One of the most interesting and varied subjects when considering programming for exercise is how exactly to construct a training schedule. Specifically if you’re into resistance training of any kind, the question is what split pattern to use. There’s a variety of methods out there, and every person that you speak to will swear by a different one; push/pull, 3/4/5/6 day split, upper/lower body split, whole body training, triple and or double splits!
There are so many methods, it can easily be confusing, especially if you are new to training with weights.
The problem with all these options invariably is; people will ask the question “which one is best?” A question that I believe there is possibly an answer to, but the answer is different for every individual. You need to find the right split for you, not what’s popular, or what your favourite pro does, we all need to consider several factors:
Things to consider….
How much time do you have to train? This will be the single biggest factor effecting you choice of split. If you can train twice a day, 6 days a week, then your programme has the potential to look very different to someone who only has a few hours a week to spend on the weights.
When all else is said and done, if you’re trying to force too many workouts in, and you start missing them, a 5 day split can easily become and unbalanced 3 day split, and so loses a lot of its effectiveness.
What are you training for? Do you want to get fit, jacked, more mobile or do you want to train for a competition? As with our time schedule, everybody’s training goals are as varied as their personal lives.
Set some goals and certain split schedules will automatically rule themselves out, combined with whether or not it can fit into your daily routine will help decide further.
Age / Injuries.
Another important factor to think about, as you age it takes you longer to recover from workouts. Don’t be the guy or girl that trains sore muscles, all that it means is you’re not fully recovered and so you won’t get the full benefit. So don’t forget to think about your schedule!
Also as we age we all pick up different injuries, these also need to be considered: Do you need to work a specific muscle group more? or less? Maybe you need to avoid a muscle group or joint completely. It all needs consideration.
I personally have noticed that as I’ve aged, injuries have dictated my schedule and training splits. I’ve dislocated both my shoulders various times and suffer from elbow tendinitis if I ramp up the heavy upper body or arm work. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but it’s just another thing to include in the process. I now train an upper / lower split and try to train more athletically than to be big and strong. Me and my joints just can’t take the weight!
Personal Life / Work
Obviously this ties in closely with your day to day schedule, not only in time spent at work but also what kind of work you do and how you get there. If you have a physically demanding job you may not be able to train on work days for example. If you’re sat at a desk all day you may want to add extra upper back days to you plan. Do you cycle 20 miles to work? Maybe doing a heavy leg day the day before won’t work for you!?
Doing The Splits!
- Full body workouts: This training split is very generalised, and good for the beginner. You’ll hit every muscle group in one session, but there won’t be time to really get into putting on serious size. On the up side you’ll never have to worry about missing leg or chest day, and you’ll get a high intensity session in. Ideal for general fitness levels.
Chest press, Seated row, Lat pull down, Shoulder press, Bicep curl, Tricep extension, Leg extension, Leg curl, Calf raise, Abs
- Upper / Lower body split: This split can be performed over a 3 or 4 day split, two upper, two lower days or 2 upper, 1 lower etc depending on conditions (work, injury etc). There are several variations with-in this type of split. For example you can rotate heavy and light days or mix isolation days and compound movement days etc. Recovery time is also a bonus here, with generally two/three days rest before going back to a muscle group (although this can be less if recovered fully)
Upper body day: Chest press, DB Fly’s, Seated Row, Lat pull down, Shoulder complex, Bicep curls, Tricep Extensions, Abs
Lower Body Day: Barbell Squat, Split squat, Leg press, Hamstring curl, hyperextensions, Calf raises, Abs.
This is how I now train, if find it easier to manage with work and a little easier on my joints. Although if you are looking to really spend time on specific muscle groups this isn’t for you! More of a bodybuilding route would be better.
- Push / Pull (3 day) A very popular and common split, working opposing muscle groups on different days, then possibly legs on a third day. This agin allows a good rest rotation between specific days. As an added bonus you’re working assistance muscles the same day you’re working the major groups. For example, you’re training triceps and chest on the same day so uneven fatigue won’t occur.
Push (day 1): Chest press, Incline chest press, Triceps dips, Tricep pushdown, Shoulder Press, Lat raises, Abs.
Pull (day 2): Bent over DB row, Pull ups, EZ bar curl, Preacher curl, Forearm curl, Abs.
