THE FITNESS BLOG

My online fitness journal, sharing my thoughts and experience

WHAT'S THE BEST TRAINING SPLIT TO BUILD MORE MUSCLE?

Training schedules are a hotly disputed subject with countless suggestions for how you can plan your week for training.

The "bro" split has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.

The "bro" split involves working out 3-6 times per week, and performing exercises which isolate muscle groups so that each muscle group is worked really hard, but just once a week.

The logic behind this approach is that by isolating muscle groups, they can be targeted more effectively and more intensely, which should stimulate more muscle growth. Some people have had success with this approach, but what does the science tell us?

A large analysis, comparing 10 previously published studies which investigated muscle training frequency, was published in 2016[1]. The authors, led by Brad Schoenfeld of the City University of New York, found that training a muscle group twice per week was more effective than once, and that training three times per week might be better than twice, but it's hard to tell.

It's important to stress that this is for volume equated workouts. What this means is they were comparing, for example, 2 half hour sessions per week, to 1 one hour session per week. If your workouts are all 45 minutes long, adding more workouts in a week will increase the weekly volume, which will improve muscle growth and performance (so long as you don't overdo it).

The result of this study seems to show that the "bro" split is unlikely to be the most effective way to train your muscles. That is why I recommend that you train each muscle group at least twice a week if you want to see the best results.

If you are training muscles twice per week you need to be selective with the movements and rep/set schemes that you choose.

If your goal is to build muscle size, you should consider lower weight, higher rep sets. If you're trying to build muscle strength, larger weight lower reps are a better choice.

However, I would recommend not focusing purely on muscle size or muscle strength in all your workouts. If you work on just muscle size, your muscle strength can start to hold you back, and vice versa. That is why I recommend varying the numbers of reps and sets throughout the week, as this variation helps prevent your body from plateauing.

This form of rep/set variation is known as daily undulated periodisation. I'll talk about this more in a future article of periodisation, but for now the take home message is that variation in your workouts is very important.

Another way of varying your workouts is making subtle changes to your exercises. Try varying the angle you perform your exercises at, or altering the width of your grip on a bar, changing your stance, or swapping a barbell for dumbbells. These subtle changes go a long way in helping prevent performance stagnation.

How often should you work out per week?

This is highly individual, and depends on how much time you can spare and what your goals are. As I've said, I recommend training each muscle group at least twice a week for the best results. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for a weekly routine:

2 or 3 days per week

If you perform compound movements that work out all your muscle groups on your workout days, two or three days on can be more than adequate for most people.

Monday: Whole Body

Tuesday: Day off

Wednesday: Day off OR Whole Body

Thursday: Day off

Friday: Whole Body

Saturday: Day off

Sunday: Day Off

Of course you can pick whichever days of the week work for you, so long as you have a rest day after each full body workout.

3 days per week

A nice three day routine can also be a total body plus a lower and upper focus session. This gives you the opportunity for a muscle training frequency of twice per week and good session focus.

Monday: Whole Body

Tuesday: Day off

Wednesday: Upper body

Thursday: Day off

Friday: Lower body

Saturday: Day off

Sunday: Day Off

Of course you can pick whichever days of the week work for you, so long as you have a rest day after each workout.

4 or 5 days per week

If you have more days to train, an alternative is to split your workout, alternating working your upper body and lower body, but not training the same muscle group two days in a row:

Monday: Lower Body

Tuesday: Upper Body

Wednesday: Day Off

Thursday: Lower Body

Friday: Upper Body

Saturday: Day off OR Workout isolating your weaker muscle groups

Sunday: Day off

This approach allows you to target muscle groups more precisely and can allow you to complete your workouts in a shorter space of time.

When you perform your workouts, try to do push and pull exercises with antagonistic muscle groups. For example combine lat pull downs with shoulder presses, and combine bent over rows with chest presses. For more on this, check out my previous article on exercise selection.

In summary

The best split for you will come down to available time, ability to perform movements, recovery and motivation.

For most people I this the sweet spot for success is 3-4 weights sessions per week. Motivation remains high with this level of training, and improvement can be dramatic. It allows for suitable recovery between sessions. It also suits most people's schedules and most people I work with don't want or have the time to train 5+ times a week especially when it isn't essential for progress.

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