I was recently honored when Charles Glass mentioned me in his Q&A in Muscular Development magazine. For those of you who don’t know who Charles Glass is, first off, shame on you. But, here’s a short bio.
Charles Glass is an IFBB professional who is now known as the “trainer of champions.” He has quite honestly trained or consulted with more state, national, and professional level bodybuilders than anyone on the planet. He currently has a column in Muscular Development magazine, and I think I’ve read everything he’s ever written. Charles’ personal competition highlights include winning the 1983 Nationals and the 1983 World amateur championships, placing top ten at several IFBB pro events, and taking fourth place in the Masters Olympia in 1995.
So, as you can imagine, I am sincerely honored that Charles Glass even knows who I am.
Here is an outline (completely paraphrased) of the Q&A:
Q: Alwyn Cosgrove recently wrote an article in Men’s Health about total body training. What are your thoughts?
A (Charles Glass): I think he’s in error. It sounds like a gimmick for someone with something to sell. Muscles are not interconnected; otherwise if you moved a finger, you’d “feel” it in your toe…
I'll actually agree with Charles Glass—a pro bodybuilder or a top ranked amateur shouldn't do a full body workout or even an upper-lower split. But that wasn't what my article in Men’s Health was about. I wrote about training for the average person who wants to get bigger, stronger, and leaner. My point regarding “splits” has ALWAYS been that the 80–90 percent of the people going to a public gym should do full body workouts or upper-lower splits 80–90 percent of the time.
Is that a professional bodybuilder? Nope.
Or a national level or state level bodybuilder? Nope.
But should MOST of the public do what these bodybuilders do? Nope.
We have to define “bodybuilder.” And it’s more than just someone who wants to look better. I think that definition is insulting to bodybuilders. Although overlapping somewhat, someone training for aesthetics and a “bodybuilder” are NOT necessarily the same. Some people are looking to get smaller. Some are looking to get bigger AND stronger.
To me, a bodybuilder is a competitive athlete training for a specific sport. It’s the same as powerlifting, Olympic lifting, Strongman training, etc. The sport determines the training. To the bodybuilders that Charles works with, training is a way of life. EVERYTHING they do is based around this. They do not skip meals. Their diet is dead on. They rest when it’s needed. They live their lives based around recovering from their last workout and improving. They are perhaps the most dedicated trainees on the planet.
But to take that training approach and apply it to a doctor who works 60 hours a week, is never going to compete, doesn’t much care about striations in his glutes, and just wants to look and feel better while spending maybe three hours a week in the gym is an overreaction.
Most of Charles clients are pro bodybuilders or top amateurs. My clients are general population or competitive athletes. The readers of Muscular Development are bodybuilders/competitive bodybuilders. The readers of Men’s Health are not. I was writing to that target market based on my experiences, the experiences of most of my colleagues, and the research.
Should a 35-year-old woman looking to get lean but can only train twice a week do anything BUT full body?
What sort of body part split should an Olympic lifter use? Is the Westside upper/lower split not effective for strength sports? What body part split should an MMA athlete use?
What about a 14-year-old who's never been in a gym before? What about a 37-year-old father of two who works 50 hours a week and is looking to improve his golf game? Or a 45-year-old rehabbing his knee?
What about a high school soccer player looking to improve his speed? Or a tri-athlete looking to add five pounds of lean mass in the off-season?
I can't recommend body part splits to these groups. That was the focal point of my original article. And Charles agrees that it’s a great way for beginners to build a base.
Now, if we're talking about professional or professional caliber bodybuilders, I will defer to Charles Glass every time. He's THE expert at training these guys. But for regular clients with real lives and time restrictions and for other athletes, I prefer to use another method.
My article would have been different had it been written for the Muscular Development audience. And I'm sure Charles would give a different recommendation than a body part split if he was writing for a 37-year-old Men’s Health reader who can get to the gym twice a week.
