When I first started training I was always looking for that magic training split.
I remember trying many and each time before I would start them I would think “this is the one that’s going to get me jacked”.
Over the years I have realized that for building muscle, there is not a magic split. There isn’t going to be one that changes everything.
In saying that, there can be splits that don’t train your muscles enough, or they train them too much.
But on average most splits will work, IF you adhere to them.
Some work better than others due to one persons body type, some work better than others due to someone’s time constraints etc.
Finding what you can stick to consistently is the most important.
Its good to pick a split and then get a baseline and adjust in the future.
This gives you a solid foundation to work from instead of trying to overcomplicate things.
There are 3 common training splits you see for building muscle. They are:
In this blog I want to review these three so you can decide which one is best for you.
We commonly use this split for new online clients. Most beginners don’t need a lot of volume or need to lift much weight to see muscle growth. Since they aren’t doing as much volume or lifting as much weight, it allows their muscles to recover much quicker, so you can train them more frequently.
Ideally you would train 2-4x per week on a full body routine, but you can go as high as 5x per week. If you are new to weight training I recommend doing full body 2-3x per week.
Some other people who would benefit from full body training is females or someone who has a smaller body type. If you have been training for a few years and fall into this category you could look at lifting 3-5x per week with a full body split. Just be careful with overlapping soreness.
The pros of a full body routine are that they increase the frequency of how often you train a body part. One of the biggest mistakes I see new people make in the gym is focusing on body part split routines where they focus on one muscle group per workout.
Basically what happens when you do this is train one muscle group too much and not often enough. With a full body split you train each muscle group enough and often enough.
Another pro of full body splits is if you hate training a certain body part, you don’t have to dedicate too much time to it in each workout. For example, I hate legs, but when I did a full body split I could manage 3-5 sets instead of 8-10 sets per workout. It helped me stay more motivated to get my workout done knowing I only had 3-5 sets of legs compared to 8-10.
Some downsides to full body routines is that it can make over training more likely since you are training a body part more often. Starting out I would do 3 sets per body part and then go up over time based on recovery to help combat this.
Another downside of a full body routine is that the sessions make take a bit longer. This comes down to the fact that you have to wait for more machines and it requires a bit more warming up.
Splits up volume.
Can lead to over training.
Requires more warming up.
How often: 2-5x per week
Smaller body types.
Another common split is the upper/lower split. This is where you train all your upper body lifts in one session, then all your lower body lifts in one session.
This is great for someone who needs a bit more time to recover from training, cant manage to do full body in one session (for example, doing legs first and then you have no energy for upper body), and you are bit more experienced/more time to dedicate to training.
With online clients we will usually start them with a full body routine and get them consistent with training then graduate into a upper lower split at some point. Some clients go into this after one 4 week phase of full body, some don’t move into a upper/lower split for months, it just all depends.
One of the main benefits is being able to split up your lower and upper body exercises. At some point when doing full body your leg training could effect your upper body training later in the session and vice versa.
And as we mentioned earlier, you may find that doing full body doesn’t give your muscles/joints enough time to recover, so moving to this split can be helpful.
What is also cool about this split is you have some flexibility.
You could do upper/lower 4x per week, or you could do it up to 6x per week.
If you wanted to bring up your legs or upper body you could also do something like this:
Upper or lower.
So it gives you some flexibility.
The downside to this type of split is that you could still be limiting some muscle groups.
For example, in your upper day, there are a lot of muscles in the upper body, so something has to give. Maybe you start your session with a push so then you biceps or back take a hit later in the session.
One way we combat this with online clients is having each upper day have a focus. For example, on Monday the focus is on pushing movements then we finish the session with pulling movements and then on Thursday the focus is on pulling movements and we finish the session with pushing movements.
One other downside is that smaller muscle groups in your upper or lower body (think delts, biceps, calves) may require a much shorter timeframe to recover compared to muscle groups like the chest, back, quads, or hamstrings.
In the picture below I do show some ways to combat this potential downside with the upper lower split.
Can split legs and upper body up which is good for fatigue and leads to more productive training for the muscle groups lifted in that session.
Have to do all upper in one session (can be tough).
Hammies or quads may require longer recovery.
Chest and back may require longer recovery.
How often: 4-6x per week
Someone who has more time to dedicate to the gym.
Needs more volume for upper or lower body.
Have been doing full body for some time now.
Push Pull Legs
The last split I will cover is the push pull legs split. You can do it in this order, or also do push legs pull. Either is fine.
This split is great because it allows you to train each muscle group while fresh. The biggest downsides to the first two splits is that some muscle groups are going to take a hit because something has to get pushed towards the end of a session when you are more fatigue, muscle groups that are train first in each session grow more because they are freshest then and allow for the best quality of training per rep and set.
So the biggest thing this split does is divide your upper body into two sessions, which like I just mentioned allows you to train these muscle groups when fresh.
The other benefit is that it allows you to train other muscle groups while others are recovering. Maybe your legs are sore from the workout yesterday, but you can still train your back muscles the following day, and see good results.
One thing I really like about this split is it allows for much shorter sessions, you don’t have to warm up as much because after the first exercise the muscles you are using in that session are pretty much warm. You also don’t need as much equipment so your wait time is shorter if you train at a busy gym.
The biggest downside to this split is the time requirement and there is less flexibility. You have to train 6x per week with this split, which can be a challenge for many. If you don’t train 6x per then you will have one muscle group that doesn’t get hit enough, which can lead to some imbalances.
Splits up upper body into two days.
Allows you to train muscles groups hard while others are recovering.
Bigger muscles take longer to recover than smaller ones.
Less flexibility, have to do 6x per week.
How often: 6x per week.
When you have a lot of time to dedicate to training and need more volume than you did when you were a beginner.
Each split gives you a great foundation to build off of, and all of these splits do a good job of getting your basics in.
If you can follow these splits and focus on progressive overload, you will see muscle growth and then you can get a bit more complex with your programming, but don’t skip over these basics.
If you haven’t followed a split or stuck to a program before, I would recommend starting with full body or upper/lower split, get super consistent then go into something more advanced like a Push Pull Legs split.
You can also cycle through these. Maybe for 4 weeks you do full body, then for 4 weeks you do upper lower, then for 4 weeks you do push pull legs.
Just make sure you don’t go from training 3x per week straight into 6 x per week. Slowly build up to it over time.
If you want more structure and accountability with your training fill out the coaching link here and lets get to work!