We have all been there, first time in the gym and confused on what to do. After a few sessions of doing any exercise you can think of or super setting all the machines in the gym, one of your friends who has been lifting for years suggests picking a workout split. Upon further research you discover there are many different variations of workout splits to choose from, all of which seem to be more confusing than the last.
While this might be overwhelming at first, it is quite easy to figure out which split works best for you depending on a variety of factors. From age, to schedule, to body type, to genetics, to even just personal preference, you can decide which training split will yield the best results, and the resultts you want.
In this article I will be discussing some of the most popular splits as well as who would benefit from each, enjoy!
✓ Full Body Split
When thinking of a full body training split you might imagine an advanced powerlifting routine, or even a beginner routine, and you would be right. By far one of the most versatile splits, it is utilized by many types of lifters. By prioritizing big lifts like bench, squats and deadlifts multiple times a week and in the same training session, this allows the lifter to maximize strength gains (in the case of an advanced lifter) or learn the most important lifts quickly (in the case of a beginner lifter).
While some can handle such a large amount of volume in a single workout, others may not enjoy full body workouts; as depending on what exercises you begin with, you most likely will not be able to lift as much on your later exercises due to fatigue. Another flaw is a longer recovery period which makes the lifter take a day or even sometimes two between each workout to fully heal; meaning only three to four full body workouts a week would be viable (but this could also be a positive for those who have a busy schedule).
Full body workouts are also not ideal for those looking to make hypertrophy gains, as it is difficult to get adequate volume on every little muscle group each workout (unless you have a solid two to three hours to spend on each workout). In the end, full body workouts are made for powerlifters who really only need to do a few compound exercises every workout, beginners who are just learning to lift weights do not need to worry about specifically training for hypertrophy yet (usually after six months is when “newbie gains” end), and individuals who cannot make it to a gym more than a few times a week.
✓ Single Muscle Group Split
This split is most popular in the bodybuilding community, as it prioritizes hitting one muscle group for an entire workout. Usually broken up into: chest, back, shoulders, arms and legs; this split has almost the complete opposite goal of a full body workout. By only working out your chest for example on a single day, it allows the lifter to use all of their energy to target and grow their chest without worrying about already being fatigued from doing other compound movements first.
When in a full body workout you might be able to squeeze in one or two movements for a muscle group, this split allows for much more, usually in the range of eight to ten workouts. While this split will yield quite a bit more hypertrophy growth, it falls short in the realm of frequency and strength. For example if you hit chest on Monday and fully heal in two days, you don’t have the chance to hit it again at that time. Instead you will need to wait at least double that amount of time, missing a large window of opportunity to hit that muscle again as soon as it is primed for another workout. The only individuals who would benefit from this training split are mainly bodybuilder’s who aren’t very concerned with their strength with a main goal of hypertrophy.
✓ PPL/Other Three Day Splits
When a full body split isn’t enough volume and a single muscle group split isn’t enough frequency, this is where we will find the goldilocks of training splits. With just enough workouts per muscle group per week, as well as just enough volume to promote hypertrophy and strength gains, three days splits can work for almost everybody. The most popular of which being the push, pull, legs split (often shortened to PPL) is quite simple as well as effective.
On a push day the workouts include all movements that push weight away from the body (mainly chest, shoulders and tricep movements). The pull days include workouts that pull weight towards the body (back and biceps). While leg days are the usual quad, hamstring and calf workouts. Other slight variations of three days splits exist and can be customized to a certain user very easily. Some include having chest and back together on its own day, then shoulders and arms, followed by legs. Or even chest and triceps, back and biceps, then legs and shoulders. These splits are so effective because it takes advantage of hitting a certain muscle group twice a week (when a routine of three days on and one off for rest is followed).
While you will not be able to do as much volume for each muscle group as you would in a single muscle split, the frequency will more than likely lead to more growth in strength gains. The same goes for full body workouts, as while you are hitting a certain muscle group more than twice a week it won’t be nearly enough volume to promote as much hypertrophy gains as a three day split. These splits are very effective for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter who can dedicate five to six workouts a week and wish to balance their strength and mass gains.
Take Home Message
In the end, every training split can be an effective one when done properly and for the right reasons. Full body splits are best for individuals who aren’t overly concerned about aesthetics and would like to prioritize increasing their strength in a few select exercises or beginners who still need to learn the basics of weightlifting. Single muscle group splits are best for individuals who care less about strength and want to focus on targeting a single muscle for an entire workout to exhaustion. Finally three day splits are for those who want a little bit of both, to increase their strength at a decent rate while also growing a good amount at the same. When choosing a split make sure you enjoy it and it is something you can do for at least a few months. Just keep in mind, there is no harm in trying every split and seeing which ones your body responds to the best!