Episode #453 00:00 What’s best, total body or split routine strength training in menopause?
Whether you’ve lifted weights for years, or you’ve just come across a Sculpted Vegan workout, or you’re doing something labeled for women in menopause on YouTube, you may or may not know to question the routine you’re following. If you’re just doing what you’re doing out of habit, this episode may get you thinking about whether your current routine is really serving you. And serving you now, and later both.
If you’re in our Flipping50 community you can likely take a split second to tell me what you think I’ll say. I haven’t built 7 12-week programs based 100% on the science of strength training in menopause and 4 additional digital or DVD products prior to that without diving into the science.
Always Review Science
But it’s worth exploring. Even I am testing my personal results using a different protocol for 4 weeks (June 2021), even enlisting some of our community in a beta test when I’m finished to learn how they’re affected. Is a temporary change a stimulus that can create positive results? And will we want to continue that longer or return to prior strength strategies with a new level of intensity? Things I’m looking at.
Should you work your total body or do a “split routine” where you do different muscle groups or body parts on alternate days?
There are pros and cons to both as you might guess.
In this podcast I will review:
- Pros and cons of total body
- Pros and cons of split routine
My personal and professional recommendation for women in menopause based on:
- 37-years working with women in midlife
- My own 28-day split test routine experiment
A few terms for the discussion of total body or split routine strength
Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) is the mechanism of increasing lean muscle to overcome muscle protein breakdown (MPB) that occurs with aging. Loss of muscle occurs at an accelerated rate during mid-menopause, and is worsened by lack of protein, sleep, and rest between exercise or inadequate exercise stimulus.
I’ve discussed previously that estrogen is a muscle stimulus – preserving losses of muscle and helps you in gaining with the right activity and nutrition. When that stimulus is gone, you need something else.
That something is strength training.
But what does it really mean?
The comparison of total body training to split routine is not just a matter of taking the portion of a total body workout and cutting it into pieces. Instead to fairly compare the benefits side by side you’d have to expand the volume of exercise in a workout so that number of exercise, sets, and repetitions makes it a fair comparison.
Little bits of muscle protein stimulus [that occur from a couple exercises for one muscle group or body part] don’t add up to a big muscle protein synthesis – in the same way a protein snack doesn’t provide adequate muscle protein stimulus like at least 30 grams of protein does.
So immediately, time commitment is increased dramatically. Muscle soreness and fatigue that could decrease performance and or overall influence stress response also become factors for a menopausal woman.
The total body or split routine strength training in menopause dilemma
Because there exists a small percent of all research on females in menopause to begin with, and less on strength training specifically, this research review is challenged. The information has to be pulled from that including males (and sparse females) full body and split routine strength training, along with the exercise and hormone research on females in menopause to project the pros and cons.
That said, this is a hypothesis based on truths about menopausal women response to strength training, common hormone imbalances and contributing factors, and Flipping50’s After 50 Formula for Women™ blueprint.
Pros of TB:
- Total body training allows you to maintain greater training intensity doing just a few exercises. That high intensity is necessary for elevated protein synthesis.
- Multiple exercises (and sets) for the same muscle group could reduce the overall intensity because of a smaller mass of muscle as the focus any one day and the muscle fatigue that deteriorates form and technique reduces results and potentially sets up for injury.
- One study showed 8x the strength and lean muscle gains from Total Body, while 2 follow up studies confirmed though showed less dramatic difference
Pros of SR:
- The ability to stimulate muscle protein stimulus more times a week is a benefit to overall MPS. (so long as the number of exercises, sets and repetitions provides more volume)
A quick comment to this one, I have witnessed midlife+ women are often much more willing to strength train than they are to consume the adequate protein or essential amino acids specifically, that they need each day and around workouts. So more frequent workouts that occur with inadequate protein consumption could backfire for you if that’s the case.
In fairness, frequent split routine workouts might however be the reminder, the cue, to consume more protein. Especially if that is your habit already. Say, you always make a high protein smoothie or other high protein meal about 90 minutes post strength training. If you simply increase the frequency of that strength training, then naturally you’re going to feel like it’s time to go pro!
- Next, is the ability to rest longer between stimulus of the same muscle groups – was at least once – and only if you’re planning wisely, more easily done with split routine. I’m going to have to argue this point. For adults over 40 generally greater recovery time – of 72 hours is already something that benefits performance and results. Unfortunately, in poorly planned split routines that just alternate upper and lower body or feature lower body 3 days a week, this 72-hour advantage is not even experienced.
Planned on Purpose? Or Accidental Exerciser?
Like anything, your plan is as good as the coach or specialist who’s planned it. But a Monday lower body, Tuesday upper body Wednesday lower body…etc routine doesn’t work. Nor does a MWF lower body and a TTH alternating Chest & triceps with Back & biceps. There in fact is less recovery there than say a Monday and Thursday full body routine. Now, in fairness, there are ways to plan better. But if you’re only blindly following, you may not have applied these principles.
Group Fitness or Online Workout Junkie?