As usual, you have to look at the target audience of the article to get the big picture. And as usual, coaches will probably agree on more than they disagree. That’s pretty much my entire stance on this, and overall I agree with Charles Glass.
… I do have to defend a couple of points that I feel were “attacks” on me.
Charles’ comments about fingers and toes are extreme and nonsensical. I really hope that was an editor's comment, as Charles seems much smarter than that would indicate. He says muscles aren’t interconnected but then goes on to give examples showing that they are. He even refers to deadlifts as a total body exercise. I’m not sure what the point was. I’m wrong that they’re interconnected, but I’m right too?
If muscles aren’t interconnected, how do we move? Is the kinetic “chain” a figment of our imagination? What about the posterior chain? The anterior oblique sling? The deep longitudinal system?
Here's my point about how muscles work together:
* How many chest exercises can you do without shoulder and tricep involvement? Not many.
* How many rowing or chinning exercises for back can you do and not involve the biceps?
* How many back exercises can you do without some rear delt involvement?
* To stabilize the spine when you contract a lat, the opposite glute contracts (look at how the muscle fibers run.) How can I contract the lat and not get a co-contraction?
* If you tear a muscle in your abs or lower back, would your squat poundage remain the same? The muscles aren’t related, right?
* Ever hear of the serape effect? It’s not a Weider principle.
* How can you use only ONE muscle in the quadricep? The quadricep is NOT a muscle; it's a muscle group. The hamstrings are a group of four muscles. Can you isolate just one of those?
Muscles work in groups. I don’t think that’s disputable. Trying to completely isolate them is pointless and is an exercise in compromise anyway, as Charles himself said in the article. Establishing a training system with that incorrect assumption as your basis is not defensible. How can a body part split be a useful physiological training system when it doesn’t have its basis in physiology but in geography?
Here are two examples that take this a step further:
1) What does a Romanian deadlift work? Hamstrings? What about holding the bottom position of an RDL? Still hamstrings? Cool. I agree.
So why is a bent over barbell row a “back” exercise when in all reality it's still a static hold of an RDL? How come it’s not a hamstring exercise? We can’t separate the muscles in that exercise—the forearms, biceps, upper back, rear delts, lower back, abs, glutes, TFL, and hamstrings are ALL working. If the hamstrings are injured, you can’t work the back with this exercise either. But muscles aren’t related, right?
2) Hold a dumbbell out to the side (like a lateral raise) and tell me what muscle is working. Delts, right?
But the opposite oblique is also working to stabilize the spine now that your center of gravity is offset. The glutes work with the obliques. If the obliques weren't strong enough to stabilize the spine, you couldn’t lift the dumbbell. Your body wouldn’t allow you to (trust me the body cares more about spine health that it does about hypertrophy).
So the limiting factor in this delt exercise? The ability of the obliques to stabilize the spine. How much could you lateral raise with a torn oblique?
Tell me again how muscles aren't related? If anyone of you can pick up a bag of groceries off the floor and put it on the top shelf using only one muscle, I'll give you my house.
What about something more complex? Like walking? As Mike Boyle, the strength coach for the Boston University hockey team, said,
“Charles Glass is right. All the muscles are not interconnected. Just some are. Has he ever trained a person whose intention was to move? What does the quad do when your foot hits the floor in gait or in running? It keeps you from breaking your nose. Same for the hamstrings, glutes, and adductors. They all prevent flexion. It’s basic functional anatomy.”
So “isolating” a muscle? Practically impossible. And in my opinion, basing a physical training system on that idea makes no physiological sense. I can’t develop a training philosophy for the general public or an athlete based on a non-science.
However I do want to make a caveat…
Pro bodybuilding is a unique activity, and the game changes when you’re talking about these guys. I’m not being facetious here; I’m being sincere. You can’t take a program aimed at the average person and hope it works for a pro bodybuilder at the top of their game. But the reverse is just as true. Don’t take Jay Cutlers’ program and try to give it to a group of 17-year-old beginners.
