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The Physical Effects of Progressive Strength Training: A Case Study With Tawna Eubanks

A personal trainer’s dream is to be booked solid with talented, adherent, and hard working clients. I’m very excited to brag about a particular client I recently took on – Tawna Eubanks. Tawna is a high-level bikini competitor who placed 8th at the Ms. Bikini Olympia two years ago and 13th last year. Unfortunately, she’s not competing this year, as she’s burnt out. If she was, I’d predict a top 3 placement, but that’s neither here nor there.

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She approached me approximately 4 months ago inquiring about distance coaching. I don’t like taking on distance clients because in order to do it right, properly training clients over email, Skype, and text messaging is a huge pain in the butt. However, we spoke over the phone, and I could tell that we’d be a great match. She told me that she just finished competing in 4 shows back to back to back to back and was feeling burnt out, that she didn’t like being in the gym lately, that she wanted to increase her glute size, and that she was willing to experiment. This was music to my ears, as I knew that it was a perfect opportunity for me to suggest my preferred method of programming: total body training.

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In my experience, it’s very challenging to get people who are accustomed to bodypart splits to make the switch to total body training. Nearly every bodybuilder sticks to bodypart split training, and that’s not an exaggeration; a recent study found that 127 out of 127 surveyed bodybuilders adhered to bodypart split training.

I surmise that the majority of bikini competitors also stick to bodypart split training, along with endless amounts of cardio. My buddy Brad Schoenfeld (aka: The Hypertrophy Specialist) and I used to argue about which type of training is better for hypertrophy, so we conducted a training study examining the effects of volume-matched bodypart split training and total body training. The total body training group outperformed the bodypart split group in hypertrophic measures. Brad clings to the fact that all of the subjects had previously been performing bodypart split training and the effect could be due to novelty, but I think it’s evidence that total body training is superior (but I could be committing confirmation bias). Our paper is the only study to date examining this topic.

For a comprehensive, in-depth, and evidence-based discussion on bodypart split training versus total body training, please listen to episode 3 of The Bret Contreras Podcast: Bodypart Spilts versus Total Body Training.

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Prior to training with me, Tawna was lifting weights six days per week, doing additional cardio at least 3 days per week, and training one muscle group per day with high volume and variety. In addition, she wasn’t hell-bent on progressive overload and setting PRs week in and week out. Tawna trains at a badass gym called Destination Dallas (she’s actually engaged to the owner of the gym and is getting married soon).

I convinced her to move to total body training, stick to a periodized approach with new programs each month, omit cardio altogether, and focus on setting PRs week in and week out. Tawna’s training is centered on back squats, sumo deadlifts, hip thrusts, incline press, and weighted chins. Here are some highlights over the past couple of months:

In just a few months, Tawna’s strength has sky-rocketed. She went from doing one bodyweight chin up to 10 bodyweight chin ups and one weighted chin up with 25 additional pounds. She’s now hip thrusting 245 lbs for 8 reps and 275 lbs for 3 reps; she started out with 165 lbs on the hip thrust. She’s busting out 12 feet-elevated inverted rows like it ain’t no thang. She was squatting with 115 lbs and now she’s nailing a below-parallel single with 185 lbs. She was incline pressing with 70 lbs and now she’s using 90 lbs. She started off sumo deadlifting with 95 lbs and now she’s nailing a single with 190 lbs.

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She still employs a wide variety of movements, we switch things up slightly each month to spice things up, she’s spending 3 hours in the gym each week instead of 6 hours, she’s no longer feeling burnt out and is loving her training, and she’s fueled by her personal records which keeps her highly motivated to train. She’s also fueled by the physique changes she’s already made.

Check out the picture below – you can see noticeable improvements in a very short time frame. She uses a seatbelt on the Gluteator machine and it no longer functions properly as her waist is too small to get buckled in. She had to get her wedding dress altered – they had to take an inch off of nearly every measurement except the glutes, which is exactly what we wanted. This is despite the fact that her scale weight hasn’t changed.

Left: 3 months ago Right: Recently

Left: 3 months ago
Right: Recently

More results and more fun in less time? Seems like a no-brainer to me! Hopefully this article and video motivates other women and bikini competitors to engage in similar forms of efficient/effective, progressive strength training.

