I’ve been weight training since I was 13 years old…which means I’ve been at this for a LOOOONGGG time. It also means that I’ve experimented with many different styles of training and training splits. I’ve done bodybuilding workouts, CrossFit, and powerlifting.
If you aren’t familiar with what a training split is, it’s simply how you split up the way you train your muscle groups throughout the week. The most common splits are the typical “bodybuilder” splits, where you train one or two muscle groups each day, usually training each muscle group once a week.
While this can be fine for “enhanced” bodybuilders, I’m not a huge fan of that type of split for the general population. For one thing, most people don’t have 6-7 days to commit to the gym, and for most people wanting to lose fat and gain some muscle tone, there is no reason to hit just one muscle group with a million different exercises.
Instead, I prefer training splits that hit multiple muscle groups in one workout and a higher frequency, meaning that you train each muscle group multiple times per week.
Here are the training splits that I use most often for myself and for my clients:
Full body (2-3 day split)
This is the split I recommend for people who only have 2-3 days a week to train and is what I use most for my clients. You are training every major muscle group in your body during every workout. To ensure that you’re training everything equally, you want to do a lower body movement, an upper body push, a lower body pull, and a core movement.
Upper body /Lower body/Full body(3 day split)
This is a another great option for someone who can only commit to 3 days in the gym. With this split, you get 2 days to focus a little more on specific muscle groups with a day devoted to just upper and just lower body, and then a full body workout later in the week so that you hit each muscle group 2 times a week.
Upper/lower/upper/lower (4 day split)
This is my favorite split and the one I use most for myself. It’s the perfect balance of working multiple muscle groups, but it’s also split up enough that you can isolate individual muscles if you want a more bodybuilding focus. I also think that it’s the perfect split for the goal of increasing strength and what many powerlifting programs utilize. It also allows for 3 days of rest and recovery, so that you don’t get overtrained or burnt out.
Upper push/lower/upper pull/lower (4 day split)
If you want to further split up your muscle groups you can divide your upper days into “push” and “pull” days. So on the first upper day you would do all the pushing movements, or if you want to think in terms of muscles, you’d be working the chest, shoulders, and triceps. On the pull day, you are working back, rear delts, and biceps. There are still two lower body days as well, and you could even split those days into a hamstring and glute focus the first leg day and a quad focus the second leg day. I switch to this split occasionally just for a change of pace, or if I want to focus a little more on hypertrophy.
Back & chest/Lower body /Back & shoulders/Lower body (4 day split)
Another way to split up the upper body workouts is by having a back and chest focus one day and then a back and shoulder focus the next. I like this split because you can pair movements into opposing muscle group supersets, which I love to incorporate into my workouts. It keeps the intensity high and the workout fast paced. I also just really like to train back more than once a week, which you don’t get in the push/pull split. You could add arms to either or both days. As in the above example, you could also further split lower body days into glutes/hamstrings and quads.
Upper body heavy/Lower body heavy /Back & shoulders/Lower body hypertrophy/Chest & arms (5 day split)
For those who enjoy focusing on strength but also like to have more bodybuilding/hypertrophy work and more days in the gym, this is a good option. You have 2 days devoted to strength-a heavy upper body day and a heavy lower body day. This is when you would focus on the main lifts in the lower rep range. Then later in the week, you split up the muscle groups a bit more and focus on hypertrophy, with more isolation movements and higher reps. This is about as “bodybuilderish” a split I would recommend for most people who aren’t training for a bodybuilding or fitness competition. It’s something I would use for a month or two out of the year just for a change, but not something I would do year round for myself personally.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas for how to split up your workouts in the gym that you may not have thought of. Remember, there is no “perfect” training split. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to train. The most important thing when coming up with a split that works best for you is, first, what works with your schedule, and then, what you actually enjoy. You’re not going to be excited about going to the gym if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. Like for me, I do NOT enjoy the typical one muscle group per day bodybuilding split, because it is just BORING to me. But other people may love it!
Also, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the same training split if it’s what you enjoy, what works best for your schedule, and what gets you the best results. But it is a good idea to consider switching it up every now and then. Most of the time I stick with an upper/lower split, but occasionally I will do a push/legs/pull/legs split or even do full body workouts here and there. It’s okay to experiment with different training splits until you find something that works for you!
Tell me, what is your favorite training split? Do you utilize any listed here?