Strength training is arguably one of the most important things you can do for your health. Lifting weights is good for your muscles, your bones, and your heart. It’s an excellent way to manage your stress levels and can help lower and control your blood glucose. In short, strength training is BIG medicine!
However, unlike cardio, you can’t just do random, unstructured strength training workouts and expect good results. Instead, you need to follow a plan or program.
That program will include details of what exercises you are going to perform, how many sets and reps of each exercise to do, how long to rest between sets, and what weights to lift.
A lot of exercisers use a full-body workout plan and work out 2-3 times a week. This is a good approach for beginners and anyone who doesn’t have the time for more frequent trips to the gym.
Others prefer to use what is commonly known as a split routine. Split routines involve training different muscle groups on different days.
There are lots of different ways to organize your training routine, and in this article, we’re going to explore the best workout splits.
The Benefits of Using a Workout Split
There are a few reasons why a split routine may be better than full-body workouts. The benefits and advantages of this type of workout program include:
More training volume per muscle group – training volume refers to the number of sets and exercises you can fit into a workout. With full-body training, you’ll probably only have time for 1-2 exercises and 2-4 sets per exercise. More than this, and you’re in for a very long workout.
In contrast, with a split routine, you’ve got more time to spend on just a couple of muscle groups. This increased volume should produce better results, especially if you are training for increased muscle size or strength.
More rest between similar workouts – with full-body workouts, all of your muscle groups are trained every 48-72 hours. That’s long enough to recover from an easy workout but may not be long enough if you are training hard. With a split routine, you get as long as a whole week to recover from similar workouts.
The more advanced you are, the harder you’ll be able to train, and the more recovery time you need. That’s why experienced lifters tend to graduate from full-body workouts to split routines after a few years of training.
Hit your muscles from more angles – with an hour or more to train just a couple of muscle groups, you’ll be able to use a variety of exercises to work your muscles from lots of different angles. This approach is popular with bodybuilders, who usually do anywhere between 3-5 exercises per muscle group to maximize muscle growth.
More variety – doing the same full-body workout three times a week can soon get old. With a split routine, each weekly workout is different, which many exercisers find refreshing and motivating.
Split Training Disadvantages and Drawbacks
As useful as split routines are, they are not without disadvantages. The main drawbacks of split routines are:
More workouts per week – while you can get good results from just two full-body workouts per week, you’ll need four or more workouts per week if you follow a split routine. Many exercises will find this hard to commit to.
A missed workout will unbalance your entire training week – if you miss one day’s training, you may not be able to make it up, completely unbalancing your training week. For example, if you skip Friday’s leg workout, it could be another seven days before you can work your lower body. In contrast, if you miss a full-body workout, you should still be able to train once or twice per week, and everything will be kept in balance.
Careful planning – designing a split routine is not always easy. What you do one day determines what you can do the next, as doing similar exercises on consecutive days can soon lead to overtraining. Writing good split training programs takes practice.
It can lead to overtraining – just because you have an hour or more to train a body part doesn’t mean you should do so. While an hour is about right to train your back and chest, it’s far too long to spend on a smaller muscle group, such as your arms. A whole hour of arm training will probably be too much and could lead to overtraining.
3 Examples of Different Workout Splits
There are dozens of ways to organize your training week, and each one of them works. Here are just three examples to try.
1. The Upper Body/Lower Body Split
If you are new to the concept of split routines, this is probably the best place to start. The idea is simple; train your upper body one day, and your legs the next. Rest a day and repeat the cycle, so you train each part of your body twice. For example:
- Monday – upper body
- Tuesday – lower body
- Thursdays – upper body
- Friday – lower body
2. The Body Part Split
With this training split, you train different muscle groups on different days. This approach is favored by bodybuilders. You can train one muscle group per workout, but most people prefer to train a large and then a small muscle group per workout. For example:
- Monday: Chest and triceps
- Tuesday: Back and biceps
- Thursday: Thighs and calves
- Saturday: Shoulders and abs
3. The Powerlifting Split
Powerlifters compete in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Instead of focusing on individual muscle groups, powerlifters build their workouts around the lifts of their sport and then add accessory exercises to increase their performance. For example:
Monday: Squat plus accessory exercises, e.g., leg press and Romanian deadlifts.
