I often see people trying to figure out which is the best training split, which routine will give them the best results, which is the most effective way to plan your workouts, etc. The truth is, there is no universal rule for it (in fitness there is no universal rule for anything).
EVERY SPLIT works. Each has its pros and cons, but all of them work. Which one is the best? The one that adapts better to your personal circumstances. There is no universal split that is the best for everyone. Whatever is optimal for you, may not be optimal for me, and vice versa.
When deciding what split you are going to follow, you need to analyze a lot of different factors: your personal circumstances, training experience, time you’re going to make to train, how many days a week you want to train (not how many days a week you got time to train, how many days a week you are willing to MAKE TIME to train), goals, recovery speed, daily schedule, your strong and weak points, etc. There are a lot of elements that you need to keep in mind whenever you want to split your workouts, so giving a universal answer without knowing these factors about the person, would be completely counterproductive.
So, in order to help you choose the best training split for you, today we are going to take a look at the most common training splits, their pros and cons, and to who do I recommend each one of them.
2 DAY SPLIT: UPPER/LOWER BODY
Starting with one of the easiest splits: upper body and lower body days. That means:
- Lower body: legs and lower back (some people also include abs here)
- Upper body: the rest (chest, shoulders, arms and back).
It is a great split for beginners, since you are training everything in just 2 training days, which also allows you to repeat the split up two 3 times (2x3 = 6 + 1 rest day = 7 days).
However, in my opinion, the main problem with it is that you can’t train each muscle group with intensity and volume enough to cause exponential muscle growth. Some people say it is enough, some people say it isn’t. Who is right? Both and none. Both because for some people will be enough, while for some others it won’t. And none for that exact same reason.
Yes, of course you can build muscle mass with this split, but I don’t think it is a very optimal way to plan your training if gaining muscle mass is your main goal.
It is a great option for people that are not used to a lot of training volume (beginners, for example), or for people with a very busy schedule being training not a priority.
3 DAY SPIT
If we decide to divide your training in 3 days, we got a couple of options.
1.- PUSH PULL LEGS (PPL)
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. IT is one of the most famous and common splits out there. It basically divides your training in 3 days:
- Push (based on exercises whose concentric part implies pushing the weight away from your body): chest, shoulders and triceps.
- Pull (based on exercises whose concentric part implies pulling the weight close to your body): back and biceps.
- Legs: legs (I mean, what did you expect here? ;)).
It is one of the best splits in my opinion, and the truth is, it usually meets most people needs. However, it also has its cons. Personally, I don’t like to train chest, shoulders and triceps on the same day. For me my shoulders and chest do not receive enough training volume this way so they don’t progress as much as they should and could. For some people it is, and PPL works perfectly (again, I think it is one of the best splits out there) but that doesn’t mean it is for everybody. For me it isn’t, at least not when I am training to gain muscle.
My shoulders need a moderate amount of volume per week and doing just a couple of exercises on push day it’s not enough for them.
To who do I recommend this split? To people that want to get more serious about their training and fitness goals. It is a detailed split that brings a good amount of work to each body part and that allows you to train everything twice a week if you want (leaving your rest day for the remaining day).
2.- CHEST AND TRICEPS; BACK AND BICEPS; LEGS AND SHOULDERS
It is a very “traditional bodybuilder” split. It really has just one main difference compared to PPL: here you are training shoulders on leg day, not on push day.
This little switch may benefit to people that, like me, need some more training volume on their delts. Since you are training them together just with one other muscle group (and not two, as it happens on push day), you can provide them with more attention and volume. Of course, you could do a 3-hour push day to provide each muscle group with huge amounts of volume, but not everyone can spend 3 hours at the gym. Besides, training for that long will take you to exhaustion and fatigue accumulation, which will end up affecting your other workouts.
Finally, I just want to point out that you can divide your muscle groups however you want: if you preferer, for example, to train back with shoulders, and not with biceps, go ahead. The one I used is one of the most common ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that is valid.
To who do I recommend this split? To the same people I recommend the PPL split plus people whose delts struggle a bit to grow.
4 - DAY SPLIT
My favorite split when it comes to building muscle mass:
- Day 1: Chest and Triceps
- Day 2: Legs
- Day 3: Back and Biceps
- Day 4: Shoulders
Since it is a 4-day split, you can plan your workouts with more detail and provide your weak points more attention.
Also, since shoulders have their own training day, you can put more attention on them. Usually they need more training volume than biceps or triceps, for example. While for these two a couple of exercises after training a big muscle group may be enough (when you train chest, triceps are activated as a secondary muscle group. Same happens with biceps while training back, that’s why they are usually trained together), for delts it is usually not enough, so training them individually on their own day will allow you to provide them with as much attention and training volume as they need to grow.
I really think this is a great split for muscle building seasons (aka Bulking periods) and for people that want a more detailed division of their workout routine. Again, this is the split I use when I am bulking, and it works great. Maybe you don’t train every muscle group as frequently as with a 3-day split, but still every 9 days (including a rest day) you can train everything twice if you want (which is what I do).
FULL BODY SPLIT
I wouldn’t call this a split, since a split implies dividing your muscle groups in different training days and with this routine you train everything every day, but hey we’ll give to a pass.
The main advantage of this split is precisely that, you train everything in a day so, if you have a very busy schedule and training is not one of your priorities, it can be a good option for you. Besides, you can do it as many days a week as you want.
Obviously you won’t be able to provide each muscle group with enough training volume to cause exponential muscle growth (I mean you can if you spend 8 hours a day in the gym, but I assume there is just a few people that could spend that amount of time in the gym).
As you can imagine, I recommend this split to people that is not really interested in muscle growth or drastically changing their physical appearance, but rather on just doing some exercise and staying in shape, and also to people that don’t want to spend a lot of time training.
However, if you want to be the next Mr./Ms. Olympia, this is probably not the best option for you.
ONE MUSCLE GROUP PER DAY
Last but definitely not least, we got the “one muscle group per day” split. Since you are training just one muscle group per day, you are going to need to workout at least 5 days a week if you want to train everything at least once a week. It could look like this, for example:
- Monday: legs
- Tuesday: chest
- Wednesday: back
- Thursday: shoulders
- Friday: arms
(also including abs 2 – 3 days a week)
I’ve followed this split in the past and it works well. You can provide each muscle group with as much work and volume as you want, since each has its own day. However, it has a huge problem of frequency. If you want to gain muscle, you don’t train your muscles frequently enough to maximize hypertrophy, and while it may work, it’s definitely not optimal.
If you want to lose fat, same story. It definitely works but, training your muscle groups more frequently will provide your body a better stimulus to preserve muscle mass.
To who do I recommend this split? I would say to advanced bodybuilders that really want every session to have as much detail as possible and focus on the muscle group at hand.
Essentially, these are all the most common training splits. There are a few more, but the ones we talked about today are the most used and common ones.
Again, there is none that is better than the rest, it depends on your preferences, goals and circumstances. Yes, scientifically talking, a 3 day PPL split or a 4 day split may be more effective than a full body split in order to cause hypertrophy and muscle growth, but maybe optimal muscle growth and hypertrophy is not your main goal, so these two splits may not be the best for you.
It all depends on your goals, personal circumstances, days a week you want to train, etc. Study the pros and cons of each and every one of them and choose the one that suits you best.
That’s it for today’s post!! If you have any doubt, question, suggestion or constructive critic, please do not hesitate to let it in the comments section or use my social media.
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See you in the next one! :)