Split workouts are the tried-and-true method of creating an effective resistance training program to build more muscle and strength. Splitting your weekly workouts to target different muscle groups will ensure you train your muscles efficiently, while also providing enough time for recovery, in order to develop more lean muscle mass.
Split Workout Vs Full Body
Split workouts focus on two-three muscle groups designated on specific days to ensure adequate time and focus is spent isolating those muscle groups producing more hypertrophy and strength. Split workouts can follow several different variations, formats, and routines which may include several different variables ideally splitting one major muscle group (back, legs, chest) with a smaller muscle group (Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders) on the same day. Split workouts allow you to increase workout capacity and volume, increasing rep range, number of sets, and weight or load, to improve and optimize results.
Full body workouts focus on all muscle groups per training session. Studies show that full body workouts are also effective at improving strength and overall body composition. This type of training split is common amongst beginners, keeping the volume and load lighter, without pushing it too far too fast. Full body workouts can also be highly effective when used as feeder or supplementary workouts, or on active recovery days. However, for intermediate to advanced lifters, training every muscle group per day will limit overall workout volume and load, restraining growth potential and strength gains.
A survey of 127 bodybuilders published in the Journal of Strength And Conditioning revealed that every single of one of them, followed a bodybuilding split workout [R]. That must mean something.
A meta-analysis published in the journal Sports Medicine analyzed the effects of resistance training frequency on muscle growth and strength. The analysis concluded that training muscle groups 2-3 times per week, results in significantly more muscle hypertrophy and strength as compared to once per week [R]. A 2018 study in conjunction with Texas Tech University replicated these results, demonstrating that working each muscle group twice per week, resulted in increased muscle size and improved body composition [R].
Optimizing your split workout really depends on your specific goals, muscle weaknesses, strengths, and recovery needs. Endurance athletes may want to focus on certain muscle groups and full body splits, while bodybuilders may have muscular imbalances, and need to build certain areas to balance physique. We’re going to review a few of the most common split workout schedules, so you can decide on what workout split is best for you.
Upper And Lower Body Split Workout
The next step up from a whole-body workout, is the upper and lower body split. Volume or the amount of total work performed such as sets and reps, will be fewer when utilizing an upper and lower body split. Upper body muscle groups include (Chest, Shoulders, Back, Triceps, Biceps, and Traps) while lower body muscle group includes (Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, Calves, abs). Workouts are usually split into two upper body and two lower body days, for a 4-5 day workout split, with two-three rest days.
Upper and lower body splits will incorporate less exercise movements per muscle group, since you have to target multiple muscles in one training session. This type of split workout involves higher volume, increased intensity, and lighter loads.
Push Pull Split Workout
This type of training split simply divides exercises into those that push weight away from your body, and those that pull weight in closer proximity towards your body.
Pushing exercise movements usually involve the (chest, shoulders, quads, calves and triceps). Pull exercises typically involve the (back, hamstrings, traps, biceps, and some types of shoulder exercises).
Push-pull training splits are usually divided into a 3-day training split, splitting between push, pull and legs, providing a sufficient amount of time for rest and recovery between muscle groups, training each muscle group twice per week. Over time your body will become acclimated to training at higher volumes for each targeted muscle group, inducing greater gains in strength and muscle mass.
3-day training splits don’t all have to be designated into push-pull days. This type of split can be utilized in several different ways, and is highly effective since all muscle groups will be trained at least twice per week with one designated rest day.
5-Day (One Muscle Group Per Day) Split Workout
The 5-day split is an advanced workout split, which designates one muscle group per training day, thus enabling you to increase workout volume, load, with maximal intensity. Training one muscle group per day, will also ensure optimal recovery, avoiding any overtraining.
With this type of split workout, you can optimize your time, since you're only focused on one muscle group, while also increasing the load, for maximal strength gains. This type of training split frequency, is also highly effective for endurance athletes, ultra runners, or those that need adequate recovery time.
Split Workout Routine: Takeaway
Splitting your workouts and assigning muscle groups on training days, is the most effective way to improve size, strength, and body composition. There's a reason why all bodybuilders utilize this type of training program, for optimal performance and body aesthetics. Find a split workout routine, that works well with your schedule, dividing the days according to what your schedule and work life balance permits. If you can only workout 4 days per week, a push-pull split might be your best option. Or if you're more serious about tacking on more muscle mass, hitting each muscle group with a 3-day split might be better. Regardless, define your goals, your areas of improvement, and how you're going to get there for the most effective spit workout.
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Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172.
Yue FL, Karsten B, Larumbe-Zabala E, Seijo M, Naclerio F. Comparison of 2 weekly-equalized volume resistance-training routines using different frequencies on body composition and performance in trained males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2018 May;43(5):475-481. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2017-0575. Epub 2017 Dec 7. PMID: 29216446
Hackett DA, Johnson NA, Chow CM. Training practices and ergogenic aids used by male bodybuilders. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jun;27(6):1609-17. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318271272a. PMID: 22990567.