Athletes all the way from beginners to experts tend to hit the same bump in the road at some point. Not a plateau, not a lack of time to train, not proper nutrition, but instead it is is finding which workout split is most effective for that particular athlete.
A workout split is defined as how you organize your workouts through each week. We will discuss many types later in this article but the main idea behind workout splits is when - and how often - you are hitting certain muscle groups.
In most minds it will seem pretty simple to split up body parts and the workouts...not so fast.
There is virtually an endless amount of ways to make these splits, but everyone has an opinion on which ones will be the most effective and they will want to make you think you are wrong for choosing a split that might be different than the one they prefer. Simply having a plan in place, and a strategy to move forward with, you will see your athleticism and your strength/performance skyrocket.
One particular workout split isn't necessarily better than another. The best one for you will depend on your goals, abilities, knowledge, and so many other factors.
To put it quite frankly - the best way to never gain muscle is to never go to the gym and never train. The second best way to never gain muscle is to go to the gym, but have no idea what you are doing when you get there.
You don't need to follow a 16 week periodization program, but you should at the very least be focusing your training around a repeatable weekly split.
Exercises for each split are chosen based on the end goal of your workout. Wanting to lose weight? Wanting to pack on muscle? Wanting to get in better cardiovascular condition? Wanting to increase strength numbers in the Big 3?
Using a workout split is a very important step to make sure your workouts are focused and filled with purpose. Progress will come sooner than you may think if you stick with a split for a long enough period of time and it will prevent you from a training imbalance that will end up having you looking like Johnny Bravo.
Choosing a workout split can seem daunting, but you can take a deep breath right now - we got you. The absolute first place you must start is going to be with your goals. Decide what you want to accomplish from your training and work backwards from there.A workout split that might not be the best on paper or according to science but is easy for you to commit to and follow will be better than the most scientifically proven split in the world followed poorly.
The body part workout split is a very popular type of split, and is somewhat easy to follow but will require a good amount of days training each week - typically up to five or six days in the gym.
Everybody knows that finding the time to make it to the gym or the weight room five or six times in a week can be difficult - but this one can be extremely effective if committed to.
Thursday: Arms and Abs
A split like this is going to work best with high volume programming, meaning you will be better off working high reps at low weight.The good thing about this split in particular is that it is simple, has been proven to work, and provides an emphasis on each muscle group in the body - especially the upper body.
The not so good thing when it comes to the body part split is the optimal training frequency is harder to meet. Meaning that each body part is not getting enough work during the course of a week, even if you train them to the absolute fullest on the one day a week they are provided.
Next we will highlight the upper body/lower body split.
As you may have inferred from the name of this split, it separates your training in to days that put an emphasis above the belt and days that emphasize below it.Not many training splits will be as versatile as this one - meaning there are multiple ways to organize this split in to your program.
Ideally you would want to train all of the muscles of the upper body on upper body days, and vice versa for lower body days. How this ends up looking on paper will be completely up to you.
An example for a week long program using this split could look something like this:
Monday: Upper body
Tuesday: Lower body
Thursday: Upper body
Friday: Lower body
The pros for the upper/lower split are glaring in the fact that the days of training required can be cut down from the body part split we mentioned above. Adding a rest day in to the middle of the week to allow yourself close to 72 hours between training sessions can be crucial to the recovery and the growth of your muscles.
Cons for this split come in the duration of each training session. In order to get all of the work in for your upper body you will need to be in the gym for quite some time due to the fact that there are 4-5 different muscle groups you must put to work.
If you are someone who prefers to be in the gym 5-6 times a week this might not be the split for you. Because of the rest time required between upper body/lower body days it is recommended that you only train 4 times a week.
Next we have the push-pull-legs split.This is most often chosen by people new to training because it breaks the training down by movements - not body parts. This doesn't mean it can't be a good split for advanced athletes though.
The idea is fairly simple.On push days you will only do push exercises such as bench press, shoulder press, etc.Pull days you will do pull exercises such as pull ups and rows.Leg days will of course work the lower body in many different ways.
This split can become effective due to the fact that muscles tend to work in pairs. When you are pushing a barbell up off of your chest on a bench press you aren't only using your chest - you are also activating your triceps and delts, while your back and biceps become less active.A pull up will activate your biceps and back muscles - leaving your chest and triceps a chance to take a breather.
This split is broken down in to three days a week, but as mentioned above, this might cause you to miss out on the optimal training frequency for each muscle group.
A push-pull-legs split could look like this:
Pros of this split are found in the days of training per week for someone with a tight schedule. Time spent in the gym will increase just a little bit like it did in the last split we mentioned.
The main downfall of push-pull-legs is that you are only hitting each muscle group once per week. Extra days can be added in, but it is important to remember how important those rest days are for your muscles to recover and grow.
When picking out a workout split for you to follow it is vital that you remember a plan that is realistic and easy for you to follow is going to be better than the most scientifically proven plan that you cannot stick to. Which split you choose will come down to which one you can commit to.
If you are new to weight lifting we recommend sticking with a push-pull-legs split.If you have a few years of training under your belt, the upper body/lower body split might be the most beneficial to you.
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