The Problem of Training Body Parts

Most training orients around body parts. You’ve heard it and you’ve probably done it. If you’re a regular strength trainer you know this conversation all too well, “Are you training chest and triceps or are you doing legs?”

While there is immense intelligence to grouping the body into synergistic groups so that you can train vigorously in a few areas while the rest of your body has a relative break from the demands there is a problem hiding out here and it is costing you dearly.

The problem is your split between the external objective world (that’s your body) and the subjective internal world (that’s your direct phenomenological experience). How we use language around training matters. Language structures your experience so when you say to yourself or to your training partner that you are, for example, training “back and biceps,” you are carving out an intention to do just that. Train just your back and biceps.

Now this intention is in part sculpting focus, you’re not going to be messing around on the leg machines. This part is good. The problem is that the intention to just train your body parts is robbing you of a larger, more efficient and multi-dimensional return on your time, energy and attention invested in your training. You could be training back and biceps while simultaneously training much more! If you’re like most of us in the human condition, life’s precious and we simply don’t possess time to waste.

So while this simple, often unexamined intention to train body parts, does yield more focus. This intentional focus on the body does stunt you from engaging a larger possibility.
Strength training can yield multidimensional benefits, it can dramatically re-sculpt your subjective sense of self as much as it can develop the objective starting power in your leg mu
scles. The key is inside of your intention. You need an intention that is larger than the dialectic of interior and exterior or what is subjective and objective. If your intention embraces, holds and directs both your training can yield multifaceted returns in both domains. Tangible gains are coupled with what I often call “intangible” gains that can also be measured. The interesting piece is that these larger intentions, in my experience, have yielded far greater objective returns than solely focusing on training body parts yields.

As such I have shifted my orientation around training and I encourage you to do the same.

The classic split within strength training is, as we have discussed above, is:

  1. Chest & Triceps
  2. Back & Biceps
  3. Legs

I have restructured these as follows:

  1. Push: Exercises that objectively involve moving resistance away from the central channel (That’s your spinal column).
  2. Pull: Exercises that objective involve moving resistance toward the central channel.
  3. Locomotion: Exercises that objectively involve locomotion of the central channel from one place to another, or improving your capacity to do so.

Push, Pull and Locomotion, there you have it. You’ll see that objectively we are talking about roughly the same muscle groupings as our classic split. This is important. You lose nothing in terms of focus. Here is what you gain.
Training is oriented around a larger intention, pushing, pulling or moving around in life. A push day is not just about the chest and triceps. These muscle groupings are included, yet the shift in language provides for more space. You are training to push into life with an open heart, fierce determination, focus and drive. If you are working with a spotter you are training your capacity to press outward into the world while also being supported yet also challenged by others. If we myopically focus upon the muscles we miss these other dimensions of training. When you don’t notice them, you’re likely not to yield any benefit from them.

Similarly with training Pull. The same muscle groups have to work to draw resistance toward your spinal column, yet you are not just training muscles. You are also simultaneously training how to draw what it is that you want in life towards an open heart. Go ahead and reach out and grab something, now draw it closer to you. This is what Pull Training is all about.

Stop training your body. This perspective stunts your ability to yield greater returns from your training and ultimately steals your larger capacity to show up in your life. Free your training intentions from your body, cast a larger vision and engage more of yourself into your training.

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