Likewise, if you’re doing your strength workouts regularly, then slip into a fun group training workout, where the instructor is doing some muscle conditioning exercise, more isn’t better. You’re not allowing your muscle to recover between sessions. If you’re going shopping for a workout online, know what you need and when you need it, and do that.
Why Is This an Important Decision In Menopause?
For women in menopause, volume of training and of recovery have to be considered in a delicate balance for each woman. (Don’t misinterpret as you are delicate, listener. In fact, adequate intensity exercise for you now is far more important than it was for younger you. Adequate intensity trumps a greater frequency of lower intensity exercise for muscle and bone benefits to occur. The message? Do it less -than you’re probably used to – and do that better).
The ultimate solution, however, would be arriving at your ideal balance of strength training to adequate intensity while allowing adequate recovery. That’s what informs your personal optimal frequency so that your strength training volume creates the most gains and least losses.
Stress Response in Menopause is Heightened
Your response to stress (of all kinds), and here we’ll isolate physiological stressors, is reduced during menopause.
A split routine then that requires 45-minutes to an hour of strength training most days a week (at minimum 4) vs a whole-body total routine that is 45 minutes (or less), becomes an overwhelming commitment. It increases the need to recover. Combined with midlife moments of stress that can be challenging. It also begins to squeeze out time for other enjoyable movement like walking, or yoga, that may reduce cortisol, not to mention, make time for interval training, more of a challenge.
What is Volume?
Volume here being a mixture of intensity (reaching muscle fatigue), and frequency, number of sets and repetitions – which is what informs weight you use. Duration in strength training is not really a “thing.” It’s less important in cardio than it ever was as interval training and exercise snacks have become a better way to fit in exercise in a realistic way.
Volume alone is not the answer
While you may exercise “all the time” and feel betrayed you are not making progress, that in fact may be the problem, dear listener. You could be both progressing and losing progress with a schedule that is too much, too often, with too little rest and essential amino acid-rich protein to support your muscle. In the end, you won’t see progress.
Facts That Lead to Questions
- Exercise is a breakdown activity for muscle. Recovery is when the build up, or muscle protein synthesis happens.
The questions in the discussion of total body vs split routine are:
- What schedule provides adequate stimulus during training to initiate muscle protein synthesis during recovery?
- What frequency of intense stimulus is optimal?
- What recovery time is required before another quality workout can be done for positive results?
- How can you optimize your strength training for your hormone status and vice versa?
My 28 Day total body or split test strength test
By day 7, I was already off schedule. Hit with a busy week, unable to get in the workout even at home. What happened is, what do I do, pick right back up, get back on schedule by leaving that day out, double up the next day, which I didn’t have time to do either, delay things a day and not have full recovery before next week?
What I decided to do is combine the missed day and the next day’s workouts, since I didn’t have time to shift into the weekend my entire schedule. Then, that also didn’t happen. It’s been really hectic around here. So, on this, day 10, I’ve missed now day 7, 8, and 9. Essentially I’ll be doing a full body routine to “catch up.” That’s a term no coach or worthy trainer wants ever to hear.
Catch Up or Thrown Under?
You can’t “catch up.” In attempting to catch up, you get behind. A decision easily becomes irrational for our brains that don’t like to have incomplete parts to a whole. Decisions don’t stem from what’s best for my body if I do all the parts today, but what was best for the schedule. That’s not an ideal way to make decisions for fitness or health. I point this out to illustrate how easy it is to get off track with split routine – a problem I’ve never incurred doing a total body strength training program for 39 years.
To recap, total body or split routine strength training in menopause:
Volume of exercise per muscle group
Increased muscle protein stimulus more times per week (if expanded workouts planned)
Traditionally allows more rest between training same muscle groups*(not actually true compared to Flipping50 programming also featuring 72 hours)
- Increases the weekly frequency of strength training (at least 4 sessions)
- Not greater for strength and slightly more hypertrophy in trained young men
- Increased overall exercise time commitment weekly
- Less flexibility in schedule
- Less exercise time weekly (the biggest objection to exercise for 4 decades of fitness)
- More metabolism boost per workout
- Convenient schedule adjustments
- Shortened, condensed workouts for consistency still work
? Listener I’d like to hear from you. What’s your answer to this question? What if any disadvantages are there to doing a full body strength routine that hits a sweet spot for women in menopause with a frequency of twice a week?
ONE POST PUB UPDATE:
In at least one study, comparison of Total body and split routine (in college age men), showed no significant difference. This research is not very applicable nor is it easy to know based on the protocol differences between other studies. It is important to note: college-age men are nearly at the peak of their muscle. It may be true that minimal stimulus will help them. A bigger difference would have been found no resistance training compared to resistance training male college age subjects but within protocols, probably not. They are already in their muscle prime!
Calder AW, Chilibeck PD, Webber CE, Sale DG. Comparison of whole and split weight training routines in young women. Can J Appl Physiol 19: 185–199, 1994.
Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, et al. Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 28: 2909–2918, 2014.
Schoenfeld BJ, Ratamess NA, Peterson MD, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. Influence of resistance training frequency on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 29: 1821–1829, 2015.
Wernbom M, Augustsson J, Thomeé R. The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004. PMID: 17326698.