How to Find the Right Training Split for You


When you find the perfect training split, it’s like a muscled, well-oiled machine. You go. You lift. It hums.

But if it somehow doesn’t gel with your schedule, personal preferences, or experience level, how you divide up your training can be a huge pain in the butt. At best, you barely make your workouts. At worst, you end up quitting.

The split that works best for you will evolve as you evolve. While people may insist that their split is “the best,” in reality the best split is different for everyone. If you see results and it works with your schedule, you’ll soon be enamored of your split, too.

A few basics:

  • Let each muscle group rest 24 to 48 hours before training it again. You might need more rest than this – listen to your body.
  • Ideally, hit each muscle group at least two times per week; however you may need to train less frequently or more often than this to see results.
  • Change the exercises and other variables every four to six weeks to ensure that you stay ahead of your body’s adaptations. You can also switch between splits if done in a consistent, systematic way.

Full-body Split

The full-body split is often used to introduce strength training or reach a certain level of conditioning, but it’s also used by experienced lifters. You’ll train all muscle groups each time you work out.

Might for good for:

  • Newbie lifters
  • Seasoned lifters wishing to maintain their physique
  • Olympic or advanced lifters
  • Weight loss
  • Those whose priority is another activity, such as running
  • Those who don’t have much time to lift
  • Those looking for general conditioning

Frequency

Two to three times per week, lasting 30 to 60 minutes

Samples

Mon/Wed/Fri, etc. Following are different ways to approach it:

  1. Circuit. Perform one set of each exercise without rest; then rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat sequence for 2 to 3 sets. Target one to two exercises each for legs, chest, back, and shoulders/arms for a total of about six exercises.
  2. Non-circuit. For each exercise, perform 3-12 reps for 2 to 5 sets, with 30-90 seconds rest between sets. Target one to two exercises each for legs, chest, back, and shoulders/arms for a total of six to eight exercises.
  3. Olympic/big lifts. Do only three or four exercises total with low reps, high sets, and high resistance (squats, high pull, one-arm snatch, overhead press, deadlift, incline bench press, etc.)
  4. Functional. Choose either circuit or non-circuit parameters for six to eight exercises. Examples: chest press on stability ball, medicine ball chest pass, wood chop, squat to press, step up to balance with bicep curl, single-leg overhead triceps extension.

Pros

  • Potentially higher calorie burn
  • More rest days
  • Time efficient
  • Good overall conditioning yet still seriously exhausting
  • If using big lifts approach correctly, you can see mass and strength gains
  • Will train each muscle more frequently, thus more stimulation (in theory)

Cons

  • Full-body workouts are exhausting and you may not be able to lift as heavy. Thus it could limit progress if you want to achieve increased muscle and/or strength.
  • Doesn’t allow for focusing on a specific area

Upper/Lower Split

Moving to an upper/lower split is often the next step after a full-body split. You’ll hit one or more muscle groups per session and the entire body in the course of a week.

Might for good for:

  • More experienced lifters
  • Those with more time to train
  • Those wanting to focus on strength and mass

Frequency

Three to four workouts per week. For best results, rotate between two upper body and two lower body workouts each week.

Sample for four days per week:

Day 1: Quads, hams, calves, abs (workout “A”)
Day 2: Chest, back, triceps, shoulders, biceps (workout “A”)
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Quads, hams, calves, abs (workout “B”)
Day 5: Chest, back, triceps, shoulders, biceps (workout “B”)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest

Pros

  • No overlap in muscles trained
  • Provides a good amount of rest for all your muscles.
  • Weekends off (if you schedule it that way)
  • Will do more compound movements than body-part split
  • Since you’ll be less fatigued during your workouts than a full-body split, you can lift more.

Cons

  • You’re covering a lot of muscles in the upper body sessions. If you want to focus in on your chest or shoulders, you may not have enough energy to do so.

Push/Pull Split

Some people don’t consider this a split – it’s more a method of implementing the other splits. But I’m grouping it here out of necessity of explaining it.

Weightlifting exercises (and muscle groups) entail either pulling or pushing. Broadly, push exercises involve the quadriceps, glutes, calves, pectorals, deltoids, and triceps; pull exercises recruit the back, hamstrings, biceps, and abdominals. It’s very common to arrange an upper/lower or body-part split based on push/pull.

Might for good for:

Anyone

Frequency

Four to six days per week, depending on how many days per week you train. For more details read this article.

Sample for four days per week:

Day 1: Pull Back, biceps, rear delts and traps, hamstrings (heavy)
Day 2: Push Quads, chest, lateral and medial delts, triceps (heavy)
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Pull Back, biceps, rear delts and traps, hamstrings (light/moderate)
Day 5: Push Quads, chest, lateral and medial delts, triceps (light/moderate)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest or repeat

Pros

  • This method is the least stressful on your joints and muscles, so you’re less likely to overtrain or get injured. Since all pulling and pushing movements are grouped together, there’s time for each muscle to rest instead of being fatigued again in the next session. (For example, the triceps get fatigued during chest exercises, so training triceps separately from chest would put additional stress on them.)

Cons

There are no real drawbacks to this method; it’s the most commonly used. I personally use a modified push/pull. I don’t break out my quad/glute/ham training – I simply do a “leg day” out of simplicity.

Body-part Split

A body-part split takes the upper/lower split a step further by separating upper or lower body into two days. I love my body-part split because working out and spending time in the gym are my nirvana. My goals are aesthetics (building mass in a proportional way) and strength.

There are many different variations of this split. I train four to six days a week doing chest/back/biceps, legs/abs, and shoulders/triceps. I choose to do shoulders and triceps separately from chest because I want shoulders exquisite. I know how greedy chest can be with my energy when they work out together.

