Training splits have become much more popular nowadays. Workout routines that split the body into parts like chest and tris, back and bis, and legs have now become synonymous with working out.
But these routines miss a very critical element: the importance of whole body strength.
Whole body strength refers to the ability of each of your body's muscle groups to work together as a unit. Think of it like a chain. When each link in a chain is strong, it can perform its function. If even one link is weak, the chain will snap under pressure.
Your body is the same way. If you work out with isolation-based exercises, you are likely missing muscles that could be weakening your chain.
You might not know it right away, but at some point, as you are lifting your child from the floor or grabbing the groceries out of the back seat, something will give. Maybe your lower back will go out, or maybe you'll feel a weird pop in your shoulder.
That's one of the links in your chain snapping.
Whole body strength is so important because it helps prevent these kinds of injuries from happening. When you have this type of strength, you are not over-developed in one area, but have functional strength throughout your entire body.
How do you Develop Whole Body Strength?
You must incorporate whole body exercises.
These are exercises that strengthen the body as a unit. In order to perform them, your body must work as one.
Below I have listed three of my favorite whole body exercises.
Whole Body Exercise #1: Stretch Walk Push Up
The Stretch Push Up is fantastic for creating whole body strength from your hands to your toes. This exercise was made popular by the late Jack Lalanne.
Here's how to perform the stretch walk push up.
Start off in a normal push up position. Walk your hands out so that they are in front of your head about 1-2 feet. Lower yourself down while maintaining a straight spine. As you go down, you'll be relying upon a lot of shoulder and back strength along with core strength. Press back up.
- Keep your abs tight and your spine straight. You don't want to let you pelvis slouch down during this exercise.
- If you'd like to make this exercise easier, simply keep your hands close to your head. To make it harder, keep your hands further away from your head.
Whole Body Exercise #2: Wall Walks
This is one of my favorite exercises for developing major strength and mobility in the spine. But it is also one of the few bodyweight based exercises that recruit the hamstrings.
Here's how to perform wall walks.
Stand facing away from a wall with your heels about 1-2 feet away from the wall. Lift your hands above your head and then behind you so they are on the wall. Arch your body and walk your hands down the wall as far as you can. Your pelvis will be sticking out away from the wall as you walk deeper and deeper into the exercise. Once you can't go down any further, walk back up to starting position.
- Move slowly. If you don't have much mobility in your spine this can be a very challenging exercise. Over time, your spine will become more flexible and strong which will help with movement.
- To make the exercise easier, don't go down as far. As your strength improves you'll be able to go deeper.
Whole Body Exercise #3: Spider Crawl
When performing the Spider Crawl, you'll need a little bit of space to move. This exercise improves whole body strength in addition to mobility. As you might have noticed, whole body strength is closely tied to mobility.
Here's how to perform the Spider Crawl.
Get down on the ground in a typical push up position. Lower yourself down so your whole body is a few inches from the ground. Walk your right hand up about a foot in front of you. Bring your left leg up about a foot in front of where it was originally placed. Then bring your left hand up about a foot in front of you. Finally, bring your right leg up about a foot in front of where it was originally placed. Continue in the manner. You'll look like a spider as you crawl across the ground. If you run out of space, you can always perform the movement going backward.
- If you don't have enough strength to keep your body close to the ground for the full duration of the movement than just come down a little bit. Over time, your mobility and strength will improve and you'll be able to stay lower.
- For advanced practitioners out there feel free to exaggerate the movements and stretch your arms and legs out as far as you can. This will not only make the exercise more challenging but also improve mobility.
In order to build whole body strength, you must work your body as a unit. Isolation exercises will leave weak parts in your chain and eventually lead to injury.
When you incorporate whole body exercises into your workout, you become much stronger. I highly recommend using an equal balance of whole body exercises along with isolation exercises so you prevent injury and build functional strength.
Todd Kuslikis is the founder of AShotofAdrenaline.net, a bodyweight exercise site that helps people build muscle and strength using only bodyweight exercises. He has created many bodyweight based training routines including his most popular 3 Month Bodweight Training Plan.