Split training is an exercise program that dedicates each training session to one specific region of the body. There isn’t one training split that works best for everyone, each body is different, and we don’t have the same goals. Whether you are looking to add muscle, get lean, or both, here are some principles that will help.
Work Each Muscle More Than 1x per Week.
One common mistake I see with gym-goers is that they adopt the “bro-split” and work each muscle once a week. An example goes like this:
Saturday & Sunday: Rest
When you workout a given muscle, it does not need an entire week to recover! One study showed people getting nearly double hypertrophy gains(muscle enlargement) when working each muscle 2x per week compared to 1x per week. It makes sense because you are giving each muscle twice the opportunity to grow. If you want to do the 5-day “bro” split, then look to minimize days off. Regardless, this isn’t the most optimal split.
Don’t Work Each Muscle Too Frequently.
It is a balancing act. You ideally want to workout each muscle as often as it’s fully recovered. No longer and no shorter. Most trained people generally take around 48-72hrs and sometimes up to 96hrs of rest in between each muscle you workout. It’s generally best to hit each muscle 2x per week with a 3-day split if you are an experienced lifter. As a beginner, you don’t need as much frequency and intensity.
An example of what I do personally is that if I workout chest, shoulder & triceps on a Monday, I will wait 72 hours and work that same muscle group on Thursday, and if I feel I need it, I might even wait until Friday(96hrs). On the days in between, I work with other muscle groups(3-day split protocol). It’s all about having that mind-body connection and listening to your body.
Remember, we’re dealing with each specific muscle and not the total amount of workouts in general. On a per-week basis, I work-out 5-6 days/week.
While lifting, you break apart the cross-bridges of actin and myosin filaments inside the sarcomere, causing microtears in the muscle. You don’t want to train the same muscle again before the actin and myosin protein filaments return to their original point of origin. Otherwise, instead of lengthening the muscle and becoming stronger, the actin and myosin protein filaments will branch out somewhere else and shorten the muscle head, making you weaker. This is overtraining.
Examples of Solid Training Splits
For the following 3-day splits, they don’t need to get done in this exact order. I prioritize chest first because that’s what grows the slowest for me, and I hit that on day one for the beginning of the week. When you finish the 3-day split, you can repeat it the next day or take a day of rest from all workouts if you need it.
Day 1 Push- Chest, Shoulders, & Triceps
Day 2 Pull- Back & Biceps
Day 3 Legs- entire lower body
Repeat and take 1-2 rest days per week as needed. Sometimes I switch the order of that around.
Opposite muscle split
Day 1- Chest & Back
Day 2- Biceps & Triceps
Day 3- Legs and Shoulders.
Chest and shoulders can switch to look like this.
Day 1- Shoulders & Back
Day 2- Biceps & Triceps
Day 3- Legs & Chest
Legs & Biceps/Push/Back (This one I’m currently doing)
Day 1-Legs & Biceps
Day 2-Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Day 3-All back muscles
Additional 3-Day Split
Day 1- Chest/Back/Triceps
Day 2- Biceps/Shoulders/Calves
Day 3- Legs (w/o calves)
Upper/Lower Split (suitable for beginners)
Day 1-Upper body
Day 2-Lower body
Rest and repeat as needed.
An example of a combined split is when you pair any 3-day split with an upper-body/lower body split in the same week, which I think is suitable for someone in the intermediate phase. Here’s an example:
Thursday- Push day (Chest, Shoulders, & Triceps)
Friday- Pull (Back & Biceps)
The same split isn’t going to work for everyone. What works best for someone else may not work best for you. Experiment with different split routines and see which one works best for you. If you plateau for a couple of months with your training, change it up to bring about variety to keep your body guessing and adapting. Keep it challenging and at the same time, learn to listen to your body and give it adequate recovery.