When chasing progress in the gym, there are many different things to consider, but without doubt, one of the most important will be the training split that you choose.
But what training split is best?
I think the question to ask here is, what will give you the best results but also fit your lifestyle?
There are many things that go into picking the right split for you. In this blog I will discuss and analyse four of the most common training splits, exploring why they can work well, and broadly, who could do well using them. I hope that you’ll be able to take this information away and get to work identifying the best split for you, getting yourself firmly on the road to those gains awaiting you…
If you are reading this blog hopefully you will already be following a training split each week, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure if it’s the best one for you. Alternatively, perhaps you don’t have a training split at the moment, and just ad hoc it each session. Well, get ready to see a vast improvement in your training!
If you are new here; a training split basically refers to the number of sessions you do each week, and the muscle groups that you train within those sessions.
There are many training splits around, but I have picked out four of the most common…
Full body training split
A full body training split is one that I frequently program and can really work well for a lot of people. It will often comprise of three sessions per week, some weeks may have four sessions, depending on how you set up your rest days.
Given that you will be training most muscle groups in each of your sessions, you should be vigilant in ensuring you take your rest days between sessions in order to allow your muscles to recover sufficiently.
A full body training split can work really well if you think you might struggle to make it to the gym more than three times a week. It’s also great if you’re new to the gym as more often than not, at the beginning of your fitness journey, doing one exercise per muscle group, per session, works well.
A major benefit of a full body training split is that you can train most muscle groups three times a week, and this can be very positive for muscle hypertrophy as it allows for more muscle breakdown and subsequently more muscle protein synthesis (re building muscle tissue) each week. It can also allow you to really go for it on the one exercise you do for each muscle group and not suffer from as much fatigue as potentially a body part split training program.
So, what would a normal full body training split session look like?
Exercise 1 – Back squat
Exercise 2 – Incline dumbbell press
Exercise 3 – Dumbbell RDL
Exercise 4 – Single arm dumbbell row
Exercise 5 – Seated shoulder press
Exercise 6 – Seated incline curl
Exercise 7 – Cable push downs
Push pull legs training split
Push pull legs (PPL) is a training split that can be set up in a number of different ways. However, something that will remain a constant regardless of the setup, is that you will train multiple exercise per muscle group, within each session. For this reason, PPL is a training split that generally would be more suitable if you’ve already been training for a couple of years. Depending on the number of rotations, you would be looking at between 3 and 6 sessions per week.
I personally program PPL for five sessions a week with two sessions on muscle groups that my client wishes to see most improvement. So, this could potentially be x2 push and pull and x1 legs a week. A great advantage of this split is that you can train back to back days, since each muscle group will be able to recover whilst you train another.
Regarding rest days, my advice would be to take one every four days, after you have trained three sessions back-to-back. This helps you to push hard consistently. One of the other big benefits of PPL is that you can get a lot of training volume in throughout the week, but again this highlights why this split sways more towards an experienced gym goer.
Below is an example of what one session could look like for push day.
Exercise 1 – Incline barbell press
Exercise 2 – Flat dumbbell press
Exercise 3 – Single arm dumbbell press
Exercise 4 – Pec deck
Exercise 5 – Lateral raise
Exercise 6 – Skull crushers
Exercise 7 – Close grip push ups
Upper lower training split
Next up, my personal training split of choice! Mainly because it works well in my working week, and I genuinely enjoy it (a very important factor, and something I’ll talk more about a little later).
An upper lower split is where you split your sessions into those that train the lower muscle groups and those that train the upper ones. Generally, when programming this split you will be looking at 4-5 sessions a week, enabling you to train all muscle groups at least twice a week, sometimes three.
If you wanted to focus on more upper body, then you could go for U/L/U/L/U or for more lower body; L/U/L/U/L split. There are so many options! If you do decide to programme more lower body, I would just advise you to keep the exercise frequency within the sessions a little lower, so no higher than 6 exercise per session – simply because, large volumes of lower body work can be very fatiguing.
One thing I like about an upper lower training split is that it works for a lot of people. But what would a normal training day look like? See below for a good-looking lower day.
Exercise 1 – Deadlift
Exercise 2 – Hack squat
Exercise 3 – Reverse lunge
Exercise 4 – Lying hamstring curl
Exercise 5 – Leg extension
Exercise 6 – Calf raise
Exercise 7 – Kneeling cable crunch
Body part training split (aka bro split)
The last training split I am going to look at is the body part training split or better known by some as the “bro split”. This training split is basically where you will be training potentially one muscle group per session, maybe two on some days. Now, this split gets a lot of heat from some people, more often than not, because they disagree with the fact that you might be training muscle groups just once per week.
This can, in some situations, not be ideal as training a muscle group more frequently can bring about better training adaptations, however I believe there is a big but in this. A lot of people get into training as they enjoy it and for many, the body part split can be a very enjoyable way of training. I strongly believe that enjoyment is a huge thing that should always be considered when creating your training split. What would be better? Someone who is doing a full body split but maybe doesn’t enjoy it and therefore doesn’t push themselves very hard, or someone who does a body part split and trains like a beast week in week out? I think we know the answer.
There’s also the option to slightly tweak a body part split to make it more optimal and enjoy the best of both worlds. For example, you might have a few days on which you just train singly muscles groups, and then a couple of days where you add in an upper/ lower fully body session. This way you still enjoy the body part split but get in a bit more training frequency with a full body or upper/lower session.
Ultimately, if you enjoy the traditional body part split and see progress…crack on!
Below is an example of what chest day could look like.
Exercise 1 – Bench press
Exercise 2 – Incline dumbbell press
Exercise 3 – Peck deck
Exercise 4 – Guillotine smith press
Exercise 5 – Low to high cable fly
Exercise 6 – Close grip push ups
So hopefully that gives you more of an idea on how to set up your training split and what you should consider when you do. For more information on this make sure you check out our podcast where myself and Steve discussed all things training split. If you have iTunes click here and make sure you subscribe for new exciting episodes or if you don’t have iTunes click here.
Happy training split gains.