Training Splits: The Key to Workout Success

Our bodies are designed to adapt to stress. There are numerous ways in which we can apply and manipulate this “stress” to control the results of our training programs. Crafting quality training programs is a science. In science, it is universally understood that manipulating even one variable produces an entirely different outcome. The outcome when programing your training properly is improvement in your overall health, capacity for endurance, improved strength, and an altered physique.

Just like our computers and cell phones trigger updates, it is important that we recognize that an update to our lifting approach is needed for our bodies to continue progressing. This could be a change in the load lifted, the tempo at which we lift, the number of repetitions, the number of sets, and even the angle in which our bodies are positioned during an exercise. Each variable matters and should be thoughtfully employed. Today, we will focus on breaking down how sample training splits are organized and why. This will empower you to make more informed decisions when selecting your training split.

Key Terminology

Training Split:
A training split is how you organize your lifting schedule to target specific muscle groups in a given week. Ex. Total body split 2x a week v. an upper body, lower body split 2x a week

Hypertrophy:
This is what is happening when your muscle fibers thicken.

Repetitions:
The number of times you perform an exercise during a set. Ex. 4 sets of 10 reps

Set:
The timeframe in which you perform a prescribed number of exercise repetitions. Also known as a round. Ex. 4 sets (rounds) of 10 reps

Tempo: 
The speed at which you move the weight when performing an exercise.

Angle:
How you position (the angle) your body during an exercise is critical to activating the muscles you want to grow.

Load:
The amount of weight you push or pull in the gym.

To Failure: Perform the exercise until you can’t anymore. I.E. Until your muscles fail.

Drop Set: Lower the load lifted, and complete the same exercise for the prescribed number of reps.

How to Choose Your Training Split

When determining the best workout split for yourself, you must factor in the amount of time you have to dedicate to lifting, your experience and fitness level, as well as your ideal outcome.

 

Training Split Examples

Name of Split:
Total Body

Definition:
This means you train all muscle groups in one lifting session.

Ideal Population:
This split is ideal for people who need to practice optimizing their movement patterns; who have limited time to spend in the gym; and who need to address all muscle groups more than once a week.

Days a Week: 
2

Sample Split Schedule/Workout:
Total Body Day 1 Ex.
• Pull-Ups
• Incline Chest Pres
• Arnold Press
• Barbell Bicep Curl
• Tricep Extension
• Leg Press
• Front Lunges
• Romanian Deadlifts

Rep Scheme:
3 Sets x 10-12 Reps

Total Body Day 2 Ex.
• Lat Pulldown
• Chest Cable Flies
•Front Raise, Side Raise, Rear Delt Raise Complex
• Preacher Curl
• Tricep Press
• Squats
• Quad Extensions
• Hamstring Curls

Rep Scheme:
3 Sets x 10-12 Reps


Name of Split:
Upper Body/Lower Body

Definition:This means you train all muscle groups above the waist in one lifting session, and all muscle groups below the waist in the next lifting session.

Ideal Population:
This split is ideal for people who are focusing on hypertrophy beyond that which is possible for a total body program.

Better outcomes are the result of the increased frequency of stress applied) to the upper body and lower body muscle groups. You can now work both halves of the body 2x a week.

Recovery is just enough to ensure that you have what it takes to work these combined muscle groups again at the next workout.

Days a Week: 
3-4

Sample Split Schedule/Workout:
Upper Body Day Ex.
Back
Chest
Tris
Shoulders
Biceps

• Pull-Ups
• Close Grip Lat Pulldown
• Incline Chest Press
• Arnold Press
• Rear Delt Fly
• Barbell Bicep Curl
• Tricep Extension

Rep Scheme:
3-4 Sets x 8-10 Reps

Lower Body Day Ex.
Glutes
Hamstrings
Quads
Calves

• Standing Calf Raises
• Hip Abduction
• Hip Adduction
• Hamstring Curl
• Leg Press
• Quad Extensions
• Bulgarian Split Squats

Rep Scheme:
3-4 Sets x 8-10 Reps


Name of Split:
Push/Pull

Definition:
This occurs when you train specific muscle groups based upon the way your body moves, and the muscles activated when moving in that pattern.

Ideal Population:
This split is ideal for people who are focusing on hypertrophy beyond that which is possible for a total body program.

Better outcomes are the result of the increased frequency of stress applied) to the push/pull muscle groups. You can now work multiple muscle groups more frequently.

Recovery between workouts ensures that you have what it takes to work these combined muscle groups again at the next workout.

Better outcomes are the result of the increased frequency of stress applied) to the upper body and lower body muscle groups. You can now work both halves of the body 2x a week.

Recovery is just enough to ensure that you have what it takes to work these combined muscle groups again at the next workout.

Days a Week: 
4-6

Sample Split Schedule/Workout:
Upper Body Day Ex.
Chest
Tris
Shoulders

• Incline Close Grip Chest Press
• Cable Fly
• Seated Shoulder Press
• Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
• Arnold Press

Rep Scheme:
3-4 Sets x 8-10 Reps * Last set to failure

Pull Day Ex.
Back
Biceps
Delts

• Pull-Ups
• Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
• Close Grip Seated Row
• Rack Pulls
• Rear Delt Fly
• Barbell Bicep Curl
• Hammer Curl

Rep Scheme:
3-4 Sets x 8-10 Reps * Last set to failure


Name of Split:
Body Party

Definition:
This approach targets specific muscle groups that require the most improvement.

Ideal Population:
This is ideal for people who are working on a distinct hypertrophic outcome. Many lifters incorporate body part days amongst a push/pull split that targets their body’s areas of weakness.

Ex. If someone is looking to grow their shoulders, they can add in a shoulder day on top of their 5 days of Push/Pull.

Days a Week: 
1-3 on top of another training split.

Sample Split Schedule/Workout:
Shoulders Ex.

• Seated Shoulder Press Machine
• Arnold Press
• Lateral Raise
• Front Plate Raise
• Forward Facing Incline Supinating Front Raise
• Incline Rear Delt Fly

Rep Scheme:
4 Sets x 8-10 Reps * Followed by a drop set to failure


In Conclusion

As you progress along your fitness journey, you will alter multiple variables to improve your outcome. Many lifters mix up the above training split styles depending upon the needs of their bodies. For example, if someone needs to gain muscle in their shoulders, they wouldn’t want to work shoulders only once a week with the single split. They would opt to add a single body part split in addition to their push/pull or upper/lower body split program in order to ensure optimum growth. As you gain more experience, you will become more aware that your tempo, combined with your rep/set scheme, angle, and training split are the keys to unlocking your training success.

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About the Author: Courtney Alcala-Herrera, MS

Courtney lives in Texas with her husband and their two dogs. Courtney is a clinical research and health education expert whose life mission is to spread health and lifestyle modifications to the public. When she’s not traveling across the country monitoring research studies, you can catch Courtney counseling her fitness clients, prepping for her next bikini competition, or racing off to explore with her husband.

 

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.