This has not been a simple accomplishment. I want to give HYOOOGE props to Tawna – she’s followed my advice to a T. She has done everything I’ve asked her to do, she’s never missed a workout, she follows the program to perfection, and she works her butt off. You can see how hard she works in the video – I love the faces she makes. This is the sign of a champion and a true athlete. She takes video clips of each of her exercises and texts them to me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yes, I watch all of her videos and make sure she’s using proper form to my liking. I text her back feedback (sometimes in video fashion when it’s easier to explain) and the next week she is sure to implement my advice. Rare are the clients who can accomplish this, but this explains her incredible results.

She might compete in a powerlifting competition in July and I’m hoping she gets the itch to compete in bikini once again toward the end of 2016. It’ll be interesting to see comparisons of on-stage competition photos.

I very much look forward to Tawna’s ongoing results and hope you do too. We’re going to try to make regular YouTube videos but you can follow her on social media here:

Tawna Instagram

Tawna Facebook

Tawna Twitter

Tawna YouTube

Destination Dallas Facebook

Destination Dallas Instagram

Better Bodies Facebook

Better Bodies Instagram

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28 Comments

  • Johan says:

    Hi Bret. Were you involved in her diet as well so you know if she ate at a surplus/maintenance/deficit?

    • I didn’t do her diet; she works with another guy for that and also her fiance. But I was happy that she agreed with my advice to not bulk up (which most competitors do after a show). I’m not sure what her cals/macros are but I know she gets her protein in, has a good macro split, and stays consistent. She did not increase or decrease cals and her weight hasn’t changed at all – just her size (she’s shrinking LOL).

  • Morgan VanMeter says:

    I’m so amazed/impressed with the work you’ve done with tawna. She looks amazing as she always has but you can definitely tell a difference in her muscles with in just 3 months!! Tawnas a hardworking and dedicated person. Plus one of the best motivational speaker I’ve ever had. Keep up the good work sis!

  • Staci says:

    This is a great post! I loved it! So, is Tawna’s training three days/week, an hour at a time? No cardio? Are all the exercises in the video pretty much what she’s been doing, or is that a sample? I will definitely follow her on the different social media sites and I really appreciate this post.

    As far as the results from your and Brad’s study, you didn’t mention how many people were included, but it sounds likely the results are attributable to the total-body training vs. novelty of the workout. could the results Tawna got be simply from novelty?

    I’m assuming she was eating a very clean diet during this three months, but were there any major changes with that vs. her previous diet, say, for example, a lot more protein?

    Thanks again for sharing all of this!

    • I’ll check with Tawna but I bet her workouts take her around 60-90 minutes long. She was running but she stopped as it was giving her pain in the calf/hamstring/back of knee region, and since she stopped running I think her results have sped up. Yes, of course the novelty makes a big difference, but I believe she’ll continue making gains and seeing amazing results in the following 12 months. Hopefully we keep working together! Yes, she eats properly and consumes whole, minimally processed foods probably 90% of the time. She didn’t change her diet at all – same macros/cals.

  • Karina says:

    Hi Bret,
    I have you strong curves book and have done you advanced workout routine. I am wondering if you will be creating any new programs any time soon?

    • I think “Strong by Bret” will be ready to launch today, coincidentally. But I’ve been thinking it will be ready for the past month so I’m not saying anything until it’s good to go LOL. Glad you did Strong Curves!

  • Maria says:

    This is amazing!! I’ve been following her for a while, so I knew she was training with you! So her training is full body training every session? How many times per week? is her goal to hit PR’s every workout??

    • Yep, 3 days per week with probably 6-8 exercises done for 2-3 sets each. Always full body. Yes, the goal is to beat what she did the week prior, but it doesn’t always happen. She never lets her form slip just to get more reps or weight, which is great. The little PRs make a substantial difference over the course of a year.

  • Maureen says:

    Great job to both of you!!!!Hard work pays off, hard work with you coaching PRICELESS

    • Thanks Maureen! It’s so nice training hard working people who follow your advice. Tawna is one of the best clients I’ve ever had at following orders – she’s done everything I asked her to do to a T. And she has good instincts when I’m not around to help. She also has an amazing support system. Her fiance is very helpful, she has a nutrition coach, she trains at a world class gym (Destination Dallas) with all the best equipment, and she has access to some of the strongest “spotters” I’ve ever seen haha! I get to see pro bodybuilders from time to time spotting her in the videos she sends me. So we make a good team.