Might for good for:

  • Those with lots of time and flexibility to train
  • Those who love to train
  • Those trying to build or focus on certain areas of their body (mass, strength, aesthetics, etc.)

Frequency

Four to five days per week. On a five-day split, every other week a body part will only be trained once.

Sample for five days per week:

Day 1: Chest, shoulders, triceps (heavy)
Day 2: Hamstrings/glutes, quads, calves (heavy)
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Back, biceps, abs (heavy)
Day 5: Rest
Day 6: Chest, shoulders, triceps (light/moderate)
Day 7: Hamstrings/glutes, quads, calves (light/moderate)
Day 8: Rest
Day 9: Back, biceps, abs (light/moderate)

Pros

  • You have enough time and energy to really hammer every muscle, including isolation/accessory movements
  • Easier to bring up lagging body parts
  • You hit the gym more often, which increases your overall fitness and increases muscle gains.
  • It’s great fun for someone who loves to lift.

Cons

  • If you’re not careful, you’ll only train your muscles once a week, which may not allow for progress. Instead, arrange it so that you hit each part every four to five days.
  • Time-consuming
  • When you train a muscle on one day and then train a secondary muscle the next day, you could overstress the muscle (e.g., training chest on day one, delts on day two, and triceps on day three could overwork the triceps or delts).
  • May not do enough compound movements because you’re doing lots of isolation movements. Integrate a few full-body/compound movements at least once a week to enhance neuromuscular control/efficiency.
  • You need to have a certain level of lifting knowledge to ensure your workouts are well-balanced.

Have you thought about your split lately and how it could be changed?

You may also enjoy:

Fierce Definition Online Training Group:
Stay Updated!

Subscribe to hear about discounts and more.

Comments

  1. I am printing this, framing it and hanging copies all over my house. And maybe my car. Maybe the neighbor’s house as well.
    ragemichelle recently posted..One Thing At A TimeMy Profile

  2. I’m a mix of the pull/push split and the full body split. When I’m not injured, I’m usually running for a bit then hitting the weights. Right now I’m doing only weights so I’m switching to the pull/push type method. Thank you for explaining all these! I had no idea there were names. :)
    Lisa recently posted..R is for Runner’s KneeMy Profile

  3. GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love how you outlined it all out so people can see the differences & choose what is best for them.

    Like you, I think it is all about what is right for the person once he/she gets past the beginner stage. AND like you, sista, ;), I love to train too & be in the gym with those weights! My goals are similar to yours & just to age & stay strong & healthy as long as I can! :-)

    My splits are different but that is what it is all about! When I was younger & doing the bodybuilding thing, my workouts were totally different from now AND I did quads & hammies on different days. Now I do them on the same day although ya never know if I will change that in the future. I love mixing it up EVERY workout! :-)
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Happy 29th Wedding Anniversary!My Profile

  4. I’ve been doing full body workouts for most of this year (still changing my workouts for variety but all full body). I have a little bit of weight/fat to lose and from what I’ve read that seems optimal. I usually do 45 min – 1 hour 3 days a week. I also have Fibro/CFS and don’t recover as well as a ‘normal’ person so that gives me lots of rest days.

    Last week I switched to a 2 day split and am aiming to do it for at least three weeks. I just decided it was time for a change mostly, and this gets me in gym 4 times a week for a while. Based on how I’m recovering I don’t think I can keep up 4 times a week forever, but it’s definitely a nice change of pace and it’s allowing me to spend some more time on my upper body, which I’d like to grow. I’m doing a trunk/limbs spilt (maybe there’s a real name for that?) chest/shoulders/back/traps/abs one workout and legs/arms the next. I like isolation exercises for some reason so I’m finding it fun. I’ve also been doing 4-8 reps per set for quite a while now and switched to 8-12 with this split, so it’s a huge change. A week and a half in and I can see the difference :)

    Not sure what I’ll do next, but your article has given me lots of ideas, thanks.
    Maranda recently posted..DancercizeMy Profile

    • You’re really smart about your training, Maranda (no surprise there). Already seeing results? I am not surprised. I like isolation exercises too. There’s a camp that says to “never” do them but I like a more moderate approach. We’ve gotta keep it fun and what’s fun is different for everyone.

      • When I do a full body workout I use isolation exercises as my ‘reward’ for getting the other stuff done, LOL. I add 2-4 different ones on at the end, can’t hurt and I like it.
        Maranda recently posted..DancercizeMy Profile

  5. What a keeper! This is a ton of excellent information for people trying to sort out 1. whether they should split and 2. how to divvy things up.

    One point I would add is that there’s individual variation in recovery ability, depending on stress level, age, genetics, and other factors. As for me, even when I was in my 20s, I could not have survived working each muscle group three times a week. In fact, I made my best gains then (and the same is true today) when doing a three-day split (legs & abs; back & biceps; chest, shoulders, & tris) and training each muscle group every five to seven days. More than that, and I quickly overtrained.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Does working out make you eat more?My Profile

    • I love having your eyes on my articles, Mary! As we talked about elsewhere, I also used to train every 5 to 7 days with good results. However, some experts argue that you could easily detrain with that long of a rest. Since closing the gap to 4 to 5 days, I believe my results have been quicker. But I do appreciate your point. I adjusted the “basics” at the top to be a little more broad… It’s important to cover every potential variance in that section. Hugs!

  6. Great primer on splits. I love full body for beginners. It’s a good way to build a nice foundation of strength.

  7. Wow, I’m so impressed with this post. And to think that for so many years when I heard the word “split,” all I thought of was “banana.” Thanks for this great advice to help me split with ease in the weight room. :)
    Shira recently posted..Get spicy to make healthier restaurant-style meals at homeMy Profile

Leave a Comment

*

CommentLuv badge