What is the perfect workout split? This age old debate between lifters has raged on for centuries, with no foreseeable end in sight. Truthfully, there is no “best” training split overall. However, there is absolutely a best training split for you based on your goals, previous experiences, training preferences, and schedule. I’ve broken down the most common workout splits below to help you choose the perfect training split for your goals.
Terms to Know:
- Frequency: # of training sessions per week
- Volume: total amount of work (sets and reps) done in each training session
- Intensity: Amount of physical power exerted
- Hypertrophy: Muscle Growth
“The Bro Split”
No, I’m not talking about the “curl bro” split of bench, biceps, and nothing else (definitely not legs). I’m talking about a true bodybuilding style bro split, in which one trains four days per week, training different muscle groups each day. Though some argue that hitting each muscle group once per week is too little frequency, this is not necessarily the case. It’s important to remember that any rowing exercise is hitting your biceps along with your back, and bench press will work your triceps and front delts at the same time as your chest. Therefore, while each muscle group will only be isolated once per week, they will be involved many times throughout the week given proper exercise selection. For example, deadlifting on back day allows you to work your legs twice during the week while keeping the focus of that day on your back. This increased frequency will hinder recovery slightly, but with only one day of intense work per muscle group per week, recovery should not be a significant issue. The Bro Split has two main options:
- Bro Split A:
- Bro Split B:
In order to decide between these, it is important to note your weak points. If you are looking to work on your back more than your biceps, I’d recommend bro split as it allows you to train your back to exhaustion, before your biceps have been isolated that week. However, if you are trying to catch your biceps up to your back, isolating them when they are at full strength may be the most beneficial. The order of the days can be mixed up as well. If you’re struggling with your squats, you should probably hit them before you deadlift, moving leg day before back day. Your schedule can also come into play as some will train a bro split Monday-Thursday, while others will split their 4 days throughout the week. The bro split is a great choice for those chasing gains, that allows for adequate rest and personalization.
“Body Part Split”
The Body Part split is similar to the bro split, but with arms given their own day. It allows for you to give each body part maximal intensity on its day, as well as maximal rest throughout the week. The body part split is very beneficial for hypertrophy as well. It likely allows for more volume to be used on your chest, back, and arms as each body part is given its own training day. It does require 5 days per week of training, however, making it one of the most inflexible options listed, though the two rest days can be shuffled around to make the program more adaptable.
“Push, Pull, Legs”
Push, pull, legs is another popular training split that has been around for years. It’s similar to Bro Split A (listed above), but with the shoulder day split up between the “push” and “pull” days. Essentially, it looks like this:
- Push Day:
- Front Delts/Mid Delts
- Pull Day:
- Mid Delts/Rear Delts
One of the main benefits of this split is its flexibility. The push, pull, legs split is more of a rotation than it is a weekly split. Of course, the split could still work on a weekly basis, with 1 day of each type per week. Training more than 3 days a week may be necessary for some, however, as the removal of a shoulder day often causes the total volume or work to fall. Another solution is simply to spend more time in the gym each training day. If you still want to train 4 days a week, you could hit push, pull, legs, push one week, and begin with a pull day the next week. Those who train 6 days per week could get through this split twice in one week! The flexibility allowed by this split also makes it a great option for those with constantly changing schedules. Missing a day doesn’t screw up your whole week, as you would simply be able to resume the rotation on your next training day. The workout does generally allow for less rest than the bro split, however, as each muscle group is trained every third training day. Others will love this feature of the split, however, as they recover more quickly. Overall, this split leaves a lot of work to be done each training session, but by adjusting your frequency, volume, and exercise selection, you can easily make it suit your needs.
Upper Body/Lower Body
The Upper Body/Lower Body split is very similar to the above push, pull, legs split, with the push and pull days being combined. It can be trained 2, 4, or 6 days per week. Combining all upper body exercises into a single day leaves a ton of work to do on upper body days, as you would have to hit your chest, back, shoulders, and arms all in one day. This means that each upper body muscle group will only get a small amount of time spent on it. For scheduling purposes, this workout can be very beneficial, however, it is difficult to reach muscular overload in any of the upper body muscles when each muscle group is only used for 1-2 exercises. The Upper/Lower split can be extremely effective for beginners, however, I’d recommend a push, pull, legs split over an upper/lower split if possible. This allows for you to perform more volume, likely resulting in more muscle gained.
A full body split is simply the concept of working every muscle group during every training session. The full body split is a polarizing one as some people absolutely love it, while others absolutely hate it. I fall somewhere in the middle, as I believe that the effectiveness of this split is completely dependent on your goals and previous training experience. For hypertrophy, I believe that full body training is largely ineffective. Full body training allows very little time for each muscle group as every other muscle group also has to be worked that day. In order for hypertrophy to occur, muscular overload must be reached. It is very difficult to overload a muscle when you have little time to work it that day, making full body training largely ineffective for building muscle on experienced lifters. Increased frequency may help to cause overload eventually in the week, however, a full body split 6-7 days a week is extremely difficult to recover from. If you are new to the gym, however, your muscles may be unaccustomed to resistance exercise, making overload considerably easier to reach. Full body training may be a viable approach to hypertrophy for you.
Where I believe that full body training is extremely effective is for weight loss. This is because it allows for far lengthier and more intense supersets and circuits, allowing for more calories to be burned. For example, trying to run a circuit of bench press, chest flyes, and push-ups would be much more taxing in your muscular system than it would be on your cardiovascular system. Your chest would give out long before you started breathing too hard. However, a circuit of bench press, rows, and step-ups allows for you to get your heart rate up much higher because your muscular system is no longer the limiting factor. For this reason, I believe that full body training can be extremely valuable for weight loss. It does not allow much time for rest, however, and muscular overload resulting in building more muscle is only going to raise your metabolism and help you burn more fat. Therefore, I’m not a huge fan of full body training for experienced lifters regardless of their goals. This is highly dependent on the person though, as I’ve seen some people absolutely kill every body part each day. If they are able to recover from it, they’re essentially creating muscular overload in every muscle group every single training session. While very difficult to recover from, theoretically this would cause significant muscle hypertrophy. It would also be difficult to maintain as your muscles adapt, requiring more and more volume to reach overload over time. Still, it’s definitely worth trying as it can be effective and is a great way to mix up your training. Adding a full body day onto the end of another split can also be useful, as the combination of the two can still result in overload while allowing you to burn extra calories through your full body day.
What’s The Best?
At the end of the day, the best split is the one that you enjoy the most. I say this because you are more likely to stick to it if you enjoy it. You can also try different splits over time. To put it simply, the routine that allows you to perform the most volume with the most intensity the most often will lead to the most hypertrophy. You want to train at the highest frequency that allows you to take the amount of rest needed to perform with a high intensity. This is a difficult balance to find and is something that likely constantly changes as your muscles adapt. Don’t be afraid to switch it up every few months to enjoy the unique benefits of each split!
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