  • kevin indig says:

    Just want to say “thank you” for providing case studies like these. Thumbs up, man!

  • Hi Bret, I am curious on your thoughts of your Total Body Training with Men? I know that Menno Henselmans is also a large proponent of high frequency full body training and has seen huge success with it. PS: I look forward to seeing your speak this weekend at the Becoming a Better Human conference in Regina!

    • Landon, I’m a big fan of TBT for men too. I’m a big fan of Menno’s and am aware of his thoughts, and I trained with him in Norway. I agree with his methods except I think it’s important to have 1-2 days off per week, but I agree with full body centered around compound training with isolation sprinkled in, and that the body is capable of much more than people think. See you soon!

  • Caitlin says:

    Hi Bret,

    I really enjoyed this article and video! I’ve been following Tawna on IG, so I knew she was working with you. I have always been a huge fan of full body training, and am looking to get back on track with a good program. Did you have Tawna performing he big lifts, ie deadlifts, backsquats and pull-ups every session? And then for the rest of the workout implement different exercises each session? Would you suggest doing these big PR movements 3 times per week?

    • We’ve changed things up, but generally she’s had a squat/chin day, a hip thrust/bench day, and a deadlift day, with other goodies sprinkled in. Seems to be working well so why change things? But I’m sure I’ll experiment over time with frequency, exercise selection, etc. I would not suggest doing the big 3 three times per week. Squats maybe, bench maybe, but deadlifts 2 times max. Better to do one heavy day and one light day with deads IMO.

  • Amber Bustanoby says:

    Bret, your amazing! If you are looking for another badass client to train, let me know! I promise I will do whatever you say 😉

  • Nadia says:

    Hi Bret!
    What you’re saying certainly sounds interesting.
    But what if you’re like me, who loves working out at the gym almost every day. If I started to do wholebody workouts I could only go to the gym 3 times a week right? I don’t know if I could take it.

  • Brittany says:

    I follow both you and Tawna on IG, so I knew you were working with her for a while. Thanks for posting about what she’s doing! The results are truly staggering.

    I went through your Strong Curves program about a year ago and loved it. I’m a big believer in progressive overload. I do have a question, though.

    Currently I’m doing another program that centers around body part splits and incorporates the big lifts as well. Because I’m a believer in progressive overload, my goal, even if it doesn’t always happen, is to increase weight every week for the exercises. In the article, I noticed that Tawna said she didn’t try to PR every week with splits. Do you think training progressive overloads with split days would make that style more effective? I’ve seen some great results and rapid gains so far, so I’m curious what your opinion on that is.

  • Travis says:

    The Gluteator machine looks awesome. I’ve never seen one of those before!

  • jason says:

    “The total body training group outperformed the bodypart split group in hypertrophic measures….. I think it’s evidence that total body training is superior (but I could be committing confirmation bias).”

    You glossed over the fact that the full body group hit muscle groups three times per week where as the split program only hit a muscle group once per week. It is entirely possible to do a split and hit muscle groups two to three times per week which could have given similar results to the full body routine.

    Now if you do a full body vs muscle group split study with volume match and frequency per muscle group match and the full body group still does better then I think you can claim full body superiority. But right now there is no evidence to suggest a body part split that hits each muscle three times per week like the full body group did, would not end up with the same results.

  • Coach Troy says:

    As a trainer a Destination Dallas Gym I have been following Tawna from the being of her journey. She is an excellent athlete and pulled a 215lb sumo DL recently with no grind, it was easy! My the way I provided the Hip Thruster for the gym and use it with all of my lifters and Track Athletes. The Gluteator is an exceptional machine and is a great tool to use with adults who spend to much time at their desk also.

  • Eckqb12 says:

    Hey Brett great article and info. Do you have any books or literature that detail your TBT program?? I would love to read about the specifics!!

  • Randy says:

    Love the part about frequency! I have a question about MPS and frequency. If you end up training a muscle back to back days and it’s already in a phase of MPS does that training day go wasted? I know a weird question but MPS kind of confuses me. I like higher frequency training when I keep overall volume down and when training 4 days a week full body it’s inevitable that one of the days will be back to back. I don’t want to think I’m training 12 weekly sets when I’m really getting 9! 😛

    Thanks Brett 🙂

  • Kris says:

    Hi Bret, great article! Thank you!
    The video you shared in this article is one complete workout session?

  • BETHANY says:

    What does Tawna weigh?

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