Workout Splits: How to Find The Best Split for You
by Evelyn Valdez·
If you've ever walked into a gym without a game plan, it definitely can feel intimidating. There are all kinds of ropes, barbells, cardio, and weight lifting machines, it can be overwhelming figuring out where to start. Well, if you want to start strength training you'll need to take a few steps back and develop an actual workout plan.
Set your fitness goals to determine which exercises you want to do and how you want to split your workout. But... What are workout splits?
For those that are new or have less training experience, a workout split is how you divide your workouts throughout the week to establish how many training sessions you'll have per week. It involves splitting it by body region, movement, lift, or specific body part. This will help you establish a workout plan that aligns with your goals and also your hectic schedule! It's a very important part of strength training, especially if you want to get effective results.
That said, we're going to give you all the details on popular training splits so you can establish an effective workout plan with a training frequency that will fit your schedule, but also get you the results you want!
Why should you split your workout?
Almost every professional bodybuilder or athlete on the planet has stressed the importance of having a well-planned workout regimen. You can’t hope to build muscle or lose fat without a strategy. The real work is done both in the kitchen and at the gym. Besides picking the right exercises, how you split your workout is important when putting together your workout regimen. On the other hand, splitting your workout can maximize the hard work you're putting in and outside of the gym!
Training splits are set up in a way that allows you to intensively work and isolate certain muscle groups while offering plenty of recovery time in between training days. This will ensure that you're working your muscles enough for better hypertrophy (muscle growth) while also giving them enough rest in between training sessions to recover properly. And in case you don't know, giving your muscles enough time to recover is crucial for muscle building! Training splits also let you have more control over how often you target certain muscles. So, if there's a muscle you really want to grow, like the glutes, then you'd split your workout routine in a way that allows you to train your glutes 2-3 times a week.
How to choose a workout split
Every workout split has its pros and cons, but ultimately, your choice depends on your goals. When you have a clear-cut idea of what you want to accomplish, you’ll be able to stick with a plan you know will work. You should also account for your current fitness level, experience, time commitment, age, and weaknesses/specific needs.
Remember, while these four different workout splits are considered the most effective strategies, they’re not the only ones. You can always modify the training volume and exercises if you need to accommodate any challenges or changes in your initial goals.
Full-body workout split
Just as the name says, this training routine involves using your entire body instead of a single muscle group. Full-body workouts are probably the most flexible plan there is, especially since it can be done at home, if you have the right equipment, or at a gym. These workouts can be done as often or as little as you like, but ideally, you want to aim for at least three days a week.
While you can definitely gain muscle mass from full-body training, that’s not as important for some. Sometimes the main goal is to simply stay in shape and maintain a healthy weight. However, there are plenty of full-body programs geared for the average bodybuilder.
A great benefit to full-body workouts is the time a person has for rest and recovery. Some can’t handle back-to-back training and need more rest than others. So if you want, you can have two rest days in a row and then work out the next day. They’re also the best choice for fat loss. Those who may be on a diet are ingesting fewer calories, which lowers your body’s recovery reserves even more thus needing more recovery time. Full-body workouts target almost every muscle group so you can allow for more rest days if you need them.
Another benefit is not getting too bored with the same old routine. Many people enjoy taking yoga or dance classes because it incorporates the entire body. Overall, you can try a wide range of exercises, so there’s always the ability to mix and match your routine to keep it fresh.
Full-body workouts also come with some cons, the biggest being not giving specific areas of your body complete attention. Unlike when you split between upper body and lower body exercises to focus on different muscle groups, full-body workouts encompass everything. This makes it harder to target problem areas and might require putting in extra work if you want specific results. Your muscles need a lot of stimulation to grow, so if you’re not adding more intensity to your workout, hypertrophy can plateau.
It was mentioned before that full-body workouts aren’t entirely focused on extreme muscle growth, which is a con for some bodybuilders. There’s only so much your body can take in a single workout. Along with needing time for your body to recover, you also don’t want to overexert yourself. Pushing your body too much only increases the chance of you getting injured.
Upper body/lower body split
The upper /lower split is exactly like the name suggests: splitting your workout days between upper body and lower body workouts. It prioritizes the basics around building muscle and keeps your workout program simple, but effective.
Upper-body workouts target the chest, upper and middle back, arms (biceps and triceps), and shoulders. Lower-body involves the glutes, abdomen, lower back, legs (quads, hamstrings, and calves). The versatility of upper/lower splits makes it easy to train as many days as your schedule allows.
These workouts have multiple variations so different exercises can be performed at any kind of intensity level. It also prevents volume overlap to protect your muscles from becoming too fatigued. Regardless of how much time you have to train, you’re able to work both parts of your body.
The one major drawback with upper/lower splits, especially for advanced bodybuilders, is the volume per workout. The point is to not exhaust your muscles so you can effectively hit each muscle group at least twice a week. This is less than ideal for weight lifters who do multiple sets per body part in a single workout. Upper body sessions also can take longer than the lower body since there are far more muscles to work.
Push/pull splits involve mostly upper body training with lower body workouts sprinkled in. Leg days can be done after a push or pull day, but some will pair these two workouts together. Just remember to give yourself enough time to rest. The push-pull style is great for any workout level, including beginners. It’s a popular choice with athletes so they can create a balanced physique with optimal recovery time.
Push days involve using your chest, triceps, and shoulders for exercises like bench presses and lateral raises. Pulling days are performed using mostly the back, forearms, and biceps. Some common exercises are cable pulldowns, cable rows, barbell curls, and deadlifts.
Many regard the push-pull style to be one of the best ways to get a balanced workout. You know exactly which muscles you’re working on and it’s easy to measure progress once you start increasing the weight and number of reps. It’s possible to exercise these major muscle groups twice a week, but this schedule is recommended for more intermediate or advanced bodybuilders.
But for all its good points, push-pull workout splits do have a few cons. The reality is you’ll be spending a ton of time spent in the gym, so this method isn’t ideal for those with a tight schedule. You could do many of the workouts from home, but you’ll be needing different kinds of equipment, which can get expensive.
Also, since push-pull exercises mostly work the upper body, you might not be targeting other weaker areas of your body enough. Although you could have a 6-day workout schedule, this tends to be too much for beginners.
While advanced or intermediate weight trainers could settle for one or two rest days, beginners normally require three or even four when they’re just starting out. Pushing it only increases the likelihood of injuring and/or burning out your muscles. However, if you’re not targeting your lower body or core enough, you won’t see much muscle development. There’s definitely a balance that needs to be found when creating a pull/push/leg workout split routine.
Four-day splits literally mean working out different muscle groups 4 days a week. Many people choose to follow another split routine, like an upper-body and lower-body routine that sometimes includes a full-body day. The focus on consistent and heavy compound exercises helps maximize your muscle gains with the right balance of rest.
Recovery is just as important as incorporating a healthy diet. If you’re not giving your body enough time to rest, then a lot of the work you’re putting in won’t even matter. Hypertrophy varies in everybody. No two people will experience the same results, even if they follow the same workout program. However, the principles of muscle growth are universal.
The negatives that come into play really depend on your situation. Sometimes the 4-day schedule can be harder for people who don’t have enough time to commit. Others may need more than three days of recovery time if they're a beginner. But studies show what matters more is the number of times a muscle is trained.
Workout splits are not a one size fits all solution
At the end of the day, the best split for you is whichever one meets your needs, helps you accomplish your goals, and fits your schedule. Don't pick a split that works for someone else, pick the one that works for you. And even if you start out trying one workout split, you can always switch to a different one to see what works best.