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Is spot-specific training the most efficient approach?


Coach Kenneth Rippetoe


Health, Fitness, and Beauty

Kenneth is the founder and head coach of One with the Water, a nonprofit swim school that offers need-based scholarships to children with special needs, adults, low-income families, and service-disabled Veterans. He is a certified US Paralympic Disabilities Swim Coach and a strength and conditioning coach.

It's obvious that if you train only a specific area of your body, you will see results in that area. However, the old axiom about being only as strong as your weakest link comes in to play. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t get the biggest biceps by only doing curls. He started by building a foundation with his entire body, by squatting. Once he was stronger, then he started adding in other exercises. This misconception is what injures newbies and keeps people from really getting stronger.  


We teach the whole-body approach. No sport or household chore requires you to use only a few muscles, or one leg, or one arm at a time. Why would you want to train like that? The best way to get stronger is to work the most muscle mass with your feet planted firmly on the ground, unless you’re doing bench press, in which case, ideally, you use your feet to apply a force to counter the upward force for the press while on your back.


Your workout routine should always have legs (squats and deadlifts) and upper body (press and overhead press) in the same workout. Isolation of the muscle groups increases the recovery time, makes you prone to injury, and wastes your time in the gym.


Why work separate areas or the minimize the muscles groups you can build when you can use barbell training and work the most muscle mass with the smallest movements, working the entire body, including your heart and lungs, in just a few simple exercises?


A healthy diet is just as important as exercise when hitting the gym and making goals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Your body can’t make good out of garbage. You need to maintain continuous energy throughout the day. The best way to do that is to listen to your body and start to understand what it’s craving. And then eat something healthy within the boundary of a “single-ingredient food.”  


Cardio workouts will work against your strength training. Without proper nutrition, cardio workouts will eat up the resources required to recover and build strength. You can start a war with this fact: progressively loading a barbell every workout, is the only way to build strength.


We recommend only 2 to 3 minutes of cardio to warm-up your body before a strength training session, and then, if you’re an athlete, we recommend about an hour, or no more than 2 hours rest, before starting your cardio workout, such as swimming. The next day is complete recovery with no exercises other than your regular schedule of work, walking the dogs, etc. That formula will get you into the best shape of your life and to peak performance.


The goal of cardio should not be to elevate your heart-rate for an extended period of time (up to 2 hours or more if you’re training for a marathon). The goal of cardio is to maintain the lowest possible heart-rate while performing at an accelerated pace (above walking) for an extended period of time. That’s proper conditioning.


Your goal should be to maintain a healthy lifestyle, at a minimum. If you are going to compete, then that will increase your workout regimen. Whether you are simply trying to age gracefully, or become an athlete, even a weekend warrior, all research shows, as we recommend, that you incorporate barbell strength training because it is effective at every level.


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