movement patterns which, we perform when it comes to on field autonomous activities, keeping us in favourable positions for performance and injury prevention during predetermined and reactive actions.
Training for hypertrophy is important but needs to be periodised appropriately within the context of your goals. It needs to be programmed effectively to limit negative impact on day to day and week to week on-field practice. Consider your training age and how this can impact the quality of your sessions but also how it can impact your training week. Understand the mechanisms of hypertrophy and apply these principles to your periodised plan. For athletes, performing splits may not be the best practice due to the excessive “fluff” targeting specific muscles with less focus on the sport specific movements which, will have a greater positive impact on their sporting performance.