Legs (day 3): Squat, Leg press, Hamstring curl, Romanian deadlift, Donkey raises, Abs.
There is a lot to be said for this split method, it allows more time on each muscle group than a upper/lower split. However fatigue can build up quickly here and some may find it too hard on the joints. Also there are a few muscle groups that you can’t avoid working twice. DOMS may also effect opposing/assistance muscle strength, for example fatigue in the lats and forearm may effect bench press output.
- 4/5/6 day splits: Here we progress a little further, and the goal of these splits is to break down muscle groups and training days even more. We are looking to really work muscle groups hard, possibly in isolation.
This is where the split training ethos really starts to become time consuming, It’s awesome if you have the time and genetics to train up to the 6 day a week range, but obviously for the common gym goer this is not easy to achieve with family commitments and working life.
An example of a 5 day split may be:
Day 1: (Chest & Abs). Chest press, DB Incline chest press, DB decline chest press, Pec fly, Push up variations, Abs.
Day 2: (Back). Deadlift, Bent over row, Lat pull down, Cable low row, Reverse fly, Pull up variations.
Day 3: (Arms & Abs). Bicep curl, Barbell bicep curl, Hammer curl, Tricep extension, tricep dips, rope pushdown, Abs
Day 4: (Shoulders). Military press, Neutral shoulder press, Shrugs, Lateral raise – front – side – rear, Band pull apart.
Day 5: (Legs & Abs). Barbell squat, Leg press, Leg extension, Hamstring curl, Swiss ball hamstring curl, Calf raise, Donkey raise, Abs.
The benefits of this training system are an increased and specific focus on individual muscle groups, this allows for more of a bodybuilding type approach and is well practiced around the world, you can expect some serious gains!
Some of the drawbacks are: Risk of injury; joints could be worked continuously for 4 or 5 days straight in theory. This would hinder the recovery time for the wrists, elbows and shoulders. Also the split is time consuming and this should be considered when programming as a few missed days could result in a muscle group not being trained for long periods of time.
- Double / Triple Splits: This is where thing get really interesting! By double or triple splits we’re not talking about twice or thrice a week, we’re talking 2 or 3 workouts a day! Generally this technique is set aside and use by the pros, although that’s not to say that it can’t be done by anyone looking to make some serious gains, or with a view to competing at an amateur level. It’s advanced, but may be for you! The best way to show this is to use the man that made it all popular as an example! Here’s what the legend Arnold Schwarzenegger did for his double 6DAY! split.
Day 1/3/5 (a.m) Chest & back. (p.m) Legs, calves, abs
Day 2/4/6 (a.m) Shoulders, triceps, biceps. (p.m) Calves, abs.
Day 7: Rest
This is of course very intense! But it’s also only a double session, some crazy fools like to add a 3rd session in! This is generally a cardio session though (thank god)
Arnold’s example is very intense, there is no reason however why similar can’t be adapted to fit in with an average gym goers day. It’s reasonable to suggest a double split 3 or 4 days a week if you’re looking for major results, this really does need to be fitted around proper recovery periods and a good nutrition schedule though, and as always we’re keeping at least one eye on injury prevention or symptoms of overtraining.
So, Which ones for me!?
We’ve been through all the conventional options for split training programming, and have progressed from beginner to advanced. So much of programming needs to be personalised, and all of life’s other aspects need to be considered.
If you’re new to the gym, then I’d recommend a whole body approach to get used to the movements and using your muscles in an new way.
As you progress, or if you are already there, then the split system world is your oyster, you just need it to fit your needs.
It goes without saying that if you are more minded to a bodybuilding physique, the more attention you need give to each muscle group and the better your results will be. So look toward training 4+ days a week, really trying to decide on split that allows you time to focus on those muscle groups.
If like me you work, have various injuries and commitments, you may like a upper / lower or a push / pull split. I’m not looking to be super-sized, just fit, lean and strong. I think all of these things can be achieved using these methods over a 4 day training week.
And if you fancy taking on double or even trebles, well then good luck! It’s hardcore, but can guarantee epic results.
Most importantly, enjoy training, and make your own split work for you, not the other way around.
Thanks for reading, questions and comments are always welcome.