Wednesday: Bench press plus accessory exercises, e.g., incline bench press, dips, and bent-over rows.
Friday: Deadlift plus accessory exercises, e.g., power cleans, leg curls, and glute-ham raises.
Choosing the Best One
A lot of people think they have designed the perfect split. However, what works for one person might not work for the next, and what works this month may not work next month. The truth is that there is no best split!
Because of this, you should try a few different ones and be prepared to change your plan every few months or whenever your circumstances change.
For example, if you are enjoying a period of low stress, are eating and sleeping well, and have lots of energy, a body part split may work best. But, if you start to get busy at work, start losing sleep, and feel tired all the time, reverting to a twice-a-week full-body workout maybe your best option.
Then, a few months down the line, you may decide you’d like to try your hand at powerlifting, so you increase your training frequency and intensity and adopt a powerlifting split.
Ultimately, the best training split is the one that best suits your current needs. If you keep missing workouts or aren’t making any progress, that so-called perfect split isn’t the one for you, and you need to adopt a new one.
1.What should I avoid when designing a split routine?
The most important thing to avoid when creating your own split routines is overlapping body parts. In other words, you should try to separate similar body parts by several days.
For example, if you trained chest on Monday, shoulders on Tuesday, and triceps on Wednesday, you have done three “pushing” workouts in a row, all of which involve the same muscles. By the third or even the second workout, the target muscles will be starting to feel the strain, and you won’t be able to train as hard or as long as you might otherwise want to.
Avoid overlaps by using something like a push-pull-legs sequence and keep similar muscle groups apart.
2. How many times a week should I train?
In theory, you can train as few as twice a week and as many as 12 times per week when you use a split routine. You could do one upper and one lower body per week or train twice a day for six days a week. Believe it or not, both approaches can work!
Your ideal training frequency depends on your age, how hard you train, how well you recover, how much sleep you’re getting, the quality of your diet, and what supplements you’re using.
Don’t think for a moment that more workouts mean better results; that’s not always the case. The key is to discover the training frequency that you can recover from and that gives you the best results. The only way to find this is by experimentation. Start with a low number of workouts per week, such as three, and increase gradually until you hit your limit.
3. Do I have to use a split routine?
Despite their obvious popularity, split routines are far from compulsory. In fact, before the 1960s, most bodybuilders, weightlifters, and general exercisers used full-body workouts. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercisers can still benefit from 2-3 full-body workouts per week.
4. What is the best workout split for beginners?
Most splits can be adapted for beginners. However, the best split routines for beginners are usually those that limit training to 3-4 workouts per week. A three-way body part split or an upper body/lower body workout routine would probably be best for most beginners.
5. What is the best 6-day workout split?
Very advanced exercisers may benefit from a 6-day split. This approach is especially popular with bodybuilders as it allows you to train each muscle group twice a week. One way to do this is with a repeating push/pull/legs routine, i.e.:
- Monday – push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
- Tuesday – pull (back, biceps)
- Wednesday – legs (quads, hamstrings, calves)
- Thursday – push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
- Friday – pull (back, biceps)
- Saturday – legs (quads, hamstrings, calves)
While there is nothing to stop you from walking into the gym and making your workout up on the spot, you’ll get better results if you follow a plan. This means you need to decide between full-body workouts and using a split routine. Once you’ve made your choice, it’s then a matter of filling your workout with the best exercises.
Don’t be surprised if your workout doesn’t work as well as you hoped the first time out; that’s perfectly normal. Just make any necessary adjustments and then try again. With practice, the process will get easier.
Of course, even the best split routine will lose its potency if you stick with it for too long. Avoid training plateaus by changing your workout every 6-8 weeks.