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If you are anything like me, I have been in the gym doing my thing and wondering if what I was doing was really doing me any good. I always wondered what was the best way for me to work out and get the most out of my time. This then led me to think of if my training split was the most optimal for me. What is a training split you may ask? Training splits are an exercise routine in which we train different body parts and muscles on different days throughout the week. Basically, what you work out on each day of a week or cycle. When I got into lifting, I only knew of one training split, the 5 day a week split. It was chest on Monday, back on Tuesday, and so on and so forth until the weekend came and I took 2 days off. But was this really the best for me? If you have that question, then you came to the right place. Keep reading to discover what the best training routine is best for YOU!
The scale I am going to use to describe these programs is the FITT scale. It stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type. These will expose the pros and cons of each training split. Frequency refers to how many days a week you will be training and how much work a body part gets a week, month, and year. Intensity is the level of how intense you can go. This means how much volume and load you can put into each workout. Time is how long each workout will take and how fast you can progress with your strength. Type refers to what is the type pf exercise you will be doing. This is whether you will be using free weights or machines and which ones will give you the best outcome. Now that we got that out of the way, lets get into the most common training splits!
This training split seems to be among the forgotten ones but may be the best for beginners and making fast progress. Full body has a lot of frequency because it only takes one day to work out your entire body. Even if you do a one day on, one day off approach you are still training each muscle 3-4 times a week. This will lead to each muscle being worked 14 times a month and thus 168 times a year! Why is this so important? Well imagine every time you work that muscle it is a chance to grow. That means that all your muscles will grow 168 times the entire year! If you have great recovery or will grow on anything (being a beginner or taking the highest quality of supplements) it will make you build muscle fast. However, if your recovery is not up to par it may hinder you because you may never fully recover due to the amount of frequency.
Full body, although great in frequency, lacks a bit in intensity. You are restricted to only 1 exercise per body part with only a few sets if you want to complete your workout in a timely manner. This means that the body part will receive fewer volume meaning that you may not be able to wreck the muscle every workout. This may hinder growth for some who need high amounts of volume every workout but is great for those who do not need a lot of volume to build muscles (beginners).
This program does however take the longest amount of time per workout, especially if you are not efficient with your time. However, it will be the best for progressive overload, because if you add just 5 pounds or 1 rep every workout that could add up to an extra 70 pounds on the bar after a month. That is almost a whole plate a side! See what I mean by fast progress?!
The type of exercise you would do on this program would be primarily free weights and compound movements (multi joint). This is because you need exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck because you only get one exercise.
The best exercises would be:
This is another one of those splits that has seemed to have faded away over time. This training split is an immediate progression after your full body split. This training split is also beneficial for beginners because it is still a high frequency program because you train your whole body 2 and a half times a week. This results in 10 times a month and 120 times over the whole year. Like the previous, most people’s routine on this split would be upper body, lower body, rest, and repeat.
You can be more intense on this routine because you have less muscles to work each day you train. On the upper days you may still have to lower the amount of exercises because the upper body does have a lot of more different muscles compared to your lower body. However, now you can do more sets because you have more time to work each body part. You are also able to lift heavier now too! Now that you have more time between workouts you can fully recover and add more weight to the bar.
As far as time goes, you will be able to spend less time in the gym because you split your body parts per day in half. It is a lot easier to be there for only an hour and the rest times can be a little bit longer. This will allow you to get more work done in less time. Progress still does come fast in this program because the frequency is still high! If you add 5 pounds to every lift every time you train it, that will equate to 50 pounds every month! That is a 25 a side!
The types of exercises would still be compound movements that give you the most bang for your buck. I would refer to the exercises above for the upper body exercises, but for the lower body you can add more movements.
On lower days I would add the following
For those who have perfected the Upper/Lower split it is time to go onto the Push/Pull/Legs split (PPL). This split is better for those who have worked off their beginner gains and are now in the advanced category when they need a little more attention per muscle group. This is one of the last higher frequency programs because you can work every muscle about twice a week. This leads to about 7 times a month and 84 times a year. This is the edge of optimal training, anything less than this frequency isn’t optimal for muscle growth, unless you are advanced.
You can be even more intense on this program because you can increase the volume per session by a lot. Now that your body is separated into 3 sections you can increase both the sets and exercises per muscle. I would now recommend doing 2 exercises per muscle group and also throwing in some for the ignored muscle groups (biceps, triceps, rear deltoid and lower back). The load is still heavy because you still do not have a ton of exercises to do per workout. Not only because the exercise amount is less, but also because you have even more time to recover.
The time spent doing this workout is also less because you have less muscles to train per day. This also means that you can increase your rest times and do more sets with those extra exercises. This is the limit of fast progress though, which will occur naturally as you become a more experienced lifter. If you were to add 5 pounds per exercise for the month you would add 35 pounds in total for the month. That is a little over 15 pounds a side to a lift. That is good progress when you look over the course of a year, but everything is slowing with experience.
The types of exercises finally have some freedom and you are now recommended to use some machines or isolation exercises. Now you can do one heavy hitter exercise for the main lift and follow it with a more isolated movement.
Also known as the “bro” or “pro” split, this split is best reserved for those advanced lifters. These people have already come so far that they need extra attention to the muscle and need to hit every angle of that muscle to create more muscle growth. The frequency is low, hitting every muscle once a week, or about 5 times a month and 60 times a year. This is good because you are given plenty of rest between the workouts to recover the muscle that was worked.
Intensity can be way higher than seen before on this training split. Since each muscle group is so separated you can jack up the volume in the amount of exercises you do and sets per exercise. On this program you could still go heavy, but it may be more challenging because you must make it through all of the different exercises and sets. This training program allows you to destroy the muscle that you are working out due to the volume and the time you have to recover from workouts.
The time spent is usually controlled and like the PPL split. However, the good part about using this split is that you can get a lot more work done per muscle group compared to others. Progress on this program is slowed way down compared to the others. This can be expected from being an advanced lifter, and this program will help you stimulate the muscle enough to get any progress. If you added 5 pounds per exercise for the month you would have added 25 pounds, which is awesome for an advanced lifter!
You have unlimited freedom when it comes to the type of exercises. You can do multiple compound movements and multiple isolation movements per muscle group. I would suggest doing 2-4 exercises per specific body part. This is the time you get all of the little guys you have been missing such as your forearms, upper traps, and abductors.
I threw this one in here to let you know that there is a progression after the 5 day a week split. Anything over that is really pushing down the frequency and giving your muscles even more attention. If you are at this level, you really need a TON of stimulation for your body to grow or get stronger. Progress is slow in terms of strength, but at this point you are probably close to your peak gains.
All of these different training splits are great and seem like they are directed at specific people. However, there is an extra letter to that FITT scale that I forgot to mention. It is really FITTE. The E is commonly left out for most, but it is the most important factor to which training split or routine you follow. The E stands for enjoyment! The best training split for you is the one that you like doing. I can tell you that it is best for you to do PPL or UL or 5 day a week, but if you hate any of those you won’t do it and then you won’t make any progress anyways. I included great guidelines and examples of the perfect candidates for each program, but the you are the best candidate for the training you want to do.