My second (and main) point of contention is Mr. Glass’s suggestion that total body training is a “gimmick.” That’s insulting. And to be honest, if he hadn’t used that phrase (and called me out by name), I doubt I’d have ever written this response.
If he trains the whole body once a week over three workouts and I train it twice a week over two workouts, how can that be a “gimmick?”
If he does chest on Monday and legs on Wednesday and I do both on Monday, would it not work? If you can train chest and back together and that’s not a “gimmick,” how can adding another body part (legs) suddenly make it so?
Let’s say I’m working with a skinny kid who wants to gain size. Let’s assume we’re training three times per week. Is it better to use a body part split and train the whole body four times that month? Or use total body workouts and work the whole body 12 times in the month? Which benefits this client more—training a muscle 12 times or training it four times? Or is that a “gimmick?”
How can physiology be a gimmick? Is Olympic lifting a gimmick? Is the Westside ME/DE upper/lower split a “gimmick?”
As noted trainer Craig Ballantyne has said,
“Despite what the muscle mags insist, a three day per week full body program can work. Most five day bodybuilding splits are filled with redundant exercises and filler. Now I’m not going Mike Mentzer on you, but most people could cut the volume of their training down, keep a high intensity, and still make the same gains as they would on a five day body part split. Plus, it’s likely easier on the shoulder joints to train three days per week.”
Perhaps some examples through the years are in order.
* Eugene Sandow in the nineteenth century
* Alan Calvert from his “First Course in Body-Building and Muscle-Developing Exercises,” 1924, Total Body
* Earle Liederman, 1924 Muscle Building; quote: “How can anyone expect to possess coordination in active work when his muscles have never worked together in groups?”
* Mark Hamilton Berry from his “First Course in Physical Improvement and Muscle Developing Exercises,” 1936, Total Body
* John Grimek in the 1930s–40s, Total Body
* Steve Reeves in the 1940s, Total Body
* Harry Barton Paschall, “The Bosco System of Progressive Physical Training,” 1954, Total Body
* Joseph Curtis Hise and Peary Rader in the mid to late 1950s, Total Body
* John McCallum from his Keys to Progress series circa the mid-1960s, Total Body
Every single scientific reference showing total body workouts is useful for gaining size and strength? Yes, I know these studies were not conducted with elite level bodybuilders. These studies were pretty much all conducted with average people. The same type of people I was writing for. The same type of people I see in the gym everyday.
And I know the argument will be that the list of bodybuilders I provided could not even step on the same stage with the best today. I agree. It’s true that the sport has advanced. But I’ve found that most every day people prefer the look of the guys listed above over the average pro bodybuilder of today.
Oh, and I found this from Mr. Glass’s sponsors and one of the main advertisers in Muscle Development:
A gimmick? Please.
The defense rests.
I do want to add though that I understand why Charles used the term “gimmick.” The industry has brought this on itself with miracle programs, supplements, and fat loss products. There are more gimmicks than “real deals” in the market, and we have a problem when our own leaders, such as Charles, can’t tell the difference because it has all been so polluted.
How would Charles know when you look at all the BS that is out there? Hell, how do any of us really know?
In closing, I want everyone to know that when it comes to pure bodybuilding I agree with Charles Glass. I truly think he’s the best in the world at what he does (training top bodybuilders), and I’ll continue to read his work. If you’re a genetically gifted, full-time bodybuilder who is considering competition and can train 5–6 times a week, you do not fall into my 80–90 percent of the population and should listen to Charles.
But if you're not, you should listen to me. : )
Again, I just want to reiterate my respect for Charles Glass. He was training top bodybuilders when I was still in school. He turned professional when I just started high school. When I was finishing college, Charles Glass was working with Mr. Olympia contenders. This is not an attack on him at all. He’s one of the best there has ever been. This is a defense on what I felt was an attack on me.