A workout or training split (muscle groups or body parts that you train on different days of the week) is like planning an itinerary before embarking on a journey. Following a training split that’s most optimal for your goals, helps you reach your goals faster, minimizes injuries, and doesn’t leave you exhausted and demotivated.
So how do you choose the best training split?
Well, there is no hard and fast rule. A training split depends on some individual factors such as training experience, goals (aesthetic, athletic, or health), time available, specific medical conditions if any, and recovery needs. The training split of a person may also change over a period of time for various reasons.
Keeping it simple, here are the five most commonly used training splits. Note that I haven’t included abs, calves, or cardio in any training splits. That’s because they are relatively minor muscle groups and take lesser time to recover. You can include them at the end of your workout session every other day, alternating between cardio and abs.
Full-Body Split (Beginner)
This is more commonly used by beginners, wherein they train every major muscle group in a single day, 2-3 low intense sets of an exercise, for every body part. Since the volume is low and less recovery time is needed, this split is normally followed three to four days of the week with rest days in between. The goal is more to activate more muscle fibers, rather than hypertrophy or gain in muscle size and strength. This is a good way to become familiar with the equipment and machines and understand forms and range of motion, without too much muscle soreness or body pain. A newbie can follow this split for 8-12 weeks.
|Day 1||All muscle groups||1 each||3||12-15|
|Day 3||All muscle groups||1 each||3||12-15|
|Day 5||All muscle groups||1 each||3||12-15|
Upper-Lower-Body Split (Beginner_Familiar)
Once you get comfortable with the machines and know the technicalities of sets and reps, you can move to an upper-lower body split alternating between upper (chest, shoulders, back, and arms) and lower (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and abs) body parts and performing a minimum of two exercises per group.
You may now look at increasing the volume and training in two rep ranges; the first is geared more toward strength (choose a weight in which you fail at 6-8 reps), and the second is on the upper end of the hypertrophy scale (a weight you can lift for 10-12 reps).
Also, you will need more rest days as you’re adding more volume for each body part.
|Day 1||Upper-body muscle groups||2 each||3||6-8/10-12|
|Day 2||Lower-body muscle groups||2 each||3||6-8/10-12|
|Day 4||Upper-body muscle groups||2 each||3||6-8/10-12|
|Day 5||Lower-body muscle groups||2 each||3||6-8/10-12|
As you progress, you add more volume for training each muscle group, and train the entire body over the course of three days, twice over, by clubbing all the “Push” exercises (chest, shoulders, and triceps), and “Pull” exercises (back and biceps), and then leg exercises separately. This split requires fewer rest days as all muscles get enough recovery time. This split is also helpful in progressive overloading.
|Day 1||Chest, shoulders, triceps||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
|Day 2||Back, biceps||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
|Day 3||Legs||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
|Day 4||Chest, shoulders, triceps||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
|Day 5||Back, biceps||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
|Day 6||Legs||3 each||3||6-8/8-10/10-12|
Four-Day Split (Advanced)
In the four-day split, you graduate to training fewer muscle groups in every session and hence you focus on increasing volume and intensity focusing more on hypertrophy. Since the volume is high, the number of rest days is also high, that is, you train for four days and recover for 3 days.
Training is optimal when a large muscle group (ex. Chest) is paired with a smaller one (ex. Triceps), train the larger muscle group first, or pairing muscle groups that target opposing actions, such as chest-biceps and back-triceps.
|Day 1||Back, biceps||4 each||4||8-12|
|Day 2||Chest, triceps||4 each||4||8-12|
|Day 3||Rest||4 each||4||8-12|
|Day 4||Legs||5 each||4||8-12|
|Day 5||Shoulders||4 each||4||8-12|
|Day 6||Rest||4 each||4||8-12|
Five-Day Split (Pro)
This pro-level training split focuses on training one muscle group in one session, enabling you to increase volume and intensity to the maximum level for hypertrophy or muscle growth. You must keep in mind to allow at least 48 hours for recovery of each muscle group trained. You may also train a small muscle group with the larger group.
|Day 3||Shoulders, upper traps||4-5||4-5||6-15|
|Day 5||Biceps, triceps||3-4 each||4-5||6-15|
Some of the other lesser popular training splits are intensive/extensive splits and specialization structures that focus on improving the hypertrophy and strength of a weaker body part that is weaker. These splits are designed for special populations like athletes.
In conclusion, one thing that’s common across all training splits is REST days. Rest days are as important as workout days and must be made part of your training program, whatever the split may be.
Now that you have a basic idea about training splits, muscle groups, and rest days you can devise your own workout plan!
Remember, the trick lies in training SMART, not HARD!